Northern winters are the perfect torture test for any vehicle, especially hybrid cars, which have both electric and conventional gas engines.

In hybrids, the idea is when the gas engine runs, it charges the batteries and when the batteries are powering the car, it doesn't use any gas.

Vanessa Baron of Yellowknife loves her 2008 Prius. She recalls a cold-weather test she put it through two winters ago.

"I wanted to see what my car would do if I didn't plug it in.

"I tried -35, didn't plug it in, it started just fine. Minus 40, didn't plug it in, it started with a bit of hesitation, but it did start. And then -45, didn't plug it in, it wouldn't start."

She says in summer she gets 850 kilometres on a $50 fill-up.

"But in the winter that knocks down to about 400 kilometres, so it's about half, or less even."

A couple of other lessons Baron has for northerners thinking of buying a hybrid: count on it taking a half hour to warm up in winter as the heater doesn't blow quite as much warmth as she would like, and repairs can be a lot more expensive.

"If something goes wrong with the batteries in this car and I'm not under an extended warranty, I know for a fact that this car would be going to a junk yard," she said.

Baron said she has heard getting major repairs like that can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000.


Yellowknife Fire Chief Darcy Hernblad says the fuel savings make the department's hybrid vehicle far superior to the conventional utility vehicle it replaced. They keep it inside when the temperature falls below -30 C. (CBC)

The City of Yellowknife has a couple of hybrid vehicles. The Ford Escape it's had for three winters has been a disappointment — mileage has been a lot lower than expected and it needs to be plugged in to start in winter.

But the fire department is pleased with the Prius it's had since 2009.

"We had a few little hiccups at first but once we straightened them out it's worked great for us," said Fire Chief Darcy Hernblad.

He said the fuel savings make the hybrid far superior to the conventional utility vehicle it replaced. He said they keep it indoors when the temperature falls below -30 C and it runs like any other vehicle.

Would he recommend it to a neighbour?

"If you can put up with the smaller size, I would absolutely recommend it."