High-Intensity Headlight Horrors Perplex Prius Owners

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2007 Toyota Prius Touring Edition

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There's nothing the media love more than a nice juicy auto problem. Imagine that your car's headlamps failed, and replacing them cost you THOUSANDS. OF. DOLLARS  !!!

Well, that's the premise of a late June story in AdAge, which discussed a potential problem with the optional xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights fitted to the second-generation Toyota Prius in model years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received hundreds of complaints from Prius owners about HID lamp failures and, according to the story, opened a preliminary investigation into the matter.

Watching the statistics

The AdAge story cites 338 complaints received, although our search of the NHTSA complaints system produced just 117  listings for complaints about the 2005-2008 Toyota Prius categorized under "Exterior Lighting-Headlights".

The bulk of them (80) were for the 2006 model year. And it's worth noting that those complaints covered all headlight problems, not just those having to do with the HID lights.

Many of the complaints cite dealer repair costs exceeding $1,000, in some cases as high as $1,800 to replace two entire HID light units and two control modules, which are electronic components that provide power to the lights.

We'll wait to see what the NHTSA comes up with, but as commenter Dan Stern on the AdAge story notes, headlight bulbs are a consumable item for cars--like wiper blades, brake pads, and tires. Which is to say, sometimes they do fail and need to be replaced.

Whether they are failing at a higher rate than expected will depend on statistical analysis, and the NHTSA wrote to Toyota in May asking for more data.

Sticker shock?

The HID bulbs have a rated life twice as long as standard bulbs, and give three times the light while using about half the power. But they're also much more expensive: the list price for one bulb is $150, against $12 to $15 for a standard headlight bulb.

We suspect the high cost of a new HID bulb may come as a shock to Prius owners, making them more likely to suspect a defect.

It may be, as Stern suggests, that unscrupulous dealers are exacerbating the high cost of the bulbs. They may be imposing exorbitant labor charges for unnecessary work, like removing the Prius front bumper shield to swap out a dead bulb, or even replacing entire HID units at $330 apiece. Replacing a single Prius headlight bulb, according to the service manual, takes less than 15 minutes.

It may also be that the problem lies not with the lights themselves, but with a $250 control module and/or associated wiring.

Meanwhile, perhaps inevitably, a lawsuit has been filed in Los Angeles on behalf of a Toyota Prius owner in Putnam County, New York. The firm of Girard Gibbs is seeking class-action status for their suit, calling the bulb failures "a dangerous but undisclosed safety defect."

This reminds us somewhat of the supposed Prius "sudden acceleration" issue, in which a handful of owners claimed that their hybrids experienced complete brake failure while accelerating wildly out of control.

What should YOU do?

If you have a Prius with HID headlights, and one of your bulbs fails, it may be worth trying to repair it yourself. Dealers can charge you $175 to $350, but with a little care and some tools, you should be able to follow the instructions in your owner's manual.

And you can find replacement HID bulbs for little more than half the Toyota price of $150.00. The bulb type is D2R, and they're perfectly standard replacement items used in multiple vehicles besides the Prius.

As always, Google (or any other search engine of your choice) is your friend here.

MORE DETAILS: "Headlight problems" on PriusChat

MORE DETAILS: "Replacing headlight bulb on Prius" on HybridCars

2008 Toyota Prius Touring

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Comments (57)
  1. I have an 08 Prius and have replaced 3 headlights (all under warranty)so far. Most recently the dealer service advisor offered to replace both as she indicated that since one went out I would probably be back again soon for the other. I have asked other Prius owners and have run into the same story. Sounds like a class action is in order...please contact me with info in this regard.

  2. 2007 Prius "winking headlights both sides. Took to dealer three times, said they found nothig wrong with head lamps. Recently had two total blackouts in high speed Interstate traffic. Warranty is out now they ask $800 for two bulbs and control box with no assurance that it will fix the problem. Sounds like this is mopre than a "worn out light."

  3. Tom, ask them to escalate to Toyota personnel. Especially with your previous visit records, there is every possibility they can get some concessions from Toyota. If they refuse, find another dealer...

  4. This just started happening with my 07 Prius this week. Should I try replacing the bulbs myself, or go straight to the dealer since they've done all service to the car and make sure they charge it to the warranty?

  5. I am having to replace the left-side headlight now, 3.5 years after buying it, for $299 (parts and labor). I did find a 15% off coupon - but I am still experiencing sticker shock at how expensive a single headlight is..Next time this happens I will try to replace it myself. FWIW I will file a complaint with the NHTSA also.

  6. John, you are minimizing the problem, and excusing Toyota for a major screw up! My 2005 Prius has been a great car, EXCEPT the right headlight started winking, and cost $1200 to fix! Two weeks later the left one started blinking, now it's OUT!
    The access issue is one problem, and the bulb cost is another, but the HID driver circuit is the real killer, and I'm not about to spend another $1200 for the left light.

  7. Are you kidding. I don't know your Bio but are you a Toyota PR guy? I have an 06 with this problem. Sticker shock hell yes. Imagining a defect? Come on. Oh but not Toyota they are the good guys.....

  8. Are you kidding. I have an 06 with this problem. Sticker shock hell yes. Imagining a defect? Come on. Oh but not Toyota they are the good guys.....

  9. I have a 2008 Prius. The cheap version. Fortunately, I have HALOGEN bulbs in my exterior lights. No back up camera or cruise control. I didn't need either anyway. So far? I'm getting 49 m.p.g.! I just installed FACTORY weather mats. No problem. Clipped into the floor. I have a 2" gap between the gas pedal. The mat won't slip. Besides, I don't floor the pedal. (The object is to learn how to save gas!)
    Toyota needs to sell conversion kits for more electric mode. And using solar panels as alternatives. I know of different kits. None are Toyota.

  10. Why are Prius owners going to the dealer to have a light bulb replaced? Anyone who takes their car to the dealer should expect to get gouged on costs. Even worse, a headlight bulb? What kind of people go to the dealer for a headlight bulb replacement? No wonder you people are paying so much. If there is a problem with the headlights, you're in the right but you still are ignorant of your vehicle. READ THE OWNERS MANUAL!! That's why the manufacturer gives it to you. There's more to driving a car than getting behind the wheel with a driver's license. Unless you get some understanding of how to do something as simple as replacing a headlight bulb, you will always be gouged on servicing.

  11. You shouldn't speak so vehemently unless you know what the H you are talking about. I have this problem. I went and bought the bulbs from an auto parts store the cost was about 70. I took out my manual...got on my surgical gloves and 3 hours later after finding out the bulb didn't fit because it comes with some sort of casing on it. I went back to the parts store they did some research. the bulb was not available in stores only on line. The front bumper does need to be removed. You don't believe that because it is ridiculous to think...but it is true.
    I am one of those "Prius green owners" who are lazy? Nope...I can put in a cabin air filter better than a mechanic...but the Bulbs to a 2004-2007 prius...imposwsible...even for the mechanics...that's one of the reasons the problems don't get solved.OWNERS MANUAL READ, FOLLOWED AND USELESS!

  12. The fact that the defective HID headlamp can be quickly revived with a flip of the on-off switch, thus luring Prius owners into a false sense of security that everything is fine and the "loose wire" is fixed... until discovering on a subsequent outing that you've just driven for two hours on I-85 with one light should be ENOUGH of a reason to investigate this dangerous defect.
    As more 2006 Prius owners approach the 50,000 mile mark (like I just did), the increasing "tally" should be a little more satisfying for you, Voelcker.
    I just did my part and upped the number of complaints filed on the NHTSA web site by one more.
    Greensboro, N.C.

  13. I have the same problem with the passanger side headlamp, was pulled over and almost got a ticket. I ordered the bulbs over Ebay for $50/pair and replaced but the problem remains. By the way, removing the bumber is extremely easy and is the easiest way to get to the back of the headlights. Not that a non-mechanical person should try it, but certainly not worth more than one billable hour. Reported to NHTSA.

  14. I've replaced driver side headlight 1 time. The fix lasted 8 months before headlight resumed back to intermittent operation. It appears that as the lights age they start having this problem. I don't believe that the headlight is the problem. Either a light bulb works or it doesn't. the fact that these light bulbs come back on tells me that the circuit controlling these headlights is the culprit.Occasionally both headlights go off. Ps. For safety sake I drive with my headlights on day & night.

  15. For automatic updates on Action taken against Toyota on the headlight issue, How to do it yourself, Class Action updates, and other info become a Fan of this page
    - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prius-HID-Class-Action/195351592664?ref=ts
    To see a Video on how to change the your headlights yourself for only 50 bucks go to the Facebook Page and watch this video
    - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QPvUgs9Bgo

  16. I had to replace both bulbs in my 2007 toyota prius today for a total of $385.- was quoted $245.00 for one replacement. Reduced the dollar amount when my husband informed them that I was reading on line the complaints in reference to the head lignts. I am the second owner of this car I don't know if the previous owner had to replace the head lights. Shortly after purchasing the car in May I was driving through the city(at night) and I was pulled over by a police officer and was giving a warning because my head lights were not on and I thought gee thought I had left them on. I was giving a warning. Later that week was driving home at night and and my husband was ahead of me and he called to tell me my right head light was out. The next day he took the car back to the dealer and was told nothing was wrong with the lights but they would reverse the lights and if it happens again just turn the lights off and turn them on again. This has happened several times and each time my husband was driving ahead of me and called or stopped and stopped me to inform the head light was off. We became concern about the frequency in which this occurred and having to stop to turn the lights on and off, just didn't seem logical. This is a serious problem and for those in power to assume it's just a bulb gone bad is ridiculous. Please forward any information to me regarding any class action lawsuits.

  17. Wow, and I thought I was alone. Here's my question with my 2008 Prius wink:
    If the problem is the bulb, wouldn't it be out permanently? If the problem is electrical and apparently deeply hidden in the bumper, then the bulb is fine right? I have a great mechanic who only works with Toyota here in Atlanta. Just trying to prepare my wallet for the inevitable. Will post on NHTSA when I get the vin tomorrow.
    Thanks - we are all in this together!

  18. RTFM!!!

  19. Watched some of the above mentioned youTube clip. Good, but way too much work. The bumber cover only needs to be loosened up at the sides (one clip, one screw each), the pull out the sides partially. Then the clips and the two rubber hood stops on top and you can pull (hard) the bumper cover out far enough to get to the side (bottom) bolt on each headlight. Take the other two bolts out of the headlight and manipulate the entire headlight out so you can reach the back.
    Got some surplus optical fibre cable and now can see when a headlight is out. Swapped bulbs and the problem swapped again. I think now that out of 6 bulbs, I may have two that should stay on.
    Still a work in progress.

  20. Having all of the same issues, winking and blinking headlights. Took it to the dealer and they acted like they had never heard of the issue before. They replaced both headlights for free under my warranty that is only a few hundred miles away from expiring. But I'm not 100% sold that the bulbs are the issue. It doesn't make sense!
    How doe's a burned bulb wink on the passenger side and occasionally blink (both go out) and then come back on after you turn them off and then back on? that sounds like an electrical issue or more likely a computer issue. I smell a rat! I bet Toyota is trying to give us the finger over something that is there bad! If this is true I'm going to get pissed!

  21. My understanding is that a HID bulb has no filament, just a gas filled chamber that erupts into a light emitting plasma when activated by the 25,000 volts put out by the ballast (it says HID computer on the label). The light has to be triggered by a surge of current and you can see that when you first turn on the lights as the lights start out super bright and then rapidly go to normal. I suspect that the high voltage level may be on the edge of keeping the bulb lit or not lit on the bulbs that keep shutting down. Restarting the headlights triggers the surge and restarts the bad lamp. Mine usually shut off no more than three times before they seem to stay on all the time. The problem may be an electrical issue as Morgan says. The input voltage to the ballast is about 32 volts according to the label and the output is amplified to 25,000 volts, the same voltage by the way as a television CRT picture tube requires. A slight change in the 32 volts would cause a huge change in the 25,000 volts, maybe enough to shut off the plasma state. Only two of the four cheap Chinese bulbs seem to stay on. Maybe the expensive Philips bulbs have a higher tolerance to voltage change since my original lasted 50,000 miles. This is an issue that maybe future ballasts (HIV computers) will resolve, possibly with active sensing to bulb conditions and automatic voltage level maintenance.

  22. My wife's 04 prius has a brightness issue, It seems that they are aimed to low. She has to drive with them on Hi beam to be able to see. It does not bother oncoming traffic as I guess the hi beams are aimed to low. The Dealer first said the on board computor controls the adjustment automatically, and it would cost $500.00 to replace the computor.
    Most other vehicls are adjusted manually. A year later the dealer checked it again and said nothing was wrong with the lights, that is the way it is designed. Can this be true?We baught this car new and it had exceptional night time viewing. Any help?

  23. The Suzuki Grillenever did give names to their cars, instead consistently using letters and numbers to designate the coupes, sedans and the SUVs. With the Infinity Q45 being the flagship sedan, the Infinity found its place in the American market.The Infinity vehicles never did give names to their cars, instead consistently using letters and numbers to designate the coupes, sedans and the SUVs.
    Infiniti parts

  24. I have a 2007 Prius. With only 40,000 miles on it, both of my HID headlight bulbs have burned out. I didn’t replace the whole bulb apparatus, but since I didn’t feel confident in taking off the front bumper of the car to replace them (a lousy design), I took my car to the dealership for replacement and it was not a cheap visit with bulb costs and labor. This is really lousy since these stupid HID bulbs are supposed to last TWICE as long as regular bulbs. I never had to replace my regular bulbs on my previous car this often (let alone both at the same time!).

  25. I have a 2007 Prius that I purchased one year ago this month and have had nothing but problems with the headlights going on and off intermittently. I took it in and was told that the bumper had to be taken off to replace the bulb. How absurd is that! Why would construct a car where you have to take a bumper off to replace a headlight bulb. That was bad enough but when the dealership technician told it would be almost $600 to do this replace I could not believe my ears and that I could not change to a different bulb. Truly, I hope nothing else goes wrong with the vehicle it could cost me my first born.

  26. I'm sitting at the dealership, where the service advisor just informed me that both HID headlights and control computers on my 2006 Prius (44.5K miles) need to be replaced. The cost? $1,033. Needless to say, I called Toyota and requested that the cost be covered in full, citing the hundreds of complaints filed with the NHTSA, the press coverage, and the pending and filed class-action lawsuits. They opened a case and promised that someone would get back to me by close of business tomorrow. In the meantime, I have to drive a car with defective headlights.
    Add me to the list of Prius owners who had both headlights fail simultaneously while driving. Fortunately, I was only going about 35 MPH and could pull into a parking lot, where I got out and verified that both headlights were out, the stem headlight control was still on, and the dash indicator was illuminated.
    JD Power & Associates--the firm that Toyota and others cite when boasting about their cars' reliability and their highly rated customer service--says that the expected life of HID headlights is 3K hours or about 90K miles for the average driver: http://www.jdpower.com/autos/articles/HID-Headlights. When thousands of Prius owners have their headlights fail in less than half that, something is clearly wrong.

  27. I just bought a used 08, so I am new to the Prius, but I work with HID lamps used in building lighting. When they burn out, I have to fix them. I find that HID bulbs after about 3 to 7 years of service, will over heat and shut off for about 20 minutes. There is a bi-metal strip that opens like a switch. then once the bulb has cooled, it will relight and run for a while and then over heat again. I fix these by replacing the bulb, the ballasts are nearly always fine. With building lights, it is nearly always an old bulb. I only replace the ballast if it will not light a new bulb. From my experience, I would change the bulbs myself and see if it corrects the problem. Then while parked, test the bulbs by leaving the headlights on for an hour and see if they go out. (leave the car "running" so the battery isn't drawn down too far.) In my experence I find that the cheap bulbs work as well as the expensive ones, but may not last as long, and some bulbs may not work with some ballasts. The bulb and ballast have to work together, some cheap bulbs may not be properly matched to the ballast to work reliblely and may act like an old bulb by overheating and cycling off even when new. Not a common problem, but shows how much "fun" HID lights can be. I don't buy the loose wires as a cause, when you consider how cars are wired with wire harnesses with locking plugs. I would suspect the bulb since bulbs hate vibration. Have to see if I end up playing with this on my 08, hopefully not.

  28. I have a 2006 Prius. Toyota paid to have my right front headlight replaced for $800.00 and later they paid $1800.00 to have both of my headlights replaced hen the headlights went out again. Recently, I had to pay $800.00 to replace the right front headlight again. There definitely is a problem here.

  29. I have a 2004 Prius with HID headlights. I was driving at 11:30pm on a foggy, drizzly night on a lonely, dark interstate when both headlights and dashboards lights went black. I turned the lights off then on, and they came back on. Driving home slowly, the lights failed again, and came back on again. Took it to the dealer where they charged me $990 to replace both bulbs and ecu. A week or so later my wife was driving the car at night with our 2 kids, and the headlights went black again. Back to the dealer, where they assured me the problem was now fixed. Not long after, the left light is now winking off occasionally. Car now back at the dealer for 2 weeks, they say they can't find a problem. What am I supposed to do??!!

  30. 2006 prius 62k miles. The blinking started in one light then started going off completely. 3 weeks later the other side started and now I am left in total darkness with complete regularity. AND now that I got a ticket I am forced to fix this. They lights come on if you shut off the switch and turn them back on BUT I received bulletin saying that the fastest way to kill a HID bulb is to turn it off and on while hot. What do I do. Andrew westa@westelcom.com Reported to National Traffic Safety

  31. We have a 2007 Prius with 39,000 miles and blinking headlights. We had asked the dealer about them in the past, and of course we could not demonstrate the problem for the service tech. The problem is getting worse with full blackouts happening almost every time out at night, and now the car is out of warranty. If we have to pay for new headlights, can we get them changed to normal halogen ones instead of replacing the HID's? Anybody know?

  32. I had to replace the headlight on my 2008 Prius. The car was just out of warranty. I had purchased the extended warranty but was told the repair wasn't covered. I almost fainted when presented with the bill for $300. I was so furious I wrote a blistering column for the local newspaper where I am employed.

  33. "This reminds us somewhat of the supposed Prius "sudden acceleration" issue, in which a handful of owners claimed that their hybrids experienced complete brake failure while accelerating wildly out of control."
    Heh heh ... this from a "car expert"?

  34. I see a basic distinction between the described issues; the acceleration, when not linked to physical mat/pedal issues, appears to be vague and impossible to reproduce. The HID light issue seems pervasive, almost predictable and aggravating because:
    a) the expense is eggregious, whether or not one is able to do it themselves
    b) the consequences of simultaneous failures are life-threatening
    I'm curious - do other brands using HID systems have similar issues? I could see how mild corrosion or contamination of the bulb base contact might cause overheating, thereby encouraging the issue, but otherwise the whole highvoltage transformer may be the culprit.
    Dealer integrity should demand low charges for mere replacement.

  35. i have an 06 prius,27,000 miles.i had headlight problems.i went to ebay and bought an after market HID kit for a 04,05,06 prius. it cost $75.00. i installed it myself with very few alterations,took about an hour.works great and i,m happy with my new lights.

  36. my 07 prius has been to the dealer more times then my 22 year old s-10 pickup truck. both Lights went out a week ago while driving at night I flicked the switch and they came back on. I will not drive this car at night!
    the dealer found nothing wrong. I need to save my a$$ not gas.

  37. they are very good and useful!!!

  38. they are good useful!!!

  39. I also have a 2007 and the lights go on and off randomly. You can turn the lights on and off they come back in just make sure you dont have a few drinks while driving a prius as you will get pulled over at night for burned out light they jsut need a reason to pull you over

  40. Oh you poor people that can't turn a wrench. I find it hard to sympathize. Go ahead and pay $1000 to Toyota or find genuine Phillips bulbs on eBay for $45 each and follow some directions above. Your choice.

  41. Really its good article. I like it.


  43. I worked in commercial lighting for 17 years. It is normal for old(weak) HID lamps to go off-on. They have no filament; they arc across the glass tube. When they get old, they no longer can fire across the hot gas in the tube, and they go out, until they cool off enough, then go back on. They can continue to "cycle" like this until they can no longer work.

  44. Take William's advice. I have the halogen bulbs on our 2006 Prius. Replacing both bulbs took 30 minutes this morning. Take a look at your owner's manual. Follow the instructions. They work on both sides. I guess it could be easier, but it is very simple to do. I would guess that HID installation is similar. The space/access should be the same.

  45. Replaced the whole HID Headlamp assembly with the HALOGEN style, around $200 and 1 hour work myself. SOOoooo much happier, no more wink-outs or spendy bulbs for me.

  46. FYI

  47. I just finished submitting an NHTSA report re. this Toyota Prius HID headlamp problem. It only takes a few minutes. We really need to report this safety issue. I was several hours from home on a busy interstate without a headlight! On a Sunday there is no one to call (short of a tow). The other bulb cost me a ticket on top of the bulb & labor expense! These exotic bulbs cannot be purchased in a normal automotive store and without easy replacement access--no one should remove a bumper in the dark on an interstate!

  48. We have a 2007 Prius and have also experienced the nightmare of the HID Headlight problem. Headlights turning off on dim dark highways and one of the times it caused us to have an accident causing damage to our car. We were told by the dealer that is is common thing with that bulb and part of normal maintence after we paid over 300 to get it replaced. A few months later the other bulb went out. It is a hudge problem to have to spend that much on a headlight bulb. A rip off for us Prius owners. They have to have something they can use instead of this bulb if it is bulb related and not a relay problem. We all need to have Toyota address this problem and do a recall and fix this problem before someone is injured due to headlight problems of the Prius.

  49. I have a 2008 Prius and have one light out occasionally which triggers both to go out simutaneously like a Christmas tree does. The first time it happened my 18 year old daughter was driving at about 50 miles an hour on a mountainous curving road. She slammed on the breaks leaving us on a curve with no lights on waiting to get hit from behind. It has happened since then several times to me. My Toyota dealer was well aware of the problem and had originally replaced the lights under warranty until Toyota slapped them up the head and told them to stop. Don't you just love the new Toyota commercial with the angel in the trunk that is supposed to look after you and make you feel safe. Every time I see that commercial I cringe and think I am probably going to need that angel sooner than later when my lights go out and I am on my way to heaven.... Something needs to make Toyota responsible.

  50. I bought a used 2005 prius in September 2008. The light went out as I was pulling out of the dealership. They had to replace it...twice. Now the other one is going out and it is out of warranty. They tell me that replacing the bulb is not enough and it needs a ballast which will cost me $800.00. I want to know if anyone has tried to get Toyota to make an adjustment on theirs.

  51. It is odd that HID's would fail so quickly, my 05 Acura is still on it's first pair of bulbs, and their color and light are still great. However if there is a real problem at hand you have to remember that the term "stealership" that gets around online isn't there for no reason.

  52. I will not be tempted to those things. I only just love my crafter guitar.

  53. I went to a local mechanic when my headlight failed last week. The shop replaced 4 bulbs - headlight, taillight and directionals. It cost $65. for everything including labor.

  54. I own a 2005 Toyota Prius which I bought in 2007 (pre-owned from the dealership).
    Last week I went to a local mechanic in Queens NY when my headlight failed. The shop replaced 4 bulbs -the headlight, tail light and directionals.
    It cost $65. for everything including labor.

  55. Sorry, but you have different headlights. Or maybe I should say I'm glad you don't have the High Intensity bulbs.

  56. Passenger HID lamp failed on my '05 in 2009. I called Toyota USA's 800- number, told them I'd learned they had a problem. They had me pay the dealer and reimbursed me. Cost $0 and a few phone calls.

    Same side failed in 2011. I got a Phillips D2R lamp on eBay (or Amazon) for $50. Watched a few YouTube videos, gathered 2 screwdrivers and a 3" mirror, changed it in about 20 minutes.

    NOTE: Very large hands can't fit. Remove a cover (driver's side) or air funnel (passenger side), pop-up clips, bulb cover, electric plug. Wire bulb clips are clumsy, but do-able. Snug fit.

    Lessons Learned: Don't flash headlights when they're turned off; wear comes from "striking" (initial turn-on). Watch how old bulb came out to place new bulb correctly.

  57. I mistakenly purchased an 07 Prius on 1/26/15 and was unaware of the headlight, cooling pump, etc. problems. The Toyota dealer said nothing about these problems. I will never buy another toyota.

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