Toyota Prius 3rd Generation 2010-2015 (XW30) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Prius 3rd Gen

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3rd Generation Toyota Prius: What Owners Say

  • The Toyota Prius 3rd generation is superb when it comes to fuel economy, which is why people still favor it to this day. The EPA estimates that it will get 50/46/48 MPG on the city/highway/combined cycles and owners have been very pleased with actually achieving and sometimes even beating those figures in real life.
  • In terms of space utilization and comfort, the interior receives high marks, with a surprising amount of space for people and things, despite the compact exterior dimensions.
  • The Prius gen 3 is lauded for its level of technology relative to its time, with buyers being able to opt in adaptive cruise control, a solar-powered sunroof to power the ventilation system and cool the car down on hot days, and various driver-assistance features like lane-departure warning and automated self-parking.
  • The Prius 3rd gen's driving position earns it quite a bit of criticism. It is awkward and the driver may struggle to get settled in comfortably. One of the main gripes is that the telescoping steering column does not extend far back nearly enough.
  • Some owners are disappointed that the third gen Prius isn't nearly as reliable as its predecessor. Although it can rack up the miles if cared for properly, there are tons of engine, hybrid system, and brake problems, especially near the start of the generation line. Some have never been entirely sorted out, blighting Toyota's usual stellar reliability record.
  • The interior of the 3rd-generation Prius is rather cheap and owners don't love that it looks so brittle, lightweight, and low-grade, although it is actually quite well built. The Prius always reminds you that you opted for basic transport and the interior could never be described as plush, even though it can be upgraded with advanced technologies. Another interior negative is that, in the interest of improving the car's aerodynamics, it employs a low rear roofline, robbing passengers of headroom.

2012 Toyota Prius Third Generation Facelift

The Toyota Prius XW30 has been facelifted once during its lifetime, in 2012, with changes extending to all-new light units fore and aft, and the debut of the Toyota Entune subscription-based infotainment system.

2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Front Changes

The 2012 Prius boasts all-new headlight clusters with new lenses and projector units within the same overall shape as before 1. The front bumper is all-new 2, with a far more aggressive lower fascia and air intake, now containing the fog lights on models so equipped 3. The upright slots on either side of the bumper that used to contain the fog lights lose their rectangular shape and taper towards the bottom 4.

2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Rear Changes

At the rear, the only noticeable difference is the redesigned taillights that retain their original shape but gain new lenses and swoopy C-shaped LED elements 1.

2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Side Changes

Only the eagle-eyed will be able to spot the revised front bumper treatment from the side 1, but the new 15-inch wheel covers on the Prius 2 are obvious 2. They have thinner spokes that actually expose a lot more of the ugly steel wheel underneath and can be seen as a step back from the old units that more closely resembled alloy wheels. Otherwise, the profile remains mostly unchanged.

2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Interior Changes

The overall style of the interior remains the same and even the steering wheel designs are retained. However, a variety of new audio head units are available 1, including the debut of Toyota's new subscription-based Entune infotainment system.

Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain

From the day it was launched to the day it was discontinued, the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius has only ever been offered with one drivetrain. The gas engine is an Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE unit with 98 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor developing 80 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque. As their power and torque peaks do not coincide, the total hybrid system output is 134 hp. The drivetrain is connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that drives the front wheels. The hybrid battery pack is a 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride unit. The Prius takes around 10.1-10.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop.

1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE Inline-Four Gas Engine and Electric Motor
98 hp | 105 lb-ft and 80 hp | 153 lb-ft
Horsepower
98 hp
Torque
105 lb-ft
Transmission
CVT automatic
  • Electric motor: Permanent synchronous electric motor
  • Horsepower: 80 hp
  • Engine + electric motor hybrid system output: 134 hp
  • Engine + electric motor hybrid system torque: 153 lb-ft

In its quest to make the 2ZR-FXE as fuel-efficient as possible, Toyota employed all manner of engineering tricks, including thinner piston rings. While the efficiency of the drivetrain cannot be disputed, its reliability can and these piston rings are prone to getting stuck and causing excessive oil consumption. Toyota's warranty has provisos though, so read on carefully to avoid huge personal expenses. The hybrid system isn't without its problems, either, with recalls for failed inverters. Overall, the 3rd generation Prius' drivetrain reliability is significantly worse than its predecessor's.

2010-2015 Toyota Prius Real MPG

Official EPA estimates have varied slightly over the five production years of the Toyota Prius gen 3 but they never drop below 49/46/48 MPG for the city/highway/combined cycles. Though EPA estimates can sometimes be optimistic, consumer reports show almost identical, if not superior, figures.

EPA mpgReal-World mpg *
1.8 NA four-cylinder FWD CVT (2010, 2015)50/46/48 mpg47 combined
1.8 NA four-cylinder FWD CVT (2011-2014)49/46/48 mpg46.1-48.5 combined

*Real-world MPG and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.

Safety

When the Toyota Prius third-generation launched as a 2010 model, the NHTSA still evaluated cars against the old, outdated pre-2011 standards, so only 2011 or newer ratings are worth noting. The Prius does well, with a five-star overall crash rating, made up of four-star ratings for the frontal crash and rollover test and five stars for the side crash. Due to more stringent newer standards, the 2014 Prius loses a star on its overall rating, which doesn't improve on the 2015 model. Over at the IIHS, the 2010 Prius receives "Good" scores across the board. The roof-strength test added for the 2011 model returns a "Good" score as well, netting it a 2011 Top Safety Pick award. It continues for the 2012 and 2013 models, while the 2014 and 2015 Toyota Prius boasts a Top Safety Pick+ award.

Even the base Prius 1 trim gets plenty of safety equipment. The 2010 baseliner comes standard with ABS, stability and traction control, and seven airbags, not to mention the decent crash ratings. Pre-collision and lane-departure warning systems are available optionally, so check if any of these are specified on a used Prius you're looking at. Nothing changed on the safety front until the final 2015 model year when all Prius trims received a standard backup camera.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result (2015)

Overall Rating::
(4/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating::
(4/5)
Side Crash Rating::
(5/5)
Rollover Rating::
(4/5)

3rd Generation Toyota Prius Trims

The Prius trim lineup is quite simple and straightforward, comprising five trims: Prius 1 through Prius 5. Prius 1 wasn't a permanent fixture though, with the lineup kicking off with the 2010 Prius 2. The Prius 1 was added at the bottom of the lineup late in the 2010 model year and remained on sale for 2011, only to disappear for the rest of the production run.

Prius 1
2010-2011
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CVT
Drivetrain
FWD

The Prius 1 launched as a 2010 model, but only late in the model year, and standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, power door locks and windows, a manually tilting/telescoping steering column, automatic climate control, a 60/40-split rear seat, two 12-volt power outlets, and a manually operated driver's seat with height adjustment. This trim was discontinued after the 2011 model year.

Prius 2
2010-2015
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CVT
Drivetrain
FWD

As standard, the 2010 Prius 2 comes with everything the Prius 1 gets, but adds to that 15-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, automatic headlights, cruise control, heated side mirrors, a dedicated hybrid-system display, and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The facelifted 2012 Prius 2 gains additional infotainment features, notably a touchscreen and a USB/iPod audio interface. An optional Plus Appearance package is available on all trims that adds a seven-piece aerodynamic body kit and unique 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as a Plus Performance package with unique badging and a sport-tuned suspension system. The 2015 Prius 2 has a backup camera as standard, as do all the other trims in the 2015 lineup.

Prius 3
2010-2015
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CTV
Drivetrain
FWD

The 2010 Prius 3 is well-equipped with everything the Prius 2 has, along with Bluetooth and an eight-speaker JBL audio system with a six-CD changer. The optional Navigation package includes a backup camera, a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system (including real-time traffic), and a four-disc CD changer (in place of the six-CD unit otherwise fitted) with Bluetooth music streaming, so be on the lookout for second-hand models so equipped. For the 2011 models, an optional Solar Roof package could be added to the Navigation package. This includes solar panels on the roof to power the ventilation system while the car is parked, as well as remote-activate air-conditioning to cool the car before you get in.

The navigation system is standard on the facelifted 2012 Prius 3, as well as satellite radio, HD radio, voice controls, a backup camera, and Toyota's subscription-based Entune infotainment system. The latter comprises real-time traffic, fuel-price, sport, and weather information, as well as an app suite that connects the system to internet sites such as iHeart Radio, Pandora, and Open Table through the user's smartphone. The previous optional 2012 Solar Roof package is renamed the Deluxe Solar Roof package for 2013 and additionally includes an upgraded navigation system with an HD split-screen display, Safety Connect emergency communications, and a head-up display.

Prius Persona Special Edition
2013, 2015
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CTV
Drivetrain
FWD

The 2013 Persona Special Edition is based on the Prius 3's standard features but differs by adding chrome interior accents, charcoal/black SofTex leatherette upholstery with red stitching, and 17-inch alloy wheels. This trim is also available as a 2015 model, now with footwell illumination and side mirrors with integrated turn signals added.

Prius 4
2010-2015
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CTV
Drivetrain
FWD

The 2010 Prius 4 builds on the 3's specifications with exterior locking buttons on the doors for the keyless entry system, as well as an auto-dimming interior mirror, leatherette upholstery, lumbar adjustment for the driver, and heated front seats. The 2012 facelifted Prius 4 gains an eight-way electrically adjustable driver's seat.

Prius 5
2010-2015
Engine
1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four with permanent synchronous electric motor
Transmission
CVT
Drivetrain
FWD

The flagship 2010 Prius 5 is fully loaded, also adding LED headlights with washers and an auto-leveling function, fog lights, and 17-inch alloy wheels. On top of that, the optional Advanced Technology package (available on Prius 5 only) has everything the Navigation package has, in addition to a pre-collision warning system, adaptive cruise control, automated self-parking, and lane-departure warning.

Third Generation Toyota Prius Features (last model year)

Prius 1Prius 2Prius 3Persona Special EditionPrius 4Prius 5
Back-Up CameraSSSSSS
Bluetooth ConnectionN/ASSSSS
Leather SeatsN/AN/AN/AN/ASS
Apple CarPlayN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Keyless EntryN/ASSSSS
Keyless StartN/ASSSSS
HD RadioN/AN/ASSSS
AlloyN/ASSSSS
WheelsN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
SunroofN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A

Interior, Trim, And Practicality

Toyota

The 3rd generation Toyota Prius' interior has an attractive and modern design, but the materials aren't upmarket. Unfortunately, this doesn't improve further in the production run, although top-tier models with all the advanced electronic options fitted and the leatherette upholstery do look better inside, if not plush. The rear legroom of 36 inches, along with the spacious 21.6-cubic-feet trunk, are impressive for what is essentially a compact car. What is less impressive is the 37.6 inches of rear headroom, which will see tall passengers' scalps grazing the headlining.

The trims are straightforward, but the Prius 1 joined the lineup late in the 2010 model year, so some sources don't even list it as a 2010 trim. It was discontinued soon after. The Prius Persona Edition adds a cosmetic package to the Prius 3 and is available for two model years only: 2013 and 2015.

TrimPrius 1Prius 2Prius 3Persona Special EditionPrius 4Prius 5
Bisque, Dark Gray cloth seatsSN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Bisque, Dark Gray, Misty Gray cloth/velour seatsN/ASSN/AN/AN/A
Charcoal/Black leatherette seats with red stitchingN/AN/AN/ASN/AN/A
Bisque, Dark Gray, Misty Gray leatherette seatsN/AN/AN/AN/ASS

2010-2015 Toyota Prius Gen 3 Maintenance and Cost

There are 3rd gen Prius models out there with many miles on the clock, they are not nearly as reliable as their predecessors, and earning bad marks for problematic brakes, piston rings, and hybrid-drive inverters. In fact, there were so many complaints about the 2010 model that it should be avoided altogether. The same applies to a lesser extent to the 2011 and 2012 models. That said, with the problems fixed and the recall work done, the Prius is a solid car that can last many years.

The basic oil service should be performed every 10,000 miles, but we always recommend halving that distance if you use your Prius in harsh conditions, such as in freezing temperatures, in dusty environments, or if you typically idle a lot. The first few services typically only entail the replacement of the engine oil and filter, as well as the cleaning of the cabin air filter, the rotation of the tires, and the inspection of the brakes and ensuring that the driver's floor mat is properly secured - a legacy of ill-fitting floor mats and defective accelerator pedals being responsible for millions of Toyota being recalled for unintended acceleration. At 30,000 miles, the cabin and engine air filters are replaced and a lot more systems and subsystems are inspected. At 120,000-mile intervals, the spark plugs must be replaced. Keep in mind that the nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery pack is guaranteed for 100,000 miles or eight years and that it will start to deteriorate after that time. A new battery pack will cost between $2,200 and $4,100 and a refurbished or used one at least $1,500.

Toyota Prius XW30 Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter (Gas)

2010-2015 1.8-liter naturally aspirated inline-four 2ZR-FXE gas engine: 4.2L (4.4 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 0W-20 fully synthetic oil, Amsoil OEM part number OEZQT-EA

Oil filter OEM part number 04152YZZA6

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $6 for filter and $46 for oil.

Sparkplugs

2010-2015 1.8-liter naturally aspirated inline-four 2ZR-FXE gas engine

Part code: 9091901275

Replacement: Every 120,000 miles.

Average price: $53 for four.

Air Filter

2010-2015 1.8-liter naturally aspirated inline-four 2ZR-FXE gas engine

OEM part number: 1780137021

Average Price: $28.

Battery

1.8-liter naturally aspirated inline-four 2ZR-FXE gas engine:

Type: Toyota OEM battery, part code 00544-21181-320

Replacement: Every 3-5 years.

Average Price: $241.

Hybrid-drive nickel-metal hydride battery pack:

Replacement: Every 8-10 years.

Average Price: $2,200-$4,100.

3rd Gen Toyota Prius Tires

2010-2015 Prius 1, Prius 2, Prius 3, Persona Special Edition, and Prius 4
Tire Size:
P195/65R15
Price:
$441-$577 per set
2010-2015 Prius 5
Tire Size:
P215/45R17
Price:
$490-$688 per set

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

Unfortunately, the 3rd gen Toyota Prius is a clear step back from its predecessor in terms of reliability and it has experienced various problems with both its internal combustion engine and hybrid system. In the quest for efficiency, the low-tension piston rings used on the 2ZR-FXE engine are notorious for getting clogged and stuck, causing oil consumption to soar. Because of Toyota's selective warranty conditions, it isn't a given that an owner would have this problem corrected while under warranty either.

The hybrid system cause problems, too, with many faulty inverters replaced under warranty. These are the expensive, big-ticket items, but there are myriad other smaller problems too, affecting the headlights and braking system, among others. Cared for properly and with all the major issues attended to, a 3rd generation Prius can exceed 200,000 miles, but there might be a few bumps in the road getting there. As always, meticulous maintenance helps and frequent oil changes are a must. If the CVT frequently gets clean oil, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Toyota Prius transmission problems are quite rare. Unlike some Toyotas, 2010-2015 Toyota Prius radio problems and Bluetooth echoes are not common either; similarly, Toyota Prius sunroof, power window, and driving problems are not often reported.

We dedicated a section below to each of the major problems, but some are not as serious, commonplace, or costly to fix, so we mention them here:

  • The Prius' wheel bearings tend to fail as early as 60,000 miles, so it might be something to look out for. Listen for a humming sound when driving on smooth roads, with the sound becoming more intense and changing pitch when you go around curves. A set of wheel bearings costs around $500 to replace.
  • Some Prius owners have reported insufficient headlight coverage and had to have the headlight level sensor replaced, while others had unspecified work done to the tune of up to $800. However, poor headlight coverage can also be related to the other headlight problems the Prius suffered from, so read on for those.
  • It seems some 2010-2012 Prius models suffer from instrumentation failures, with the electronic dashboard display becoming erratic or going completely dark. Make sure the dashboard display works perfectly because a gauge cluster replacement can cost up to $3,000.
  • Although not common, a few 2011 Prius owners report failing air-conditioning compressors, which have to be replaced at a cost of around $2,500.
  • 2010-2012 Toyota Prius door lock problems are not uncommon. Door-lock actuators can fail and this seems to be a problem in mostly early Prius years. Replacing the actuators can cost from $400 at a dealership.
  • Although it doesn't seem to be all that commonplace, 2010-2012 models can suffer from steering pinion and intermediate shaft problems that can cost more than $2,200 to fix.
  • Electronic Control Module (ECM) failures do occur from time to time and might produce the P0606 or P0607 Toyota Prius error codes. Other symptoms include rough running, a failure to start, and a failed self-diagnostics test.

It's worth keeping in mind a few common error codes:

  • The Toyota Prius 2010's P0327 error code means a knock sensor is malfunctioning.
  • The 2011 Toyota Prius P0171 error code means the fuel injection is not operating properly.
  • The 2011 Toyota Prius P0016 error code indicates an incorrect camshaft position
  • The 2012 Toyota Prius P0A80 error code indicates an over-temperature condition and that weak cell failure has occurred in the hybrid system's battery pack.
  • A Toyota Prius P0456, P0455, or P0441 code indicates a leak in the evaporative emissions control system that is large, small, or both, respectively, while the Toyota Prius P0445 code means that the evaporative emission control system's purge valve is stuck.
  • The 2015 Toyota Prius P0007 error code indicates a faulty fuel shut-off valve or poor electrical connection to it.
  • The 2015 Toyota Prius P0A0D error is a high-voltage interlock circuit code, which could mean that the inverter's interlock switch or the battery service plug has not been installed properly.

Common 2010-2015 Toyota Prius Problems

Excessive Oil Consumption

The low-friction, low-tension rings used on the 2ZR-FXE engine's pistons prove troublesome and a very large number of Prius owners, especially of 2010 cars, report excessive oil consumption when these rings become clogged or stuck. This is extremely common and one of the main 2010, 2011, and 2012 Toyota Prius engine problems. There is no gen 3 2010 Toyota Prius oil consumption recall for this problem and there are no simple or cheap solutions except to replace the piston assembly or the entire engine. Caught early, you might get away with fixing yours for around $2,300, but when left to fester, the oil consumption can cause a ton of extra problems, such as ruining the catalytic converter and all the physical damage - and complete engine failure - that can occur due to unchecked low engine oil. A new engine will cost over $4,000. Don't even consider a 2010-2012 Prius that hasn't had extensive repair work done - or an engine replacement - with documented proof.

Things improve considerably in later years, but can only be regarded as under control from the 2013 model year. Toyota has repaired some of these cars under warranty and sometimes replaced entire engines, but there was a proviso. They will inspect the vehicle and top up the oil, let you drive for 1,200 miles, and ask you to return the car so they can check the oil consumption. Only if the engine burns more than a quart of oil will Toyota honor the warranty. There are probably many Prius models out there with quite bad oil consumption that haven't made the cut, were never repaired, and are still driving around with an unhealthy appetite for oil.

Mileage: From 100,000-122,000 miles on average.

Cost: From $2,300 for repairs to over $4,000 for a new engine.

How to spot: Low oil level, oil-pressure light, any engine damage associated with driving around with insufficient oil, blue smoke from the exhaust, loss of power.

Head Gasket Failure

There are quite a few 2010 Toyota Prius head gasket problems, but 2011 and 2012 models are affected, too. Keep in mind that there are no 2010, 2011, or 2012 Toyota Prius head gasket recalls, so if it happens to you, the repairs will be out of pocket. Problems may start as early as 50,000 miles but don't usually occur before 150,000 miles. A blown head gasket may cause all kinds of damage and ruin the engine if ignored. A blown gasket could cause misfiring, which would be indicated by a 2010, 2011, or 2012 Toyota Prius cylinder head gasket code P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, or P0304. The last digit represents the number of the piston experiencing the misfire. Meticulous maintenance is important to avoid problems, especially replacing the coolant with the appropriate mixture frequently.

Mileage: 55,000-250,000 miles on average.

Cost: From $2,000 for repairs to $4,000+ for a new engine.

How to spot: Milky oil, overheating, visible coolant leaks from the engine, white smoke/steam from the exhaust, and loss of coolant without visible leaks, triggering the Toyota Prius P0117 code for low coolant.

EGR System Problems

Like many cars, the Prius has an exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) system that routes some exhaust gasses back into the intake manifold via an EGR duct and valve to improve emissions. However, the system on the third-gen Prius can build up excessive carbon and become blocked, rendering the EGR valve inoperative. The 3rd gen 2010 Toyota Prius code number P0401 is the most typical error produced by an "EGR insufficient flow" condition, which can be caused by a clogged EGR system, a malfunctioning EGR valve or MAP sensor, or an EGR valve motor that's failed. It's not actually too difficult to clean the entire EGR system yourself at home and there are various online tutorials available on how to do this, costing you nothing except a bit of your time. Have this problem attended to, because it's been known to bring on head-gasket failure more quickly if ignored. Don't defer maintenance and replace the oil frequently. Have the entire EGR system cleaned properly at least every 90,000 miles.

Mileage: 90,000 miles on average.

Cost: Only your time to clean. Additional costs vary, depending on what has to be replaced. A MAP sensor costs around $200 and an EGR valve costs around $300.

How to spot: Error code P0401, Check Engine light, MAP sensor covered in oil.

Water Pump Failure

Although not all that common, this problem is reported often enough to warrant concern. The 2ZR-FXE engine in the third-generation Prius is completely belt-less to reduce parasitic losses and improve efficiency, so even the water pump is electric and not driven by a belt. However, these can still fail - sometimes as early as 40,000 miles - and leave you stranded next to the road. It mostly affects the 2010-2013 model years.

Mileage: 40,000 miles on average.

Cost: From $650 for a new water pump.

How to spot: Check Engine light, overheating, low coolant level, visible leaks.

Paint Problems

The 2010-2012 model years seem to have the worst paint and can suffer from peeling. It's not as bad as the second-generation Tundra, but still quite annoying, making the car look run-down and repainting to fix that can add up to thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the problem.

Mileage: 40,000-138,000 miles on average.

Cost: Up to $2,500 for repairs/repainting.

How to spot: Peeling paint.

Headlight Problems

The 3rd gen 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 Toyota Prius headlight problems and issues have been reported on extensively and it's surprising that there was no 2010, 2011, or 2012 Toyota Prius headlight recall. It's rife on early cars and still presents up to the 2013 model, though less frequently. Due to problems with the wiring harness, the wiring can overheat and melt. and the HID headlight bulbs can blow. Make sure the repairs have been done under warranty and insist on proof because besides being a safety hazard, failing headlights could cost you anything up to $350 and even more to fix, depending on how extensive the damage to the wiring is allowed to get.

Mileage: 36,000-125,000 miles on average.

Cost: $40-$350 (or more) for wiring repairs and bulb replacement.

How to spot: Headlight failure, dim lights, burnt/melted headlight wiring.

Rodent Problems

Because of the soy-based environmentally friendly coating Toyota uses on many of its cars' wiring - the third-generation Prius included - rodents love to eat the wiring and use it as nesting material, potentially causing thousands of dollars of damage. There is no solution, as it's impossible to reach and treat all the wiring where a rodent might be able to get in with rodent repellant. The only way to prevent the problem is to control rodents' access to your Prius by checking for their presence and putting countermeasures in place. Carefully test drive a used Prius to look for electrical problems that may point to damaged wiring, because many Toyota Prius electrical problems are due to rodent damage.

Mileage: Any mileage.

Cost: $2,000 to $3,000 or more for a new wiring harness and associated damage.

How to spot: Evidence of rodents' presence, such as droppings and chewed wiring, electrical faults.

Smelly/Moldy Air-Conditioning System

Moldy air-conditioning systems that emit a rank smell are nothing new at Toyota and the 3rd gen Prius can suffer from the same malady. There's nothing you can do about it, because the design of the evaporator and plumbing allows moisture to collect and microbes and bacteria to grow, emitting the foul smell. Toyota's later systems have an improved design that discourages moisture to collect, but for your 3rd gen Prius, the best you can do is to treat the HVAC system with an air-conditioning disinfectant. These are cheap to buy and you spray the disinfectant into the HVAC inlet at the base of the windscreen - typically with the windows open and the fan on low - to kill the bacteria.

Mileage: N/A.

Cost: Around $10 for a can of air-conditioning disinfectant spray.

How to spot: Mildewy, musty, moldy smell coming from the air conditioner when it is in use.

Recalls

The 3rd generation Prius is beset by some persistent problems, for which Toyota has had to recall various years. The first years are by far the worst and problems dramatically decrease for later model years.

Here is the complete NHTSA list of third-generation 2010-2015 Toyota Prius recalls:

  • 2010 Toyota Prius brake booster and ABS recall. Many Prius cars have been recalled for various brake problems, with the official recalls covering 2010 Toyota Prius brake and ABS problems, but other years also report problems. Nitrogen gas can escape from a brake-booster assembly and get into the brake fluid, reducing its compressibility and causing a loss of braking power and an increased crash risk. In another recall, the ABS ECU's software had to be reprogrammed, because the switch from regenerative braking to friction braking can be delayed, leading to a momentary loss of braking power, especially on rough roads. Well over 200,000 cars were involved in these recalls. Make sure all recall work has been done and test drive a used Prius to make sure it transitions smoothly from regenerative braking to friction braking and that there is no loss of braking power, even on bumpy roads. No brake warning lights should illuminate and the brakes should not be snatchy or grabby. Cars with braking problems not covered by the recall can cost well over $3,000 to fix.
  • Airbag recalls. Nearly half a million 2010-2012 models have been recalled because a welded curtain-airbag inflator may split on the weld and eject one or both of the pieces into the interior when the airbag deploys, posing a risk to the occupants. Toyota installs retention brackets on the inflators free of charge.
  • 2010-2015 Toyota Prius IPM and inverter recall. A massive recall covered all model years and was for the replacement of the Intelligent Power Module (IPM) of the hybrid system's inverter that may suffer heat damage and fail, causing the hybrid system to shut down and the car to stall or be unable to start. Toyota has updated the IPM software or replaced the entire inverter assembly, as necessary. This condition might be accompanied by the Toyota Prius code P0AA6 error, indicating voltage leak; this error with result in a disabled powertrain. This recall for 2010-2015 Toyota Prius inverter and starting problems affects all years and it is critical that the recall work has been done. The cost of a new inverter can be well over $3,000 if your car isn't covered and the inverter has to be replaced.
  • Recall for switched taillight circuit. Only just more than 400 2012 model year cars have been recalled to fix a wiring fault in aftermarket replacement taillights in which the circuits of the taillights and brake lights were switched around, resulting in brake lights that don't illuminate brightly enough.
  • Recall for electric seat-heating wiring. More than 10,000 2010-2012 cars were recalled because of aftermarket electric seat-heating wiring that is prone to short-circuit, increasing the risk of a fire if it were to become damaged. Toyota doesn't fix the wiring, it merely disconnects the seat heaters from their power source and refunds owners for the money the seat-heating option cost them to have installed.
  • Recall for incorrect load-capacity labels. Hundreds of thousands of 2010 and 2012 cars were recalled for incorrectly printed load-capacity labels that can cause owners to inadvertently overload their vehicles.
  • Recall for occupant-sensing calibration. More than 3,200 2010-2012 cars were recalled to correct the programming of the occupant-sensing system. The incorrect calibration can cause the airbags to deploy inappropriately for the size and sitting position of the occupant.

Which One To Avoid

In the case of the XW30 Prius, the earlier, the worse. In fact, so numerous were the problems in the first model years that we would recommend avoiding all 2010-2012 models like the plague and only start considering a clean 2013 model. Many of the problems might have been sorted out under warranty or recall, but some big-ticket items such as the engine (oil consumption) and hybrid system (inverter failure) affect later models to a lesser extent. Avoid the barebones steel-wheeled Prius 1, as well as the 2, which is only slightly better.

Which One To Buy

As for the trim level, we wouldn't consider anything less than the Prius 3 with its upgraded infotainment and access to additional packages, such as the Solar Roof package and Navigation package, so check whether any of these have been fitted. The Prius 4 is even better equipped, but only really adds improved seating with leatherette surfaces and electrical adjustment. Since the interior is rather low-rent, try to find a Prius 5 at a good price, because it is the best-appointed, gets the LED headlights that never cause any problems, and runs on the nice big wheels, even if this does impact economy slightly. A 2014 or 2015 model should do nicely and should have most of its problems sorted out.

3rd Gen Toyota Prius Verdict

A meticulously maintained XW30 Prius with all its recall work carried out and all the necessary repairs done can provide you with years of reliable service. However, a full maintenance record is critical and the later the year, the better to avoid expensive problems. It does not uphold the Toyota reputation for reliability, but its reliable predecessor is neither as attractive nor as safe as the third-generation car, so we're loathe to recommend the gen 2 car for those reasons. The gen 3 can be an extremely economical and cost-effective compact car with a surprising amount of interior space - limited rear headroom notwithstanding - as long as you tread carefully and don't lose everything that you have managed to save on low running costs on expensive repairs. To avoid the pitfalls, take heed of all the warnings in this Toyota Prius 3rd generation review. As always, buyer beware.

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