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Hybrid Problem Part II - Now What Do I Do?

Background, I have an '06 Toy Highlander Hybrid w 225,000 highway miles. Monday, my hybrid inverter blew at 75 mph on the highway, car completely died - repair estimate $9,500 but it now seems Toyota will repair under a previous recall. BUT!!

  1. Dealer is now telling me that the radiator is cracked and leaking - puddles of coolant on the ground. This is 100% a new problem as I had no issues like this before the inverter blew. My driveway (park in same spot daily) has no spotting whatsoever, no warning lights, no overheating. The radiator cracking the day the inverter blew seems an absurdly unlikely coincidence, did this happen during towing or servicing somehow? As a result, or cause of the inverter going? The inverter has its own coolant, but could the radiator have cracked and that caused the inverter to overheat? I do trust this dealer, they’ve been straight up with me, and going to bat for me against Toyota.

  2. I asked the dealer to review the car for whatever it might need. (I asked a different dealer to do this in March, they told me I needed and oil change.). This dealer did their homework and suggested the work I know it needs - tuneup, timing belt, flush/replace all fluids etc. etc. total bill about $2,400. Perfectly reasonable as this is all maintenance I knew was due - prices maybe a little higher at the dealership, but when I bought a hybrid, I did so planning to have a dealer do all major service. Tires are new and brakes are fine. Exhaust seems fine too.

I’ve asked them, if I replace the radiator and do the maintenance, will I get a one year run out of the car? They’re going to go over it thoroughly before they answer that, but if they say yes, I’m inclined to do it. Due to my personal financial situation, I’d pay the ~$3,000 today to have the car running, sell it for a few grand in a year and buy something else then. Would you all mind offering your opinion of this strategy?

Many thanks


Lets start with the RAD, yes I think this is a very strange coincidence… I don’t see how it could have gotten that bad, that fast without giving you any signs. ESPECIALLY when the car was looked at a few months ago by another dealer and passed. The only think I can think of is that it was damaged during the tow, but to prove that is going to be hard.

As for the service $2400 sounds VERY high for the services you describe. Lets say $800 for the timing belt and water pump… $500 for a fluid exchange (brake, coolant, power steering, trans, etc??), Maybe $300 for new spark plugs at the most… And I am still $800 away !! Did the $2400 include the radiator?? If not what did it include.

The bottom line is as you are finding out its a crap shoot at this mileage if the car will last another year or not. It could, and it should… But really who knows, no mechanic can say yes with 100% certainty… So the real question is do you feel like rolling the dice?

The radiator is a strange coincidence, but may not be out of the ordinary for a 7 year old truck with 225,000 miles on it. These modern radiators seem to fail around year 8 to 10, and with 225,000 miles on it, this truck has put the radiator through a lot of heating and cooling cycles.

If you’re OK with the $2,400 in maintenance items, I’m fine with it as well.

If you do all this work, I’m fairly certain this truck will last another year and beyond. The radiator and inverter is all that has failed, and the rest are maintenance issues. As long as the maintenance hasn’t been delayed, especially fluid changes, then it should be fine.

I’d ask to take a real close look at the radiator. Something fishy here. It is possible to do damage when towing? Yes, and a poorly placed chain could cause damage. The radiator and the inverter are unrelated, so the chance of both going bad at the exact same is possible, but the odds would be a real long shot. Someone, or something, damaged the radiator IMO.

The radiator is fishy to me, like you say, the inverter is on top of the engine, nowhere near the rad. I don’t see how the dealer could have done it. Can’t prove the tow did it…it is 225,000 miles so even if it blew during a test drive, can I really hold the dealer responsible for it? That prob isn’t fair.

The total price is $2,400 which includes timing belt, aftermarket radiator, tuneup, flush/replace all fluids filters etc. plus they’ve been spending HOURS on the phone with me, Toyota, Parts and Service Manager, and a factory engineer that went to the dealership, plus time doing diagnosis etc. I think the price is a little high, but it is a dealer and because it’s a hybrid, I’d rather pay a few extra hundred to the dealer for major services. That might be foolish.

I guess the question is, at $2,400, that’s 8 months of car payments…I only need to go that far and most seem to think that’s a pretty decent bet. I won’t have to decide until Monday, so further advice/comments are greatly appreciated.

This board is full of laments posted by disenchanted motorists who thought their vehicles were going to last FOREVER with no major mechanical or electronic failures…Without the new $9500 inverter, your vehicle is worth about $250…So if Toyota has agreed to cover that (out of the kindness of their hearts) I certainly would not squawk about the $2400 asked to put your vehicle back on the road…

The lesson learned here is the cost per mile to operate over a period of time. That’s what vehicle ownership is really about…This vehicle saved you money in fuel costs but now those savings are moving in an unexpected direction…The next dark cloud on the horizon is the hybrid battery which is not going to last forever but is weighing heavily on the remaining value of your Highlander…

Lets look at this another way then… Since you are no longer planning to own the car “forever” lets see what you should do to make the car last another year.

  1. The Radiator is a must do (this will take care of new coolent as well)
  2. Timing belt and water pump is a should do (when was it last done?)
  3. Trans flush and fill (if it has been a while since it was last done, do it… If it was 30k or less then dont)
  4. Tune up (if done in the last 100,000 miles then dont do it… If around then, its a toss up)
  5. Brake fluid/power steering fluid- again if it has been done in the last 50K then dont do it again

At this point it does not sound like you are going to run this car till 500K, you want another year out of it. So save the money in “maintence items” as it will not add anything to the car when you go to sell next year. Knocking out some of these services may save you $500-$700 today… Its worth a shot, but at the end of the day its yoru car and yoru choice. There is not a wrong choice in your case, so do what is best for YOU !

The toyota hybrids I have seen have a dual purpose radiator. The inverter coolant flows through a separate section of the radiator but the two are combined into one assembly. So it’s possible that a damaged radiator could lead to inverter failure. HOWEVER, the inverter temp is monitored as a critical parameter. Overheating will happen quickly and be catastophic so if anything went wrong with the cooling, it should have lit up some diagnostic lamp indicating there was a problem.