Toyota inaction on headlight problem creates ill will

By Jim Meachen
MotowayAmerica Editor

(July 2009) A search of the Internet has uncovered a problem faced by owners of late-model Toyota Prius hybrid cars. Evidently this is not new, but a long-running concern, and has proven expensive for a considerable number of people. It came to light for many thousands of people on June 30 when Advertising Age released a story headlined, "Prius Headlamp Troubles Could Dim Toyota Brand's Rep."

Here's the thing.

Complaints began as early as August 2006 that optional HID (high intensity) headlights were failing and Toyota was offering no help under the new-car warranty. It can cost between $300 and $2,000 — with labor — to replace all or part of the light system.

The defect seems to be most prevalent in 2006 and 2007 models, but there have been reports of light failures in 2005 and 2008 models as well.
Owners have complained to federal safety officials who started looking into the matter in late April. A lawsuit was filed last month against Toyota on behalf of Prius owners. The suit called the situation "a dangerous but undisclosed safety defect."

There have been 338 complaints made to the Transportation Department about light failures.

Reading some entries in online chat rooms, we found that many Prius owners facing $2,000 repair bills for faulty equipment on a new car are not happy about their treatment. It appears a recall was justified at least a couple years ago, but Toyota officials apparently decided to roll the dice to save some money hoping the problem would resolve itself.

Now after growing bad publicity, Toyota will be made to bite the bullet.

Toyota is cooperating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is required to provide information at the end of the month. A spokesman said Toyota is also looking into its other models equipped with upper-end HID lights and referred owners to the customer-service line at 800-331-4331.

This is not an isolated case for the automotive industry. Why do automakers blatantly seek the ire of their good customers and at the same time ask for bad publicity, particularly in these trying economic times, by not doing the right thing when a real problem becomes apparent?

The bottom line here is that some current Prius owners may look elsewhere for their next hybrid purchase.

A few months ago one owner wrote on "If I had known of this [Prius] headlight issue and the cost for a headlight, I would never have purchased the car. This light problem should be a recall issue by Toyota. If the problem is not resolved, as much as I like Toyotas, I will never buy another one."