Who should and should NOT buy a 2001-03 Prius

Discussion in 'Generation 1 Prius Discussion' started by bwilson4web, Jun 12, 2012.

  1. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    Introduction

    This model, used Prius may or may not be a good value for a new owner. For some, it will give great value but other folks need to look at other options (aka., more recent Prius or other cars.)

    characteristic value comments
    1 body style compact 5-seat sedan similar to Ford Focus
    2 engine Atkinson-derated 1.5L excellent MPG when rpm < 2600 rpm
    3 acceleration 0-60 mph 13 sec. good torque up to ~25 mph
    4 best city speeds 38 mph or lower up to 41 mph 52+ MPG
    5 best high speeds 48-65 mph good highway range 52+ MPG
    6 max speed ~100 mph ~22 MPG above 85 mph OK if tires and good pavement
    7 max distance ~18 mph ~85 MPG cruise control lower limit is 23 mph
    8 warm-up ~5 min. ~20 min. time to 'hybrid mode' and fully warmed up

    Ideal Owners

    This can be an excellent car for:
    • those with backup transportation - older cars break so it helps to have an alternate way to get to work, school, parts store, or shopping while working on repairs.
    • those who can 'turn a wrench' - get the two shop manuals (used on Ebay or new from Toyota) and the electrical diagram. Everything is pretty much there. Oil, fluids, tires, and spark-plugs, are fairly routine, even alignments. The more skills you have, the better to manage repair and tweaking costs.
    • join Yahoo "Prius Technical Stuff" and/or "toyota-prius" - with photos, files, and message archives going back to 2000, this is the home of technically skilled owners ... many of whom hang in PriusChat.
    • ISO-9141, KPW2000 scanner - recommended are
      • repairs -> miniVCI (~$35, look for Xhorse associated) with Windows XP laptop that comes with a pirated copy of TechStream, the Toyota diagnostic software.
      • repairs -> AutoEnginuity ($500) also uses your laptop PC, to gain access to the car diagnostic codes and engineering data.
      • on the road -> ScanGauge II is smaller, a driving aid. However, it can hold up to 30, XGAUGE programs for in the field diagnosis.
      • NO! -> Standard OBD scanners can not read the hybrid unique codes and information.
    • work area - not a parking lot.
    • patient drivers - although it has surprises, this is not a pocket rocket and really prefers to run 65 mph or less on the highway. Climbing tall, steep hills, 55 mph works best and descending tall hills, use "B" to keep speeds moderate.

    Not Recommended Owners

    Obviously, the inverse of the ideal owners, emphasis on these:
    • limited funds - the risk of an expensive repair bill and down-time can totally destroy any mileage savings. There is nothing so expensive as a broken car and no money to pay for it.
    • must use mechanic - only 54,000 were ever sold in North America so there aren't many, good, 3d party mechanics. Conservatively driven, it seldom breaks but you need to have some minimal diagnostic ability to understand if it is major or minor.
    • a hurry driver - if you prefer to drive over the speed limits; hate to be passed, or; tend to leave late . . . not a good match.
    • hot and hilly terrain - climbing hills in hot weather at highway speeds is rough on the car. Climbing tall, steep hills at 55 mph is much better and using "B" on all significant downgrades helps a lot.

    Good Cars

    There is no hard and fast rule but here are somethings to consider:
    • from a dealer - ask for a list of any codes; the traction battery, module voltages, and; alignment results.
    • tires - don't worry but use the wear pattern to check alignment. You will replace them with better ones.
    • Scangauge, miniscanner, OBD scanner - previous owner had a clue, car is probably in reasonable shape.
    • weak 12 V battery - easy enough to repair, a jump start is OK, ~$150-200 to replace.
    • small dents, paint chips, glass crack - cosmetic if small, don't sweat the small stuff.

    Bad Cars

    Cars have no morals so they technically aren't 'bad' but there are some you want to avoid:
    • broke - this car needs to become parts for repairable cars.
    • hot, hilly, rural - this car likely has seen a hard life, probably needs to become parts.
    • fixer upper - (see "broke" above).
    • auction - (see "broke" above).
    • salt-areas - caution as this can lead to an expensive, exhaust repair.
    • accident repair - caution as frame issues can be very difficult to fix or work around.

    How to Buy NHW11 Prius

    Good, fast, cheap, pick two. There are lots of things you might want to do but you're only going to have about 10-15 minutes before you and the seller will get impatient:
    • Walk around looking at the body, tires (swat down to look at the tire tread even if you don't know what to look for,) and glass. Defects you call out can soften the price. Defects the seller points out make the asking price harder.
    • Open the trunk to make sure it will carry the stuff you want to carry but also ask,"Where is the jack?" This feign signals you've got more tricks than the average bear. You'll also get to see if they cleaned up the wheel well ... a dirty one softens the price.
    • Open the rear doors and take a seat, shift a position to middle, and shift to far side, and get out. You want to know if it is practical for any extra passengers or stuff.
    • Ask to open the hood and ask the seller to show you the oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, and inverter coolant level. Show interest and even wet finger to smell ... DO NOT TASTE! Ask, 'where is the air filter?' and take a measured look and peek down the throttle inlet (that big hole under the filter.)
    • Ask if the seller would start the engine while you monitor everything with the hood up. Very important, make sure the inverter coolant shows motion ... no motion, the inverter coolant pump needs to be repaired, $300-500 depending upon labor and parts.
    • Lower and latch the hood and ask the seller to take the car on a 10 minute, test drive to a low-traffic, parking lot, while you sit in the passenger seat. Driving is a distraction so use this time to go over the controls, mirrors, light, seat adjustments, and generally get a feel for the car without the distraction. Listen for a rumble that varies with the car speed, not the engine, the car speed, as this is the signature of a failing transaxle, $$$.
    • At the parking lot, ask that the car be parked and swap drivers. It is best if they leave it "ON" and just put the car in park and set the parking brake. After 5 minutes, the car should by itself, shutdown the engine (it is a hybrid and this is a very good sign!)
    • Drive around the lot and announce when you're about to brake hard. Don't worry about the driving part because if it works in the parking lot, it will work everywhere.
    • On the way back, ask about past repairs and maintenance, and foster a cordial relationship.
    • With the VIN, the maintenance history is available from Toyota and CarFAX.
    • Negotiate . . . I could tell you but I may be selling my NHW11 someday . . .

    Very Expensive Things That Can Break

    • Transaxle - rare but high-speeds and hills can lead to MG2 short. That speed related rumble is the signature of something wrong and needs a proper diagnosis. It is a miserable job and even getting a used one is not cheap.
    • Steering torque sensors - rare but they can go bad and lead to steering oscillations. If you go with a Toyota part, it is as bad as a failed transaxle but there has been an extended warranty (more details: steering gear jitters | Page 2 | PriusChat.)
    • Traction battery - they fail but they can be replaced from $1,500-$3,500 depending upon who you go with. But if the car passes the driving test, you are probably OK.
    • Inverter coolant pump - if it fails, the inverter can cook and that is expensive.
    • Accelerator pedal encoder - if it fails, the car will go into a 'safe home' mode but it is $500+ at Toyota but others can do it for less.
    • Exhaust/catalytic converter - the exhaust manifold has a valve that is subject to salt induced corrosion. The catalytic converter can also fail. Both are pretty expensive.

    Now That You Bought It

    Every time I buy a car, I will spend a little more money or time ... tagging the car as 'mine.' So here are some suggestions that will return value:
    • Scangauge II ($100-150) - added to your new Prius and you can monitor four live fields such as engine rpm (important for mileage,) engine coolant (also mileage,) and any two other fields that 'crank your tractor.' But you'll also want to find out how to program XGAUGEs so you can read out stuff like traction battery, transmission temperatures, and the error codes to diagnose your own problems.
    • Tires - read the "max cold temp pressure" and fully inflate front tires and -2 psi for rear.
      • Buy a salvage 14" Prius wheel for a full-size, spare tire.
      • Hold off and let the current ones 'wear out.' The wear pattern will let you see what is wrong with the alignment. Then have the new alignment done with the new tires. Research your next tires and investigate four-wheel alignment.
    • Change:
      • transmission oil, drop and clean pan
      • engine oil and filter
      • engine coolant
      • inverter coolant
      • spark plugs
      • engine air filter
      • cabin air filter (under glove box)
      • inspect water pump belt and carry a spare and wrench
      • inspect brake pads and replace if needed
      • inspect and replace struts if needed
    • Clean:
      • throttle plate
      • injector cleaner in tank
      • PVC valve
    • Window-shield sun screen
    • 1 kW inverter (if you have crappy power and no other emergency power source)
    • trailer hitch
    That is all I can think of, anything else?

    Bob Wilson
     
    #1 bwilson4web, Jun 12, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  2. cwerdna

    cwerdna Senior Member

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    Awesome! Very detailed (but I expected no less).

    The next time anyone else posts about considering buying a NHW11, I'll definitely point them here and to a few other posts. It might be info overload to most of them, but I think this is still helpful.
     
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  3. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    Welcome back; and very nice work, Bob.

    I would add these items to the Change list:

    - engine air filter and engine oil filter
    - serpentine drive belt (replace, don't just inspect now that the original is 10-12 years old)
    - front struts/rear shocks, definitely after 100K miles
     
  4. joedirte

    joedirte Member

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    Nice summary.

    I would add this info Z(feel free to copy and paste anything i've written to include into your post):

    How to check 12V battery voltage and MFD touchscreen tests and ECU self-tests
    (please add that parking brake might have to be on for it to work in Gen 1)

    Information on Oxygen sensors and the HCAC Bypass Valve (Gen 1 only)
    (sensors can be checked with OBD-II scanner from auto parts store)

    Acceleration pedal testing (if you experience Heavy Hand syndrome)

    Rear seat removal procedure (for passthru to trunk)

    Discussion of various hacks for NHW11

    Tips:
    You can lower or raise windows from outside by holding in the key to left or right.
    Unlocking the trunk disables the alarm.
    Washable electrostatic air filter.

    How to jump start the 12V battery if it is dead (black to trunk latch)
    Maybe a mention and links to Optima or other 12V battery replacements.
    Maybe a mention and links to traction battery cell / whole battery replacement options.
    Maybe a mention of how to bleed air from coolant if someone does change it.
    Maybe a brief mention of the insane brakes and how you cannot bleed them and/or risks of changing pads.
    Mention of Stage 4 operation and how to better operate in golf cart mode (R-N-D trick, etc)
     
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  5. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    Hi folks,

    I appreciate the comments but I wanted to keep the scope limited to evaluation and initial purchase. I think there is a need for an "NHW11 User's Guide" that covers what isn't in the Owner's Manual but adding it here would really blow-up the volume.

    This is the sort of effort that should incorporate whatever legacy content we can borrow from John1701a, "Prius Technical Stuff", and "Prius-Owner's" messages. But I would also use the shop manuals and look at "addendum" pages for either the Owner's manual or the Toyota shop manuals for structure ... an outline of what is needed.

    The new owner of an NHW11 will in 45-90 days begin to wonder about 'what else?' with questions about extending the NHW11 operational life. This is when specific steps and photos are needed. So we could assume the reader has 'hands on time'. Whereas I've assume the reader of this note has no Prius time.

    Thanks,
    Bob Wilson
     
  6. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    Yesiree!

    Stressing first the vehicle history. If the candidate is on a Toyota lot, you should certainly be able to get a complete maint history based on the VIN. If the candidate is elsewhere, take the VIN to Toyota and request the same.

    Some folks also consider Carfax to be a useful source of info on flooded cars and other misadventure. But perhaps less than 100% reliable (at least as I have read here before).

    We might develop a table of years, VIN ranges and special service campaigns. Perhaps this already exists somewhere, and it is certainly relavent during the purchase decision.

    I would say that if you cannot access a reasonbably complete history, it is probably a no-buy. Could be over-ridden by the buyer's knowledge and sense of derring-do. If you can access, it could still be a no-buy based on the story that history tells.

    If the (private) seller knows of the existence of this or the other Prius web affinity groups, that would be a plus for me as a buyer. I am just cocky enough to suggest that those who don't know, might have missed some of the important issues we chat so much over. Or chatted...I guess that is pretty much in the past.

    It is certainly not the ubercar that can do no wrong and will run forever. Some number of lemons and just unluckies were built. Maybe that is becoming less of an issue as they are falling out of the active fleet.

    If you hit upon one of the luckies, and with a complete history, don't be too surprised if the owner is looking for $5K. An amazing thought for a 10-yr-old with a gazillion miles eh?

    Bob, sorry yours is squirelly above 85 mph. Tochatihu on 185 tires was quite serene all the way up to 100, except for the obvious fuel 'drinking problem'. Very few places in USA where one can play that sort of game though, and we never recommend it :)
     
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  7. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    Although I would not recommend that anyone lacking access to Techstream or equivalent try to bleed 2G brakes, Classic is not a big deal. I did brake fluid bleeding when I owned my 2001.

    The major issue is that you must not allow the brake fluid reservoir to go dry. If this happens then you'll need dealer help to get air out of the system. I used a suction bulb to remove most of the old brake fluid from the reservoir, then filled with new Toyota DOT3 fluid. I suggest buying three containers of brake fluid, you will probably use at least two.

    Then I raised up the car on four jackstands. The car is set to IG-ON. Starting with the right rear, I attached a clear vinyl hose to the brake wheel cylinder bleed port, leading to a glass container; had a helper (my wife) gently depress the brake pedal a very slight amount (no pumping needed), opened the brake wheel cylinder bleed valve just a slight amount, and a nice flow of brake fluid will result. Then I tightened the valve before my wife let go of the brake pedal so that there was no way air could enter the bleed valve.

    It is not easy to judge when the old fluid is replaced by new - need to look for a change in the fluid color but the old fluid doesn't look that bad when compared to conventional vehicles of similar age that have logged similar odometer readings.

    I would drain at least 8 fluid ounces from the right rear wheel since you need to purge the remaining old fluid in the brake fluid reservoir, the fluid in the brake actuator assembly, and the hydraulic line running to the rear. Much less is needed from the front wheels since the plumbing to those wheels is shorter and by then, the fluid in the brake fluid reservoir and brake actuator should be fresh. After the right rear, then do the left rear (maybe 6 ounces), right front, and finally left front.
     
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  8. WHCSC

    WHCSC Member

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    This thread needs to be pinned. Thanks all!

    What is the R-N-D trick?
     
  9. joedirte

    joedirte Member

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  10. Danny

    Danny Admin/Founder
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    Consider it stuck. Good job, Bob.
     
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  11. ChapmanF

    ChapmanF Senior Member

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    Glad this is finally a sticky. Can the "Very Expensive Things That Can Break" list be edited to reflect that the steering gear torque sensor is the subject of a warranty enhancement through December 2013 with no mileage limit? That makes it a not-expensive thing that can break (unless it breaks on or after New Year's 2014).

    At least I was notified of the enhancement (and had the repair done) in the US. I don't know about other regions.

    -Chap
     
  12. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    I'm of mixed mind on this:
    • I adding text to the 1st post - I hate doing a 'cut-and-paste' of someone else's words or work. It is too easy to make a screw-up and I always want to give attribution.
    • I like adding a "link" to the 1st post - this lets the first post also serve as an index to more detailed descriptions and threads.
    If you'll propose the "link", I'll pick it up later and add it to the first post. But I wanted to keep it brief enough that newbies would read it but with enough 'linkage' to point them to the more detailed discussion . . . but I can be persuaded to take a better approach.

    Thanks for all your help in this area. Like the old "Stone Soup," everyone brings a dish to the party.

    Bob Wilson
     
  13. ChapmanF

    ChapmanF Senior Member

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    I guess the link you could use could be this one for the more detailed discussion.

    The trouble with the first post as it now stands is it's actually got the torque sensor on the list of Very Expensive Things That Can Break, and some people may only look at that list without following further links, and they would be misled by its being on that list at all. At least something should be added to that list item, like "this will not be expensive if it breaks before 2014, in areas where Toyota's unlimited-mileage warranty enhancement through the end of 2013 applies."

    -Chap
     
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  14. UsedPriusNewbie

    UsedPriusNewbie New Member

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    So i just bought my first car. I bought a 2003 prius from an auction. They sold it cheap because the brake light was on, and when driving it was hard to stop. There would also be a non-stop continuous whistling sound when the car was on. We took it to sears auto center, but they said that they could not fix the problem. They said that brake fluid was not going to the back brakes, so the front brakes were doing all the work. They said I should take it to a specialist. Does anyone have any idea what is wrong? Thanks.
     
  15. cwerdna

    cwerdna Senior Member

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    ^^^
    No, but I wouldn't have bought it (even w/o the brake light problem). The brake system on Priuses is pretty complex and you'd normally need Toyota Techstream (at least on Gen 2, not suer about Gen 1) to even bleed the brakes. Look at the Hybrid16 Brake System.pdf under AUTOMOTIVE TECHNICAL ARTICLES, for instance.

    Where are you located?

    You probably should've started a new thread about your issue instead of piggybacking here.
     
  16. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    You've bought a broken car so you're about to learn a lot about tuition in 'the school of hard knocks.' I've updated the first posting but further technical details will be in the vehicle specific thread.

    I've known two people in Huntsville who decided to go into 'rebuilding NHW11s from auction business'. The first learned about traction batteries and the second about a burned up transaxle and failed inverter. It sound like you are about to find out about the brake system.

    GOOD LUCK!
    Bob Wilson
     
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  17. slimfrancis

    slimfrancis Member

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    haha bob! we need the broken ones or else we'd still be just topping off our windshield wiper fluid. lol. i'm buying, fixing, and selling only 2001-2003 prius auction cars. in the 20 cars i've had so far this is what i have gathered and seen:

    1. about 6-8 out of 20 have had bad HV batteries - aprox. $1000.00 (unless you get savvy with rebuilding them)
    2. 5 out of 20 have had the valve frozen (stuck because of rust usually) on top of the catalytic converter - toyota will try to sell you a new catalytic converter for aprox. $1100. my mechanic puts the car on a lift and sprays liquid wrench (or other equivalent) on the frozen valve and charges me $20. customers call me back the most because of this as the car will not pass inspection if this valve is frozen. all in all an easy fix if it's just the valve; i've never had a bad catlytic converter.
    3. 1 out of 20 have had a bad inverter coolant pump (caught it before inverter fried) - i think pump was $120 or so
    4. 3-4 out of 20 needed front brake pads
    5. maybe 100% of 2001 and 2002's have had the standard rack and pinion rattle that toyota has the re-call on. toyota will do this re-call job for free
    6. 2 out of 20 have had the vibrating steering wheel problem for a minute or so until the car warms up (never figured out what this problem is) ...that steering sensor maybe??
    7. 5-6 out of 20 have needed the intake cleaned and MAF (mass air flow) sensor cleaned. - very easy job that can be done for the cost of a bristle brush and maf cleaner aprox. $6 and fuel injector cleaner aprox.$6

    outside of these issues which i consider to be minimal, i've never seen a bad inverter or a bad transaxle. i encourage my customers to call if they have any problems with the cars i sell them and luckily i have not had one person call outside of the frozen catalytic valve issue on 2 occasions. if i think of anything else i may have forgotten to mention i'll update my list.
     
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  18. lueung

    lueung Junior Member

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    Which valve are you referring to & where is it located?
     
  19. slimfrancis

    slimfrancis Member

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    this valve allows for air to flow into the exhaust and it is located right on top of the catalytic converter. if you look under the front of the car you will see a round ball just behind the 2 front tires in the center (catalytic converter) and it is on top of this.
     
  20. lueung

    lueung Junior Member

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    Thanks. I noticed there's no electronics. Do you know what the parameters are to trigger the valve?
     
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