11 Most Common Toyota Prius Problems (Explained)

The Toyota Prius Is not only the first but is also the single most popular hybrid vehicle in history.

Although it’s extremely practical to own with its great reliability, low maintenance costs, and impressive fuel economy, some model years of the Prius have their problems.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the Prius’ most common problems and their solutions. 

1. Excessive Oil Consumption

The third generation Prius has a reputation for excessive oil consumption once it gets closer to 200,000 miles.

Prius owners with oil burning issues have to regularly top up their oil in between oil changes.

Common symptoms of oil burning problems include:

  • Low oil warning
  • Oil smell
  • Blue smoke from exhaust

Early model years of the third gen Prius from 2010 to 2014 are more prone to oil consumption. 

Older first and second generation models with really high miles can also start losing oil due to the engine’s internals and seals wearing out.

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“My 2010 has 260k on it, oil consumption is about a quart a week but it also does about 80 miles a day. I don’t mind adding the oil, but the burning smell is starting to come into the cabin.”

“I have 2 gen 3 cars ….a 2010 and 2012….2010 was an oil burner when I got it and 2012 wasn’t… Mileage is 238,000 on the 2010 and 276,000 on the 2012,”

Other owners of the r/Prius subreddit had this to say: 

“I had a 2012 Prius. It started to burn oil around 200k. Never fixed the issue, just checked the oil and would top off frequently. Around 225k got the erg code. Around 300k I got rid of the Prius.”

“2013 with 200k miles. 1 quart per 350 miles roughly at this point.”

“My 2008 with 190k miles uses oil pretty quickly. I check it every Friday and top off when the level drops below the lower line. That is usually every third week.”

The third gen Prius’ oil consumption issue is caused by a design defect with its piston rings.

When owners reported their oil loss issues, dealers would test whether the car burned more than 1 quart every 1,000 miles. 

To fix cars with oil consumption issues, dealers would replace the pistons and piston rings with updated parts.

It’s basically a full engine rebuild so it’s going to cost several thousand dollars if done out of warranty.

Many owners also report that changing the oil more frequently every 5,000 miles, instead of Toyota’s recommended 10,000 miles, eventually reduces or even eliminates the oil consumption completely.

In a lot of cases, it would be cheaper to just swap in a used engine if the oil consumption is making the car nearly unusable.

By the 2015 model year, Toyota had already updated the third gen Prius’ piston ring design.  

2. Head Gasket Failure

Another potentially expensive issue affecting the third-generation Prius is head gasket failure.

These failures typically occurred after 150,000 to 200,000 miles and can affect the 2010 to 2015 model years.

Common symptoms of a head gasket failure in the 3rd gen Prius include:

  • Misfires
  • Rattling and shaking at startup
  • Check engine light
  • Coolant loss

Here’s how owners described their issues on PriusChat.com:

“My husband and I found out today that our 2011 Prius needs to have the head gasket replaced. The total quote is $4,750.00 which was a huge shock to us! The car has about 180,000 miles on it.” 

I have 2011 Prius. Past Thursday, the engine light went on, and the car sputtered when driven at certain speed. Took it to dealership… con¦rmed active misfire on cylinder 3… Then they did compression test and used camera to look inside, they confirmed the head gasket were blown.”

“Just replaced out the 2012 gen 3 engine with 266K miles due to the head gasket issue. One other sign it’s a head gasket problem is excessive pressure build-up in the coolant system. If you hear and feel a large rush of air pressure when opening up the coolant reservoir lid after it’s cooled down, it’s likely the head gasket. The other signs were there like shuttering, etc.”

Another owner on the r/Prius subreddit had this to say:

“My 2013 Prius has had a blown head gasket twice and now I’m paranoid it’s gonna happen again… A few months after buying my used 2013 Prius, I started hearing the ominous knock-of-death and loss of coolant which turned out to be a blown head gasket. Cost me over $5k to get the engine replaced… Literally only a few months later, all was going well until I noticed the same knock in my replacement engine. Guess what, that one had developed a blown head gasket as well.”

Overheating is the most common cause of premature head gasket failures. 

This is exacerbated in the third gen Prius when the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) system gets clogged and causes more heat to build up.

Lots of third gen Prius owners recommend cleaning the EGR cooler and intake manifold every 50,000 to 100,000 miles to minimize the chances of head gasket failures. 

Most Toyota dealers won’t bother with the laborious process of cleaning the EGR cooler and just simply replace it. A new EGR cooler costs around $350.

Many also blame the head gasket failures on the faulty piston ring design of the third gen Prius which caused lots of oil consumption issues.

The cost to replace the head gasket starts at around $3,000 because the cylinder head has to be taken off. The repair can cost several thousands more if parts need to be sent to the machine shop or replaced.

Similar to the oil burning problem, swapping in a used engine will be more cost effective. However, a used engine can also eventually suffer from the same problems in the future.

3. Heat Exchanger Coolant Leak

The 2017 to 2019 model years of the Toyota Prius can suffer from coolant leaks caused by cracks in the heat exchanger near the exhaust pipe.

This heat exchanger runs coolant through the catalytic converter so that it can heat up the heater core quicker during the winter.

Over time, the metal lines can crack and cause coolant to leak out. 

Common symptoms of a faulty heat exchanger include:

  • Low coolant levels
  • Coolant leaking out of exhaust pipe
  • Poor heater performance
  • Check engine light
  • P148F00 trouble code

Heat exchanger issues are more common in the regular hybrid models of the fourth generation Prius, but it’s been reported a few times in early models of the Prius Prime.

Here’s how a few owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“So my Gen4 2017 Prius has been losing around 1/2 pint / 500ml of coolant per week since the new year.”

“I finally got it into the dealership today and they said they couldn’t find any external leaks, but there is coolant in the exhaust.”

“I have a 2016 Prius four bought new that I regularly took to dealer for checkups/oil changes. It is now Oct 2022 and it has 90K miles. Without me noticing any idiot light, the car made a few seconds of grinding noise and then quit. I had it towed to the same dealer who tells me it developed a crack in the exhaust cooling system, losing coolant and overheating the engine… So it needs a new engine.” 

Toyota eventually updated the fourth generation Prius’ front exhaust pipe assembly to address the heat exchanger issues.

A TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) was also released advising dealers to replace the entire front exhaust pipe assembly on the 2016 to 2019 Prius and the 2017 to 2019 Prius Prime if the heat exchanger is leaking.

The updated part costs around $800, but the repair should be covered under the 8-year/80,000-mile Federal Emission Warranty.

In CARB states, this warranty goes up to 15 years or 150,000 miles.

4. Headlight Issues

Issues with the second generation Prius’ HID headlights has been a common complaint over the years.

Owners will suddenly find that one of their lights starts flickering or just stops working completely.

In a lot of cases, turning the lights on and off again several times can fix the issue — until you have to turn them on again.

These issues were widely reported for the 2007 to 2009 model years.

Here’s how owners described their experiences on PriusChat.com:

“I have an ’08 Prius Touring with HID headlights (I think that’s what they’re called). The driver’s side comes on for about 5 seconds then flickers and goes out. I tried another used HID bulb that works fine in another Prius and it does the same thing.”

“I have a 2008 Prius Touring with HID headlights. The Driver side often comes on when I first turn lights on and then goes dark. If I switch the headlights on and off several times I can often get it to stay on.”

“I just bought a 2005 Prius and am having the HID headlight issue. The right side will go out, high and low beam, usually shortly after I start the car, Turning the lights off an back on will relight it and I may have to repeat this a couple of times, then it is good for a while, until I turn it off and drive it the next time.”

Faulty or worn out HID bulbs are the most common cause.

These cost around $150 a piece at Toyota while aftermarket bulbs cost roughly $50. 

The ballast or headlight ECU can also cause similar problems and cost $300 to $500, but you can get aftermarket replacements for around $100.

In some cases, the wiring harness and connectors can have problems. You can try cleaning them first or replacing them altogether.

Many owners have also just converted their headlights to use regular halogen bulbs or LED bulbs. 

Related: 17 Best & Worst Toyota Prius Years (With Facts & Stats)

5. Inverter Coolant Pump Issues

The second generation Prius’ inverter coolant pump has a history of failures which causes the car to shut down.

When the inverter eventually cools down, the car will work normally again, but random failures can still occur in the future.

Other symptoms include:

  • Low inverter coolant levels
  • Check engine light
  • Loud pump noise on startup
  • Blown AM2 fuse
  • Other electrical issues
  • Red triangle master caution light
  • Car won’t go to Drive or Reverse

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“My 09 second gen base model has a warning light and codes for the Inverter water pump to be replaced.” 

“My 2008 Prius (111,000 miles) had all the panel alarm lights go on and lost power while I was driving on the freeway. After turning off the vehicle and letting it “rest” for 10 minutes, it restarted with only the red triangle alert light remaining on and was able to drive to my dealer service (about 40 miles) with no incident.”

Another owner on the r/Prius subreddit had similar problems: 

“So I got the dreaded triangle of death and check engine light on my 2005 Prius. It’s the inverter coolant pump. The OEM cost for the pump is $130 with aftermarket units at about $40. The dealer wants $850 to swap it out.”

Coolant pump failures can cause the inverter to break due to overheating. This can cost over $5,000 to fix at the dealer. On the other hand, a used inverter can often be found for only a few hundred.

In a lot of cases, dealers and mechanics who are unfamiliar with the issue will recommend replacing the inverter or even the traction battery when it’s just the pump that’s problematic.

A common sign that the pump isn’t working is if the coolant doesn’t look like it’s flowing or vibrating in the reservoir.

A new pump from Toyota only costs $100 and it isn’t very difficult to replace the old one.

If an inverter issue or error is preventing you from driving the car, you can try clearing the codes first using an OBD2 scanner to get rid of errors with the high voltage system. 

6. Traction Battery Issues

Once a Prius reaches the 10-year mark, the high voltage traction battery will have significant degradation.

When it comes to long-term battery health, age will always have a greater impact than mileage, so most older Priuses/Prii will likely have traction batteries that are barely usable.

Symptoms of a faulty hybrid battery include:

  • Poor fuel economy
  • Battery charge bar drops to empty
  • Engine has trouble moving from a stop
  • Red triangle error

In addition, the NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries found in the first to third generation Prius don’t last as long as the Lithium batteries found in the 2015 and newer models.

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their battery woes:

“Today I found out my 2007 Toyota Prius, which has been going great before this, needs a new hybrid battery… At 157k on the odometer.”

“I have 2005 and 2010 Priuses. Both have about 135k miles on them. The 2005 needs a new battery.”

“Our previous Prius (the 2006) had the battery fail at 9 1/2 years and 125,000 miles. It seems early but it was obvious from the paint job that the car was not garaged and kept out in the southern California sun. Most likely it degraded due to the heat.”

If you want to squeeze more life out of your Prius, a new OEM battery from the dealer should cost around $2,000 to $3,000. 

Aftermarket replacements are cheaper and many are able to last for just as long.

You can also try replacing the cells individually but this will take a lot of specialized expertise.

Fortunately, aside from the worse fuel economy, a dead hybrid battery shouldn’t leave you stranded since the engine can run the car on its own without any issues.

7. Clicking Front Axle

Many third and fourth generation Prius owners have complained about a rapid clicking or ticking noise when coming to a stop using the regenerative braking mode.

The noise starts as a rapid clicking at around 30 to 20 mph, then gradually slows down as the car comes to a stop.

The clicking can come from either the front left or right side of the car. It can also be very faint, so you’ll have to roll down your windows to actually hear it.  

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on PriusChat.com:

I very recently upgraded from a 2008 prius to a 2016 with 52k miles. Two weeks after I purchased it I noticed a clicking noise from my driver’s front side while braking at low speeds… I’ve been looking around and it seems the general consensus for this problem is to replace the left front cv axle. I told this to the dealership and they told me if it wasn’t broke, they can’t fix it.

“I have a 2016 toyota prius with the same issue that started at 24k miles and I am now at 56k.”

“My car only does it when I’m slowing to a stop and turning right at the same time. And only on one particular exit ramp where the conditions are just right.”

Although it sounds like an issue with the brakes, it’s usually one of the front axles that’s causing the clicking.

Owners were only able to get rid of the clicking once they replaced one or both of the front axles with each axle costing around $300 to $400.

However, this often proves to be just a temporary solution because the axles will eventually start clicking again after several thousand miles.

“I’ve put almost 55k miles on my 2016 already. The problem was fixed after the repair and was fine for several months. Just recently I noticed that the issue returned.” — Priuschat.com

Since there’s no permanent fix and the clicking doesn’t really affect the vehicle’s braking performance or overall safety, most owners just live with the faint ticking.

8. Brake Actuator Issues

The second generation and third generation Prius can suffer from brake actuator failures once it passes 100,000 miles which can end up being very expensive to repair.

The ABS brake actuator keeps the braking system pressurized even if the engine barely runs. It builds up pressure in an accumulator to ensure that there’s always adequate stopping power whenever it’s needed.

Common symptoms of a worn brake actuator in the Prius include:

  • Brake actuator constantly runs even after turning off car
  • Whirring or buzzing noise
  • Noise when stepping on brakes
  • Reduced braking performance
  • ABS, brake system and VSC warning lights

These issues can affect the 2004 to 2015 model years of the Prius.

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their brake issues: 

“My 2013 is making the whirring noise about every 15-20 seconds and continues after the car has been off for a while. After doing some investigating, I suspected it may be the accumulator. I took it to a local mechanic today and they stated it was failing and quoted me just under 2k to change it out.”

“I purchased a used 2009 Prius over four years ago… The car now has 130,500 miles on it… my brake actuator just failed this weekend, I was kind of expecting it soon as it had been making noise more frequently… the dealer I always go to quoted me $2950 for parts and labor for a new brake actuator.”

Another owners on the r/Prius subreddit had this to say:

“I was hearing the noise, but no lights until I replaced my brake pads, then I got all the lights and my regen braking was deactivated… Mine was at about 160k miles up to 190k now.”

Due to the number of reported failures, Toyota extended the warranty of the brake actuator in the second and third generation Prius to 10 years or 150,000 miles.

A new brake actuator costs over $1,000 from Toyota and it requires a lot of work to replace the old one because it’s buried deep inside the engine bay near the firewall.

Many owners have also had good results with used actuators in good condition, which can sometimes cost only $150 to $300, but the total repair can still amount to $1,000 at an independent shop due to the amount of labor involved.

Making sure the brake system is properly bled can also sometimes fix related brake actuator issues, so it’s worth giving it a shot.

9. Combination Meter Failure

The combination meter cluster on the top of the dash in the second gen Prius can suffer from failures after 5 to 10 years.

This issue doesn’t affect the drivability of the car, but you’ll lose the digital speed readout and fuel gauge.

It can just stop turning on intermittently at first before it completely fails.

It typically affects early model years of the second generation Prius from 2004 to 2005.

Here’s what owners on PriusChat.com had to say:

“I have an 05 with 167,000 miles on it. The combination meter quit working on it.”

“On my 2004 I am having the problem with the combo meter not turning on. Last week, it wasn’t turning on at all sometimes. this past week it has been pretty good about turning on, but only if I turn the lights on first… The car is worth probably $2000 tops and it’s hard to justify $290 for someone to repair it.”

You can get a new combination meter panel online for the second gen Prius for around $150. 

You’ll have to remove a lot of dashboard trim pieces to get the new one installed though.

People who specialize in circuit board repairs can also fix the old panel quite easily in most cases. 

10. Weak 12-Volt Battery

Newer generations of the Prius have more electronics and computers that can drain the 12-volt battery, especially if it’s already a few years old.

The 12-volt battery is responsible for waking up all of the car’s electronics, so a dead battery can easily leave you stranded.

Newer models of the Prius also come with a smaller battery to further save on weight, but it can also easily get discharged if it’s not properly taken care of.

If the 12-volt battery’s state of charge gets too low, you’ll usually see a warning on the dash. However, there have been a lot of cases where the battery just suddenly stops providing enough power to the car’s electronics after the car has been parked for a short while.

Here’s how owners described their issues on PriusChat.com:

“My car battery was so dead the door locks wouldn’t work. AAA just jumped my batteries. I knew I should drive it around awhile, so I drove it straight to work, about 30 miles. I turned off the ignition, went to unlock my door, and… nothing. Completely dead.”

“I arrive at my car this morning to discover that there’s no electricity. I used the key to get in and open the rear door so someone could get in and dig down below the cargo tray to reach the battery and give me a boost.”

Newish batteries that are less than a year old can also have factory defects causing them to have shorter lifespans.

“Picked up my 2023 Prius XSE premium on Thursday. And today, for the second day in a row, the car wouldn’t start, with the display flickering and random error messages popping up like not being able to operate the parking brake.” — Priuschat.com

If the 12-volt battery becomes weak, you can jump start it like any regular vehicle using jumper cables or a booster pack. 

Although the 12-volt battery is in the back of the car, there should be a negative and positive battery terminal under the hood and fuse box that you can hook up jumper cables to. 

If the 12-volt battery is faulty or just too old to hold a charge, you’ll have to replace it with a similar sized one.

You can also drain the 12-volt battery if you leave the car in ACC (Accessory) mode for long periods of time.

Other factors that can unexpectedly drain the 12-volt battery include:

  • Extremely cold weather 
  • Parasitic drain from aftermarket accessories
  • Only driving for short distances
  • Long term storage
  • Leaving lights and accessories on while parked

If you want to make sure your 12-volt battery is always properly charged, you can hook it up to a battery tender/maintainer so you don’t have to always rely on the Prius’ charging system. 

11. Timing Cover Leak

The third generation Prius has a tendency to leak oil around the front timing cover.

This is a fairly common problem in a lot of Toyota models because the FIPG (Form In Place Gasket), which is basically just sealant, wears out after a couple of years.

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“I took my 2010 Prius in to the Toyota dealer for routine maintenance (75K miles) yesterday and they let me know that oil was starting to ooze out from under the timing cover. They said it would be okay for a while but to keep an eye on it. They quoted the repair as $4K+ !!!”

“I’ve just received a quote for this issue on my 2010 Prius. My Prius is high mileage, 210081 so my situation is different than the others I’ve seen here. I’m told by the dealer that I have a massive leak from oil pressure, timing cover leak is an 8 out of 10 and that I need to replace the oil pressure switch. My quote is $3255.50 for this.”

“We get cars in the shop all the time that other people have said need timing cover reseals. It’s never anything more than seepage. We fix hundreds of these cars and we have never actually resealed the timing cover. It seeps, not leaks, and is not a big deal at all.”

In most cases, the timing cover leak is just some minor weeping and doesn’t really cause too much oil loss.

If it’s just a minor leak, you can just keep driving the car as you would normally and not even have to worry about checking the oil levels.

Resealing the front timing cover requires taking off the front and top of the engine and involves essentially the same amount of work as replacing timing chain components.

The oil sending unit can also leak and spill oil all over the engine bay. This part usually costs less than $50 and is much much easier to replace.

Toyota Prius Prime Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding reliability
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Long-term practicality 
  • Quiet and comfortable ride
  • Easy to drive
  • Affordable 
  • Good resale value
  • Available all-wheel drive

Cons

  • Slow and boring to drive
  • Small rear seats
  • Rear visibility/blind spots
  • Sometimes requires hybrid specialists

Related: 11 Most Common Toyota Prius Prime Problems (Explained)

What Do The Reviews Say?

“The 2024 Prius follows up on last year’s redesign that introduced sleek new styling, more power, and a cabin with new technology features and a more modern aesthetic. Frumpy and/or dorky were good adjectives to describe the Prius in the past, but no longer.”

“Thanks to its hybrid powertrain, the Prius delivers up to an EPA-estimated 57 mpg in combined city/highway driving.” 

“But fuel efficiency isn’t the only thing the Prius has going for it. Underneath its appealing styling is a powertrain that helps the latest Prius to accelerate out of its own way, and then some. Compared to the previous-generation model, the 2024 Prius is packing up to 75 more horsepower, for a total of up to 196 ponies. And on top of all that, the Prius is more enjoyable to drive.”

“The Prius’ rear door openings are kind of small, and you have to duck down quite a bit to get into the back. Once you do get inside, headroom is in short supply for anyone near 6 feet tall. That means you have to slouch down to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling each time the car goes over a bump. Rear visibility is poor because of the angled rear window and thick rear roof pillars.”

2024 Toyota Prius | Edmunds

What’s the Resale Value of a Toyota Prius?

Here’s a quick look at used car pricing for the Prius on Edmunds at the time of writing.

YearMileagePrice
202315,615$29,299
202219,945$24,950
202122,850$24,768
202030,060$23,884
201941,017$22,700
201851,266$21,995
201758,425$20,358
201662,514$19,981
201579,927$14,996
201495,412$12,576

Related: Toyota Prius Beeping? (11 Causes & Solutions)

Author:

  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...

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