Junkyard Find: 2003 Toyota Prius

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 2003 toyota prius

It 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.

The 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.

When 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.

It 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.

Hybrid-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.

I 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.

A 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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  • Junk.kitty Junk.kitty on Jul 20, 2021

    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!

  • Mustangfast Mustangfast on Aug 09, 2021

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

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?