Fast forward to this weekend. My wife begins experiencing warning lights, and the car's power steering dies on her. It resets each time she restarts the car, but then it fails again. We return to the dealership. After 2 full business days of 'diagnosis' they determine that the entire steering rack, and possibly the ECU need to be replaced. This will cost at least $3,000 and possibly $4,000. Better yet, they tell me that the codes for the power steering fault were showing when we brought in the car the prior time. Don't you think that was relevant information when I asked if there were other major systems getting set to fail?
The story gets a little bit better. It seems that many of the early generation priuses were recalled for a steering system related fault. And it seems that Toyota extended the warranty on many others. It also seems that this is a VERY common failure -- so common, in fact, that no one recommends trying to obtain a used steering rack, because the chances of failure are so great. Even a number of the units repaired under the extended warranty/ recall have experienced subsequent failures. But Toyota will do nothing for those of us who are experiencing the failure now (in substantial numbers, based on the internet chatter and the relative frequency of the search result if you look at "2002 prius" related searches. Perhaps it is obvious that I think the first generation electronic power steering is a technology that was not ready for prime time.
Of course, we can also see how supportive Toyota is being of their early adopters - those people who took the risk, bought the early cars, and had faith that Toyota wouldn't release products that are doomed to fail. Worse yet -- if I understand this repair correctly, there is nothing actually wrong with the steering rack itself- the problem is with the electronic power assist, and/or the ECU. Apparently they can't determine whether the ECU is bad until they have replaced the rack, so that the new electric motors and sensors are in place. And the entire rack is one system, so they cannot replace the electric motor (which would have been the power steering pump in a traditional system) without replacing the entire rack, etc... So if I choose to fix this, I'll be paying $1000 for a computer that controls 1 thing (and which appears to fail regularly between 90,000 and 150,000 miles) and $3,000 for a steering rack assembly, including non-replaceable electric assist motors, which fail pretty regularly between 90,000 and 150,000 miles. I've pretty much decided I'm going to drive it, and if/when it fails completely, I'll be old school with my non-power steering car.
Maybe this is why I like bikes so much. To get the bike pictured below into good running shape might run me $300-600, depending on how many parts need replacing, but then she'll run like a champ!