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Did I Make A Mistake Buying A 2010 Toyota Prius?

Prius has been one of the best cars that Toyota has ever made. That was until Gen 3 came out. I bought one yesterday to see for myself it owning one is a mistake. Here is what I found out.

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I have heard from plenty of generation 3 Toyota Prius owners that 2010 is not the most favorable one to own. For me, I like to think that anything is worth fixing for the right price. I have now decided to test my theory.

A friend of mine recently found a 2010 Toyota Prius on the Facebook market place that "runs rough" and "may need an engine." No big deal, I have done loads of engine swaps, and what is the worst thing that could happen? I could lose out on $1800, and end up selling the car for scrap. Or I could see what it will take to get this Prius up and running again.

Here is where I am at so far with the Prius and why I think that a gen 3 is good at the right price.

Signs Of Failure
When I arrived at the car, the 12v battery is completely shot. I borrowed a jump pack, powered it on and listened to for the start-up. As predicted and a sign that you have a leaky head gasket, the car stumbled pretty heavily to live. After a few chugs and once the coolant cleared the cylinder, the Prius ran well.

I quickly paid the man, got the title, and split. I felt I had won. Even though at the time I did not know it was a head gasket failure, I was still excited at the price of the car, because retail was still about $4,000. My profit margin was okay to buy it at that price.

Once I got the car back to the shop, I began to inspect it. The first thing I noticed was the coolant tank for the engine was empty. Now coolant does not magically disappear, so I knew that trouble was afoot.

2010 Toyota Prius empty expansion tank

Sign two was the amount of white smoke that came pouring out of the engine on start-up. White smoke is a for sure sign you are burning engine coolant in your engine.

2010 Toyota Prius white smoke tail pipe

Sign three that we had trouble with the head gasket is when I pulled the dipstick. The milky colored oil/coolant mixture was the final nail in the coffin for me. I knew what needed to come next. Price out the parts and see what it will take to fix it. All I could think of in this moment was, a Gen 2 would never do this to me.

2010 Toyota Prius with blown head gasketFixing The Problem The Right Way
I have been working on cars for 15 years now. I have learned that there are shortcuts that will leave you high and dry, and then there are proper repairs that may cost more, but will also ensure you drive reliably. I always opt for the second.

I made a post on Facebook about the purchase and what I thought the results were, and out of the woodwork, you saw a load of advice claiming that "head gasket sealer worked for me." That is great if you want to do that in your car, but I will never do that on mine.

Head gasket sealer is just that, a sealer, it does not fix the root cause of the issue, which is the head gasket that has failed. It is a temporary band-aid that does not work long term. Many have claimed that they got another 100,000 miles out of the car. Great, still not doing it.

I am going to take the repair route. Lucky for me, I know I can repair the car, and even more fortunate, I have a friend who works at an auto parts store. My list of stuff includes a new head gasket kit (I use Fel-Pro), head bolts (must use new ones as they are torque to yield), a new 12v battery, a case of brake cleaner, a new oil filter, new engine oil, silicone gasket maker ( the gray stuff), zerex pink engine coolant, and an engine flush (need to get the unicorns out after). Total $432 and some change.

So far, the total invested into the is $2232, and once the car is fixed, I should be able to sell it for about $4000. Profits are good.

I have not repaired yet, just bought the parts to repair. So time will tell if this investment was a good one or not. The car does have a new water pump, spark plugs, coils, and the tires are also good. It does have a cracked windshield and no floor mats, but let us be honest a blown head gasket is far worse. Time will tell if I think this car was a good deal or not, so far, I think it is.

I will keep you all updated on the progress of the repair and if it was worth the time and money to go through the hassle of working on it. Thank you so much for reading. I look forward to seeing you in the next story.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to seeing you in the next story. The Number One Worst Thing About Owning A Second Generation Toyota Prius.

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Peter Neilson is an automotive consultant specializing in electric cars and hybrid battery technologies. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Automotive Service Technology from Weber State University. Peter is also an Instructor of Automotive Technology at Columbia Basin College. Peter can be reached on Linkedin and you can tweet him at The_hybrid_guy on Twitter. Find his page on Facebook at Certified Auto Consulting. Read more of Peter's stories at Toyota news coverage on Torque News. Search Toyota Prius Torque News for more in depth Prius coverage from our reporters.

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Forge (not verified)    March 10, 2020 - 7:45PM

Very interested in the outcome of your experiment. Why was there no class action suit against toyota for this epic fail bestowed upon us Prius Pontificates? I had a 2010 and had to junk it because of the blown head gasket. Taking it to a shop to repair would have cost me much more than the car was worth. That was a rip-off plain and simple when I read about all of the 2010's out there. What gives? No recourse?

As always thanks and love what you do.

Bobby (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 7:06PM

In reply to by Forge (not verified)

I own a 2010 and it has been good to me, it has 155,000. Only thing I know about head gasket issues is that the water pump goes out at some point with very little warning. I guess without a coolant temp gauge the car throws the alert when the car is already very hot. Best advice I found is to stop driving immediately, get the car towed and repair to avoid the head gasket blowing. Looks like in the article's case, most likely this didn't happen. The previous owner replaced the water pump but ignored the head gasket (chances are he/she kept driving until it was too late). I am proactively intenting to replace the water pump with an OEM in the next few months

Kevin (not verified)    June 13, 2020 - 9:19AM

In reply to by Forge (not verified)

I bought a 2010 Prius brand new at the end of 2009 and have put nearly 200,000 miles on it. It has always run like a dream and the only thing I ever had to replace was one set of brake pads on the front that had worn down to about 20 or 30% which I did myself and two wheel bearings in the back which cost a couple hundred bucks. I am super satisfied with the performance of my Prius and would not be afraid to take it Coast to Coast.

Gary Fietz (not verified)    March 11, 2020 - 10:57AM

My 2008 Prius, 354,000 miles needs cataleptic converter replacement. Is there safe market for new or used, cost difference please. Use lower case letters in my email. Thank you Sir

UFOBill (not verified)    March 11, 2020 - 1:27PM

If you're living in San Diego on Social Security(SSI) One needs to look at all options and aspects before a final decision can be made, especially when you've got No (Mechanic-Friends) and yur only options are 2-Separate quotes: #1-From a Dealer of($6400) and #2-(PrivtMechanc Dealer Hater($4400)! The *Light of Truth* gets brighter every time I talk to a repairman!
So the used engine option, becomes a viable possibility, and if you're going that route, what's the harm in a $85.00 Bottle of Gasket Sealer, before my next $1500. investment for a low milage used engine...
And 50,000 Mi's later, the Motor's still running & humming like new(without any coolant loss) has given me the proper time to save money for any other unexpected repair...and since I made the (BlueDevil)leap of faith...I'd likely repeat the process before traveling down any other path...!!!
When I purchased the Prius New, on the assumption that it was good for at least a 300,000Mi. Before any excessive repairs, the sudden head gasket issue was a shocking one, especially with a spouse under major medical care... there are many reasons for not going the logical route!

Peter (not verified)    March 11, 2020 - 6:05PM

Did you take the EGR valve and cooler off the engine. They tend to plug up on 2010s. That is supposed to be the root cause of the head gasket failures.

David W Haile (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 5:50PM

In reply to by Peter (not verified)

There's no need to remove the EGR. Just cut a tiny little section of sheet metal to fit between the aluminum EGR pipe and the intake manifold. Loosen 2 10mm bolts, slip sheet metal piece between, tighten bolts. The EGR is rendered completely shutdown. My EGR pipe was almost completely clogged anyway. Yes - a check engine light was always illuminated. I always thought the oil-burning problem was related to the EGR problem. No use fixing one without the other, and the only way to eliminate oil-burning was to rebuild the engine which I wasn't going to do. I brought the Prius to the dealer at 160k miles or near there to look at the problem. They didn't find a problem with the car. It was under the threshold of their max oil usage criteria. No dealer help. I was a 100% loyal Toyota customer until this happened to my Prius.

David W Haile (not verified)    March 11, 2020 - 6:43PM

Sell! I bought a 2010 new. Planned to keep it 400k miles. It started using oil like crazy at 90k miles. The EGR system clogs up all the time. I live in a state without emissions requirements so I was able to just plug that semi-permanently. The oil usage was killer, though. It was using a quart every 500 miles for the last 5 years, then went to at least a quart of oil per tank. Luckily, someone crashed into it at 215k miles so it is now off the road. The rings/pistons are a bad design and causes this oil usage problem for a high percentage of 2010's. I'd just replace the engine with a properly rebuilt version and forget about keeping that old one going.

Mallesh (not verified)    March 11, 2020 - 8:22PM

I own a prius 2010. Mileage is only 43 to 45 on that. Mileage is also dependent on weather. I have asked service men at dealerships. They always ask me to get engine flush done etc. Mileage has been like that from the beginning. No clue.

It will be great if you can give me tips to find out root cause.

Tom Stover (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 4:58AM

Swayed by Consumer Reports and knowing that the Prius was being used in taxi service in NYC, I bought a 2007 with 60,000+ miles as a "certified" car from a Toyota dealer. We immediately started enjoying gas mileage around 50mpg and figured on driving it 200,000 miles or more. I was never notified that Toyota discovered two problems for which they offered extended warranties: (1) failing dash panel instrument cluster (2) ABS brake module failure. Both are extraordinarily expensive to fix. Had I known about these failures, I'd have sold my car before the extended warranties expired.

Needless to say, I had the VERY BAD LUCK to have both of these failures AFTER the extended warranties expired. There was a get-around for the instrument cluster failure (disconnecting the 12V power to allow the computer to reset) but eventually it grew so troublesome in the winter that I had a local mechanic install a used cluster. Even that cost about $1000 because of the extensive dis-assembly required. Then last summer, with 145,000 miles and after replacing the 12V battery (a pain), ABS warning lights came on and the car became completely unsafe to drive. Independent mechanics could not fix this problem or even install a used ABS module because of their inability to deal with the car's computer software. The quoted repair price from a Toyota dealer was $3500. I wrote to Toyota customer service asking for consideration in making the brake repair since I think that they should have recalled the Prius for this safety issue. They refused any kind of help.

All the good words about the legendary reliability of the Prius have proven to be a wishful dream!

Paul Wakefield (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 7:58AM

Good article. I have 2007 Prius with 96000 miles, great car. I also graduated from Weber in 80's with an automotive tech degree. Only difference is I'm 76. You are doing good work, keep it up.

Annnn (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 10:12PM

This review is misleading. It's not talking about a healthy 2010 Prius available for 6-8k but a junk car.

I had one until I totalled it because a Pilot rear ended it. I got 7.6k for it from the insurance company. . It had 140k miles.

It ran great. 45 miles per gallon. No maintenance issues. I never took it to a dealer except for one recall and when no mechanic could fix the headlight. Neither could the dealer. I finally got a solution ( not a standard solution). Car was reliable and absolutely easy to drive. Did well at high speeds on highway too. I loved the gear. Transmission is absent but whatever it has in it's place was good ( but not perfect). After it was totalled I miss my car. I replaced it with accord 2017 which I think had better safety rating then 2010 Prius.

Crystal (not verified)    July 25, 2020 - 12:29AM

I wish I would have come across your resources sooner! I just got notice from my mechanic that my head gasket is blown.

“Something like that would cost about $2500 to fix and about a week to complete. Blown head gaskets cause coolant to enter the combustion chamber and contaminate those spark plugs we just installed last year. That would be that smell you are experiencing along with the rough misfire and check engine light. I pretty much have to remove half of the engine and send it out to a machine shop. They will resurface the heads and cylinders. Then we change the head gasket and put everything back together.“

The check engine light came on with no warning over the weekend. I drove it home easy for about 5 miles. I drove it another 6 miles to/from work one day this past week, and have moved it out of the garage one additional time. Does this sound about right? I have the 2010 Prius with 169,390 miles. Is a new engine a better option, or a new (to me) car all together?

Prius2010_2012_Owner (not verified)    February 14, 2024 - 8:57PM

In reply to by Crystal (not verified)

I bought my first Toyota Prius 2012, from dealer, second (may e third hand) about 270 thousand mileage on it for just $4K during COVID time. I drove about 8 months (about 8 thousand miles) without any issues on city road. I drove about 2 hours on highway for two days, and hybrid battery issues come and finally car failed to start. Took to mechanic (Toyota dealers asking for $6K to fix it). I ask for trade with them, willing to offer only $500 for it. Finally I decide to donate that to non-profit. Non-profit, managed to sell the car for $2K in some car auction.

I got my second hand Toyota Prius 2010 from a guy for about $5K with some scratch and dent on car with 174 thousand mileage. I am driving for almost one and half year without any issues. I changed all tires and one of the front suspension, because of annual certification test. Car is working fine, but showing sign of loosing charges in cold for 12v battery. Light are dim and once jump started it. Looking to find economical Prius 2010 Battery 12v and end up with this site. I hope it will help reader.

Since this post is old, I have found EverStart Platinum AGM Automotive Battery, Group Size S46B24R 12 Volt, 410 CCA battery from Walmart for $180, planning to buy, but still looking for other best option for my money in tough times. Thanks!