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Why Scott Hates his 2006 Prius

Back in 2005 when Amy was still my wife, she began driving our 2002 Nissan Xterra from our home in San Diego to her job in Los Angeles every day. The price of fuel was rising to “record levels” and we came to the not-too-surprising conclusion that commuting the SUV wasn’t really cost-effective.

In addition to the fuel costs, the Xterra was out of warranty and I wasn’t crazy about the idea of an expensive repair bill in the immediate future. Buying a new car for her seemed like the best idea…..

Wanting to be environmentally conscientious consumers, we decided to take a good look at hybrids. At the time, it came down to the Honda Accord or the Toyota Prius. We went to a number of dealerships in vain attempts to test-drive one, but they were selling so fast that finding a demo car was problematic.

Meanwhile I was researching mileage and calculating operating costs to make sure that the hybrid made economic sense based on her commute. Hybrids do better at low speeds when they can rely on the battery. Most of her commute is freeway miles. However, given how often a chunk of that commute ends up in bumper to bumper freeway gridlock it ended up that the hybrid made sense for us.

Coming to that conclusion took me about 3 months of research – I didn’t make the decision lightly.

Once we knew we wanted a hybrid, it came down to finally finding a dealer that had one to test drive (they were using it to run errands and would let us test drive it “if it was around” when we were there – it worked out).

The end of the rather prolonged process was Amy deciding she wanted a “Barcelona Red” 2006 Prius with GPS navigation, premium sound system, and though I didn’t pay any attention at the time of purchase, stability control and “self leveling” headlamps.

All I knew was that it satisfied all of my requirements for buying a new car at the time:….

1. It was fuel efficient & cost effective….

2. It was backed by a good warranty….

3. Amy liked it (since she had to drive it)

So for a couple of years we were happy Toyota Prius owners.
(NO we didn’t get divorced over the Prius – she says I’m a big jerk…)

Then one night in 2008 Amy calls me
(we’re still essentially friends, guess I’m not THAT big a jerk…)

she calls to tell me about something weird that had happened on the freeway. Her headlamps had “just turned off for no reason”.

I asked her if she was okay, and she said yes. The lights came back on when she turned off the switch and turned them back on. ….

I said we should probably get it checked out. I thought it would be no big deal, since it’s just a headlamp.

Only it turns out that it’s not “just” a headlamp.

When Amy took the car in to the dealership to have it diagnosed, they indicated that they were aware of the problem, and it would cost us $1100 to replace the headlamp.

Maybe I’m cheap – but I felt strongly that $1100 is a bit much to charge for a new headlight. I would have been incensed that it wasn’t covered by the warranty, except that all those trips to LA and back had added up pretty quick. The warranty was up.

Fortunately for me, I know a great mechanic. He’s certified on a variety of automobiles, charges a fair price and is generally a good guy.
No I’m not making this up – I have a great mechanic.

So he called one if the techs he knows at the local Toyota dealership and got some info on just what justifies $1100 to replace a light bulb.

It turns out that in theory, aside from physical damage, you really shouldn’t have to change that light bulb. In order to get at it, Toyota was going to remove the front bumper cover and essentially have to dig through the front of the car to get at the offending bad bulb. In addition, the bulb is freakin’ expensive. My local dealer sells the bulb for $408.87.

Assuming there was a dealer mark up on the item,  I dropped by the parts counter at the dealer and asked what kind of bulb we were talking about.

Was it a Sylvannia, a Phillips, GE, what?

Turns out we were discussing a headlight bulb… I could see this was going nowhere.

So I decided to go back and talk to my mechanic friend again – maybe he could do it cheaper.
(He could, but due to the labor, it would still be freakin’ expensive…)

Unfortunately, it took me awhile to get around to discussing my options.

I have these annoying distractions that keep me from full time Toyota nonsense; a job, kids, dogs, etc.

By the time I was ready to deal with it, Amy was reporting that both lamps were affected. It was still intermittent, and they came back on when she switched them off and back on again every time.

She’s pretty patient about these things, but I have an issue with headlights being off even for a moment on dark stretches of the 5 late at night. That’s just how I am.

Amy did some more digging on the internet and discovered that there were two likely candidates to replace the defective lamps in our Prius. Both are HID bulbs. It was either the D2R or D4R. Probably the D4R because it’s the more expensive one…

Since the kid at the dealership parts counter was no help whatsoever, I decided to go straight to the source. I hit the internet and in just about no time had a direct line to Toyota’s North American headquarters (1-800-331-4331).

I was placed on hold.

When I got a customer service rep on the phone, I calmly explained that I had a problem with my 2006 Prius and needed to know what headlamp bulb was the recommended replacement.

She put me on hold.

When she came back on the line, she informed me that I was being escalated to a hybrid specialist, who would help me resolve my issue.

The hybrid specialist assigned me a case number (0905-1132-95) and I told her the same story I told the first girl.

What it all boiled down to, I said, was that I thought that it was crazy for the dealer to want $1100 to replace a headlamp, and I would be the happiest, most loyal Toyota customer in the known universe if they could tell me which of these two bulbs goes in my Prius.
(I’m prone to sarcasm, which is why Amy thinks I’m a big jerk…)

I was told that the dealership should have that information.

I said that they only had a Toyota part number, and I know it’s probably a Phillips light bulb. I also asked her if she realized that $408.87 for a headlight bulb is ridiculous.

She put me on hold again.

When she came back, she apologized and indicated that they don’t have specific parts information in their department.

She did concede that $1100 to replace one headlamp was a little expensive – it was supposed to be $1500 for both of them.

I said, “let me get this straight. You don’t know what kind of bulbs go in the cars you manufacture, and you can’t find out? And you think it’s okay to charge $1500 to change two headlights? Is that what you’re actually telling me?”

Turns out, yes – that’s pretty much what she was telling me. I asked if they realized this would be why I would never buy another Toyota, but it didn’t seem to matter.

So between internet chat rooms and coordinating schedules, combined with my reluctance to take a wrench to a technology I am, quite frankly, intimidated by – it took a couple of months for me to find myself in my garage with my disassembled Prius.

We bought the D4R bulbs based on the info we found on line, though  I was still not 100% sure they were the right ones.
(But they were $69.99)

So that’s where I was the afternoon of September 5th; pretty much convinced I was about to break something and end up paying $1500, plus the cost of whatever was broken by my attempt. Even if I did have the right bulbs, which I probably didn’t.

Armed with a digital camera and a set of Craftsman metric tools I expected to kill the whole day on this project. Most of what I’d read on line involved NOT taking off the bumper cover. The trick, it seemed, is to move the washer fliud assembly on the passenger side and just do it blind on the driver side – with your hand wedged into the small space behind the lamp assembly. Most of the people who have posts up about tackling this project indicate that the plastic fins on the back of the housing will break off.

They’re supposed to provide leverage for removing that backing cover, but the rubber O-ring gives a lot of resistance. The trick is slow and steady pressure on the fins, Don’t use tools, don’t force it. Use slow and steady pressure.

Naturally, I found that getting my hand behind the driver side is just not possible. I also found that removing the washer fluid tank assemble is also annoying.

Taking off the bumper cover is intimidating. There are seemingly as many plastic pop-clips (rivets? what the heck do you call those stupid things?) as there are screws.

The up side to taking off the bumper cover, in my opinion, is that all of the fasteners you need to get at are pretty much right out in the open. As I discovered in my attempt, even better is that I didn’t need to actually remove the whole cover to get the headlamp assembly out so that I could wrangle that housing cover unobstructed. Funny thing about those bumper covers, they’re really flexible.

Of course the down side is that the whole thing is way more complicated than it should be to change two freakin’ headlamps. The up side is that it didn’t really take long at all – and yes I had the correct D4R bulbs.

In my own case  I ate up a lot of time going after the washer fluid container, and putting it back before deciding to go in through the front. So I did kill pretty much the whole day, but had I known then what I know now…

If you want nauseating details, send me a message.I’ll be glad to walk you  through it, and I took pictures. Most of them were out of focus, so I deleted them – but some of the ones that remain might be useful.

And if you want my advice on whether or not to buy a Prius –

Well, I won’t do it again that’s for damn sure…

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