Safety, Maybe

Our first Toyota Prius was a 2006, bought largely by default.  Dr. SJ had no clue what type of car she wanted, but being environmentally-minded, and hating to fill the tank, she went for it. She called it the Pod, because, well, it looked like a pod.  The car, not Dr. SJ., who looks fabulous.

About an hour after the warranty expired, the left headlight died.  Well, that can happen, I thought, and so we brought it to the dealer who was more than happy to change it.  Almost gleeful, really.

I would have done so myself, but it had this pointless shroud covering the front of the engine, and Dr. SJ falsely doesn’t think I fix anything without breaking something else.  Mind you, her father was the king of duct tape, but he’s special.

So I paid the dealer $110 to replace the left headlight. Then the right went. And then the left again. If you gave them the Fonzie chop, they might work again for a while, but die a few days later.  And then right went again. Left, Right. I began to see a pattern developing. The NHTSA knew about the problem, but took a pass as it wasn’t a safety issue. Who needs lights?  There was a class action, which was settled in such a way that it did nothing for me. Thankfully, the lawyers were well paid.

On the ride home from a fabulous Saturday night wedding at Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO, which has one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen of Manhattan (nestled between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, it was breathtaking), the lights on Dr. SJ’s 2011 Prius died. Both. Right. Left. Dead.  On the BQE, On the LIE. Dead.  The brights still worked, but that was just rude.

The next morning, I checked the fuses. They were fine. I played with the lights for a while. They were not fine.  The shroud is no longer used on the 2011 model, but the space to get to the bulbs requires one to have one-half to one-third of a human-sized hand, without thumbs.  A certain amount of engine dismantling was required.

I waited a bit, talked nicely to the car, and tried again.  Still nothing. I chopped at the headlights. Nothing. I googled the problem and saw that Toyota, following the class action, didn’t have this problem with model year 2010 forward.

Now bulbs burn out. That’s how bulbs work. But the likelihood of two bulbs, left and right headlight, burning out at the same instant is slim. Extremely slim. And given my experience with the 2006 Prius, I’m disinclined to find excuses for Toyota and its Prius light problems.

Dear Toyota,

The headlights on my wife’s Prius failed.  Just as they did with her last Prius.

You suck.

I want other people to know this, because you suck.  Cars need headlights, and it is not acceptable that your headlights fail.  This is not safe, so if anything happens, consider this notice that you suck. And so do your headlights.

Your pal,


As for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, have you guys ever been on the BQE at night?  Headlights are not a mere convenience. It’s vicious out there.  People really need to have headlights that work on a reasonably reliable basis. Even in Priuses.

The good news is that the third generation Prius doesn’t have the farkakta shroud that makes changing the bulbs a nightmare.  I wonder why that happened, Toyota?  And contrary to the dealer price, the bulbs aren’t nearly that expensive at an auto parts store.  So now, Dr. SJ’s pod has lights again. But I’m a lawyer, not an auto mechanic, and really shouldn’t be constrained to know this much about such an ugly car.

9 comments on “Safety, Maybe

  1. Jamison

    I quibble with your use of the term “Fonzie Chop.” I think “Fonzie tap,” “knock,” or even “bump” would more accurately describe what you are trying to convey.

    1. SHG Post author

      I refuse to argue the merits of chop versus tap, knock or bump. Well, maybe tap would be better.

  2. Frank

    Be glad you don’t need brakes. There’s a little issue with Toyota Prius brake parts. Has to do with one of two factories being evacuated because of the radiation from Fukishima. The other one is in Malaysia. So if you need brakes, just go to Midas/Pep Boys, forget the dealer.

  3. John Barleycorn

    You are such a curmudgeon!

    Look at all the good things in life going on…

    Is it now true that if both headlights go out simaltainiously again and you happen to run reckless over a cat or something and get yourself arrested for having opposable thumbs that weren’t up to the required mantainence that the state might have to chip in for the expert witness(‘s) you may be needing for your defense?

    Unfortunately for you, you will probably have to divorce Dr. SJ first to qualify for the state subsidy but it has been said marrying the same woman twice is always sweeter the second time around.

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