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Toyota Prius Software Problems

stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
edited March 20 in Toyota
This is the place to discuss any software errors encountered by Prius owners. I'm starting this discussion because I think it is important, and should be discussed separately from the generic "Prius Problems & Solutions" discussion.

The Prius uses computers to a degree not seen before in a production vehicle. Pardon the cross post, but to start out the discussion, I wish to repeat part of post 134 from the "Problems and Solutions":

md_sailor, "Toyota Prius Owners: Problems & Solutions" #134, 22 Feb 2005 11:15 am

I was driving home last week in my 04 Prius, watching the mpg reading creep up to 48.0, when I stopped at a stop sign. Immediately after starting up, my dashboard lit up with multiple failure warnings, including "VSC", the red triangle around an exclamation point, a yellow circle with exclamation point, etc. The car continued forward, but just on battery power. Since I was only 2 miles from home I decided to continue, and made it into my driveway by coasting the last 1/2 mile.

The car then stopped and would not move forward. I turned it off and read some of the manual. After a few minutes, I pressed the "ON" button and this time the gas engine started, although the mass of warning lights stayed on. I got the car into the garage, where I left it running to charge the battery (garage door open of course). While I called Toyota, the car stopped.

After having it towed on a flatbed to Toyota the next day, the car was fixed by reprogramming the ECM (engine control module). So far there is no explanation from Toyota for the failure, I'm trying to work my way up to someone who actually knows something about the computers. My confidence in this car, and Toyota, was badly shaken by this incident.
---------------------------
The problem here is that there was a software error in the Prius. What most people do not realize is that it probably wasn't fixed by the dealer.

What happened: The Prius in question hit a point in the software code that caused the whole program to crash.

How it was overcome: The Toyota dealer installed the same program back into the car. There is no way that Toyota made a program modification and then put it back into the car.

This means that the Prius will fail again if those exact circumstance occur again. It also means that every Prius with that same software version may fail in the same fashion

There are only a couple of possibilities here:
1. Toyota already had a fix for the problem, and hadn't installed it in all cars. Possible, but unlikely.
2. Toyota simply put the old code back into the vehicle and hoped for the best. Probable.

Hopefully, Toyota at least had the smarts to download the entire memory contents (or enough code to troubleshoot the problem). A simple error code is not usually enough to determine why the code failed, only where it failed.

I find this troubling because the basic HSD technology and programming is now about 7 years old. It should not be hitting failure points like this.
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Comments

  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    It should be noted that the Prius, unlike the HCH, will not run without it's traction batteries. Once the batteries are below 20%, the car won't even start (software controlled, again).
  • Everything in your post seems to be on the money except, in my case, the car seemed to be capable of rebooting itself after an hour or so of blue-screen- of-death-like stupor. The state was much like that described by MD Sailor. My dealer certainly wasn't capable of modifying code. They did manage to coax an error message out of the computer related to low fuel. In their defence, the service department does offer a 15K mile service special (oil change, rotate tires, check brakes, maybe airfilter) for only $159.

    So how do we get action out of Toyota on this one.
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    " So how do we get action out of Toyota on this one."

    Don't know. The best thing to do is report it to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board. They keep a database of problems reported by owners . If enough problems come in, they will start an investigation.

    Unfortunately, as cars (not just the Prius) get more dependent upon computers, the manufacturors get more and more like Microsoft. It is very expensive to do comprehensive testing, so they get it to where it works the vast majority of the time, then release it to let the public do the final testing.

    I'm not saying Toyota doesn't test their software or that they release with known problems; but every software house has to evaluate known problems before a software release, and one of the criteria is "how often will this occur"? If the answer is "very seldom", they may deem it not worth fixing at this time, especially if they are up agaist the wall to release the software so the company can sell cars.

    We can only hope they are at least getting downloads from the problem cars that will tell them what to fix later... but I doubt it, mostly because it would mean putting "debug" code into final software releases.
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    *** I find this troubling because the basic HSD technology and programming is now about 7 years old. It should not be hitting failure points like this. ***

    How long did it take Microsoft to get a stable version of Windows to the market? They released Windows 1.0 in 1985. The first version to be reasonably stable was Win2000. And even at this same moment I can't get the Windows time line on the Microsoft site to display properly and I'm using WinXP. It took Microsoft 15(!) years to get Windows more or less right. Buggy software IS a problem and nobody makes software that is 100% error-free.

    I think we will have to live with it. Without software modern cars, let alone the Prius, wouldn't exist. What we could maybe do is give Toyota as much feedback as possible. I hope they have a program to collect information on these kind of problems.

    By the way, if the software fails in your Prius you can still pull over to the roadside. The basic steering is still mechanical. I don't want to think about the effect of software glitches in a Boeing 777 or an Airbus 340.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    How long did it take Microsoft to get a stable version of Windows to the market?

    Your analogy is not valid. Windows software is bombarded with software from outside vendors and hackers trying to make it fail. The Prius software is totally protected from outside influences and still it fails. If you are driving 70 mph down the Interstate and the car shuts off in heavy traffic you could cause an accident. If your computer gets the blue screen of death you just reboot and keep on surfin'. In the Prius you have to wait for a tow truck to come get you. If you are lucky enough to avoid an accident. What other cars beside the hybrids are plagued with these software glitches that cause the car to quit going down the highway?
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    My analogy is valid. The point I am making is that it is impossible to make software that is 100% bugfree. Windows failed all by itself for years, it didn't need hackers. My computer was not connected to the internet from 1985 to 1998 and still Windows failed 10 times a day.

    You say: "Windows is bombarded with software from outside vendors". Well, my computer wasn't bombarded because I would only run a few Microsoft applications on it. Furthermore the Prius computers also have to talk to embedded microprocessors in all kind of components.

    I agree that a Prius software problem can be more dangerous than a Windows problem, although that depends on what you use your Windows for. However that has nothing to do with the point I am trying to make and that is that 100% bug free software is an illusion and that you will always need time to reach a more or less stable version.

    Finally you ask: "What other cars beside the hybrids are plagued with these software glitches that cause the car to quit going down the highway?" Well, I had a Mercedes E320 that I had to bring in for a software patch. They had noticed that in some cases the BAS (brake assistant) would just fully lock the brakes for no reason. A few Mercedeses came to a grinding halt on the Autobahn. As far as I know it didn't cause any accidents, but it could have. I have also heard of BMWs having serious software problems.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    A few Mercedeses came to a grinding halt on the Autobahn.

    That is a real problem. I like computers, I question if they belong in our cars. Failures happen but I have never owned a car that just failed. Even my worst cars since my first 1947 Pontiac always gave warning of impending problems.
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    Hi gagrice. I see your point, but the thing is that computers make our cars what they are today. I find it amazing how the car industry has made progress over the last 30 years. Last month a drove a car my father had 30 years ago and you can't imagine the difference it makes. Starting the engine, the steering, the brakes, the airco, you name it, it's all much smoother nowadays than it was before. To a large extent this is due to the fact that these things are now computer controlled.

    Of course the added complexity is a problem, but for me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Furthermore I think that the cases where computers in cars saved lives (ABS, ESP, quicker response of engines to get out of a dangerous situation) far outweigh the cases where computers killed people because of software glitches.
  • Toyota is not investigating these failures properly, no one from Toyota with any technical knowledge about the computers has contacted me or reviewed the case. Instead, they had a person call me to say that they would not answer my detailed technical questions about the failure because this would involve "proprietary" information.

    The dealers just report that the car stopped, no further details are sent back to Toyota. The same software is just reloaded to replace the scrambled code in the Engine Control Module (ECM) and the customer is sent on the way. This is obviously In System Programmable (ISP) code, and it is getting corrupted when the computer fails. Not a good design and one that needs investigation. A conscientious company would work on the problem instead of ignoring it.

    I sent a two page FAX to Toyota Customer Service, FAX: 310-468-7814

    Does anyone have the direct contact info. for the Nat. Highway Safety Institute?
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    That's a shame md_sailor. Did you consider sending a fax and/or e-mail to Toyota headquarters in Japan?
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    "Does anyone have the direct contact info. for the Nat. Highway Safety Institute?"

    I encourage everyone with a software problem to open a complaint with the National Highway Transportation Safety Board:

    http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/

    Only by reporting the problems will the solution be forced on the manufacturors.

    Interesting, I just checked on the 2004 Prius and there were about 6 complaints of various problems that sounded like software / ECU related (car stopped dead, etc). In several cases, the dealer said the software had to be either updated or reprogrammed. For one thing there appears to be a TSB on the ECU software. BTW, that is about 1/5th of the total complaints registered for the 2004 Prius.
  • jkraft3jkraft3 Posts: 1
    Are there continuing software problems with model year 2005?
  • mb1mb1 Posts: 1
    Window was released in 1995 not 1985 are you thinking msdos? Sheesh get your dates right will ya? Lived it!
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    Hmmm, I think the run-time version of windows 1.0 was available around 1986. I know I got MS Excel with Windows 2.1 run time in 1988. So I imagine the first version os Windows was around 1985-1986...

    Windows 95 was introduced in 1995... Windows was earlier.
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 5,859
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  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    Your dates are right on. The issue is, the blue screen of death is nothing compared to your car stopping from 70 mph in the left lane, on the 405 freeway during rush hours. This is happening more than any other car I can remember researching. What has Toyota done to correct the software bug?
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    *** Window was released in 1995 not 1985 are you thinking msdos? Sheesh get your dates right will ya? Lived it! ***

    http://www.computerhope.com/history/windows.htm
  • Actually this did just happen to my husband yesterday outside DC on the HOV lanes on I-395, in a contruction zone. Talk about scary. The tow operator, as well as a Toyota salesman, both admitted that they've seen several of these models die like this within the last month.

    So, any advice on what to say/how to deal with the dealership on getting this fixed?
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    any advice on what to say/how to deal with the dealership on getting this fixed?

    Welcome to the forum. My advice would be the same as others on this thread have urged. Report this to the NHTSA soon. They will compile the reports and force Toyota to do something. Toyota will not let out how serious the problem is. Toyota may be working on it. Everyone that has experienced this so far were told by the dealership that they had not heard of any such problem. It sounds pretty widespread, and a very dangerous bug in the Prius firmware. Just reseting the system is not going to fix the problem, only put it off till another time. If it does not get taken care of before the warranty is up you may be facing a big repair bill, or in the case of one owner body work.
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    "Actually this did just happen to my husband yesterday outside DC on the HOV lanes on I-395, in a contruction zone. Talk about scary. The tow operator, as well as a Toyota salesman, both admitted that they've seen several of these models die like this within the last month.

    So, any advice on what to say/how to deal with the dealership on getting this fixed?"

    That is the purpose of this thread. Contact the NHTSB and report the incident. When enough reports are accumlated, they will open an incident investigation. Once that occurs, it will hit the press, causing some publicity problems for Toyota.

    Unfortunately, I don't think Toyota put in any software error reporting capabilities (other than a simple error code, which doesn't help a programmer find the problem). Windows includes a feature that allows the user to send information back to Microsoft when something fails. Those reports provide exact data to the programmer, who then can work on the problem.

    Eventually, Toyota will probably have to insert code into the system that traps information about what the software is doing when it fails (or else they will program some special test cars with this information), in the hopes that they can find the problems.

    It would appear at this time that Toyota is merely reprogramming the Prius with the same (flawed) code that failed the first time.
  • Just filed my complaint with NHTSA. Thanks.
  • "That is a real problem. I like computers, I question if they belong in our cars. Failures happen but I have never owned a car that just failed. Even my worst cars since my first 1947 Pontiac always gave warning of impending problems."

    I don't see why a computer problem is necessarily worse than a mechanical failure. The failure of a fuel pump on the freeway or ball joint failure or even a tire blowout can lead to serious consequences.

    If you have been driving for more than a half century and never had a sudden failure then you are damned lucky. I can tell you lots of horror stories, such as the water pump on my 1964 Volvo going out at 70 mph leading to a rupture of the radiator. And I assure you there was not a line of computer software in that car.

    Regards,

    David (Whose 2004 Prius just passed 14,000 miles with 49 mpq and not a single software or hardware problem. Easily the best car I have ever owned. AND a bargain.)
  • joebeattjoebeatt Posts: 50
    Hi David,

    Good point. Now I think of it, I have been in a very dangerous situation because of failures only twice in my life (I drive since 1973). Both were caused by a fuel pump that quit in the middle of the freeway. One of the two incidents happened in a tunnel and I still remember the sight of those BIG lorries that were coming in om me at 60 mph.

    Both incidents happened in cars with no software at all. I have never had any problem with software so far. This is of course not to say that Toyota shouldn't do something about software problems, when they occur. They should!
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 3,784
    "I don't see why a computer problem is necessarily worse than a mechanical failure. The failure of a fuel pump on the freeway or ball joint failure or even a tire blowout can lead to serious consequences."

    Mechanical problems and failures are the result of material failures, which can happen. In general, it causes a single point failure. Keep in mind that the Prius is subject to these failures plus additional potential software problems.

    Software problems are the result of massive amounts of human generated software code. The use of software code in the Prius (having to use software more than a standard car to drive the dual propulsion system) requires a larger code, and more chances for error. Plus, that error shuts down the entire vehicle. A tire can be replaced with a spare, and a CV Joint is not expected to fail unless it is old or mechanically defective. A software bug that is never fixed will lurk around waiting to occur again.

    The real problem is that Toyota may not be doing anything about the source of the problem - the code itself.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    The failure of a fuel pump on the freeway or ball joint failure

    These parts can be replaced and the trouble is no longer an issue. With a software glitch that just gets reset you never know when it will come back to get you. I read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that JD Powers rated Toyota below average on reliability. They were 28th out of 39 brands. What happened to them? Maybe too big too fast.
  • "Stevedebi" wrote:

    "Mechanical problems and failures are the result of material failures, which can happen. In general, it causes a single point failure."

    Really? Try telling that to the thousands of owners of Chrysler vehicles who had to be towed after transmission failures a few years ago, or the VW/Audi owners in the tens of thousands who experienced total vehicle failure because of ignition coil problems. Those cars were brand new. Those were DESIGN problems, not WEAR problems.

    The whole trend over the last 30 years has been to replace mechanical components with electronics because it is so much more reliable. The biggest increase in automotive reliability came when electronic fuel injection replaced carburetors. Remember them? Remember what happened when they got gummed up?

    "...Keep in mind that the Prius is subject to these failures plus additional potential software problems."

    The Prius probably has fewer mechanical components than any car on the road. Even the accelerator linkage is electronic. And the result is outstanding reliability. Check out Consumer Reports reliability ratings. Prius is at the very top.
     
    "The real problem is that Toyota may not be doing anything about the source of the problem - the code itself."

    You have made two assumptions there, without any evidence that either is true;

    1. that there is a software problem

    2. that if there is, Toyota is not doing anything to fix it.

    Regards,

    David (whose Prius never misses a beat)
  • Gagrice wrote:

    "I read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that JD Powers rated Toyota below average on reliability. They were 28th out of 39 brands."

    Must have been the National Inquirer. A search of the on-line Wall Street Journal found no such article.

    David
  • Gagrice wrote:
     
    "I read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that JD Powers rated Toyota below average on reliability. They were 28th out of 39 brands."

    I went to the J.D. Power website. The headline for the latest Dependability ranking by Manufacturer is as follows:

    J.D. Power and Associates Reports:
    Toyota Motor Sales Captures Top Corporate Ranking in Vehicle Dependability

    While Toyota and Honda Continue to Dominate, the Big Three Domestics
    Make Important Strides in Long-Term Quality Improvement

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 29, 2004
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    If you have been driving for more than a half century and never had a sudden failure then you are damned lucky.

    Only one vehicle ever quit on me. I was driving on the LA freeway in an Aivs rental car that just died with me in the left lane. I was able to coast to the shoulder and was less than 100 feet from an emergency phone. That car was an AMC Pacer with just 13 miles on it. Avis brought me a Chevy something or another and I have not had a problem since. I do maintain my vehicles, any little noise is researched and fixed. I also don't put a lot of miles on a vehicle. My 7 yr old Suburban just turned 49k miles. Our 1990 Lexus LS400 has 84k miles on it. Both look like the day they were purchased new.

    You are lucky that your Prius has operated flawlessly. Not all have had your good fortune. Oh, my two worst new vehicles a Honda & a Toyota.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,893
    J.D. Power and Associates Reports:

    I only know what I read in yesterdays WSJ. I should have kept it but gave it to the stewardess to dump. That was what caught my eye the rating of 28th out of 39 brands. I don't subscribe to the online WSJ, maybe someone that does can find it.
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