2012 Toyota Prius V Blue
Peter Neilson's picture

How Long Can I Drive A Gen 3 Toyota Prius With A Failing Head Gasket?

I am at it again, this time I have a huge decision to make. I bought another 2010 Prius with a failing head gasket. The question is how long can I drive on it before it fails completely. I also have a 12 hour drive home.
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If you are one of my readers, you will know I write a lot about Prius repair. My goal is to help the hybrid community with cost-effective repairs or ways to save money when owning a hybrid vehicle.

I buy and repair hybrids a lot. My 15-year background in the automotive industry has given me some remarkable skills to repair these cars and help those in need.

This article is no different, and my story is again saving another Prius from the scrap yard. Still, the stakes are much higher this time. I recently bought a clean 2010 Toyota Prius with a failing head gasket; the problem is I am 12 hours from home.

So what are the risks of driving this ticking time bomb? Well, I will spell out for you what it looks like once I hit the road home.

How Long Can I Drive My Toyota Prius With A Failing Head Gasket?
The short answer to this question is not far. A failing head gasket is nothing to be trifled with. But I am stuck 12 hours from home, do you think I can make it?

2010 Toyota Prius Engine bay

My logic behind driving this car home is simple, it will either make it just fine, and I can rebuild the engine when I get home, or it will fail on the drive home. I could be potentially stranded in the middle of nowhere.

A failing head gasket on a 1.8L 2ZR-FXE Toyota engine does spell doom, but the real question remains when will that ticking time bomb go off? No one really knows, but there are some warning signs to let you know when to back off or when to risk it.

What Are The Warning Signs
In my experience with these engines, if you get "knocking" on startup every time you drive it, chances are the head gasket is leaking bad enough. You need to replace or repair it before operating.

The other warning signs are the coolant reservoir is sucking the antifreeze down like a cool drink on a hot day. There are also other warning indicators such as a malfunction indicator lamp or MIL and the dreaded triangle of death.

The initial cold start "knock" is the legendary sign that your engine needs help, and leaving it unattended for too long will result in severe consequences.

Conclusion
I will risk driving it home as long as it runs well for me this week while I am out of town. If the coolant level stays consistent and no warning lights come on, I feel confident it will make it home.

Once I get it back to the hybrid lab, the engine is coming out, and it is getting a complete rebuild top to bottom. The Prius is in great shape. It has a new hybrid battery and new tires too, the real bonus is I only paid $1000 for it.

I do not recommend anyone try and attempt to do what I am doing if you know the engine is unhealthy. I have the resources and time to be able to do these things.

Always check your warning lights and indicators for faults in the system. Before heading out on a road trip, make sure you have checked the oil and coolant level in your car.

I am off to another adventure. I will report back more on this car once I can make it home. Thank you all for reading, and remember, today's adventure is tomorrow's story.

Want to know how I limp a Prius home with a failing head gasket?

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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 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 reporter.


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