2004 Prius -- when should a TSB become a recall?

I have a 2004 Prius (bought used from my parents, always well maintained) that had a check-engine light come on. The code was a P0A93, which means the electrical motor isn’t working efficiently.

To make a long story short, over at PriusChat, this problem appears to be common, and is usually addressed by changing the coolant pump and coolant for the inverter and motor. I plan to do this myself ($100 for the part, I don’t know how much for the coolant).

My question is, Since the failure of this relatively inexpensive part, which Toyota engineers had to re-design, can lead to the destruction of a very expensive component, and Toyota has a TSB for this, at what point should Toyota feel compelled to convert this TSB campaign to a recall?

The problem appears to occur and a variety of mileages. Some people need to replace theirs at 30,000 miles, while others make it much farther. It should be noted that those who live in hotter areas seem to need to replace theirs sooner (Sacramento being somewhere between Los Angeles and Tucson on the heat scale).

So what is it? When should a TSB become a recall?

This TSB affects 04-06 cars; the dealer wants somewhere between $350 and $550 for parts and labor. My car has 86,000 miles on it.

Stop whining. It costs $1/mile to own and operate a vehicle, any vehicle. Get accustomed to that…

86K miles and you want free repairs?? Not going to happen…

Wow, that was whiny?

A $100 component is failing a lot, and can take a really expensive inverter along with it. Given Toyota’s recent recall issues, you’d think they’d be sensitive about this…

There are many problems common to a particular car model that warrant TSBs that never become a recall item. Something that wears out after 6+ years is typically not ‘recall’ worthy, unless it’s a safety-related item.

A TSB only becomes a recall IF there is a safety problem related to the vehicle.

From what I can see, there is no safety defect here, so there will be no recall. IF the problem is common enough and causes owners to complain enough, then the company might provide an extended warranty on the affected part or do what they like to call a “customer satisfation program” or something similar. That acts very much like a recall, but is not recorded as one. Generally those are done to eliminate complaints which might hurt sales (see Ford’s recent program to reprogram the brakes on Fusion and Milan hybrids for an example) or to eliminate a cheap problem which might cause an expensive repair down the road. My Taurus had one of those problems - a cooling system that needed a bypass kit installed to prevent corrosion that was causing freeze plugs to fail - a simple low cost repair that saved countless engines).

You MIGHT get lucky and Toyota might do one of those campaigns, but at this point it is VERY unlikely, as the cars are several years old. You’re more likely to get satisfaction by contacting Toyota directly and requesting a goodwill repair. They might do that to help keep you as a customer in the future… or at least agree to cover parts or labor…

You have to keep in mind that when you find that something seems common because it appears on a car model website that many people who post on those sites only do so because they have a problem.

If I were to believe everything I read that seems common on automotive websites I would never buy a 1999-2000 Mazda Miata because the engines all blow up due to incorrect machining, BMW motorcycles all exhibit final drives that burst into flames, and of course hybrid batteries only last 3 years and a Hummer is cleaner than a Prius.

Unless it’s a safety issue, there won’t be a recall. But don’t let that stop you. Register a complaint here:


If enough people file a complaint, it might make Toyota do something about it. They have enough public relations problems. They might start repairing it under warranty or extended warranty if there are enough formal complaints. You can’t sweep NHTSA complaints under the rug.

Eraser is correct; recalls are for safety issues so the odds of this problem becoming a recall is between zero and less.

IF enough complaints are registered and IF enough people push the issue there’s always the possibility that Toyota could step up and provide a Campaign.
A “Campaign” means a voluntary recall that is done in the interest of PR and whereas a recall is good forever, a campaign is limited in scope due to mileage and/or time constraints.

Considering Toyota’s current problems I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting on a Campaign to start.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Toyota should not cover this under anything. It’s a 7 year old car with ? miles.
If every car maker started recalling and providing campaigns on every car that suffered even a mildly common problem the shops would be clogged and the car makers would be bankrupt.
Cars are a collection of used parts, all subject to breaking at any time and at some point the car maker has to just say no or there will be no end to the outlay.

I got this water pump installed yesterday. This is an easy job. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being “air filter”, 10 being “Remove, rebuild and reinstall a transmission”), I’d give this job about a 3. Easier than changing the starter on my Maxima or the rear cat on my Escape was.

If your Prius comes up with an error P0A93, it’s probably this water pump. Dealer will ask somewhere between $350 and $550 to do this for you. If you’ve ever done one of the middlin’ jobs on your car (struts, brakes, starters, etc.), you can change this water pump. No special tools; I used a 1/4" drive metric socket set (you’ll need the extensions, for sure), pliers and screwdrivers; 24mm and a 1/2" drive torque wrench to remove and replace the drain plug; 1 jack stand.

Furthermore, if you do get this problem, don’t procrastinate! You do not want to change the inverter or the transmission in a Prius, or be stranded on I-5 somewhere south of Red Bluff in mid-July.

The only question I’m left with is the coolant. The stuff I put in is pink, but I think it’s just plain old antifreeze. I paid $20 for a gallon of 50-50 antifreeze at the dealer I’m sure is identical chemically to the $8 50-50 mix at the local Kragen, but, eh, I went with it. For future reference, though, I’d like to know if I can just put in the stuff I can get at Kragen for $8, or is there a compelling reason to pay $20 for it at the dealer?

A recall is ONLY for a safety related item that NHSTA mandates or a car maker elects to fix.

Usually though for a TSB they can make it an extended warranty on component. For example my Subaru has failing rear wheel bearings however they extended coverage to 8yrs/100k so I am covered at 90k miles. However the difference is Toyota likely sold a few Hundred thousand Prius’s over the 04-06 time period. Subaru only sold about 4000 Subaru Legacy turbo models in 2005.

I had both coolant pumps go out at about 115,000 miles. The sad thing is that these two parts are relatively easy to replace if you are mechanically inclined. The other side of the problem is that the Toyota dealers are completely unreliable communicators. They will lie and cheat a customer (like any auto dealer) with such BS stories about what it takes to fix something that it’s embarrassing to watch them talking in public. You want to wash their mouths out with soap.

He’s just cranky because he likes caddys. :wink:

Hmm. Okay. Now it turns out that Toyota is, in fact, recalling 650,000 Priuses (Prii?) for this issue. I feel better about having asked this question in the first place.

And, yeah, mine is one of the covered cars. They’re not calling it a recall; they’re calling it an automatic extension of the warranty on this component. Bottom-line for me: I’m getting reimbursed.

See? I TOLD you it wasn’t a dumb question!

Congratulations and thanks for letting us know the end result.
I read that story also and this is actually a Campaign, which is a voluntary recall for PR purposes. The bean counters weigh the cost of bad press (critical on the Prius of all cars) and the potential cost of a class action lawsuit against the actual cost to TMC of carrying out the Campaign.

When figuring the “real world” cost of heavily discounted warranty cost on both parts and labor they likely figured that a Campaign was the least expensive option.

I’m pleased that you got resolution.

I wanted to clarify a few things. A TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) is only an advisory notice to the dealer network. It can range from a part change to instructions to correct a commmon complaint to a simple instruction on paperwork processing. I have one at home on how to obtain a replacement VIN plate for a dashboard…not a simple procedure.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association, NHTSA, can order a manufacturere to “recall” a vehicle for a safety defect. A manufacturer can recall a vehicle in anticipation of a NHTSA order, in response to a NHTSA order, to prevent a NHTSA order, or simply as a method of maintaining a good public image. A manufcaturer can order a recall anytime for any reason, and does not need a NHTSA directive to do so.

A “campaign” is simply a way to issue a recall while avoiding any public perception that a safety issue might be involved.

A TSB does not “become a recall”. A TSB is simply a directive, although it might have been initiated in response to a NHTSA-ordered recall.

You kind of have to be in a Prius when the component finally overheats to appreciate what happens, too. The car does keep going, but the ECU turns off the electrical side of the propulsion – you’re 100% gasoline engine. All the dashboard lights come on, and the car will continue to operate, all the while getting about 20 mpg and operating on about 60% power.

All this is a long way of saying, yeah, that’s not safe. It really does represent a safety issue. I kind kind picture heading up 50 or 80 towards Tahoe/Reno in a July heat wave, and losing vast amounts of power – but hey, that’s okay, keep driving.

I’m not saying it’s an enormous safety issue, but I am saying it’s at least a medium-sized one. Remember, this car uses regenerative braking, and if the electrical side is down, your braking is reduced by a commensurate amount. It’s not like having the cooling pump in your 1990 Camry break.

It’s not like having the cooling pump in your 1990 Camry break.

No, it’s not. In the case of the Camry (and most cars) failure of the water pump leads to complete loss of engine power, power steering, and power brakes after the first couple of presses.

I’m not saying that your issue is not a problem, but to claim that it is worse than when something similar happens on other cars is simply not true.

OMG no electric drive! There will be no gov’t mandated recall because it is not a saftey issue. It amounts to about the same as a power steering belt breaking, or a power brake booster failing. Sure it will be harder to steer or require more effort to stop. But the bottom line is you can still do both. The only reason Toyota is doing anything is strictly a PR move, nothing more.

CNN says 380,000

Autoweek says 650,000

Pretty wide range, I’d say. Toyota says there have been no accidents or injuries reported. It’s not a safety issue so no recall, just a service campaign.

In 1997 Toyota replaced the head gaskets on my 100,000 mile, 8-year old pickup; no charge. That’s pretty good service. Back in 1982 I had already put 3 transmissions in my 5-year old Oldsmobile and GM didn’t pay for anything.

These days, if you can get a car manufacturer to pay for anything, take what you can get :wink:

The 650,000 figure is world-wide
The 380,000 figure is just the US. (really 378,000 but some sites are rounding up)

For me the idea that this issue concerning a potential degradiation in a vehicles actual performance is somehow more important because it concers the Prius confirms the feeling I get when reading posts from Prius owners, and that is one of “status” and that status should protect them for the perils that are part of life for everyone.

Why should the Prius get consideration that other types of cars do not get? It has the smell of “Hey I went green and now I am getting *******, where is my “go green and not get ******” protection plan now”?

Safety means, “the car catches fire when hit at 5 mph” not “I could get stuck some place where it is hot” or the dreaded “unsafe neighborhood”