2004 Toyota Prius Long-Term Road Test

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2004 Toyota Prius: Life after the Long Term Fleet

December 27, 2010

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Ever wonder what happens to the long term test cars after the editors are finished with them? This is your lucky chance to hear from the old 2004 Toyota Prius after leaving the fleet last Fall. That's because it was purchased by yours truly, Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor.

I bought the Prius two months ago and I've already put 2,000 miles on it. It successfully survived the torrential rains of last week's historic storms. For Christmas the Prius received a new set of factory beige floor mats which brighten the interior greatly. I'm also happy to report that I've only discovered one defect.

Some mornings when I come out the brake lights are on. Yes, just the brake lights. Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing, suggested it was a faulty brake light switch under the brake pedal. I jammed a shoe under there one night and, sure enough, no morning brake light. I'm going to get it fixed as soon as I get around to addressing a recall I received for the pump that cools the hybrid system. Until then, I keep a strap in the car and attach the brake pedal to the steer wheel at night.

With access to the car pool lanes and gas prices climbing to $3.25 a gallon in California, I'm really glad I bought the Prius. After driving 385 miles, I rare put in more than eight gallons. While despised by car enthusiasts for its light steering and floaty suspension, it remains the easiest way to get from home to work and back easily, quickly and cheaply. For me, that's a priority right now.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Why I Bought it

December 02, 2010

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Our 2004 Toyota Prius has outlasted every other car in our long term fleet. We bought this second-generation Prius six years ago and it has carried various editors over 85,000 miles. But it had gradually lost its luster both in appearance and in novelty. And the time had come to sell it.

When the Prius was first given to me to sell it looked like it had been put through the wringer. Then, Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing, put new tires on it which fixed the stability control problem. Still, the interior smelled funky and the arm rest was black with grime. And then one afternoon, I left work a bit late and ventured out into rush hour traffic.

By the time I reached the dreaded 405 Freeway, traffic in the normal lanes was stopped. I fought my way to the carpool lanes and, lo and behold, I rolled along past miles of stopped traffic at about 50 mph. It was like bustin' out of jail. The next day, after scrubbing the grime off the arm rest, dowsing the interior with an odor eliminator and giving the ole Prius a bath, I looked at it with new eyes.

I checked our asking price, which was True Market Value (TMV) average condition level of $8,476. I checked AutoTrader.com to see what other '04 Priuses were going for and they were all over the map. Then, after offering the car to other staff members at that price, I decided to take the plunge and buy it.

I've had the Pruis for about a month now and I have to say I'm enjoying it more than I expected. Previously, I was commuting in a 2007 Honda Fit Sport and while I have to say I think that's a great car for around-town errands, it's not a comfortable car. The Pruis is a bit bigger, quieter, gets better gas mileage and has more features such as steering wheel-mounted temperature and audio controls. The only down side to it is that now I'm viewed as a Pruis guy. For me it's not a political statement, it's the easiest way to get to work and home again in LA without losing your mind.

Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 86,400miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: First Brake Job at 86K Miles

November 29, 2010

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I was replacing the front brake pads on the 2004 Toyota Pruis when my son walked by and said, "I'm not good at mechanical things." That set me off. I told him to put on a pair of gloves and help me. Our arrangement was simple: I drank coffee and told him what to do; he did all the bending, lifting and tightening. It was a beautiful relationship.

The brake job was a piece of cake, especially after I read Dan Edmunds' excellent DIY piece about changing the pads on the 2009 Ford Flex. When we got the old pads out I took a picture to show that there was still some life in them. The guy at the Toyota dealership said he had seen some Prius owners doing brakes after 90k miles. The regenerative braking system saves wear on the braking system and this translates to cost savings for the owner.

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2004 Toyota Prius: New Tires Cured Our ESC Problem

September 27, 2010

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Our 2004 Toyota Prius is wearing a brand new set of tires. The last set was badly worn, and the wear had grown uneven, over time. One had been driven on flat (or very low) long enough to score the inner and outer sidewalls. It was time.

The original Goodyear Integrity OE tires never got much love from our cadre of test pilots, so we wanted to try something different. Our choices were many because a lot of companies, Goodyear included, have brought out new "green" second-generation low rolling resistance tires for the Prius, each claiming more grip, shorter wet stopping distances, the same or better ride, the same or better noise and perhaps even a little less rolling resistance than the original rubber.

I was leaning toward the Bridgestone Ecopia, one of those new "green" tires. The final decision became simple because my local Bridgestone dealer, the one next to the Autozone where I dispose of my waste oil, was open this past Saturday, had them in stock and could do it in an hour, right then and there.

Done and done. The Prius had new shoes before I had lunch.

Furthermore, as I'd speculated, the new tires cured the Prius' steering wheel misalignment and ESC problems, single handedly and immediately.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Speed Oil Change

September 26, 2010

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The weather in Yorba Linda was smoking hot this weekend. If I was going to change the oil and filter on our 2004 Toyota Prius, it was in my best interest to get it done quickly, before the sun got too high in the sky.

That was OK by me. I've never actually timed myself. I'm usually too busy taking pictures or video along the way to be truly fast. How long does it take me to do a basic oil and filter change when I'm not trying to film it?

Here are the rules: 1) I'd follow the same steps outlined in my last Prius oil change video, but I'd reset the "Maint Reqd" light after time stopped so I could go inside and wash my hands thoroughly before touching too much of the interior. 2) Before time started, I could lay out all the needed tools in one spot about 5 or 6 feet from the car, but I could not pre-stage them in the exact spot they'd be needed. 3) I couldn't open the hood or jack the car until after time started. 4) I couldn't stop the clock until after the hood was closed and the car was back on the ground. 5) Tool clean-up, also off the clock, would wait until I had a tall glass of water and changed the oil in my wife's minivan, as well.

These are the rules. Place your bets.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Do Missing Parts Make it Look Better?

September 23, 2010

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A part fell off our 2004 Toyota Prius, and now it looks better. Like everything else on this car, the wheels are a bit odd.

Toyota started out strong with relatively lightweight 6-spoke alloy wheels, but then mucked them up with some painted plastic trim rings. Who the heck puts plastic trim rings on an alloy?!

One of them recently went missing.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Freak Out Fixed

July 09, 2010

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A few days ago, our 2004 Toyota Prius officially freaked out and was left at Toyota of Santa Monica.

Well, now it's back, the lights are off, the car has a new inverter pump (thing that pumps coolant to the electrical system) and a new A/C compressor (thing that pumps coolant to the interior occupants). And we're out a whole bunch of money. How much?

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2004 Toyota Prius: Full-Fledged Freak Out

June 28, 2010

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This array of dash lights appeared on our Prius yesterday while driving on the freeway. No obvious trigger incident occurred.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Unintended Rattleation Fixed!

June 02, 2010

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What, did you expect me to rip the dash apart and fit some sort of apoxy to the grand widget of the speaker's watchamadoo? Um, no. I went down to the video/photo department, grabbed some tasteful black gaffer's tape and went at it. I could trim the nearest corner a bit, but given that the speaker points away from the driver toward the windshield (how is that good for sound quality I wonder?) you can't really see my handywork. Perhaps we'll get it fixed for real someday ... say in 2016 when we finally get around to selling the Prius.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Unintended Rattleation

June 01, 2010

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The elderly Prius is emanating a horrible, hollow, plastic-on-plastic rattle over broken pavement. I'm sick of it; it's driving me nuts. Luckily, I've been able to figure out it's coming from the dashtop center-channel speaker. As such, I'm going to fix it. More on that tomorrow.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 69,663 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: DIY Oil & Filter Change

May 17, 2010

The "Maint Reqd" light came on in our 2004 Toyota Prius a few days ago. Turns out the only Maint that light Reqds is an oil change.

It's a sunny day and I need some driveway time. Let's do this. And we'll turn off that poorly abbreviated light while we're at it, too. [Why couldn't the light simply say "Oil Change"? No guesswork reqd.]

And check out the weird noises the Prius makes while it sits parked. This car may help me realize my dream of becoming a Foley artist.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 68,986 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Maintenance?

May 11, 2010

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And just like that, our 2004 Toyota Prius' maintenance indicator illuminated at the exact mileage noted on the window sticker the dealer's service department had carefully placed on the inside of the windshield.

Is that a dealer or manufacturer recommended interval? I know the 2005 Prius has a 7,500-mile oil change. Our 2004 Prius chimed at 5,000 miles.

I'd better find out.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 68,672 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Approaching 50,000 miles

June 20, 2007

We are ahead of the curve with the regular service on our long-term Prius. Just as the odometer turned 49,055 miles the maintenance light told us it was time to see the dealer for its 50k-mile service.

It turns out this is one of the minor intervals on the schedule. It consists of routine visual safety inspections, engine oil and filter change and a tire rotation... Our appointment at Toyota of Santa Monica was quick and cost us $92.36 when all was said and done. That is right on par with the price we found on Edmunds Maintenance Guide.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Assistant

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Toyota Prius Gauges Fuel Correctly

February 02, 2007

We've been working our way through a full tank of gas in the Toyota Prius since the fuel gauge was recalibrated last week. The dealer told us the only way to verify that the gauge was now working correctly was to drain it and fill up.

After driving it down to one bar on the gauge, we added 6.271 gallons to the tank and ta-da, the gauge illuminated all the way to full.

Problem solved...

Kelly Toepke, Manager of Vehicle Testing at 47,301 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Running to Empty...Eventually

January 29, 2007


This weekend I was tasked with running the Prius til it was bone dry, but found it was a lot harder than I thought considering I wasn't going anywhere too far, just in and around town. The request to pack miles on the Prius was due to its odd inability to be sated -- the fuel gauge always displays that it's 3/4 full. So I drove to and from Long Beach, always took the long leisurely way round on my errands and floored it whenever the opportunity presented itself. What did I get for my efforts?.. 113.4 miles added to the odo and one bar taken off the fuel gauge. Woo. Being wasteful is hard work in the Prius, especially since it's not really a fun car to drive in the first place. If it were, the miles would be easier to accumulate and not the chore it was for the sake of this little experiment.

I know, fun is not the point of the Prius, but damn. However, for those who are practical and who just want something economical to get around town, it's perfect for ya. It's quiet, comfortable and in some cities you actually get free metered parking.

Production Editor Caroline Pardilla at 46,924 miles

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Prius Fuel Gauge Issue

January 26, 2007

The last two times we topped off the Toyota Prius' fuel tank the gauge hasn't shown more than three-quarters full, so yesterday I took the Prius to the Toyota dealer when I picked up the RAV4.

The service writer said they'd recalibrate the gauge and we'd see what happened then. I went to pick it up today, and still, the gauge only shows three-quarters, even after I added 2.8 gallons of gas after leaving the dealership.

After flipping through the fuel log, I realized we haven't let the tank drain since early November, instead we've been topping off a couple of gallons here and there... After talking to the dealer again, we've decided to run it down to empty before we refuel to see if the gauge will read accurately after that exercise.

Kelly Toepke, Manager of Vehicle Testing at 46,806 miles

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Toyota Prius - No Warranty, No Love

December 06, 2006

We're approaching 46k miles in our '04 Prius, which means the warranty umbrella is becoming smaller and smaller. Its small enough now that it no longer covers our recent electrical rebellion from the NAV/radio screen.

It took the dealer a few hours to diagnose the malfunction as an electrical short and recommend replacing the entire display screen. As one might expect, this lightens the wallet substantially: $96.88 for labor, $460 for parts, 1 arm and 1 leg... A total of $604.83 after taxes.

Our service advisor blamed it on the sun. In the past we've experienced a glare across the NAV screen during daylight driving, so this explanation seemed to make sense. That was until our inner skeptic saw a display at the cashier's counter advertising nothing other than covers for Prius display screens - - now available in the parts department. Coincidence? Conspiracy aside, it just might be worth the $39.99 investment.

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Parking the Prius: Another Plus

December 04, 2006

With its snub-nose, hatchback styling, the Prius offers more than a roomy, extremely space-efficient cabin, it also makes for easy parking. While parallel parking, its a snap to back the Prius into place thanks to the additional glass window on the hatchback that allows you to easily judge how close you're getting to the car behind. That handy window isn't an innovation, however (remember the Honda CRX?). And the Prius' Pug-like nose allows you to usually back in and pull out in one shot, whereas a vehicle with more hood typically requires a couple of back-and-forth jockeying moves before it's clear of the car in front.

In other news, the climate/audio interface (aka the nav. screen) is still on the fritz. During this past weekend in the Prius, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. We're still waiting for the part to come in at Santa Monica Toyota which should be sometime this week.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 45,786

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Silent Prius, Broken Prius

November 27, 2006

The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually the weekend during which radio stations begin playing Christmas carols. But there were no carols to be heard over the last few days, at least not within the cabin of the Toyota Prius.

Our Managing Editor Donna DeRosa had reported earlier that she'd experienced problems with the car's navigation and audio systems; she'd thought that maybe the issue was somehow linked to her new high-tech cell phone. During my time in the Prius, I experienced problems as well, with nary a fancy-schmancy cell phone in sight... The radio would intermittently cut out, making it impossible for me to tune in to the joyous music of the holiday season. That I didn't miss so much, but it would have been nice to get some KCRW every now and then.

Our Prius has been rock-solid in terms of reliability over the past couple of years, so this glitch is very much out of character. We've scheduled a visit to the dealer to investigate the problem.

Warren Clarke, Content Editor

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Toyota Prius - Malfunctioning Nav or Calling Inspector Gadget?

November 22, 2006

During my commute home last night, the Prius's nav started going haywire. Unfortunately, a lot of the car's systems are operated out of this computer, like the audio and climate controls. I couldn't access the map and sometimes I would get overlapping display screens.

I was listening to the radio but the car's computer kept telling me the audio system was off... While I could control the volume and change the stations from outside the computer, I couldn't tell what radio station was set. Then the audio started blanking out and back on every few seconds. I ended up stopped at a red light under an overpass and lost power to the radio completely. It was a particularly bad song so I didn't care much. But I hit the power button anyway and the radio came back on and the nav system started working properly. I had been stuck in traffic and was suddenly surprised by how much I had depleted the battery. I had been getting an improper reading while the system was freaking out.

I was in and out of the Prius several times that night, and each time the computer would go crazy again.

Because the Prius is normally so reliable and no other editors have complained about this, I suspect the problem may have been caused by my fancy new cell phone. When I first got the phone, my wireless internet connection at home crapped out. When I called the wireless company, they asked if I had a new gadgety phone. Sure enough, the phone was the culprit. My wireless internet company changed my service to a different channel and now my mobile phone and wireless service are cohabitating nicely. At the time, my phone wasn't even turned on. Its mere presence in the house was enough to cause interference.

So, I am passing the Toyota Prius along to another editor. We'll see if our trusty little hybrid goes back to its normal reliable self.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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Toyota Prius - Temperamental Fuel Gauge

November 03, 2006

Having recently turned 44,000 miles on our Prius we were not surprised when the maintenance light came on. The day it was scheduled for service at Toyota of Santa Monica we noticed a problem. The fuel gauge read (an optimistic) half-full but the car wouldn't take any gasoline.

We tried to fill it at one pump to no avail, so we pulled to the neighboring pump with similar results... Driving to another gas station altogether we tried once more but were still met with a familiar click-click-click from the pump. Nothing. We asked the dealer to look into this issue during service.

The car spent the night with the Toyota folks in order to address the accuracy of the fuel gauge. When we picked it up the next morning we paid our $195.01 bill for the service and learned that they were unable to recreate the fuel problem. All systems checked out OK.

This same situation arose at 24,000 miles at which time the dealer performed a computer re-flash (per an outstanding TSB on the fuel gauge) to remedy the inaccuracy. Our advisor suggested we keep an eye on it and return to the dealership if the problem resurfaces. The next fill-up should tell the tale: was it a fluke, or do we have a real problem on our hands?

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Toyota Prius Recall

June 06, 2006

In light of the recent announcement by Toyota of a steering malfunction in some Prius models built between '02-'05, we thought it a good idea to see if our long-term car was part of the recall.

One member of our staff happens to have a personal friend that works in Toyota customer service, so a quick phone call confirmed that our VIN was not on "the list" for this current campaign. Our recommendation to other Prius owners is to contact your local Toyota dealership and find out if this steering concern applies to your vehicle.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Assistant

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