Corporate Eye

Will the $1800 Faulty Prius Headlight Scandal Hurt Toyota?

toyota_priusThe story that’s been traveling through online branding circles over the past several days has centered around the upgraded headlights in Toyota’s eco-friendly Prius model and their tendency to fail, particularly after the car’s warranty is over.  At first glance, this story might not seem like a big deal.  So the headlight goes out.  Head over to the local auto parts store and pick up a new bulb.  But wait a minute!  These are not just any headlights.  These are special upgrade headlights that cost up to $1800 to repair and replace when they go out.  Suffice it to say, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Toyota over these $1800 headlights.

Now, you might ask, if this is a widespread problem, why hasn’t Toyota issued a recall?  Well, despite Toyota’s reputation as being a manufacturer of quality vehicles that will last far longer than American made (I’ve heard that sales pitch at my local Toyota dealership – in fact, it was the only pitch the salesman had), the company is notoriously slow in responding to widespread problems such as this.  That slow to react approach might have a bigger impact on Toyota now for a few reasons:

  1. With economies doing poorly, consumers are ready to switch brands at a moment’s notice.  It’s not time to get slack on any kind of customer service issue.
  2. The Prius is the “it” car for socially and environmentally conscious consumers.  This is not an audience that will respond positively to a company that doesn’t do the right thing.
  3. If consumers don’t feel like they can count on the Toyota brand, then they’ll see little differentiation between Toyota and other car brands whose reputations have been tainted recently, namely, American automobile manufacturers like General Motors.

These reasons don’t even touch on the most obvious question — why does the Prius have an $1800 headlight upgrade option?  It seems excessive for a car that’s supposed to represent the opposite of excess.

So the question remains whether or not Toyota responds quickly enough to turn this black mark on its record into a minor blemish or if it will blow up into a full-fledged PR disaster.  We’ll have to wait and see.  Certainly, given the state of the world around us, one would think that a quick, customer-focused response would be the best path for Toyota to take to keep the promise its brand has come to represent to consumers.

What do you think?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

I don’t mean to nitpick, but is that actually an $1800 headlight or is it just such a pain to replace, that the “Lion’s share” is labor-related? Having owned a Hyundai Santa Fe that had an A/C component fail (Thermistor) and while the replacement part only cost about $40, the labor to replace the part, which was located under the dashboard, cost over $500. I might suspect an issue with the labor cost on the Prius; in which case I say “carry on” with the lawsuit, as that type of labor is really highway robbery.

Scott, From what I’ve read, the replacement headlight costs about $1400 and the rest is labor.

Google “Prius headlight issue” and you will get hundreds of responses. PriusTalk and hybridcar chat both claim thousands of users that have malfunctioning HID headlights.

The latest (2 weeks ago 9/1/09) claimed a formal complaint to the NHTSA petitioned by 338 owners of Prius’ was dismissed.

Having first hand experience with the issue on a 2006 Prius and 3 fruitless repair trips to our nearest and dearest Toyota dealership willing to handle the issue 125mi away… It goes beyond a simple annoyance into a costly proposition to resolve a major safety issue. By not acting on the issue, we have decided to pawn the car off and purchase a Honda Insight this year.


We have a 2005 Prius and just had it at our local dealer to get a blinking right HID headlight fixed to the tune of $1200 (that’s right, no decimal point!), and now the left one is doning the same thing.

I called Toyota, and after an initial “We can help” discussion, they couldn’t help because at 115,000 miles the warranty was expired.

I’m going to rewire the thing, and put in plain old halogen bulbs.

No way I’ll pay another $1200 when I can get bulbs for under $10.

Toyota really screwed up a great car by putting HID lights on it.

There customer support completely sucks! I think we should have a class action suit.

I am just today experiencing the head lights going out after about 5 minutes…both at once. I called the local toyota service and they said they needed to be replace and it would be $460 for total for both of them. $150 each and the rest labor. they are HID units.
It does not make sense to me that if they are wearing out they would both go out at the same time. I have an apoint ment later today for the replacement but I am now very leary that this may not be the fix and it will lead to something else really costly.
Any thoughts.

I can’t beleive somemany high price problems with Toyota. And why haven’t these and other stories hit the press? Does Toyota own them like our poloticians?

I have a 2007 Prius and the headlights will go off and come on on thier own. I have been stopped by the state police to inform me that my right headlight was out. I turned my car off. When I started it up again my headlight was on. The officer just scratched his head and said that a Prius for you. This would be bad if I was on a dark road a night.

I have a 2007 Prius – very upset as sometimes both headlights are on, go over a bump or turn the corner and both are off, turn the on/off switch and just the left one comes back on. The dealership wants approx $600.00 to replace the bulbs – I do not think the bulbs are the problem as sometime they are both on. I will be calling every agency that I can link to help solving this problem this week, and writing my state representatives as this seems to be a safety issue that is being swept under the rug by Toyota and the investigating agencies.

We have a 2007 Prius, touring, love the car, but thought we were delusional – kept thinking the headlight was out, but when we check, it was working. I’ve just started checking this out online, and am shocked to find that this is a huge problem, complete with a class action suit pending for those who have already paid for the repairs. I’m not sure what to do – going to start with my dealership and see if they’ll do the right thing, and fix this for us. But I’m with you – it never occurred to me that we had high end headlights! I know lots of things need to be ‘special’ in the Prius because of the battery system, but it seems that simpler would be better. At any rate, thanks for the posting _ I appreciate knowing it’s not just me!

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