Prius HID Headlights: Toyota Tagged by Tall Poppy Syndrome?
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 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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