Red Triangle + Many lights + Denial = bad mojo (kinda long)

Discussion in 'Gen 2 Prius Care, Maintenance and Troubleshooting' started by HTMLSpinnr, Jul 1, 2008.

  1. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Please don't try this at home!

    Red Triangle (I'll dub Master Caution) plus CEL, VSC, and traction or brake warning light came on yesterday morning on my way to work. Engine was still running and there was no power loss, so I pressed on to work, figuring I'd drop it off at a dealer during lunch. A mile or so further down the road, the brake warning light came on. I could tell I was relying on "reserve braking" and the car was pulling to the right as I braked. Brakes were also much touchier once they engaged. As I exited the freeway, I pulled off to a gas station check under the hood to see if any fuses had blown or anything was obviously amiss. After restarting, I was able to get the VSC and trac/brake warnings to disappear, but not the master caution and check engine light. The MDF was showing the car w/ exclamation point. At this point, I had lost air conditioning though. My thoughts of a dealer became somewhat more immediate, but I needed to get to a meeting, so I pressed on as work was only a couple more miles away.

    My mind immediately thought "Inverter" problem :-( I remembered when washing the car on Sunday briefly spraying dust off of various components under the hood and hope that I didn't fry something in the process (I've done that a dozen times before so I can't imagine this is any different). However, I had just gotten gas, so maybe it was gas cap related or bad gas, though that hardly explained the symptoms. That's the problem w/ being technical - one wants to figure it out on their own.

    I made it to work and started searching PC for other owners w/ same issue. Nothing exact, but I gave it the shot of turning off/on the power a few times to see if the condition would clear, but to no avail.

    Drove the car to/from lunch. I had A/C this time and the car seemed to perform normally, though with what seemed like a slight loss of responsiveness. Master Caution and CEL remained, but other lights never appeared.

    Then in the afternoon, a rare flying opportunity presented itself in Scottsdale. I elected to try to make it from West Phoenix, not realizing just what I was getting myself into. As I entered the freeway and reached 60mph, all lights came on. A mile or two later, the brake system light and VSC warning buzzer came on and stayed on. I cycled A/C to see if that was affected and noted the compressor didn't restart and only blew very hot air. Mind you, it was 111F outside. I pulled off again to check, then elected to push on with caution. By the time I got to AZ51, freeway power was surgy at best with the engine hunting between RPM ranges, and battery power coming in spurts. Car made it all the way to Greenway and into scottsdale, before deciding to "shut down" to neutral a few miles from my destination at a light. A few embarrasing light cycles later it restarted long enough to get me 20mph and coast through the intersection, relying on idle engine "power" and neutral. This happened every couple of lights, so I pulled off and gave it 5-10 min to cool and was able to slowly make it to my destination. I noticed when shutting down for the last time, the coolant pump ran much slower, which sounded like 12V may have been pulling from aux battery. Again, strongly pointing to an inverter issue.

    A few hours later (after the round-trip flight to Marana, AZ and back), I elected to make it to the nearest dealer (and not bother risking any further damage or idiocracy making the 30 miles home), knowing that if it didn't make it, I was in for a tow. Before departing, I looked carefuly through fuses to see if anything obvious could be "fixed" (nope). Car ran fine w/ A/C this time, but I babied it the 2 miles there. I managed to drop it off at Right Toyota 20 min before they closed. Service advisor stated it sounded possibly like an inverter issue, perhaps the inverter coolant pump (based on the progressive loss of functions which restored after a length of time, this makes total sense). They're starting w/ $110 to diagnose (ouch!), but at least gave me a concession on their cost ($30/day) for a rental car. Of course, I'm at 100,700 miles, so any "warranty" issues would be "good will" at best.

    Lessons learned - don't press on w/ nasty check engine lights. Here's to hoping my desire to fly didn't cost me an inverter, and that washing under the hood didn't get me there.
     
    cwerdna likes this.
  2. efusco

    efusco Moderator Emeritus
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    Ugh! Not good. Was it really hot? Do you think there's a chance the inverter coolant was low and it overheated?
     
  3. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Slightly low in the reservoir, but not below the low mark.

    Dealer just called. They confirmed it was an inverter coolant pump failure to the tune of $475. They also claimed random misfire codes came up as well and offered an "emissions service" which involves cleaning throttle body, injectors, etc. for $199 (coupon price). Kinda steep, but at 100k miles, I'm aware that the throttle body was somewhat nasty looking upon my own visual inspection, so I conceded. Hearing horror stories of how folks have fried cat's and whatnot doing it on their own, I'd rather have someone else be liable for that ;-)

    I asked about coolant exchange on the engine side while he was doing the inverter pump and he claimed that it was the same loop and that it was all getting exchanged. I don't quite agree, but I'll keep an eye on that one (i.e. we'll see how many quarts/gallons of SLLC are on the bill).

    Plus side the guy kinda knew what it was right off, down side is they're pushed into the upsell of other stuff :-(. Considering I was prepared to pay WAY more, I'm happy I'm getting off for what I'm getting off with and if this is the only problem I've had out of pocket at 100k, I'm good w/ it. Others may not agree though.
     
  4. efusco

    efusco Moderator Emeritus
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    Dang Rick...I'm glad you didn't fry the whole inverter driving in that kind of heat. Advice taken...do NOT push it if you see the Christmas lights!
     
  5. richard schumacher

    richard schumacher shortbus driver

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    "Random misfire codes". Uh-huh. That, boys and girls, is why one should not wash under the hood.
     
  6. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Probably right - though the misfires could have originated long before (I recall feeling a miss here and there, but no CEL).

    Do misfires store w/o CEL, depending on severity?

    I've always taken caution to avoid ignition wires (or in our case, ignition packs) when spraying. Most spraying is aimed at radiators to blow the bugs and crap out.
     
  7. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    If you did not spray water on the valve cover, another way that water could enter the spark plug wells is if the cowl has a slight leak at the center seam that allows water to drip onto the engine (from rain or washing the vehicle).

    Once DTC P030x (where x is the cylinder that is misfiring) is logged, then the CEL should come on.

    I note that failed inverter coolant pumps are reported frequently in the summer; it might be a good practice for Prius owners to listen for the inverter coolant pump running from time to time, especially prior to taking a road trip.
     
  8. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Oddly, I thought I could hear it running, but that noise actually seems to be the throttle servo and not the coolant pump (verified by feeling same vibration on the throttle itself that gets more intense when you attempt to move the throttle). Next time I'll remember to physically feel the inverter coolant lines to verify. When the pump is operational, you should feel a vibration on the line from the pump and coolant flow.
     
  9. galaxee

    galaxee mostly benevolent

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    a classic overheat symptom is losing your a/c, even in the prius. (for different reasons, but it's still there.) it's a really bad idea to keep running like that, stubborn or not. ;) today was your lucky day, glad to hear everything turned out ok.
     
  10. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Oddly enough, a temperature warning never appeared. Master caution is bad enough, but the driver has little other info that an overheat situation is there if the hot light doesn't appear ;-) Live and learn and count my blessings that my car karma wasn't entirely done for the day.

    Anyway, I have the car back. To answer the previous question, they only exchanged the SLLC in the inverter loop (1 unit @ 19.90), so I'll have to have the engine SLLC swapped at another time if/when warranted.

    Notes on the invoice say they replaced pump and reflashed ECM. Car felt more responsive, not sure if it's the ECM change or the fuel system cleaning, or just coming out of the Mazda 3 rental w/ the 4 speed slush box is the difference.

    I do consider myself lucky and know to directly divert next time. Funny thing is in an airplane, I wouldn't have thought twice about putting it down w/ that kind of warning staring me in the face!
     
  11. edthefox5

    edthefox5 Senior Member

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    Bad part is with everything being aluminum and the inverter having so many semiconductors in it I would bet this episode will come back to haunt you.That stuff does not appreciate being overheated not even once. Whats up with the seeing so many CEL lights and the continuing to drive..drive...drive? Invest in a Scangauge you can buy here.
     
  12. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Denial is a powerful beast. I'm well aware of the looming longer term effects and will be extra vigilant of anything amiss electrically.

    Scangauge is only useful to me in times like this. I don't mind knowing what's going on w/ my car, but after 100k miles, I kinda know what it's doing on a regular day. I'll consider the investment, but doubt it would have saved me any money or grief in the short term (except knowing the DTC and how to respond sooner).
     
  13. edthefox5

    edthefox5 Senior Member

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    Yes thats exactly right about the DTC codes and the Scangauge. Plus there's no temp gauge in our car either. Prius is unique in that unlike alot of other cars continuing to drive with a DTC on could possibly total the car. Total meaning the parts that fail on the car could cost more than you can afford to pay. I hear inverter replacement is around $4-5 thousand at the dealer. Expensive meeting & plane ride. Thats some really bad mojo.
    If there's one thing peeps should know about this car is when it throws a DTC it ain't kidding.
    I see your family owns 4 Prius? Thats worth a $125. SG right there dude. Just sayin'.
     
  14. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    We've got two here, which would be worth it provided SG works between '02 and '04. I'm not so sure flying to CA or WA is worth the other two though ;-)

    As for totalling, I doubt it. A salvage inverter and skilled installation would be far less.
     
  15. edthefox5

    edthefox5 Senior Member

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    Yes I agree an out of dealer replacement would be much cheaper but its salvage. But maybe not in the long run. No matter how much the seller ( the real greasy guy at the junkyard) professed good health what happens if the car still throws weird DTC's after a nightmare install. Then you won't know if its the sal. inverter or more issues. Plus its a very time consuming install in addition there's the inverter coolant loop to deal with which must be evac. just like the engine coolant. If not done correctly the inverter will overheat. Big job by a pro mechanic with a coolant evac kit. I see alot of 2001-2004 inverters on eBay from $300 to $1000. It would still cost you alot of money even the salvage route with no guarantee of life expectancy. At least with a dealer there would be a warranty on it.
    Actually I'm an EE by profession. 30 years bench tech component repair
    lots of Broadcast stuff high power rf swx mode supplies etc. I would love to get my hands on a blown inverter. Especially one that has the famous reverse polarity jump start done to it. The would have strictly swx mode primary damage. I bet thats an easy fix but overheat is another issue completely. That would entail the 3 phase output section with the unobtanium output devices.The horror.:eek:
     
  16. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    Guess my implication of "skilled" is someone who has equipment to test the inverter for additional DTCs as well as competently handle the inverter coolant loop purging. I know I would not throw it at the average shade tree grease monkey.

    Is there any visual examination to visually recognize overheat damage, other than slight discoloration of PCBs, etc.? Obviously I don't have x-ray vision and cannot see within caps, mofsets, etc.
     
  17. edthefox5

    edthefox5 Senior Member

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    Someone who has the equipment to test an inverter? You must be kidding! Who the hell is going to have a test jig for a Prius inverter? You must be high. Most mechanics have a $30 DVM they bought at Sears. Even the dealer doesn't have a test jig. Thats why they charge such a high rate to replace. Because if that doesn't fix it they scratch there b*lls and go into a big confab on all the DTC's it throws. And most likely replace it again. Real quick $4000 is about right. Its involved. You have ECU control for firing on primary on battery load demand and you must have 3 phase 200 Volt output with proper impedance to electric motor. Without a proper motor load she don't fire. It measures impedance...volt...amp...load....phase..,,and current draw....or if its having a bad day. :eek:Any of those it doesn't like it goes nitey night. Dude this ain't an alternator your replacing.:rolleyes: Be afraid.Very afraid.
     
  18. HTMLSpinnr

    HTMLSpinnr Super Moderator
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    I feel you've misunderstood my approach. Our inverters are not unique in their complexity compared to other closed systems. Installation and pulling of DTC's is the limit of any properly equipped, average tech's skills when component-level repair is impractical or impossible. Anything more and their hourly labor cost likely wouldn't be worth going the "used" route. Again, just opinion though.

    Either way, I have no illusions of an inverter repair being cheap, regardless of the approach. There are riskier routes and more up-front expensive routes. It's for each person in a situation to evaluate risk vs. reward based on their needs and finances.

    I took a risk, and thus far have gotten lucky. My message to others (and you seem to agree on this point) is that not everyone will be so lucky if the same choices are made. Please learn from my initial ignorance, however don't use this platform to continue to attack it.
     
  19. ChuckM

    ChuckM New Member

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    I may have a similar issue and before I go blindly back to the dealer I'd like any tips ou may have to offer. 2002 Classic, 150k. (I've added over 10k since it came to me)Purchased from original owner 6 months ago. It's been a gem so far.

    At the end of a long road trip two weeks ago, all the warnings lights came on at once. Stopped within a mile and had it towed to the nearest dealer. Code P3130 and an old pending error they said on a cylindar misfire. They recommeded just resetting and if it happened again to bring it back in. Three weeks with no issues and then yesterday, they all returned at once. The Main, PS, and the triangle of death. Being less than 4 miles from the dealer called and was able to get right in.

    This time they said it was P3130 and P3125. Potential full replacement. Since it was not the same dealer service shop (much closer to home) they also said reset and return if it came back.

    Bad news, that evening (last night) they all popped back on. This time though the car lost power and basically stalled out. Restarted with no problems and drove it the 10 blocks or so to home. As I was pulling into the driveway, it lost all power again. Waited about 10 minutes, started right up and I parked it.

    Now, after reading all the info on this wonderful site it sure sounds like an inverter pump / coolant problem. Before I head back to the dealer, any suggestions? They did not offer the secondary code construct that I found in the big tech listing here on PriusChat. Any assistance would be appreciated.
     
  20. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    Hi Chuck,

    Please see the attached TSB. Does the problem mainly happen when you take a long drive? I'm a bit surprised that both dealers are content to just reset the codes and send you away.

    You can inspect the pump yourself to see if it is working. To do so, make the car IG-ON (where the instrument panel warning lights are on). Open the hood and listen for the pump running. It is located near the driver's side headlamp and should sound like an aquarium pump without any air bubbles.

    Also look at the inverter coolant reservoir. With Classic, the very front of the reservoir should show a higher fluid level compared to the remainder of the reservoir.

    If you hear air bubbles, then that is probably the reason for the overheating. The solution is to purge out the air bubbles, which the dealer can do for you (or you can DIY if you refer to repair manual info at techinfo.toyota.com). If the coolant has not been replaced in the last 50K miles, it should be replaced now, and pink Toyota Super Long Life Coolant should be used.

    If the pump is running OK, then it could be that the inverter cooling channels are clogged - hence the fix will be to replace the inverter.

    If the pump is not running, then replacing the inverter pump should solve the problem. If you need a new inverter, then I suggest looking for a salvage inverter with the correct part number per the TSB - if you can find a mechanic willing to install it.
     

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