What would it take to get you to trade your car in?

December 27th, 2018

I occasionally do work for a used car dealer or two. One in particular specializes in hybrid and electric cars. A couple of weeks ago he dropped off a 2008 Prius with a check engine light on. He told me it had a code P0456 which is a code that is related to the system that monitors if the fuel cap is on tight or not. The system can also tell if there are any other fuel vapor leaks in what is known as the “evaporative emissions system” He said he had already replaced the gas cap and the light kept coming back on. That was all the information I got from him at the time.
The code (P0456) is defined as a “very small” fuel vapor leak. It does not tell me where the leak is. That’s the tricky part sometimes. One of the tools we use to test this system is called a smoke machine. Surprisingly, it is a machine that produces smoke. We connect it to the pluming of the EVAP system, turn it on, and, hopefully, find where the smoke is leaking out. This is rarely as easy as we’d like it to be but on this car I got lucky and detected a very small bit of smoke leaking from a rubber hose under the hood. I replaced the hose, retested the system and all was good. I called the used car lot and told the owner it was good to go. $135.00 please.
This is were the story gets interesting. When the owner picked up the Prius he told me he had purchased the car from a local Toyota Dealer’s used car lot. The used car manager had told him that this particular Prius had been traded in, in frustration, after the previous owners had paid a good deal of money on three different visits to the dealer to have the check engine light problem fixed. On the final attempt, the service department presented them with a bill for the work that had been done, yet the car was still not fixed. The owner was understandably upset and refused to pay yet another bill for the same problem that he had already paid to have fixed twice before. The Toyota dealer’s solution to this mess was to have the new car department offer to pay the service departments bill if the owner of the Prius would trade in the car for a new one. This is exactly what they did. All because the service department supposedly could not fix a car, on three attempts, that I had diagnosed, and repaired successfully in one hour.
I’m not a magician. Nor am I the greatest diagnostician around so I cannot imagine how a Toyota dealership which in theory should have at least one master technician on its staff could have missed such a simple problem.

Lost Prius Keys 2

April 3rd, 2017

For the time being we have decided against renewing our “Vehicle Security Professionals” license. It was a business decision. We simply were not using the license enough to justify the cost. Because of this, should you end up in a situation where you have no functioning Toyota/Lexus/Scion key fobs, you will be forced to go to the dealer for new ones or find someone else with the license. We can still add new fobs but you have to have at least one fully or at least partially functional fob. Call us to find out what functions need to work.  So if you are down to that one ragged key that has been through a wash cycle or two or maybe even been surfing in Santa Cruz (it’s happened), you should really consider investing in at least one new fob. Thanks for reading.


April 3rd, 2017

There is some outdated information on our website specifically with regard to our equipment for communication with Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles and generally with regard to other information contained there. I should update the website but for reasons I don’t need to go into here, it is not as easy as it should be right now. Because of that, I have not really bothered to check it for other problems. I logged on just now and noted the glaring error right at the top. It is easy for me to post a blog. So for now, that is what I will do.
I proudly wrote a news flash that we had recently updated our “Mastertech” software for Toyota. I’m sure this sounds impressive enough to most but I imagine that every so often someone may visit that would know that not only is a “Mastertech” not the factory tool for Toyota any longer, but it hasn’t been for a LONG time. Toyota now uses a PC based program called Techstream which we have and which is updated regularly.
My web designer was/is great but unfortunately she has moved on to different pursuits. If anyone knows a great web designer who is responsive and in it for the long haul, I’d love a referral. Thanks for reading.

Rebuilt Prius Batteries

July 27th, 2016

I consider myself a Prius Specialist. There are other shops around that do as well. And I know for a fact there are a few independent shops in the bay area that service and repair more Prius’s on average than I do. However, I can say with confidence that our little two man operation has far more experience with them than most independents. Toyota Prius’s represent by far the majority of cars we repair compared to any other single model. It is based on this experience that I feel compelled to comment on the current state of the market with regard to HV (high voltage) battery replacement.
For several years, enterprising individuals and companies were making a living by providing the service of “rebuilding” Prius battery packs. To some degree they had success I guess. I never got into this much because it seemed that to do it correctly, a lot of time, equipment, and knowledge (not all of which I had available) were required. We let that business go elsewhere, instead encouraging folks to invest in a brand new pack from Toyota. We have installed many of these with 100% success.
I find that most people who still own a first generation Prius (2001-2003) are absolutely in love with their car. I know I am. And because by now they have often already made the investment, in the other major component failure, the demise of MG2 within the transaxle, and the fact that the Gen1 internal combustion does not seem to suffer the aggravating oil consumption issues that seem to plague later versions, it is a pretty easy sell for me to recommend the new pack vs a rebuilt.
This is not the case however with Gen2. At about the time I started having Gen2 battery failures come in to the shop , reputable suppliers to the automotive aftermarket began offering “rebuilt” packs supplied by somewhat less reputable companies that featured and attractive 3 year 36k mile warranty. Faced with a high mileage Prius, that was likely already burning excessive amounts of engine oil, the temptation to offer this less expensive alternative overcame me.
So I worked the numbers, massaged them and trimmed them to the point where I could offer an affordable solution to a customer who was not prepared to invest in another car or pay the increased price for a new battery for a car that had other, major problems like consuming a quart of oil in 600 miles.( I may write about that later)
I have installed a handful of these “rebuilt” battery packs. Already, to many have let me and most importantly my customers down. The reputable supplier I buy them from is cool from the warranty end of things, and it is not about my time in providing the labor to replace the pack. That is part of this business. It is the loss of confidence experienced by the driver of the car. “The first pack you installed lasted a week. How long with this one last? What happens if it gives up somewhere in the middle of nowhere?” These people are no longer confident that their car will be reliable. In fact, they are confident that it won’t be reliable. And I say to myself, the goal that I have sought to attain in this business has been lost. My customer has paid me a lot of money to fix their car, and now, not only have they lost confidence in the vehicle but I have no grounds to try to convince them otherwise.
So I tried to come up with a solution. My idea was to return the failed battery to the supplier, refund the entire amount of the job paid by the customer, then, sell them a brand new battery and install it, free of labor charge just to make things right. But here is the problem. Toyota charges me $1350.00 if I do not return a core battery pack to them which I will not have if I return it to the other suppler. And, to make it worse, they cannot guarantee me I will get that money back even if i return the rebuilt pack because it has been tampered with (read rebuilt). The cost is simply too much to make it a wise business decision.
So I am left with only one option. Hope that the handful of “rebuilt” packs I have installed make it at least a year (Toyota’s warranty is a year), continue to honer the warranty of any that should fail and no longer sell or install “rebuilt” battery packs.

As of this writing a Generation 2 Prius (2004-2009) battery pack job goes out the door at Jacoby’s Auto for $3191.50.

Gen 2Prius Multifunction Display Failure? We can fix it for $550.00

August 11th, 2015

Is the multi function display (MFD) (touch screen) in your 2004-2009 Prius giving you grief? Failures seem to be on the rise as the fleet of Generation 2 Prius ages. Symptoms range from the screen not coming on at all to the screen not responding to to inputs, responding slowly, “external device not connected” is displayed or the inputs being shifted from their proper locations. These problems can be intermittent or constant.

The first time we ran into this, I called the Toyota dealer to price a new unit and was shocked. I don’t remember exactly but it was in the neighborhood of $7000.00 just for the part. At the time it seemed to be an uncommon problem so we decided to harvest a used screen from a wrecking yard and solved the problem. As far as I know, the handful of used screens we have installed are still working fine.

For some reason, something told me not to recycle away those broken units so they sat on a shelf, collecting dust until recently when a customer called to see if I could match or beat Toyota’s price of around $1900.00 for a rebuilt screen installed. Delighted that Toyota was offering a more affordable solution, I once again called my Toyota wholesale counterman for the new price and was told once again, that a new unit would be around 7k. They knew nothing of this new, lower priced refurbished display. A little more digging and I discovered that the only way for someone to get their display fixed at that price was to go to the dealer and pay them for the part and labor, no over the counter sales. I was infuriated. Is some law being broken here? I had to find a solution….And I have.

For $550.00 plus tax we will exchange your Navigation Equipped 04-09 Prius touch screen with a reconditioned unit the same day (or while you wait if schedule allows).
For $550.00 plus tax we will do the non Navigation MFD.

I have the most popular numbers on the shelf most of the time.  In the event I remove your screen to find I don’t have the right part we can either ship yours out and get it fixed (takes a couple of weeks), or I can order a salvage screen and install it in your car a couple of days later. I will warranty either option for one year regardless of mileage. (Toyota’s warranty is one year or 12k miles, whichever comes first). The price of the salvage MFD is subject to the whim of the salvage yard. Labor is 149.00

Toyota Prius “Transmission Service”

February 24th, 2015

The other day I made the mistake of recommending a “transmission service” to a customer who owns a 2007 Prius. I will admit the terminology I used could have been more specific but after 27+ years of using the term, it just slipped out. Technically however I was correct. A quick google search answered the question this way. The definition of a transmission is: “the mechanism by which power is transmitted from an engine to the wheels of a motor vehicle.” Yep, that about describes it.
So why then do hybrid experts, some owners, and enthusiasts bristle when you refer to the mechanism by which power is transmitted from the engine to the wheels of their motor vehicle simply as a transmission.
I have a theory. The transmission in a Toyota Prius is a unique, complex, simple and in my opinion beautiful example of engineering. In a first and second generation Prius (all through 2009) it contains only one major component that someone intimately familiar with a conventional transmission would recognize. This, a planetary gear set, and just one. A conventional transmission with just one planetary gear set would have just two forwards speeds. However, brilliant Toyota engineers, by coupling this one gear set with two electric motors created a very simple, very durable, infinitely variable gear ratio transmission. Or as I usually refer to it, “hybrid transaxle”. So my theory is that calling it simply a transmission just sells it a little short.
This hybrid transaxle also contains many of the same smaller components that a conventional automatic transmission contains. Ball bearings, taper roller bearings, torrington bearings, a drive chain, final drive gears, a parking pawl are some. I have known these facts about this hybrid transaxle for many years having attended countless training seminars, read the internet endlessly I thought I had a pretty clear picture of what was inside. But, until recently I had never had occasion to take one apart completely.
This brings me back to the reason I was trying to sell the “transmission service” in the first place. All those little components are moving parts that require lubrication. The lubrication in the Toyota hybrid transaxle is the same fluid that is used in all current Toyota automatics, namely Toyota WS (for World Standard I am told) Fluid. Toyota says this fluid is good for the life of the wholesale promotional products transmission in a Prius so no need to change it right? Wrong! Last week I learned that the “life” of a Prius hybrid transaxle is about 250 thousand miles, if you never change the fluid. Bearings fail, steel parts begin to move against aluminum parts, wear occurs, your Prius stops moving somewhere between San Diego and San Jose. Lucky for me it was in Gilroy.
A new Prius transmission from Toyota is in the ball park of $3500.00. Used, around $1000.00. Plus labor. I think used is a good bet here because with just a little care and maintenance I think a life well beyond 250k is to be expected.
I change the WS fluid in our 07 Camry Hybrid and the 2003 Prius ever 30k. You should consider requesting yours be done as often. Oh, and the Generation 1 Prius takes the Toyota Type IV fluid, not WS.

Lost Prius Keys (some info here is obsolete) See “Lost Prius Keys 2”

April 1st, 2014

How many functioning key fobs do you have for your Prius?  Did you buy your Prius used and it only came with one? Recently we have had a string of folks coming in with missing or non functional key fobs.  Sometimes, a battery replacement is all that is required but the reality is that in many cases the years are catching up with the fobs and they are wearing out.

If you are down to one functional key, we highly recommend adding at least one spare. Some independent shops will have the ability to register new keys to your Prius (or any Toyota product) provided you have a a working key in your possession. Factory level software is required to accomplish this. However, if you have lost both fobs, or have been limping around with only one and it fails or is lost, your options become very limited.

Until recently, your only option was to pay a visit to the dealer to have the fobs programmed. Or , visit one of the few independents who had the capability.  Luscious Garage in S.F. is one. But guess what? For folks reluctant to go to the dealer, driving from the south bay to the city just to get a new key was a little to much to ask.

Jacoby’s Auto has solved this dilemma.  We have recently become registered as “Vehicle Security Professionals” with the NASTF (National Automotive Service Task Force). This, combined with our factory level Toyota Techstream Software gives us the capability to register new keys on Toyota products, even if you have no functioning keys.

We don’t recommend purchasing keys from the internet (who knows what their true origin is). A new key fob from Toyota (with mechanical key cut to your vehicle included) runs around $150.00 at the time of this writing. If you are simply adding a key, we charge $55.00 to register it. If you have no functioning key (and it must be fully functional including door lock and unlock buttons) then a complete reset of the the immobilizer system will be required. We charge $110.00 for this service regardless of how many keys you purchase. We always recommend having at least two.



Toyota Recalling Prius Water Pumps

January 27th, 2011

Recently, Toyota Motor Corp. announced a recall for generation 2 Prius water pumps. The water pump in question is the inverter coolant pump. Its job is to circulate coolant to the inverter/converter which resides under the hood. The inverter is the “heart” of Toyota’s hybrid system taking direct current energy stored in the high voltage battery pack and converting to AC current to run the car. In doing this, a lot of heat is generated so a cooling system is required.

The official word from Toyota is that air is being trapped in the water pump causing low coolant flow.  Why they would say this is a mystery because in my experience, it is simply not true. We have replaced many of these pumps prior to the recall and we replaced them because the electric motor that drives the pump simply quit working.

The good news for Gen. 2 Prius owners is that it is now a recall and Toyota will replace it for you free of charge. You should be getting a letter about this from Toyota soon.  Please don’t ignore it. If you purchased your car used, you may not get a letter.  Call the Toyota dealer and make an appointment to get it fixed.

When the pump fails, you will end up with a master warning light (big red triangle) and a check engine light glowing on your dashboard.  Definitely don’t ignore that.

Whenever your Prius is in for service at Jacoby’s Auto, we verify the operation of the inverter coolant pump. Just to make sure…

California’s New Tire Pressure Law

October 12th, 2010

Last month, the State, in its infinite wisdom enacted a regulation that requires auto repair facilities to check and adjust the tire pressure on every vehicle serviced.  Is this a good idea?  On surface it seems like it. But in practice, some in the industry have identified a possible flaw in this law.

Tire pressure specifications given by vehicle manufacturers are to be used on cold tires. A tire that has been sitting out in the hot sun or one that has been driven on for even a relatively short distance will have pressure readings 2 to 5 psi higher than it did when it was cold.

Imagine you drive in to your local quickie lube store for an oil change. They are now required to check and adjust your tire pressure. An inexperienced “mechanic” may see the tire pressure too high and actually lower the pressure in your tires. This will result in lower fuel economy, and increased tire wear and possible safety issues.

Experienced professional technicians always compensate for temperature when adjusting tire pressure.  Please make sure that the person performing this service on your vehicle is doing it properly.

In the event you don’t want your tire pressure checked, The State allows you to opt out of the mandatory tire pressure check if you promise to check it yourself.

Oh and I would like to point out that we have been performing this service on most of the cars we service at Jacoby Auto since we started over ten years ago.

Helping Your Mechanic

October 5th, 2010

Intermittent problems with your vehicle are the most difficult problems to solve. You can help your mechanic by gathering as much information as possible prior to taking your car in for repair.

Describe the symptom. Is it a noise? What does it sound like? People have described various noises as, “a bird noise”, “an owl noise” “a crying baby noise” even “a ghost noise”. Believe it or not, these descriptions can be helpful.  Use all your senses to give the most accurate description possible. Under what driving conditions does the problem occur? Does the vehicle have to be moving, idling, accelerating, decelerating, turning left or right, engine warmed up or cold?  Is there anything else going on? Even if it seems unrelated to your concern, describe any other unusual behaviors your vehicle exhibits.  On a modern vehicle, many seemingly unrelated systems can be connected.  Has recent work been done? Bring receipts from repairs or service, including body or paint work.  Lastly, if possible, go for a road test with the technician and try to reproduce your concern. This will go a long way in helping your cheap summer dresses shop get to the bottom of the problem quickly. In auto repair, time is money so the less time we spend diagnosing your vehicle, the less expensive the repair will be.