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How Toyota Almost Killed My Prius

How Toyota Almost Killed My Prius

If you have been reading my blog, I have always advocated against buying a Prius. Only full time drivers will be able to capitalize on Prius’ lower fuel consumption and maintenance while other drivers will be spending more on depreciation. I finally found an older Prius at a really good price so I bought it. I finally bought a Prius.

So far, I’m loving the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. The battery offers a lot of ways to save on fuel. I’m averaging about 52mpg on a 2006 Prius with 110k miles. I think I can get around 54mpg average if I tried hard enough, but I think I’ll be pissing off my passengers by driving slowly. I was really enjoying my Prius until Toyota almost killed my Prius.

What Happened?

The maintenance light came on, so I took it to Toyota to get an oil change. I always bring cars that I recently purchased to the dealership so they can scan for any recalls and tell me if anything else was wrong with the car. They offer a free “inspection” in the hopes that they can get you to buy more services. It is a win-win situation; I find out what else is wrong and they can probably get me to pay for the service.

I went Monday morning to the local Toyota dealership and the oil change took about an hour. They recommended a new accessory belt at $170 but that was it. I was going to replace the belt anyway since the Prius was already 12 years old on an original belt. I drove off to the local auto parts store to get some new filters. I replaced the filters. When I was driving home, the big red triangle of death came up along with a check engine light.

I have been reading a lot about Prius for the past few months and initially thought it was a battery issue. However, the engine refused to turn on and I was still driving on the battery. The battery won’t charge though, so I thought that either the battery was bad or the inverter that charges the battery. I eeked along until the battery finally went flat and I had to push the car about 100 feet into a gas station. I was really lucky that I broke down next to a gas station and repair shop.

When I got to the repair shop, I asked to borrow their code scanner to see what was wrong. They refused. I was about to run home (two miles away) and get my computer to read the codes until I decided to call Toyota. It is extremely strange that right after an oil change, my car dies. I called them up and told them my car died just 2 miles after an oil change. They sent out a technician to check out the car and a tow truck to pick up my car. The technician verified there was oil in the car but something is really off with the engine. The engine starts when you turn on the car, but it is running very rough and the check engine light is still on. The battery is flat so it was going nowhere.

The Toyota technician kindly drove me home and I ran some other errands. I get a call later in the day from the service advisor I was working with. He tells me that my intake manifold gasket was leaking oil and it needs to be replaced. He claims it was not related to the oil change and it would cost me $550 and also $92 for the tow. He argued that the oil level was a little low when I brought it in, so when they filled it to the proper level, the leaking intake manifold gasket allowed oil into the engine intake system. The intake gasket would be replaced and the intake manifold would be cleaned. Under pressure, I agreed for them to fix it. I didn’t really have a choice since the car couldn’t be driven.

I kept thinking about the intake manifold gasket. How can an intake manifold gasket leak oil? It is surrounded by air on both sides. Unless there was something else wrong, there shouldn’t be oil next to the intake manifold gasket. I went on the interwebs and searched for Prius oil change and found a few interesting posts.

How Toyota Almost Killed My Prius

There were a few Prius owners who had their car overfilled with oil by Toyota dealers themselves. Prius owners also claimed that other oil change shops have done the same, but I would blame their system rather than the technicians. Oil change shops run off of a computer to tell them how much oil to put in, so a small error there could lead to overfilling. For the most part, overfilled Prius had lower fuel efficiency because oil was in the intake system. The Atkinson engine in a Prius is particularly sensitive to overfilling of oil. When it is overfilled with oil, oil will come out of the top of the engine and drain down into the intake system.

Once I found this issue, I raced back to the dealership to check out my car. I first checked the dipstick and it was about ½” above full. It is very hard to see in the below picture with clear motor oil, but it was 1/2″ to the left of the full mark. I then opened up the throttle and saw oil pooled at the bottom of the intake.

I went in and spoke to the service advisor and demanded to see the paperwork associated with the car. He was very hesitant to show me the paperwork, but I wasn’t paying $550 just because he said so. He finally relented and got the paperwork. It was written clearly on the work order that the engine was overfilled, which made it extremely clear that it wasn’t my fault. I told him I had all the pictures I needed to prove that Toyota almost killed my Prius. He talked to his manager and he finally agreed to fix my car for free.

I was annoyed that they blamed me for the problem. I’m sure that they didn’t want to pay for the tow and to clean the intake so they wanted to bill me for me. It was a clear win-win for them to blame the customer for this. I was also annoyed that I had to talk to manager to get this resolved. Once the body of evidence was presented, it was pretty clear that they almost destroyed the engine. However, they still weren’t going to pay for it until I spoke to the manager.

I’m sure they would have gotten away with mistakes like these on other customers. I have always heard that there are bad automotive shops everywhere, but I have never encountered one until now. I have ran into automotive shops that upsell really well, but never to this level to charge the customer for a mistake the dealership made.

How Can This Be Fixed?

Search “overfilled Prius” and you’ll see a few videos on how to fix the problem. The solution is fairly simple but may be time intensive (2-3 hours). You will need to take off the intake system (manifold, throttle, Mass Airflow Sensor, etc) and clean it. The Prius intake system is right in front of the engine so it should be pretty easy and quick to clean it, but it requires you to clean it. It is best to take it apart and clean it outside the car in pieces. There are videos that show the owner cleaning it without taking it apart, but there may be a lot of oil in there. While it will take much more time, I believe this is the proper way to clean it.

What Should Every Prius Owner Know?

After every oil change, check the oil level with the dipstick! It may be something stupid to say, but I never have checked the oil level after an oil change. I just assumed that the oil was in the right level. The recommendation is just 3.5 quarts of oil in a Prius. The service advisor said they filled it to 4.6 quarts, which would be a quart too much.

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