Why would the screen in Barbara's Prius go kaput?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a proud grandma and a disappointed and angry owner of a 2006 Toyota Prius. The proud grandma part is this: My precious grandchildren made me some small clay decorations, which I proudly displayed on my dashboard -- a 2-inch clay flower and 1-inch clay ball sat against the multifunction screen. After a few weeks, the screen stopped working. I brought the car in to the Toyota dealer, who said that the small clay objects had "burned an image into the screen," causing it to stop working. The whole multifunction device/screen would need to be removed and sent out for repairs, which would cost me between 850 and 4,300 dollars! Nowhere does the owner's manual warn that such a thing could happen. The rationale sounds outrageous, as does the price. So, what do you experts think? I sure would appreciate your opinions and advice. Thanks!

-- Barbara

RAY: I'm guessing it was a granddaughter who made the flower, and a grandson who made the clay ball. You can always count on boys, even in art class, to make something that has future weapons potential.

TOM: Anyway, there are several possible explanations for what happened. Clay is made up of a bunch of minerals suspended in either water or oil. So it's possible that liquid seeped out of the clay and affected the electronic circuits that surround the screen.

RAY: The other possibility is that, because the screen is touch-sensitive, the clay that was leaning against the screen could have been trying to activate one of the controls continuously for several weeks. In other words, it would have been like flipping a light switch on and off continuously, until it broke.

TOM: That'll be your grandkids' next project.

RAY: The reason the estimate ranges from 850 to 4,300 dollars is that your dealer doesn't know what's wrong. Dealers can't diagnose these things. They need to be sent back to Toyota for diagnosis and, usually, replacement. All the dealer can really do is say, "Hmm, it doesn't work," and remove it for repair.

TOM: And the possibilities -- as far as what needs to be replaced -- are pretty far-reaching. That screen contains controls for the heating, ventilation, audio system and navigation system. Those systems are run by separate computers. So you might need just the screen, or the screen plus one or more computers.

RAY: If I were you, I'd get in touch with Toyota directly (800-331-4331). This is an unusual problem, and you may be able to get them to show you some mercy. That's assuming your grandkids didn't just neglect to tell you about the juice box they spilled down the center console!

TOM: If no mercy is forthcoming, you also can ask your dealership or local repair shop to see if it can find you a used one. I'm sure there are Priuses in the junkyard that met their demise from one end or the other, leaving the touch screen intact. Good luck, Barbara.

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