2007 Toyota Prius Touring Edition
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.
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
[AdAge, subscription required]