By on July 19, 2021

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt took many years before the first (non-wrecked) Toyota Priuses began showing up in the big self-service car graveyards I frequent, partly because Toyotas tend to hold together pretty well and partly because buyers of early Priuses seem to be the kind of car owners who obsess over the proper care and feeding of their vehicles. This ’03 Prius in Denver, painted in I Love Gaia Green™ (actually, it’s Electric Green Mica), appears to be one of those well-loved cars that finally just wore out.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, emblem - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe first-generation Prius went on sale in Japan in 1997, but we didn’t get them on this side of the Pacific until the 2001 model year. Sales of these cars, all of which were four-door sedans, continued through the 2003 model year. That makes today’s Junkyard Find an example of one of the very last Prius sedans built.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, owner's manual notes - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhen you buy a car, do you read the entire owner’s manual? Better still, do you take notes while reading the owner’s manual, on a separate notepad to avoid desecrating the original factory-issued book? That’s what this car’s owner did.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, EAT MY VOLTAGE sticker - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt gets better. Among all the original documentation in the glovebox was this EAT MY VOLTAGE sticker, reverse-printed for application to the inside of the rear glass.

Yes, you could show your commitment to advanced technology and the environment by adhering this decal to the back window of your Toyota. Today, some Prius owners recreate these stickers.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, emblem - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHybrid-electric cars were still fairly new and mysterious in the early 2000s, with the Honda Insight beating the Prius to the American market by just under a year. The Insight could be purchased with a manual transmission and its 60-mpg fuel economy made the Prius seem like a planet-ravaging gas hog, but it had just two seats and looked nerdy to boot. The 2001-2003 Prius looked a bit goofy, but it was a car that handled real-world car duties very well and proved very cheap to operate. I noticed a sudden leap in the quantities of Volvo 240s in the junkyards of the San Francisco Bay Area (where I lived at the time) right after the early Prius hit California showrooms, as Volvo owners traded in their safe-but-thirsty bricks for the futuristic new Toyota.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI can’t check the odometer reading without powering up the ECU with a fairly substantial portable 12VDC battery, but I’m guessing this car has many, many miles on it. The interior looks clean, but that’s usually the case with ridiculously high-mile vehicles in junkyards.

2003 Toyota Prius sedan in Colorado junkyard, rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA sedan with a real trunk is nice to have. These days, Japanese car buyers can get the 20-million-yen Century with a trunk and a hybrid powertrain!


All the nodding donkeys set free by Toyota.


The true car of the future is the one that helps ensure we have a future.


Toyota had a smash sales hit in the home market with this car, and now you’ll see gasoline-electric Toyotas of all descriptions all over Japan.

For links to more than 2,100 additional Junkyard Finds, including many Toyotas, please visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2003 Toyota Prius...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Love the handwritten notes – I suspect they were written by a fellow engineer.

    I was an early critic of hybrids, expecting the added complexity to make them less reliable. But that assumption has been disproven with time. These early Prius’ with the NiMH batteries were exceptionally long-lived; Toyota didn’t switch to lithium ion until 2012.

    My only concern with them now regards driveability. An 05 Prius I test drove had wonky transitions from electric to gas, as did my 13 Optima Hybrid. But an 18 Niro I drove was rather smooth, and the transition thing is rarely mentioned in car reviews any more.

    As for this Prius example, it’s hard to tell why it was junked. It’s in way better shape than many cars on the road. The interior and nose of the car look like it has maybe 100k.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I had that same concern when I bought a PHEV Fusion in 2014. Seven years and 92,000 miles later,I’ve yet to pay for a repair. There was one repair done on the car under warranty, there’s a ring around the charge port that glows to indicate the battery charge level, it was cracked when I got the car, dealer took care of that.

      I’ve bought 10 tires (two met an untimely end due to road debris), four oil changes, three sets of wiper blades, had the headlamp bulbs replaced, and have needed a 12 volt lead acid battery.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      We have plenty of Prius cars in the fleet at work plus other brands as well. Hybrid related failures are all but unheard of. Usually it’s the other stuff that has issues – wheel bearings were widespread failure points on the Altima’s…some of the Toyota’s had A/C issues, the Fords had infotainment issues…

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Great article but I really wish we knew the accum miles. TTAC needs to buy Murilee one of those 12v portable jumper pack batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      >>INDI

      Yes Yes Yes !

      Get the mileage on these cars. Buy the battery – whatever device.

      These stories of old cars in the graveyard are an interesting way to conclusively prove the durability of cars and car brands. Leaving out the mileage is like leaving out the pictures. The story’s value plummets.

      Hard Stop.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        “It’s not the age it’s the mileage.” In keeping with that old adage the mileage of these vehicles is nearly as important as their year, when providing information.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Mileage is important but does not tell the whole story. Hours of use and type of use pay a role. An emergency vehicle can spend a massive amount of time idling. Same can be said for taxi’s. My brother in his past role spent most of time on gravel bush roads. His company found that anything over 100,000 km (60,000 miles) would become a maintenance/repair nightmare. A 40,000 pickup would sell for a couple of grand at an “as is where is” auction 2-3 years after he was handed the keys.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      The mileage indeed would be interesting. However, it would take much more than connecting a battery to get this. The memory of a modern digital odometer is typically in the engine control module (ECM); the “odometer” is just a display. You would have to power up the ECM and the instrument panel. The chance of being able to do that in a junkyard vehicle with several of its parts missing and wiring harness hacked up is remote.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The instrument cluster should wake up and show the mileage when you open the door.

        • 0 avatar
          aja8888

          Yeah, as long as all the electrics are still there, but in a junkyard, the battery is always gone along with most of the electrical parts.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yes the battery gets taken out before it gets “Set”. As far as the parts being gone that certainly is a possibility but that of course depends on how long the car has been out in the yard and if there is actual demand for those parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      They look cheap enough. I’ll go in on it. I am seriously curious about many of these myself.

  • avatar
    NJRide

    Healthy for the turnover rate to see an early 00s Corolla/Protege nearby guess not all Japan metal runs 25 yrs+

    • 0 avatar
      jcarey

      Catalytic converter theft makes these cars into instant salvage around here since the cost to replace exceeds the value. May have nothing to do with how long the vehicle could have lasted.

      • 0 avatar
        NJRide

        Interesting. I wonder the frequency of cars that are repaired even if the repair exceeds value.

      • 0 avatar
        revjasper

        Stolen cats are the major thing taking these off the road. 1st gen catalysts are hard to find, a friend had his stolen recently and it took weeks to find one. The second generation ones have cheap eBay cats available so those are rescued more frequently. Like yesterday, when I bought a cat-less Prius!

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Would have loved to know more info about the Hybrid battery pack. Were the hybrid system batteries still in the car? How does the junkyard dispose of the Hybrid batteries? Are they worth pulling and selling separately? CaddyDaddy knows when sending to the shredder, all batteries must be removed.

    CadddyDaddy knows the driver of this car was a 55 MPH driver in a 75 MPH zone making all behind him share in his planet saving activities. Appears to be owned by a Biology teacher in the Boulder Valley School District.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never seen a hybrid car in a junkyard with the batteries still present (and I see lots and lots of junked hybrids these days). My guess is that the batteries are worth real money in addition to being too dangerous for U-Pull customers to extract, so the yards yank them and sell them before the cars hit the regular open-to-the-public inventory.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        One time I was in a yard and they happened to have recently received an Escape Hybrid. The traction battery was displayed in the office right next to the 12v batteries they deem good enough to sell.

  • avatar
    oldskooltoy

    To get an idea of mileage on this Prius ( and any other vehicle with digital odometers) maybe a CarFax can be checked…. Will give a little deeper five on a vehicles history!

    Didja score the Eat My Voltage sticker?

    Also wondering I’d those alloys would fit a first gen MR2?

    Hmmmm.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Replacement hybrid batteries for 1st-gen models are NLA from Toyota. Yes, there are workarounds but most of them involve NiMH cells from later Prius generations, and those are getting old, too.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “do you read the entire owner’s manual?”

    Um, yeah, kind of. With so many hidden features and settings you almost have to. Do I take notes? No, but since my owner’s manual is 600 pages I print out the pages of settings that I use the most

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    A 9v battery and one of the small book sized lithium jump starter will do the trick. You need the 9v battery so the jump starter thinks it is connected so that it will turn on jump start mode.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      On some vehicles, mightn’t you need a key also?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yeah depending on what you want to do. Many cars with the digital dash do wake up and will show the mileage reading when the door is opened on a car with 12v.

        The other dirty trick is to jump the always hot bus in the fuse box with the switched bus.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Insurance pirates forced that little feature. Keys aren’t always available and adjusters would rather not get too intimate with wrecks that have glass everywhere, blood maybe, plus the airbags could go off at any time.

  • avatar
    Sergeant Death

    In 2018, I bought a 2007 Prius (2nd gen, the first “Prius-shaped” Prius bodystyle) with 301,000 miles near Columbia, Missouri for $1200 because the guy (a Prius purveyor who was tickled when I showed up in an 08 HiHy and tow dolly to pick it up) thought the engine was bad as it wouldn’t go faster than about 60MPH and would chug if you floored it.

    Turned out to have a plugged cat, which an AutoZone in Ferguson, Missouri had a kit for less than $200. Unbolt downpipe from manifold and Sawzall off the cat (a literal 5 second job after getting under it with a drill/extension/socket and supra mentioned sawzall if you know what you’re doing, hence why they’re targeted), put new one on, slide the pipe sleeve over the cat stub and existing pipe, use bolt clamps to tighten it all down snug, and then start it and hear the exhaust leak because you forgot the metal manifold o-ring gasket, but say f it since you plan on registering it in a state w/o emissions since it runs great now and the battery pack still operates normally (obviously degraded, but no red triangle of death and still gets 38MPG. Full disclosure, that’s also what I got in my 09 “cheating emissions special” Jetta TDI that was in perfect shape [I was the original owner]).

    Now it’s been sitting for 3 years while I was away (military), and with a jump today, it started right up. Now I’ve got the red triangle of death and average 32MPG… Better than my HiHy that won’t start at all as the traction battery is deader than a doornail.

  • avatar
    junk.kitty

    Ah, that’s nostalgic.

    I’m still driving the 2002 I drove off the lot new. I bet that window sticker is still in the case with the manuals.
    It’s not quite at 200k miles but I’m gaming out its approaching replacement.

    Re: various comments already made here:
    – the Classic models do not power the instrument readout just by opening the door. Keyless ignition was offered with Gen 2. No key = no info display.

    – Could still order the original hybrid battery in 2016; it was quoted at just over $3k including labor. Toyota USA corp. took a grand off the batt price and the dealer’s shop brought it in just under $2k. Not surprising if it’s been discontinued but a couple of hybrid after-market companies specialize in reconditioning old ones installable by a hybrid shop or even DIY.
    – Because there IS an aftermarket for used batteries, surely all hybrid batts are the first thing taken to test for re-conditioning. They’re useless dead but valuable if repaired. 2nd thing taken would have been the cat.

    – I’m a lead-foot, no obnoxious 55 in the fast lane here.
    – The car has plenty of boost for regular person driving. Not a sports car but not a 3 hampsterpower like the original Insight was.

    – Acceleration has always been a bit hesitant as the computer calculates load vs. demand vs. batt charge to determine the best mix of electric and ICE. Everyone forgets about torque. Before hybrids and EVs were more common, the only thing which would win off a red light was a motorcycle. I still usually win but cell phone use has eliminated that game. I also have no issues accelerating and maintaining speed when climbing hills.

    – A classic Prius can have a perfect body and interior and still be junk. If this is in an emissions-controlling state like CA, the required OEM cat is worth more than the car and harder to find than another working Classic. Could have been the hybrid batt but it was most likely on the 2nd batt. Less common problems which are still more expensive to fix than the value of the car includes the electric water pump failure and failure of the steering chassis.

    – This model eats tires for breakfast. Best investment I ever made. 6 sets of replacement tires is nothing compared to the super low maintenance cost, gas saved over 20 years of roller coaster gas prices, and, eh, almost 20 years without needing to buy a replacement.

    – Yes, I read the manual. No, no notes. Did keep a gas log. Not an engineer. Nice junkyard find, I’m glad I stumbled on it. Thanks!

  • avatar
    Mustangfast

    I appreciated that these were before Toyota decided hybrids had to look dorky. It looked better than it’s contemporary Corolla sibling.

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