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Gas Gauge problem, caused car to die?

Discussion in 'Gen II Prius Technical Discussion' started by cheetabump, Nov 26, 2012.

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  1. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    I am not sure where to post this but hoping I can get some information cause I am going to have to do battle with Toyota dealership tomorow morning. I will keep it short and simple.

    Husband brought car in for regular oil change and told them I was having a problem with my gas gauge not registering properly. They claimed I probably didn't fill at least 4 gallons for it to register. So, they sent him home with that answer and if I continue to have problems to bring it in again and they would have to do some expensive troubleshooting. I have owned the car for 4 years and I was infuriated at that response since I only started having this problem recently and knew how to pump gas.

    After doing some reading (not on here unfortunately) I didn't like what I was reading, that it is a "mystery" and could cost alot for them to figure it out. So, since I didn't have the time or money to deal with it, I decide to just keep track of it by the travel information screen. This was working out fine and the gauge started working again for a few months.

    Recently, I filled up 8 gallons and the damm gauge craps out again and only registers 4 bars. I have a full tank, drive 92 miles and the gauge dropped to one bar during that time...I know I can't fill it cause I would take maybe 2-3 gallons (due to gas pricing)...so I decide to see what would happen.

    I go about 4 days and the E starts flashing. I call my service dealer and I ask them...what is going to happen? Will the car listen to the gauge or will it still be okay...cause I know there is gas in there for sure. He assured me that the car will still run but I need to bring it in. I make my appointment and ask again..is the car safe to drive? He says, absolutely, no worries...My appointment was 4 days away..my car died 2 days after that call.
    It sort of just slowed down and then I got the red triangle, a yellow exclamation and check engine light.

    I had to have the car towed and had it sent to the dealer nearest my house since my regular place is far. Okay..so now the service advisor was rude and tells me that I was driving the car for days without gas and killed the battery. He says that I probably will have to pay 6, 000 for a new battery. I kept telling him that the car has gas in it..that it was the gauge that said the car has no gas!! UGH..over and over...with this guy...I am sorry this is long..but I need to know what to say or do at this point?

    I think I am going to try to get my car to my regular place since they did know I told them about the problem. Still, I can already see the writing on the wall that instead of treating me like a customer...I am an enemy and they do not want to help me. I have so many should have,could haves going on and don't need 2x4's here

    . I need some sound advice on how to know if I am being taken, what I should say and do. BTW...when I told this service guy that I questioned about the gas reading and having gas in the car..he says...oh...that is a very good question...I have no idea..I will need to find that one out!! Then he tells me you drove with no gas!! My husband wants to go and tell the guy off!! okay..enough...hoping you experts here will help me out here!! Thanks
  2. cwerdna

    cwerdna Senior Member

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    I haven't read much of your post carefully since it's hard to follow due to lack of paragraphs. Can you break it up and make it easier to read?

    See Failed traction (HV) battery, what to do? - Prius Wiki re: HV battery replacement costs.



    sounds very sketchy. Please get DTCs (diagnostic trouble codes) to back up this assertion. Since it sounds like you're having gas gauge reading issues, you may as well try Gas gauge didn't show empty | PriusChat. http://www.autoshop101.com/forms/Hybrid13.pdf makes a reference to the inclinometer and resetting it.​
  3. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    Maybe give us idea if this car was purchased new or used and how many miles on it?
    Maybe approx location in NY gives someone here idea of a good place for repairs.
    Also believe battery has certain guarantee life depending on state you live in, NY could be good for that.
  4. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    Sorry for the hard to read post. hit sent before I fixed and it was late, tired. I fixed today.

    Car is 2008, purchased new, have 4 years, less than 50,000 miles on it.

    Gas gauge said empty, car had gas. car died...got red triangle, yellow exclamation point and check engine lights.
  5. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    I am thinking your HV battery should be under warranty but I am not the expert there.
    On the surface sounds like your regular dealer might be better place to go.
  6. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    I talked to my service department and we are getting the car towed to them. What a difference in attitude and respect!!

    I go to back to the service department that is holding my car so that I can remove some additional items out of the car. My husband and I stood for 20 minutes being ignored by everyone in the service department. Not one person, asked if we needed help. Finally, we stop one person and find out that the Asistant mgr was sitting right there!!

    Okay...she refers us back to the service advisor who was very rude, condensending to both me and hub from the get go! I tell her I really do not want to deal with him, that he was very disrespectful and rude..she says I need to report him!! She still says we need to get the paperwork from him. OH OKAY...does anyone get that message...the Assist mgr...telling me to report him?!! Need I say more?

    The guy looks at my hub and says...so huh...you tell her what she did. Hub says, no you tell her. He wouldn't look at me and says I drove the car for weeks without any gas in the car. NO WAY..I say to him....NO WAY. He said I drove without gas and that was that and I killed my car. He is an arrogant bast*ard!!! I went off on him...went off!!! OMG...I am not a liar and this is one thing that gets me madder than I don't know what...when someone tries to tell me something I did not do!! You know it is one thing to have this problem regarding the car but to treat a customer as if they were stupid is so wrong in my book.

    I am so angry..right now... Does anyone have the numbers/address to Toyota's complaint department.

    My service department will check it out and will work with me (hopefully)..I also asked them if I do need a battery and I get one (Re-In-Volt) they will put it in...so at least I know that they will work with me in that respect. First, will see what the problem is and take it from there.

    Keep the tips coming guys..I am reading and reading....surprising how even the techs do not know what happens to the car once the gas gauge says empty but there is gas in the car...!?! Still don't have that answer.
  7. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    Sorry to hear about your problem. The dealer tech should be able to determine whether the fuel tank actually contains fuel. Given your described symptoms it does appear that your car ran out of fuel.

    If you had posted here prior to having your car stall, I would have suggested that you disconnect your 12V battery negative terminal, wait a few minutes, then reconnect, to see if that would help your fuel gauge to display correctly.

    Please let us know what your dealer's service dept determines.
  8. Ct. Ken V

    Ct. Ken V Active Member

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    Hey, cheetabump,

    It sounds like the dealership your car is at is getting ready to rip you off by telling you they want to charge you $6,000 for a new HV traction battery. I've seen a price in the posts either here or over at PriusOnLine that an Ohio Toyota dealer's parts dept regularly sells their traction batteries for between $1,600 & $1,700 (& then there's the labor to install it, but that should still keep you under $2,500, if you even really need to have it replaced). Your dealer (if you still want to have them work on it) should be able to get the special Toyota HV (High Voltage) charger shipped into them & just recharge your battery in the car now without replacing it.

    I also think your dealer is full of hot air by telling you that you drove your car for days without any gas (in other words on battery only), because usually when a Prius gas tank goes dry you can only go at most about 2 miles (& that distance is only if the HV battery was fully charged just before you ran out of gas), then the system shuts the car down to protect what charge is left in the battery so you have enough juice left to restart the car after you've added at least 3 gallons of gas (anything less than 3 gallons added won't ever register on the gas gauge, so no extra pips will light up).

    After the system does the shutdown protection (after traveling without gas for 2 miles or less), it lets you restart only to move a very short distance & maybe you can get a couple of more restarts, but it is UNWISE to do this without adding gas because the system will eventually shut down permanently & the only solution is to have your car towed to a Toyota dealership & they will have to request the special HV charger be shipped to them. It may be a few days before they get it shipped from the region headquarters to them because no dealers have them on their premises as there are only about 12 of them in this country. So at that point one's 2 options are to wait for the charger to arrive & see IF the HV battery can be brought back to life, or pay for an expensive HV battery replacement.

    I believe New York is a CARB state & that you have a longer warranty on the battery & other hybrid components (instead of 8 yrs/100,000 miles, it would be 10 yrs/150,000 miles), so either way your 4-year old, less than 50,000 mile car should be covered for a free battery replacement, but NOT if the battery was proved to have been abused by continuing to drive on battery alone without adding any gas, In fact, probably to prevent Toyota from providing free batteries to people who have abused their batteries in this way, since the 2010 models (with the bigger engines) you can no longer run on battery alone (even just to pull off the pavement to get to a safe area) once you run out of gas. That's why it is so important (especially now) to pay attention to the gas gauge & get gas as soon as the blinking warning appears (or sooner if possible).

    My question to you is, did you do numerous restarts after your car slowed & all the warning lights appeared? If you did, how many times, how far (distance), & over what time span? You know what really happened, but the dealer will get codes from the Prius system that will tell him you DID run out of gas (but I don't know if it will tell him how many restarts or how far you tried to drive after that) and the info he gets from the car may determine if you get a free battery replacement or not.

    If your car was still in warranty under the 36 months from the "In Service" date & 36,000 miles of coverage when you first started having trouble with the gas gauge, then you should have brought it in for them to officially record your complaint, even if they couldn't "reproduce the condition". That way it was officially on record before the warranty expired to help you get it treated as a warranty/free repair later on when they finally could see that you had a real problem. I will tell you that the Prius really likes to be gassed up on a level surface, otherwise I know the gas gauge won't read right (at least until the next fill up, in my case). The station this happens at for me has a very short concrete apron near the gas pumps which is high. Then the surrounding asphalt slopes steeply downward, so if you're at the front pump your car is sloped down at the nose. And the rear pump is far enough back & has long enough hose to reach your filler neck when your back end is tilted way down. Both times I've had to use that station my gas gauge hasn't read properly until after my next fill up, but it's been fine all the rest of my years of ownership.

    The very least your regular dealership should have done for you is reset the inclinometer the first time you reported it to them (you could try to do that yourself & save some money if there are instructions in the link cwerdna provided in his post #2 above). Or if there aren't any instructions there, do a search & there will probably be some in another thread/post on the subject (I know I've seen some in the past). After you've tried that, if it hasn't cured the problem, you may be looking to replace the gas gauge, although I don't know if it can be replaced separately from the rest of the dash display. However, it's more likely that the sending unit itself (inside the fuel tank) is the part giving all the trouble (& I know the tank is completely sealed & if you need to replace the sending unit or even the fuel filter, that the whole tank has to be replaced for around $400 plus labor).

    I know you said you recently filled up with 8 gallons, but later you couldn't add 2 or 3 because of the cost (probably the price gougers after storm Sandy, right?), but if you can, try to budget for at least 4 or 5 gallons at a time (that way you should always see an increase on the gas gauge & your distance & MPG readouts should also zero out). If they don't after you've added the 4 or 5 gallons & you start to move, then reset them yourself with the reset push button. I forget how the '06's thru '09's are set up, but with the '04's & '05's, those readouts automatically reset (along with the gas gauge increase) as long as more than 3 gallons are added. With those readouts reset when you add the gas, just write down or remember how many gallons you added & multiply those gallons by the MPG number on the display & you'll get the maximum range you should be able to get before adding gas again. That's what I had to do when I used that station that caused my gas gauge not to read properly & I never ran out of gas. And try to work the top half of the tank if you're only going to get about 5 gallons. In other words, wait until only 4 or 5 bars/pips are left showing before you add your 4 or 5 gallons. Working the top half of the tank like that in the winter allows less space for water condensation on the inside of the tank walls.

    Speaking of storm Sandy, after we got power back & I was sure we weren't going it lose it again, I had 5 gallons of gas for the generator left over. Because all the equipment shops tell you not to keep any of the ethanol gas for more than a month, I decided to put it into the Prius (since I needed some gas anyway). My driveway is sloped downward & the Prius is always parked nose down in it. Without thinking to pull the car up onto the flat/level street, I added the 5 gallons from the gas can slowly & carefully while parked in the tilted driveway. When I was done, the gas gauge didn't register any increase, so I zero'd out MPG & miles displays & later filled up before my calculated range was reached. Once I did that fill up, my gas gauge returned to normal & my MPG & miles displays reset on their own, as usual.

    By the way, a drop of 3 bars/pips is about normal for 92 miles of driving. It's commonly accepted that each bar is worth about 30 to 35 miles (depending on climate & terrain) in the middle area of the gauge (bars 2 thru 9 only). The last bar, solid and/or blinking, can be an unknown amount of miles & the bar by the full end can result in anywhere up to 180 to 200 miles before that bar turns off. Of course this is only usually seen in the warmer weather when the displayed MPG's are higher & the rubber bladder inside the tank is more flexible & can expand into the corners of the tank to result in a much fuller fill up. How many more miles did you drive after the 92 you mentioned before you ran out of gas? Since you're in NY & we all just got finished with storm Sandy, did you use your Prius in a stationary position to provide power for your house or just warmth & shelter from the storm? If you did that & didn't notice the MPG change on the readout display, then you wouldn't have as much fuel or as many miles left as you would have thought normal for as many miles you drive during the days you normally go between gassing up.

    Anyway, I've gotten really long-winded here (probably because I've had a lot of interruptions & only done about a paragraph at a time---Wow!! I've really typed a lot here), but those are just my thoughts about your situation. There will probably be a lot of posts (between when I first read your post & started typing mine to when I'm finishing & submitting this) that may have other suggestions & answers. Let's see.

    Ken (in Bolton,Ct)
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  9. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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  10. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    Thanks Ken...(my hubs name too!) for your long winded reply!!

    okay...first of all...we were one of the lucky folks...did not have any trouble with hurricane Sandy!! We did not use our car for any purpose in regards to the storm...

    If you re-read my statement about the 2-3 gallons of gas. I was merely saying that what the gauge and what the car actually had were two different things. If I was to attempt to put more gas in...at most I would have had enough room or maybe 3 gallons and from what I am reading...the gauge probably would not have registered that.

    Again, I was told (by a service tech) that if I did have gas in the car...the car will not shut off. I did not use more than 1/2 tank according to my calculations. Hopefully, my dealer will see that there is in fact gas in the car. If not...then I KNOW without hesistation this first dealer service emptied it!! I have NEVER run out of gas in my life and I am a young 58!! lol

    Maybe I should have gotten gas when the thing started blinking no matter what..but in my head...the service tech said I would be alright and I knew I had gas, knew it would not pump more than 2-3 gallons. It might have "tricked" the computer gauge or satisfied it and prevented all of this mess!!

    I did re-started the car 2 times and it did let me get a very short distance (approx 400-500 ft?) But that was it...I then had it towed to the nearest dealer to my house.

    The one thing that I need to be grateful for .... is not being in an accident!!
  11. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    PS: I drove approximately another 36-40 miles after the E started flashing. And Ken, I was using the trip infomation and mileage on odometer to keep track of how much gas I was using since I knew the gas gauge was not working correctly. This is how I know for a fact I was NOT out of gas. The computer/gauge might have said I was...but impossible!!
  12. fuzzy1

    fuzzy1 Senior Member

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    You seem certain that it was impossible for the car to have actually been out of gas. Does that mean you can rule out not just operator error, but also undiscovered mechanical failure (e.g. tank leak, or fuel bladder leak) and malicious third parties (crooked fuel seller deliberately mis-calibrating pump, or thief siphoning or drilling hole in tank)?

    There are several ways outside of your control for fuel that you 'know' is there to go missing.
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  13. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    Ct. Ken made some good points about batt replacement.
    Your first note indicates you were following dealer recommendations to the best of your ability, so you have to be real nice but IF they say this is not a defective battery or whatever, you could make a request for courtesy good will replacement consideration, and sometimes this works and sometimes they cover or share costs. I would say - do you think Toyota would help cover this under warranty as courtesy? - hey you know we had called about the problem and tried to follow advice, not sure if it is fair for us to pay all of this. The dealer is not going to want to explain that story to Toyota. But you must stick to the truth but I would shoot for favorable outcome. I assume anything that is covered under warranty the dealer is not paying for but Toyota is, so actually the dealer is often happy to do warranty work. But they need to get approval I assume. I learned that tactic here and got a headlight out of it from VW on another car a few weeks after the warranty expired. Little bit of finesse required to say consideration on this would be appreciated, and if you get it, I would give positive feedback in return.
  14. JimN

    JimN Let the games begin!

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    Cheetabump, as they say in the movies, "what we have here is a failure to communicate". I understand that you are busy but sending a surrogate to describe an unfamiliar problem is unfair to both parties. There's a reason it's called the "Guess Gauge". "my gas gauge does not register properly" could mean almost anything.

    Have you logged your miles? Do you know your recent or lifetime (hand calculated) fuel economy (not what the car says)? If not, start a spreadsheet. So you fill the tank & it takes 8 gallons. OK. I'll buy that. A vast majority of my fill-ups were some 8 to 9 gallons or so. If your recent or lifetime average is 50mpg then around 450 to 500 miles on the tank you should be down to 1 pip--maybe the flashing pip.

    Two sayings from flight school come to mind: The three most useless things to a pilot are the runway behind him, the airspace above him and the fuel he's burned. The other is: The only time you believe the fuel gauge is when it reads EMPTY.

    I don't know how many miles you drove beyond the 92 mentioned but you can't drive a Gen2 Prius for days on little or no gas. The last time someone got mileage like that on oil the Jews turned it into a holiday. As mentioned above, when the Prius is out of gas you can get enough distance to get out of traffic--maybe a mile, maybe two if you are lucky and downhill.

    Now in post 10 we learn that after the car limped off the road, you coaxed what little distance you could out of it twice until it died.

    As Ken so ably described, the new problem is that the traction battery is discharged. I really don't believe abusing it once is going to destroy it so getting it charged up should be enough. Battery abuse is not covered by the warranty and I doubt that you'll get Toyota to cover it under goodwill. This is the part of the story you omit.

    I don't believe resetting the incline on the fuel gauge is the answer. That's more likely going to correct "the gauge never gets to 10 bars even if gas is spitting out of the filler neck" problem but it doesn't hurt to try. If you have level ground (check it with a level) you can do it yourself at home.

    I don't know if you'll find your problem in the instrument cluster or the gas tank. Best wishes for finding an inexpensive & speedy solution and i look forward to the resolution.
  15. nh7o

    nh7o Off grid since 1980

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    Wow. Bring in the clowns! A Prius will drive for maybe 1-2 miles on level ground with no gas. If you can go for weeks with no gas..... hey I'll buy your car! Rude or not, this is not the guy to be working on hybrids.
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  16. cheetabump

    cheetabump New Member

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    I love this site!! Well, I filled up the tank on 11/15/2012(found my gas receipt!). I calculate the mileage since that fillup to be:

    At fillup the pip bars did not move, they were stuck at 4.

    I work 8 miles from my home...so 8 x 2 is 16 x 4 is 64...did another trip approx 20 miles...up to 84 and then local stores etc...up to the 92 miles! This is what my trip information screen is showing as well. On 11/20/2012 my E is flashing!

    11/20/2012 is when I call my dealer service and speak to guy there and I tell him what is going on and ask him if my car is going to shut off based on the flashing E or will it know that I still have gas in it. He didn't hesitate and told me as long as I have gas in the car I will be fine but I should bring it in to get it checked out. We make an appointment for 4 days later, I ask would it be okay til then and again he said that as long as I have gas I will be okay. I ended with that I hope it is okay cause I don't want to get stuck on the road with it. I went to work Tues and Wed...that is another 16 miles and then the car died on Thursday. (I previously wrote that I went 36-40 miles-which was in correct, I was looking at a previous gas fillup, in my notes as I was keeping track).

    The car was running normally all that time, no lights, no signs of any kinds of stress..only the flashing E, the electric/gas system seemed in good shape as far as I was telling

    I was confident about having the gas (as you can see, there is no way I used a full tank of gas), the guy seemed confident that I would be okay.

    I am confident the car had gas in it...based on what has been suggested...if there was some sort of leak, I would think I would have smelled gas. If it was tampered with in some way, the cover or cap didn't show any signs.

    Car is at my regular service center...so will wait to see what they say.
  17. JimN

    JimN Let the games begin!

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    Hear me out on this. We all know short trips kill fuel economy, slow roads will kill it more because it takes more distance & time to warm up. In my experience (a couple miles residential, then highway) say 25mpg for the 1st 5 minutes. Your 8 mile trip would get me to the Citgo in Burlington City. I will have, at the least, recovered most of the morning's loss.

    You've got 108 miles on the trip odo (92+16). I'd really like to know what the car showed for the tank average. Do you reset every tank or show lifetime? If all you have is lifetime, I'll take it.

    Anyway, using my numbers you burned through ~4 gallons of gas when the pip starts flashing. For the sake of argument let's say the Guess Gauge is reasonably accurate reporting that you burned through some 8 or 9 gallons for 11-12mpg. 11-12mpg!? You should be able to get at least 3 times that autocrossing all day. I understand your point of view and share your conclusion.

    This is where discretion is the better part of valor. I would have filled up at the flashing pip to document another data point: x miles on y gallons pumped.

    I don't KNOW why everything works. If it's a faulty display that means the sending unit in the tank is transmitting "accurate" data that is not displayed correctly. If so, I'll agree that there is minimal risk as long as the mileage is tracked and at least a rough FE average is known. My 1964 Dodge had a bad sending unit so the gas gauge didn't work. Early VW Beetles didn't have a gauge. The driver knew to switch to the reserve tank when the engine sputtered on the last of the fuel in the main tank.

    Let's say the display is good and the failure is in the sending unit so that it recognizes only half a tank's worth of usable fuel. Now you have 5 or 6 gallons before it starts telling the other computers low on fuel, then out of fuel. The other computers don't know any different so act on the data by shutting down the car.

    In discussions with the service people I recommend a pointed question approach so that their answers get them to come to your conclusion.

    What happens if the sending unit is bad? How would you know the sending unit is bad?...

    Documentation helps. Here's the receipt showing a 4 gallon fill up at the flashing pip that took the gauge to 10 bars.

    The bottom line is that you have to get the dealer on your side. If they tell Toyota the problem is abuse they are going to listen to the dealer, not you.

    I don't know if any of this is covered under warranty. Doesn't cost anything to ask. Powertrain? Emissions?

    Keep us posted.
  18. JimN

    JimN Let the games begin!

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    I did the short distance AM test. Traction battery at 2 bars, cold soak overnight. It is freezing in the AM. Some idling as I get situated. Both defrosters on, heated seats on.

    It is 1.1 miles to the highway zoned 25mph-35mph. Average mpg was 20.1mpg. The next 7 miles is highway, posted 50mph, many traffic signals. At 8 total miles on the Trip B odo the average was 44+ mpg. The entire tank average is 55.5mpg at the time. Total elapsed time was something under 20 minutes.

    My conclusion based on the given data is that the car did not stop because there was no gas in the tank. It stopped because something didn't get the existing gas out of the tank or wrongly commanded the computers to shut down.

    This is the approach I would use at the shop.
  19. maestro8

    maestro8 Nouveau Member

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    Feb 19, 2012
    Messages:
    476
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    Location:
    nor cal
    Your Vehicle Year:
    2008 Prius
    Model:
    N/A


    There's a saying you and your hubby might take to heart: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"

    Your I'm-always-right, everyone's-against-me, I'm-gonna-get-back-at-you attitude won't get you any favors. Try being nice to folks, even if they seem rude to you, and you might get someone at the shop to take your story a little more seriously.