Prius HID Headlights: Toyota Tagged by Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh

The issue: the optional HID headlights of the circa-2006 Prius are prone to turning off at random times, usually not at the same time. When this happens, they must be turned off, then on again. To fix the problem, Toyota dealers sometimes recommend replacing the entire HID system, at a cost of $1,700. Owners are launching a class action suit to force Toyota to cover these failures out of warranty. “Prius headlamp troubles could dim Toyota brand’s reputation,” writes Jean Halliday in yesterday’s Advertising Age and Automotive News. I’ve suggested that manufacturers pick up the cost of common problems out of warranty. That said, this story seems driven more by a media agenda rather than by the facts.

I checked responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey for any additional information they might provide. Quite a few owners have reported this problem, yet the Prius still has among the lowest repair frequencies. In all but one case, replacing the bulb seems to fix the problem. Non-OEM bulbs can be purchased on eBay for $90 per pair.

So why do we have an article in Automotive News? Many car models suffer from common problems, and there are plenty of class action lawsuits begging for coverage. Yet I cannot remember the last time AN covered such a problem.

And if they’re going to pick one common car problem to cover, why this one? These headlight failures don’t appear to have left anyone stranded, much less caused an accident. While dealers might try to charge $1,700, it is possible to fix the problem for as little as $90.

The allure appears to be Toyota’s quality reputation and the widespread desire to take them down a notch or two. A quick read of the comments suggests that some people would like to use this problem as evidence that Toyota’s quality is no better than anyone else’s.

Should Toyota pick up the cost of replacement bulbs? Yes, if they’re smart. The biggest story here is that they didn’t respond more quickly—a sign that their customer care needs improvement. The facts do not support the extent to which AN calls Toyota’s reputation into question, much less singling them out for this treatment.

Michael Karesh
Michael Karesh

Michael Karesh lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with his wife and three children. In 2003 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. While in Chicago he worked at the National Opinion Research Center, a leader in the field of survey research. For his doctoral thesis, he spent a year-and-a-half inside an automaker studying how and how well it understood consumers when developing new products. While pursuing the degree he taught consumer behavior and product development at Oakland University. Since 1999, he has contributed auto reviews to Epinions, where he is currently one of two people in charge of the autos section. Since earning the degree he has continued to care for his children (school, gymnastics, tae-kwan-do...) and write reviews for Epinions and, more recently, The Truth About Cars while developing TrueDelta, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.

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  • JeffMiller JeffMiller on Nov 28, 2009

    For automatic updates on Action taken against Toyota on the headlight issue, How to do it yourself, Class Action updates, and other info become a Fan of this page - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prius-HID-Class-Action/195351592664?ref=ts To see a Video on how to change the your headlights yourself for only 50 bucks go to the Facebook Page and watch this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QPvUgs9Bgo

  • LousyPriusLights LousyPriusLights on Jan 19, 2010

    I have a 2007 Prius. With only 40,000 miles on it, both of my HID headlight bulbs have burned out. I didn't replace the whole bulb apparatus, but since I didn't feel confident in taking off the front bumper of the car to replace them (a lousy design), I took my car to the dealership for replacement and it was not a cheap visit with bulb costs and labor. This is really lousy since these stupid HID bulbs are supposed to last TWICE as long as regular bulbs. I never had to replace my regular bulbs on my previous car this often (let alone both at the same time!).

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
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