2004 Toyota Prius Long-Term Road Test

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2004 Toyota Prius: It's Been a Good Run

July 03, 2011


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This will be read with sympathy by some and detacted amusement by others. I've been kicked out of the carpool lanes. I'm back to the real world which, in Los Angeles, means being stuck in traffic, slogging along in stop and go (mainly stopped) traffic. I'm once again one of thousands, sitting in a little box staring at other stopped boxes stretching off into the distance.

Last night was my final commute in the carpool lanes and, wouldn't you know it, traffic was horrible in regular lanes and just fine thank you in the carpool lanes. When you're going 45 mph past miles of stopped traffic, it feels like you are traveling at the speed of light. It feels like you just busted out of jail.

The whole idea behind riding solo in the carpool lane was to incentivize the purchase of hybrids to save the environment. But they've upped the stakes now -- the only way to get into the carpool lanes is to have an all-electric or natural gas car. The incentive worked on me. I'm getting a 2011 Nissan Leaf, hopefully in July.

I bought our long term Prius back last October because it had new tires and carpool stickers. At that time I felt July would never come. But it is here and now and all I have to look forward to is the delivery of my Leaf and the carpool stickers it will eventually bring. Meanwhile, all I can say is, it's been a good run.

For anyone still interested in this 2004 Prius, it's been a great car in every way. I've put 8,161 miles on it and only had one issue. The brake lights came on when the car was parked over night. Toyota did the repair for free since it was part of an ancient recall. It now has 94,578 miles and all I can complain about is that the car has a generally loose feeling to it. But on the last tank of gas I got 49.4 mpg and at $3.99 a gallon that is some consolation for losing carpool lane rights.

Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 94,578 miles

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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: Imagine It Bigger

December 24, 2010

There was a time when the Toyota Prius was THE alternative fuel car to have. But now with the Leaf, Volt and many hybrid alternatives to popular models, the Prius is no longer all that, well, special. So Toyota is making it bigger. Apparently the carmaker will unveil the supersized version at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show next month.

The above video is for something called The Prius Project, where Prius fans were invited to Malibu to put a big puzzle together showing the current Prius in front of the larger 2012 model.

I don't know about you but I'm thinking a Prius minivan is a natural fit.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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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: History and Future

October 19, 2010

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The first Prius I ever drove was a 2004 model. It was just released for sale and was the hot new thing. I was allowed to take it for a weekend out of another long-term test lot and it drew a lot of attention. I'd get stopped in parking lots, barraged by questions like, "what's it like to drive?" and "what's the mileage like?" It was a bit of a novelty back then. Nowadays, it's as commonplace as a cell phones and flat -panel TVs. So now I'm wondering what will be the Prius' legacy?

How will the Prius be remembered? I think it'll go down much like the original Honda Civic and its CVCC engine. It appeared on the scene in the 1970s, when the gas crisis hit and when other manufacturers regarded the new U.S. Clean Air Act as impossible to meet. Sound familiar?

Both the Honda and Toyota showed that smaller and more efficient cars were the way. The Civic unseated the massive Oldsmo-Buicks and other assorted land yachts of the period, while the Prius tempered the SUV movement.

Going forward, I wonder how long the Prius will stay on the road. I can't remember the last time I saw a first-gen Civic on the highway. Will the Prius slowly disappear as battery packs deplete, or will loyal owners keep them out there? Will it simply be a footnote, like MySpace or BetaMax?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2004 Toyota Prius: Thanks For The Shopping Cart, Jerkface

October 16, 2010

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Nice one, Ace. Thanks for being so considerate when parking your shopping cart. Our 2004 Toyota Prius thanks you, too. It was tired of having a smooth door panel. The nice pair of dents you left behind represents a refreshing change. The paint chipped off by your errant cart was an extra added bonus.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Jumpstarting a Hybrid

October 13, 2010

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How do you jumpstart a 2004 Toyota Prius? It's actually easier than one would think despite the intimidating hybrid technology under the hood.

Yes, last night our Prius was completely dead. Maybe someone left the interior light on all weekend. No one knows. In any case it needed a jumpstart.

By the way, FYI, when a Prius is completely dead, the gears don't work so you can't shift it into Neutral if you have to move it anywhere. Fortunately, our dead Prius was accessible.

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2004 Toyota Prius: Too Easy To Tame

October 07, 2010

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It's been awhile since I've driven our mega-mile Prius and it's everything I remembered. There's absolutely no steering feel. The ride is unrefined and the power is meager. In other words, it's about as far from a driver's car as modern vehicles get.

Knowing that, I'm not surprised that some Prius owners found their cars speeding beyond their control. They probably never really had control to begin with, they were just riding along.

Still, when I think back to the poor sap who said his Prius was "speeding down the freeway and he couldn't stop it" I just have to laugh. The Prius is so gutless it's hard to fathom the idea of it ever "getting out of control." The brakes are not great, but they are infinitely more powerful that the gas engine, the electric motor or any combination of the two. The idea that pushing on the brakes could not possibly overcome their propulsive force is just laughable.

Thankfully, the hysteria has died down and the incidents have seemingly vanished. Trust me, though, I wasn't the least bit worried from behind the wheel.

Ed Hellwig, Editor @ 84,988 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Valet Instructions Card

October 04, 2010

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Opening the center console of our 2004 Toyota Prius was like opening up a time capsule. Check it out, valet instructions. Apparently back in the day, the Prius' unconventional gearshifter was too weird to comprehend? In any case, these nifty cards, which come in a stack and have a hole in the top corner so you can attach it to your keys when you leave them with the valet, outline how to start, shift and park the car.

Searching Prius forums, it sounds like the cards were discontinued around 2005-2006. So here it is for those of you who bought a Prius that didn't come with them. Print them out and leave them for the valet or car wash attendants you're not sure of.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2004 Toyota Prius: Open Thread

September 30, 2010

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OK, we've had our 2004 Toyota Prius for the longest that we've had any long-term vehicle. It's almost at 85K! So at this point, as I browse past blog posts (some so old they don't even have pictures anymore) I can't help but wonder just what hasn't already been blogged about on this car.

I figure I'd ask you guys. I think I already know the answer to this but is there anything you'd like to know about it? Anything? Anything at all? Ask away.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2004 Toyota Prius: Our Favorite Caption

September 24, 2010

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Thanks to sherief for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the others that helped us blow off some steam.

A new train of thought. (ergsum)
The picture of the locomotive has more HP. (old_volvo)
Hey! Jackasses! You're about to get hit by a train! (shladney)
I'd take the donkey. (dougtheeng)
Still life; action shot of a Prius (mnorm1)
See Marty, I told you what would happen if you hit 88 mph (mnorm1)
Doggone it Fido! That's not a hydrant!!! (mrryte)
Better get your ass out of the way! (zoomzoomn)
$3.10 a Gallon to Yuma (ergsum)
I think those are Edgar Rice's burros. (mnorm1)
2004 Prius: Track Tested (ergsum)
How the west coast was won by Toyota. (technetium99)
Hatchback to the Future - Part III (ergsum)
I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could... (vt8919)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

To the winner, you can choose one of these fabulous prizes:

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2004 Toyota Prius: You Write the Caption

September 24, 2010

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Another gem sent to me by Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt. This time our Prius is admiring some old-time transportation.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon. And, yes, there will be exciting prizes.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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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: Happy 70K!

June 11, 2010

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Yesterday, our Toyota Prius crossed the 70,000-mile mark, a record I'm sure for a long-term test vehicle.

Yes, yes, I know, hardly an accomplishment considering its a 2004 Prius. If it wasn't stuck on local city duty for much of its time, the mileage would certainly be higher.

Either way, here's to you, Prius and your quiet 70K!

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 70,029 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Day 22 on the DL

June 09, 2010

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A little less than a month ago, I ran a baserunner down in a rundown, dove to tag him out, made the play, then landed on my outstretched shoulder. In the process I dislocated my shoulder and broke my humerus bone in three places. Oh, I also sprained my right wrist. It was unpleasant.

Since then, I've been living in a handsome 2010 Donjoy Arm Sling, which I've been told is the Cadillac of arm slings. This made a manual transmission out of the question, and my sprained wrist made low-effort steering a nicety. After a few days in the Insight, I was transferred into ye olde Prius where I stayed until today. I'm finally out of the sling and on the road to recovery. Hmm, I wonder if there's actually a Recovery, Ohio, or something out there. That would be fun.

Where was I? Oh yeah, 18 days in a Prius, which makes it the longest I've spent in a single car in more than three years since before I worked at Edmunds and drove an Acura TSX. And to tell you a secret, I don't mind the Prius.

I've actually never minded the Prius. Oh, I find many of its drivers infuriating, but as a practical form of transportation, it's a brilliant little car. The back seat is enormous, the trunk is useful, storage is plentiful, equipment is generous, noise is kept decently in check, the stereo is strong and the ride is comfortable. Oh, and I also managed 41 mpg making absolutely no effort to putter about like a half-dead hybrid driver.

I especially like that the Prius has gobs of character thanks to its many quirks. The weird shifter, the weird dash layout, the weird 1991 Pontiac steering wheel buttons aplenty, the weird digital gauges and heck, even the hybrid system is pretty darn weird. There's no other car like this second-gen Prius -- even the current-gen car -- and I like that.

Sure its boring to drive, sure its drivers move at the speed of continental drift and sure its driving position is intended for the average Japanese female, but I strangely like the Prius. But am I glad to be finally out of it? Oh yes indeed.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor on the DL @ 69,882 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: Twins!

May 20, 2010

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Yes, I tried to open the wrong one first.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 69,212 miles

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2004 Toyota Prius: What It's All About in California

May 05, 2010

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This is what really matters on our 2004 Toyota Prius. These stickers are worth the car's weight in gold. They allow you access to the high-speed carpool lanes.

If you were in the market for a pre-owned Prius, how much more would you be willing to pay for the stickers?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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2004 Toyota Prius: Rest in Peace?

May 04, 2010

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There were reports previously that stated that the Gen2 Toyota Prius (our long-term 2004 Prius is a member of this generation) would continue on, even when the 2010MY Gen3 was launched.

It didn't happen. Sales of the Gen2 were discontinued in the U.S. There were reports that Gen2 would continue in Japan only, but I checked the Toyota Japan website (wonderfully translated to English by "Don't Be Evil" Google), and couldn't find the Gen2 anywhere.

That's fine with me. While our long-term Gen2 is a fine commuter car (only), the Gen3 would be an acceptable road trip car. With the Gen2 you have to put up with the CVT drone/groan, the somewhat harsh ride, and the susceptibility to crosswinds. All of that has been addressed by Gen3.

Gen2 Prius: RIP.

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 68,172 miles

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Toyota Prius - Superman of Automobiles?

November 13, 2006

When the curiously shaped Mr. Prius first arrived people asked, "What are you? A bird? A plane?" Mr. P replied in a strange, humming voice," I am a hybrid, and I'm here to save the earth." The questions continued, "How do you drive? Are you faster than a speeding bullet?" With a chuckle Mr. P clarified, "No, no, no, I only look like a bullet."

Prior to this weekend I had not spent much time in our long-term Prius (nor had a seen the 'History of Superman' special on A&E). After 4 days behind the wheel trying to diagnose a potential fuel gauge problem, I realized a couple of things about this car first-hand:

I was under the misconception that the Prius, with its free-pass to the carpool lane (above), guaranteed speedy travel for my daily Long Beach to Santa Monica commute along the 405 freeway. Wrong. While it helps quite a bit outside the rush hours, the always-congested Thursday drive proved to be its kryptonite - - not even mighty Mr. Prius could resist its energy-sucking powers. What a hair-pulling turn of fate to be trapped at a standstill behind the double-yellow lines of the carpool lane as everyone else drove right past me.

Another observation: The NAV system is straightforward and easy to use but the screen does not fare well when the sun is up. Minimal sunlight produces a glare that renders the display completely useless and there does not seem to be a fix outside of holding a hand over it to shield the light.

Following a couple of fill-ups and several hundred miles we're yet to experience the same fuel read-out issue, which is good news. During the last 400 miles my fuel mileage was an eco-friendly 49.3 mpg in mostly city driving. We'll continue to pay close attention to the fuel situation but as of now it appears we're all systems go.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Assistant

44,848 miles

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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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