When Your Prius Won’t Start

I’ve had my Prius for about 4 years now, and I’ve been very happy with it for the most part. The gas mileage is great, and with winter tires (a must around here for it), it handles snowy roads without too much complaint. Sure, it gets some jabs at it from time to time. I know what the word on the street about Prius owners is, but for the most part, I just don’t care. The car has given me no trouble to speak of.

Until recently.

A week and a half ago, when I went to start my Prius, it turned on the electrical system in the car, but didn’t actually start the car. The engine didn’t even turn over. Confused, I pressed the power button again, and the engine came to life. I dismissed it as a random strange thing, but the next time I tried to start the car, it did it again. This time, simply pressing the power button again did nothing. The electrical would come on, but the dashboard was nothing but warning lights.

Typically in a situation like this, my experience with cars says that if the electrical isn’t having any issues, then it can’t be the battery. And everything in car seemed fine as far as the electrical system went. Not knowing what else to do, I sat there turning it on and off again, hoping it would somehow roar back to life.

It did after about five minutes of this.

From then on, the car became more and more temperamental. I took it to my mechanic, who seemed to be at sea when it came to working on anything electrical with a Prius. He tested the battery and looked for warning messages, but the battery seemed fine, and the car wasn’t reporting anything was wrong. He had no idea what I should do. However, it was getting worse, and I had visions of me being stranded who-knows-where, with no idea how to get the car someplace it be fixed.

I googled the problem extensively, and I got conflicting answers. Certainly nothing conclusive. So I buckled down and made an appointment at the nearest Toyota dealership, 45 minutes away. I took the car in on Monday, and the verdict was the battery had gone bad. (Not the hybrid battery. The regular battery.)

It turns out, Priuses start up differently than most cars. In a regular car, you turn it on and it cranks the engine and you’re off and running. In a Prius, pressing the power button turns on the electrical system, which runs through a couple quick system checks and then sends a message to the battery to turn the car on. My battery had enough juice to run the electrical system, but not enough to get the car itself going. And Prius batteries are special snowflakes. They’re different than your typical car battery, for battery reasons I don’t care enough to figure out. They’re supposed to last about 4-5 years. Mine was going on 7.

All I know is that it cost me $385 to have the battery replaced, and the people at the dealership weren’t 100% sure it would fix it. “Probably” and “Almost definitely” were used a couple of times. Enough to make me skittish about paying, but what else was I going to do? I paid the money, they gave me a new battery, and off I drove. The car started right away without a hiccup, and it’s been steady ever since.

If only all problems in life could be so easily fixed.


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