Toyota Prius: Is It Safe?

March 15, 2011

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about any vehicle concerns the Toyota Prius: “Is it safe?” Those asking are referring to the acceleration issue that Toyota mishandled last year. It gave the best-selling Prius hybrid an enormous amount of negative publicity. Even the head of the company, Akio Toyoda—grandfather of the co-founder of the company—was forced to appear before Congress to address a recall of 12 million vehicles worldwide, 5 million of them in the U.S.

With the price of gas rising to $4 a gallon and higher, more and more car buyers want to know if the Prius is safe. No wonder: the Prius continues to be the number one hybrid that’s readily available to large numbers of Americans. It’s an affordable solution to get the EPA rating of 51 miles per gallon in the city, and 48 mpg/hwy. But those numbers are meaningless if the vehicle itself is not safe.

The results are in

As an ex-Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I watched EVERY car maker deal with recall issues. Modern vehicles are composed of thousands of moving parts. When I look under the hood of new models, I don’t recognize much of anything that’s going on: vehicles are getting more complicated, made up of an ever-more-dizzying array of electronic components. In truth, every car maker has problems, and many of those problems lead to recalls.

The question facing new car buyers is, is there something extraordinarily wrong with the Prius that either can’t be fixed, or is an ongoing issue? In general, the answer is no. The fact is, the Prius accelerator issue happened just over a year ago and it’s unfortunate that Toyota mishandled it. Their inept, less-than-transparent manner of initially dealing with the issue resulted in Toyota paying a record $48.8 million in civil penalties for failing to report safety problems in a timely manner.

Yet, just over a month ago the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came out with a report concluding that there were no faults in Toyota's electronic throttle control systems. Instead, the report said that unintended acceleration issues were due to mechanical defects with the pedals and floor mats. These problems, when known, are easily resolved. Simply use common sense: use the correct floor mats, and shorten the pedals if they’re too long.

One person’s opinion

I think the Toyota Prius is a great car. I regularly drive one and continue to recommend it to family and friends. As with any new car, there are issues that new owners need to be aware of. Perform an Internet search on the Prius—or any other vehicle you’re thinking of purchasing—to see what negative issues current owners are dealing with.

Each make and model has its particular unresolved issues. No vehicle is perfect. For example, some Prius owners are having headlight issues. This is similar to VW Passat owners who are dealing with in-cabin moisture problems. And so on.

The Toyota Prius has so much going for it—not the least of which is extraordinarily good gas mileage—that it should make the short list of any new or used car buyer looking for a highly-rated, easy-to-maintain, high-mileage vehicle. This is especially true as we head into another period of uncertain, erratic, and unusually high gas prices.

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