Major Prius Bumper Dent Repair

Rather than paying for an expensive Toyota Prius bumper replacement after an unpleasant encounter with a parking lot pole, we decide to attempt the do-it-yourself, armed only with a can of solvent, two hair dryers, and some touch-up paint. Half of the fun is listening to Dad’s comments!

Your mileage may vary! We were lucky that even though the dent was huge, it was easy to access the other side of it to push against. We thought about trying the compressed air trick, but the dent was so deep that we were afraid it might pop in the wrong direction!

Recorded with the Canon VIXIA HV30 (now HV40) (awesome camcorder!). Support this site by buying yours at Amazon through this link!

My Prius Ran Out of Gas

Here’s the extended story on how I essentially paid $276 for what could’ve easily been prevented with a $30 tank of gas:

By early last night, I still had a nasty crick in my neck (the same one that’s kept me at home for the previous two work days), so I decided to go back to my old jujitsu dojo to get some massage and chiropractic work done by a former classmate. After dinner I headed out to catch the tail end of the evening class. According to Google maps, my destination was 40.6 miles and a good 46 minutes away. Had I thought about that harder, I should’ve just concluded that I didn’t have enough time to get there and decided to stay home (which would’ve resulted in a lamer, but way less expensive, story).


Whenever I get in my Prius and turn it on, I get a cool little display that tells me useful information like my average Miles Per Gallon and the number of miles I have driven on this tank of gas. Since the specifications for the car state that the gas tank has a capacity of 11.9 gallons, it seems pretty basic to see that I can get at least (MPG * 10 gallons) miles on a tank before I’m close to needing to fill up (with a good 1.9 gallons to spare).


So, when I got in my car tonight and saw the display read 51.5 MPG and 485 miles on the tank, I figured I could easily get over the San Mateo Bridge before I needed to fill up, and in fact I might even be able to get gas after the massage (as I often tap into the remaining 1.9 gallons of remaining gas). Sure, the Add Fuel indicator turned on, as it always faithfully does after about 9 gallons of fuel consumption, but after having driven the Prius for over 80000 miles, I was pretty sure I had I good idea when it really needed a pit stop. So off I went toward Redwood City, bypassing Shells and Chevrons and Valeros by the dozens with reckless abandon. (The photo is from a roadtrip with my brother in 2006, when we were smart and actually filled up before running out of gas.)


Everything was fine until Mile 504. I was on 880 South and was approaching the 92 junction when suddenly I saw the following very disturbing symbols light up all over my dashboard accompanied by a very disturbing beep tone.

The Check Engine Malfunction Indicator Light:


The Maintenance Required Light:


The Vehicle Stability Control Warning Light:


The Hybrid System Warning Light:


And finally, in case I wasn’t scared yet, the Master Warning Light:


Oh, and the main display screen also had a very succinct and carefully-worded message to explain the situation to me. It reported matter-of-factly, “Problem”.

Okay, this next part of my story is a bit blurry in my mind. As all the indicators lit up, I found myself involuntarily slowing down in the middle of traffic, but honestly I’m not sure if the car truly started losing power on its own or if my feet just completely let up from the gas pedal because I was so shocked by the barrage of warning lights. My car slowly coasted over to the right shoulder of the freeway, and I came to a stop on the gravel patch between the slow lane and the merging onramp.

It was very distracting to sit in the car and try to think clearly as cars zoomed past, making my little car rock back and forth in the slipstream, and evoking uncomforting visions of crazy people rear-ending me without warning. I took off my seatbelt at first, but then thought better of it, and put it back on while simultaneously mumbling a desperate prayer that I wouldn’t end up as tomorrow’s roadkill news.

I called AAA. I gave the operator my account number, but the background noise on her end was very loud (I could hear about 4 other AAA transactions happening in the call center), and she had trouble hearing just about every other thing I said. Then she told me my account was no longer active, which was pretty surprising considering I haven’t even had it for a year. Anyway, I gave her my whereabouts, and she said she’d send somebody, or at least that’s what I heard. I said OK and we hung up. I sat in the dark as cars continued to zoom past, and found myself praying again that this would resolve quickly and ideally not in an untimely death.

About 30 seconds after we hung up, a call came in on my cell phone from a random phone number. I picked it up, and it was the tow truck driver. Strangely, his first question was, “Did you just cancel your request?” Uh, no, I didn’t… “Hmm, yeah, that’s funny. The record here says you just cancelled the request.” I confirmed again that I definitely needed some attention. “Okay, yeah, it didn’t seem like you were moving yet…” And within the next few seconds I heard the tow truck pull up from behind me. Seriously, he arrived on the scene faster than the noodles from TK Noodle. That’s pretty freakin’ fast. And thank God he paid no attention to the cancel request.

He looked in through my passenger window. “Did you try restarting the car yet?” Well, yes, that would be an obvious thing to try, now wouldn’t it? I obliged, and the “Add Fuel” message came on, accompanied by all his indicator light friends. I suggested maybe I needed some gas… “Well, you are entitled to 3 gallons,” he told me. He had me open the gas tank door and he poured in some fuel. He had me try the restart again. “Did the idiot lights turn off?” (Please please please.) Nope. No change. “Well, what will it be? Do you want to be towed somewhere?” the driver asked. Doh, I was almost exactly 20 miles from both Redwood City and Emeryville, and I was pretty sure this was going to cost extra. Sigh… what choice did I have? “Take me home,” I told the driver with resignation. “Guess I’ll have to take this into the shop tomorrow.” On the bright side, God mercifully let me fail before I got onto the San Mateo Bridge. Stalling on the bridge would’ve sucked.

The driver eventually finished loading up my car and we headed toward Emeryville. It bugged me that I had no idea what was wrong, and that I’d probably have to get it taken in to the shop to find out. For some reason, the driver checked something on his display and informed me that the gas wasn’t free after all, since it was determined that I’m not actually a AAA Plus member. (They previously thought I was a Frank So-and-So over the phone, and he had a Plus membership.) Doh, that’s $12 for 3 gallons of gas. Oh well, I guess that’s almost normal. Then he also informed me that only the first 5 miles are free for Basic members. Each subsequent mile is $12/mile. DOH!! I thought about having him just take me to the closest gas station so I could fill up and try again, but since the car didn’t respond to the 3 gallons he put in, what could I expect from a full tank? Sigh, I decided to just eat the cost and had him take me all the way back to Emeryville. I just wanted to go home.

We eventually pull in front of my apartment and he has me sign all this paperwork and pay for the very expensive ride home. He loosened the rigging and then said, “I’ll let you drive it off the ramp” with an air of knowing confidence. Perhaps he thought all the “idiot lights” would surely have turned off by now, and in fact that’s what I hoped too, so I was eager to get in the driver’s seat and try. Arg, they were still there. I backed off the ramp and parked the car and he drove away anti-climactically.

I went upstairs to fill in Steph on the situation and already began planning out the repair schedule for the next day. But I was still curious about what exactly happened, so I dug into a couple of Prius forums to see what other people’s experiences were with these scary-looking indicator lights. Frustratingly, people’s experiences with running out of gas in a hybrid did not seem to follow a particularly consistent pattern, so I finally decided I needed to try one more thing before giving up for the night. I marched back downstairs, intent on driving the car down the block to get a full tank of gas.

And what do you know, by the time I started the car this time, all the indicator lights had turned off on their own, except the Add Fuel indicator, in case I had forgotten. I filled up for $30 at Shell and that was the end of it. I went straight to work this morning and it was fine. I basically just got a $276 tank of gas (and no massage). How’s that for fuel economy?

So what’s the moral of this long-winded story? Feel free to post your interpretation and your own gas stories! =]

Happy Birthday, Prius!

This news comes a bit late, but my Toyota Prius is 3 years old!  “Tubby” (Steph’s name for it, not mine) served me faithfully while I had a 20-minute commute from East Palo Alto to Stanford and back (with weekend trips to Berkeley to see Steph) and continues to do so now with my 2.5 hour commute between Emeryville and Stanford.  I have to say again that this is one of the best buys I have ever made!  (I didn’t take this next photo, but I do like it!)

Speaking of the Prius, I just wanted to give you a quick report about my recent gas mileage, because I’m getting about 100 miles more from each tank of gas than I used to.  You can decide for yourself what to make of this: I acheived 45-49 MPG for every single tank of gas for the first 60,000 miles of ownership.  Average miles driven per tank: 425-450.  I pretty much thought that was about as good as it gets.  I knew the EPA ratings reported higher numbers than this, but I never broke 50 MPG, so I settled on the idea that “Hey, 45-49 MPG is pretty darn good, so it’s okay if it’s lower than the (probably exaggerated) ratings.”  When friends were looking into buying a Prius, I always told them that I drove it under all sorts of conditions, speeds, and levels of aggressiveness, and pretty much always ended up with 45-49 MPG average by the time I filled up the tank, so that magic “51-60 MPG” rating was probably under overly-idealistic conditions.  Most of my inquiring friends decided to buy one anyway, all things considered.  =]

After 60,000 miles, I came across the term “hypermiling” and got pretty curious, especially now that I drive easily 100 miles a day and that means more visits to the gas station.  So I gave the standard “improve your MPG” stuff another try: driving the speed limit, minimizing the hard braking and accelerating, using the A/C minimally, and uh, drafting behind 18-wheelers on the freeway for the reduction in wind drag.  Steadily, my weekly MPG ratings went up, allowing me to get much more out of my 11-gallon tank of gas!

Anyway, I think the data speaks for itself.  I’ve only gotten the 58 MPG average on one tank, and yes, I think that time I did annoy some fellow drivers for the sake of science, by driving 55 MPH on Hwy 280.  I can say that these days, I drive pretty normally again, but still average 54-56 MPG without doing anything extreme, like driving a bit under the speed limit.  =]

Another quick thing I wanted to comment about is the abundance of GPS units that I see around me these days.  I’ve had the Garmin Nuvi 660 GPS for nearly a year now, and it’s truly a lifesaver.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a GPS with me all the time, I’d be liable to get lost one of these days and never find my way home.  It’s pretty sad, this total lack of a sense of direction.  Anyway, every once in a while, I have a conversation with a fellow GPS owner who finds him/herself in a bit of a predicament over how to interpret California laws and whether or not they allow you to affix a GPS unit to your windshield (or it’s follow-up question, “If I decide it put it on the windshield anyway, will a cop ever bother to stop me?”).  The next natural question is, “Well, where else can you possibly mount it?”  Some people opt for those non-slip, weighted “spider” mounts that just sit on your dashboard.  That’s one clever way to do it, I found another way to deal with it, and especially because my Prius’ dash is so freakin’ deep and funny-shaped, I actually like my solution better than using the windshield suction / spider mount.

This solution is partially a remnant from my old GPS system, back when I used the Pharos GPS Software with my Dell Axim x50v PDA.  Pharos worked okay, except that it took dreadfully long to lock onto a GPS signal so that it could determine where on the planet I actually was.  The Garmin units are, in my opinion, about a million times better.   Expensive?  Yes.  Worth it?  Every penny.  Anyway, the picture shows how the Garmin GPS suction cup is actually attached to a smooth plastic mount that is permanently affixed to larger plastic vent mount.  No more worries about getting stopped by the coppers.  (Though, honestly, I have never heard of anyone ever getting pulled over for this kind of thing.)  As an added benefit, not having a windshield-mounted GPS suction cup means I don’t advertise as much to would-be thieves that my car may have GPS inside.  Steph’s mom loves to send us police blotters by email, detailing the staggering number of weekly break-windshield-steal-GPS-and-run crimes in Cupertino.  (By the way, don’t bother ransacking my car, unless you really want my PDA-turned-GPS mount!)

Got any MPG or GPS stories?  Please share them with me!

Prius EV Switch

And now for something totally different:

I installed an Electric Vehicle switch into my Toyota Prius!  For some reason, even though this ability to switch one’s Prius into a mode where only the electric motor is used is a standard feature in the Japanese and European edition of the car, it was removed from the US edition.  Thousands of American Prius owners have questioned this decision by Toyota, and started to seek ways to overcome this crippling limitation.  And of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Here’s my pristine dashboard on the passenger’s side, before the dangerous operation.

Here’s the dash again, with the side air conditioner panel removed, and glove compartments gutted.  See the onboard computer starting to peek out?

98% of Prius owners will probably never get to see the guts of their car.  It’s not the most comfortable thing to see when you have no idea what you’re doing.

You can see that the A/C grill really isn’t very sophisticated, especially when compared with all those wires behind it.  Now do I snip the red wire, or the blue wire?

This is the unimposing EV switch-enabling circuit board that I had to splice into the car’s computer connections.  I honestly don’t really know what it does, so for all I know, it’s stealing my identity and sending it back to its home base.  Oh well.

This is the bundle of cables with the wiretaps in place, after I finally managed to snap the bundle connector back into the main computer assembly.  After about five minutes of tinkering, I had started to get worried when I was having trouble plugging everything back into its appropriate slot.

This is the gash I gave myself when I got too hasty trying to coax a cable lead into a tight slot.  The little red thing in the photo is a sample of the two wiretaps I had to install in the onboard circuitry.  I already broke the spare one accidentally, so this served as a backup in case I destroyed another wiretap with my bare hands.

This is the moldy rotten shrunken apple pear that I discovered under the driver’s seat when I dropped my screwdriver and had to feel around down there.  “Hmm.. that doesn’t feel like a screwdriver…”  This had to be from last summer, when I was picking apple pears with Steph and her mom in their backyard.

This is the bike I absentmindedly backed into in my excitement to try out my new EV switch.  The EV mode worked!  The bike still worked too!  Note to self: Never park your bike behind your car, especially if you don’t have the 2006 Toyota Prius, which at least has a rear view camera.

Well, that was a fun one hour activity!  What else should I mod next?

Mega Update: January 2006

That’s it. I am going to write this update. Yes, right now! No more wimping out! (“But Kenneth, I’m soooo sleepy!”) Nope, naptime is over! Update your blog!

Sooo… picking up where another very excellent monster Xanga update left off…

Near the end of October, I did site visits of Santa Clara University and Berkeley’s computer facilities. Now, this is not intended to be a SCU or Berkeley bashing session, but I have to say I found myself really glad and fortunate to be working at (and scurrying back to) Stanford. I had a renewed appreciation for all of the cool toys that we get to play with in the Multimedia Studio on my floor. I was incredulous that other schools do not have any of the basic facilities for undergrads to experiment with multimedia applications, such as Final Cut Pro, iLife, or even Adobe Creative Suite in some cases. “What? You can’t run Photoshop from just any cluster machine? Whoa…” (Or more like “WTF?” Yes, I feel that strongly about Photoshop.)

Kenneth: Do you allow food and drink in the clusters?”
Host: Ha ha! Yeah right.
K: 44-Inch Wide Format Poster Printing?
H: Uh, that would be Kinko’s.
K: Do you offer miniDV camcorders and DVD burners for checkout?
H: Um, does money grow on trees in your neighborhood?

Even Cal State East Bay (Hayward), which has a Multimedia *major* for undergrads, and for which I am applying for a Master’s in Multimedia, doesn’t have this kind of resource floating around for every boy and girl who is a student there. Shocking. All I have to say is, if you’re at Stanford and you’re complaining about the lack of multimedia facilities, you… you… must come from a school that’s AMAZING.

[Okay, I basically have no photos to show you from these three trips, because they all make me kind of sad.]

Oh, I did mention I’m applying for the Master’s in Multimedia in Hayward for Fall 2006, right? In fact, I just turned in a large chunk of my application today (including the part that costs $$). Now I just have to wait for the letters of recommendation to be finished, and also prepare my portfolio, which is the most intimidating part. I’ve never been involved with a creative arts program. What’s supposed to go in the portfolio? My latest idea is to gather my best digital photography, Photoshop-manipulated images, iMovie and Final Cut videos, iDVD productions, Garage Band loops, posters and flyers designed in PPT or Publisher, and website creations, and present them in a 10-minute video delivered on DVD. Yay or nay?

Other quick summaries:

The Baylight San Francisco Life Transformation Group (LTG, or “small group” for the acronym-phobics) has been awesome! I’ve been going nearly every Friday after work since October. When they first invited me (who, little ol’ me?), I wasn’t so sure. When I thought about how that might enable Steph to join me for small group, I was then very sure. However, after she thought about it, she decided she was already committed to her own Berkeley Mosaic Community Group (CG, or “small group” for the folks who aren’t clued in), at least for the rest of this year. Surprisingly, even after the disappointing news, I remained very sure that I wanted to join this group, even if it killed me. So far, apart from a few slight GPS-related mishaps, the Friday post-work commute has been just fine, and I’ve been making great time between Stanford and San Francisco (near USF). Basically, all of the regulars rock: Jason, Marcia, Terry, Gina, Sinclair, Su. You all rock! =] Jason and Marcia are the gracious hosts who let me crash overnight every Friday instead of driving home in the dead of night. Terry’s presence is always a blessing to me personally, and he has never ceased to surprise me ever since the first LTG night when I thought he was the pizza delivery guy who just decided to stay for Bible study (cuz, well, he was!). Gina and Su bake delicious treats for us all the time. And Sinclair is cool just by being Canadian. I know that when the winter rains continue to pour down on those lonely Friday post-work drives, I’ll probably need some major reminders about how great a group God has blessed me with in SF. But for now, I’m lovin’ it!

[Tater tots in a pizza box and Bible study, AT THE SAME TIME?  OMG!!!  And, look, it’s a guest appearance by Steph!  Hi!]

I never thought I was allergic to anything. After going to Debora’s baptism at the Mosaic, and visiting her apartment with a bunch of friends, I discovered I was allergic to cats. Or at least, her cats!! That’ll teach me to rub my eyes! The best part was when all these future optometrists were freaking out over my eye, and they wanted me to flush my eye out using a double shot glass! (“Now, now, you can’t turn to alcohol for all of life’s problems…”) Or maybe the best part was how I still ended up going to the 2-hour lunch party at TGI’s Sushi, and I felt itchy and pretty self-conscious about my freakish eye and the Halloween jokes, and the pastor’s wife took pity on me and gave me some Children’s Benadryl, which then served to make me rather drowsy, but significantly less itchy and self-conscious…

[Wow, Sam looks like he’s really having a good time at this baptism service.]

[Aw, wook, it’s a widdle kiddy kat!]

[Hmm… maybe that wasn’t such a good idea…]

Steph and I can finally say we’ve been dating over a year! (Actually for anyone who’s counting, we just passed 14 months.) Sometimes I think it’s crazy how much of the details of marriage we’ve already talked about, between the two of us, with our friends, with our parents, with my coworkers… ack! What are we going to talk about *after* we get engaged? =P  Engaged people, what do you guys talk about?

[Umm, they’re not ours.]

Okay, this is getting way too long. Fast forward! My Prius got rear-ended soon after its first birthday. I was just driving onto campus, one fine drizzly Tuesday. I had to slow down for this crazy biker who darted across the two-lane street, when suddenly, I heard the screech of tires behind me and, BOOM! The guy behind me needed about an inch more of braking distance. Anyway, it wasn’t that bad. The guy was pretty cooperative, but he did ask to pay cash to keep his insurance record clear. Being a big softie, I agreed to accept $850 for the vampire fang marks his Z3 bit into my Prius. Of course, now that it’s cash we’re talking about, I decided to take the money and not get it repaired for now, in the anticipation that I’m probably going to get a few more dings in the back before the winter is over. Out of the whole experience, I think the thing that miffs me most is that stupid biker not even stopping to act as a witness for us, since he was part of the reason this all happened in the first place.

[I know, I know, some of you are saying you can barely even make out the puncture marks.]

Okay, this is really enough for now. For all those modem users out there, this probably took an hour to load.  Sadly, I didn’t even blog about what I was supposed to blog about, namely, my ten day trip to Hong Kong. Oh well! I’m sure the suspense is killing all two of you who still read this. Until next time!

[Yes, they have Prii/Priuses in Hong Kong.]