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.

  • Sayahh Is it 1974 or 1794? The article is inconsistent.
  • Laura I just buy a Hyndai Elantra SEL, and My car started to have issues with the AC dont work the air sometimes is really hot and later cold and also I heard a noice in the engine so I went to the dealer for the first service and explain what was hapenning to the AC they told me that the car was getting hot because the vent is not working I didnt know that the car was getting hot because it doesnt show nothing no sign no beep nothing I was surprise and also I notice that it needed engine oil, I think that something is wrong with this car because is a model 23 and I just got it on April only 5 months use. is this normal ? Also my daughter bought the same model and she went for a trip and the car also got hot and it didnt show up in the system she called them and they said to take the car to the dealer for a check up I think that if the cars are new they shouldnt be having this problems.
  • JamesGarfield What charging network does the Polestar use?
  • JamesGarfield Re: Getting away from union plantsAbout a dozen years or so ago, Caterpillar built a huge new engine plant, just down the road here in Seguin TX. Story has it, Caterpillar came to Seguin City council in advance, and told them their plans. Then they asked for no advanced publicity from Seguin, until announcement day. This new plant was gonna be a non-union replacement for a couple of union plants in IL and SC, and Cat didn't want to stir up union problems until the plan was set. They told Seguin, If you about blab this in advance, we'll walk. Well, Seguin kept quiet as instructed, and the plan went through, with all the usual expected tax abatements given.Plant construction began, but the Caterpillar name was conspicuously absent from anywhere on the site. Instead, the plant was described as being a collective of various contractors and suppliers for Caterpillar. Which in fact, it was. Then comes the day, with the big new plant fully operationa!, that Caterpillar comes in and announces, Hey, Yeah it's our plant, and the Caterpillar name boldly goes up on the front. All you contractor folks, welcome aboard, you're now Caterpillar employees. Then, Cat turns and announces they are closing those two union plants immediately, and will be transporting all the heavy manufacturing equipment to Seguin. None of the union workers, just the equipment. And today, the Caterpillar plant sits out there, humming away happily, making engines for the industry and good paying jobs for us. I'd call that a winner.
  • Stuki Moi What Subaru taketh away in costs, dealers will no doubt add right back in adjustments.... Fat chance Subaru will offer a sufficient supply of them.