There is a headlight that always goes out
January 6, 2015 4:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a 2010 (Gen III) Prius, pretty much bottom-of-the line, purchased in July of 2013 (a year and a half ago). I've had 3 headlights burn out during that time. Is it me, or it?

I have a long, crazy commute with terrible traffic (this car was bought to replace my 2012 Fit, which was totaled in an unavoidable accident during said awful commute). I always turn on my headlights when I get in the car and turn them off when I get out, for safety. My previous cars were built for this, and replacing headlamps was a rare thing that I always took care of myself. On the Prius, though, I've now had three lights burn out (I think left, right, left...or maybe right, left, left, who knows). And I can't replace them myself. I've had a random local mechanic do the first two, but I'm going to take the third into the dealer (sigh) because I don't think the local mechanics see that many Priuses. It's a ... special part of the Bay Area.

So is this
a) My fault, because you're not meant to have the headlights on for 2+ hours a day
b) A fluke
c) The mechanic not knowing what he's doing
d) A problem with my car, specifically
e) A 2010 Prius problem
f) Perfectly normal

And if it's happened to you, what did you do?

(Please note: This is NOT the HID headlamp problem that caused lawsuits and all that; this is a later model.)

I've looked on, but it's a lot like, in that everyone believes they are An Expert and know The One True Answer, which just happens to contradict everyone else's.

posted by wintersweet to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Just to eliminate a): it shouldn't be a problem. People drive Priuses here in Scandinavia, and it's lights on by law here, even on sunny summer days.
posted by Namlit at 4:14 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder if random mechanic is using a bad aftermarket bulb. I have an older Prius, but my mechanic (Luscious garage in SF) uses great aftermarket bulbs that have a much, much longer life than what you're describing. I'd recommend going to them once you find out what the dealer will charge you. I was astonished and then very angry when I heard what Toyota wanted to charge me for the bulb and installation.
posted by quince at 4:15 PM on January 6, 2015

The replacement bulbs often say how long you should expect them to last, in hours of light. Your car looks like it takes H11 bulbs; I can find some that advertise 270 hours, and others by the same manufacturer that advertise 850 hours.

Different bulbs can also have different levels of brightness and be focused differently, so a shorter bulb life isn't always just a question of cost cutting, though it certainly could be.
posted by aubilenon at 4:25 PM on January 6, 2015

Response by poster: Namlit, are European and US Prius headlights the same?
posted by wintersweet at 4:25 PM on January 6, 2015

Oh, it also is possible that improper installation could drastically reduce the lifespan of the bulb. Specifically you're not supposed to touch the glass ever, since that will get finger oil on them, which will heat up and become more opaque and then absorb more energy/heat and lead to premature failure. But that's pretty basic and I would hope any mechanic would know about that.
posted by aubilenon at 4:27 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

are European and US Prius headlights the same?
You got me there, I've no idea. But I would see no reason why not. And even if the light output for some reason of different traffic laws would be different, there's no reason the lifespan should differ.
posted by Namlit at 4:43 PM on January 6, 2015

If it was on the same side all the time, I would suspect an issue with wiring or water leakage or something like that. The fact that it happens on both sides leads me to believe it is more an issue with the replacement bulbs than with the rest of the car. I don't drive a Prius, but I drive a truck with over 175,000 miles on it, I turn the lights on every single time I drive it, and I have never once replaced a bulb.
posted by 724A at 4:51 PM on January 6, 2015

Bulbs often fail in pairs, or one just after another. They have a failure rate just like anything else. When you replace bulbs, you need to be very careful that you do not touch the glass surface with your fingers. Even clean fingers can leave reside that will dramatically shorten the lifespan of a bulb.
posted by alfanut at 6:14 PM on January 6, 2015

I'd suggest this is too general a forum for the question. I'm sure there's a busy Prius user community out there (there's at least one for just about every model of every car). Such forums are full of know-how re: your specific car. If this is a known Prius issue, you should be able to determine that within 2 mins of surfing. If not, it's probably flukey bulb failure (try using better quality ones, perhaps even Toyota branded).
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:24 PM on January 6, 2015

Response by poster: I didn't change any of the bulbs, and surely--as aubilenon mentioned--any mechanic should know better...also, as mentioned in the question, I have already checked the relevant forum (, and it was not helpful.
posted by wintersweet at 6:46 PM on January 6, 2015

This happened in my last car; bulbs on both sides went out way more frequently than they should. This was the case with multiple varieties of bulbs, regardless of whether we or two different mechanics replaced it. The mechanics were baffled as well. My best guess was that the fixture just vibrated more than it should have for some reason related to a quirk in its manufacture. This was a Hyundai Elantra and others with the same car did not report the same problem.

So this response is really not helpful, but I wanted to let you know that even if you don't figure out the problem, you're neither crazy nor inept.
posted by metasarah at 6:51 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 2010 Prius and we have not had to replace any of the lights, so I doubt it's (e). If you're going to the dealer to replace the light, why not ask them, and also ask them if they'll give you a warranty on the light?
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:57 AM on January 7, 2015

I'll second the recommendation for Luscious Garage, even if it's a bit out of your way. It's an amazing woman-owned shop that only does hybrids and has very smart and talented mechanics. They've been very helpful with random weird issues on my older Prius.
posted by judith at 7:13 AM on January 7, 2015

Response by poster: The mechanic hasn't looked into the problem, and I don't get the impression that that garage knows enough about Priuses to really do so. :/ (I'm not super thrilled by any of the local dealers, either.)

Luscious Garage is starting to sound like a trip to SF should happen.
posted by wintersweet at 7:19 AM on January 7, 2015

I've been having a problem with headlights on both sides going out repeatedly on my 2007 Honda Fit. There was a recall on a similar issue which was supposedly addressed on my car before I bought it used (from a dealer), and the problem only emerged this past year; I've now replaced each light 3x. (Low beams only go out.) The dealer won't look at it for free; my mechanic has looked in detail and found nothing. I also always keep headlights on as a safety measure.

One more data point for the frustration of there being no proper reason.
posted by Riverine at 8:55 AM on January 7, 2015

already checked the relevant forum (, and it was not helpful

Sorry I missed that. Then I'd rule out "e" and probably "d" as well. Those forums are extremely good at aggregating problem reports.

I'd also not worry about whether your garage knows about Priuses. If the user community blanks on a problem, it's worth betting it's not a Prius problem. It's either a (general) car problem or a (faulty) bulb problem or a (incompetent) mechanic problem.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:13 AM on January 7, 2015

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