My Car Almost Killed Me- Recourse for 2003 Prius Steering Issue?



Hi all.

I’m a West Coast treehugger who bought a Prius in March 2003 - the old version with the Echo body. I love it, kept up with the scheduled maintenance, always go to the dealer.

This past Friday, I was driving home… Turned right, and the wheel froze there. I slammed the brakes before hitting a parked truck. (Needless to say, if it had happened on the freeway, I’d likely be dead.)

After freaking out for 5 minutes, I managed to use all my strength to turn the wheels enough to get it home, and had it towed to the dealer the next day. They say it’s the electronic connection between the steering column and the rack & pinion, and will be about $2k parts and labor.

I know there was a recall to do with the steerig system on Priuses made just after mine, but the dealer says it’s not related. I’m at about 70k miles, far beyond the standard 36k mile warranty for the steering system.

Do I have any recourse here? I know stuff breaks, but it seems like they should have some obligation to prevent or comp things that could actually kill you.



There’s not much you can do. The car is out of warranty and going on 6 years old and since the recall does not apply you’re probably out of luck.

What you might do, and this is a coin flip, is contact the Toyota regional office and ask if they will intervene on this by performing a “good will warranty”. Every car maker can do these and it’s strictly discretionary.

Be VERY polite with them but express disappointment that this happened with only 70k miles on the vehicle. Also express the fact that you almost creamed a parked truck and were terrified. Don’t dwell on this with them; they’ll get the hint.

Do not get too upset with Toyota if they don’t cover this for you though. The car is out of warranty and they can’t make an exception for everybody but since this involves a problem related to steering and is in the neighborhood of the current recall they may help you out.
Hope this helps anyway. :slight_smile:

I agree with OK's good advice on dealing with Toyota.  Try that first.

Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car.  They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies.  They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent. 

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic.


You know, I almost always agree with your stance in this regard but this is one instance I would take exception. The Prius is not a mainstream, bread and butter machine. It appears this problem is related to a steer by wire (didn’t know they made such a thing yet) involving an electronics package that is probably unique to this car. I’d beat feet to the dealer for this kind of repair, especially if there’s a chance they might assume some of the cost. The independant is unlikely to have the same level of knowledge, parts and ability to compensate for the early failure on something like this. Just my 2c.


This sounds to me like the kind of data NTHSA wants to collect. You can report it to their Vehicle Safety Hotline 1-888-327-4236, or file it as a Complaint (vehicle) on-line at

You would hope that SOMEBODY is tracking failures in automobiles, especially the newer designs, looking for flaws or trends. Is there a reliable, independent org that does this (Consumer’s Union?), or do we have to rely on the manufacturer (no laughing!) or the government (still, no laughing).

Still, if you are an early occurence of a trend, you’ll have to suffer with being a “random” failure until more show up.


I’ll betcha a products liability lawyer would LOVE to see you come through his door. That would be my first call . . . even before I called Toyota to see if they would fix it. Let me ask you something . . . once it’s fixed . . . will you feel safe driving it? Seems like defective design or manufacture . . . cars aren’t designed or built to have the steering wheel freeze while driving. Think about it. Rocketman


Rule #1, never own a Prius out of warranty, most parts are in the thousands.


Electric power steering is common these days and it doesn’t have to be on a Prius. One thing in our favor is that a Prius has to have electric power steering of some sort if it is to have power steering at all. Maybe there is some hope but you won’t get it by talking to the dealer. You will have to go higher than that.


I doubt it’s steering by wire. I don’t think anyone wants that liability yet. Since you could turn it using all your strength, it’s just electric power steering. So when the electric unit goes, you get the joy of steering by strength. Yeah! I’d start with Toyota like the earlier suggestions. I’ve driven cars where the old fashioned pump method of power steering died. You also lose the power brakes too. It’s a pain, but a good workout for the arms and the legs. But then I’m a guy with strength. If it died in a turn, I’d be close to accident just like you since I’d be caught unaware.

I remember my first car had no power steering. But it had a huge steering wheel. Power steering sure makes life easier. Maybe that’s an idea to cut obesity in the US: ban power steering. Make people work during their drive in.


The only problem I see with that suggestion is there wasn’t any injury. Not many would take a case based on “I was scared”.


You’re probably right about the electric assist.

Why does this BBS drop a second, sequential post to the same thread by the same poster???


Because this has got to be THE worst forum software ever created…Whoever was responsible for “upgrading” the system must have received a huge kickback from the authors of this system…cause it’s not like the old system was broken or anything…That, or the old system was costing money and this one was free…that’s all I can think of.


Good point Twin . . . even people who get something nasty in their Wendy’s Chili or drop McD’s coffee on themselves claim some type of injury. How 'bout it OP . . . any injury besides your fear of driving it? Rocketman


The OP said (s)he hit a parked truck, so it sounds like there was some damage to the car if nothing else. Maybe some mysterious spinal problems due to the collision? :slight_smile:


“I slammed the brakes before hitting a parked truck”. This isn’t horseshoes…


I hear ya rocketman. IIRC, most people are in the act of eating the food when they discover the foriegn object. Imagine if the food server found the rat before they handed over the goods. Close call but were you really harmed?

Bonus question; Is the rat really any worse than the food itself? :slight_smile:


Yeah, there was a lot of bold talk about continuous improvement. Did I say that out loud? I don’t want to get myself in trouble with the post police! It’s an annoyance I have to train myself to copy the post before submitting in case it gets dropped. I’ve had to retype so many of them and I never put the same effort into it the second time so a lot of information gets tossed due to frustration…

Saved again by the paste buffer!!!


I’ll try that, thanks!

(Any idea how to find the appropriate person at the regional office? I know Click and Clack addressed that question once upon a time, but I’ve been unableto find it.)

Thanks again!


The old system had a LOT of problems…but this isn’t much better.


I did submit an online complaint to the NTHSA… Thanks for the reply!