Buzz Kill

…Or Zen and the Art of Toyota Prius Maintenance


blue priusMy 2006 Toyota Prius is approaching its 10th birthday and in all those years and almost 140,000 miles under its belts, it hasn’t given me any serious heartache.  There was that strange problem with the headlights but Toyota wound up paying for the repair as a “good faith” gesture.


Car maintenance is just not what it used to be – there’s almost nothing needed save an oil change here or there and a set of tires every once in a great while.  As a former auto mechanic I put in a new set of spark plugs after 85,000 miles because I couldn’t resist and figured I just might be able to improve gas mileage a titch more than the 44 mpg I was already getting.  I replaced the original starter battery this month but even after all those miles have not yet had to touch the brakes!  You get the general idea.  The era of maintenance free automobiles has arrived and it’s hard to dispute that’s a good thing.

2006- Prius interiorBut perhaps all this reliability has spoiled us so that what once might have been a minor annoyance now takes on greater significance.  Case in point: one day last week a maddening buzzing sound appeared out of the blue inside Ol’ Blue coming from some mysterious, nondescript source inside the cabin.   It seemed to be a sympathetic vibration in tune with the chassis at specific road speeds (MPH), independent of the car’s engine speed (RPM).

mosquito buzzYou might think that a 10-year-old car would make all manner of squeaks and groans so what’s a little buzz?  But that’s the thing – the car is usually so quiet (especially when in hybrid mode without the engine running) this noise was like a mosquito buzzing in your ear, a sound that could not be ignored.  It came and went but was ubiquitous enough to drive me and most passengers batty.

Annoying noise, kidSo rather than listen to the news, relax to some music, or catch up on conversation the ride was dominated with trying to diagnose the source of the annoyance.  It could have been anything from a loose quarter in the armrest, some paperclips in the glove box, a pen in the console storage bin to an electronic component with a loose screw hidden somewhere deep inside the dashboard.

Annoying-noise womanFrom my seat behind the wheel it sounded like it was definitely coming from the passenger side and I insisted my wife meticulously and methodically go through everything she could find to try to identify the cause.  She was equally adamant however that the sound was coming from my side of the car and (when we were parked) I did the same.  Nada.

One good thing that came of this was that lots of detritus that accumulated over 10 years was re-evaluated and suitably disposed.  But we were at a loss for how to kill the damn buzz.  It continued day after day until the other morning when we’re sitting at a light and I’m beginning to think perhaps it’s time to consider a trade-in…when I looked up in anticipation of the light turning green, and there was the solution staring down at me as clear as day.  I am not a philosopher but it sure seemed like a moment of Zen.

glasses-holderI reached up to the sunglass storage compartment located in the console above the rear view mirror, opened it up, and adjusted  the position of the glasses that were stored inside.  After riding for about 30 seconds I realized I’d probably solved the mystery but didn’t want to claim victory until I was absolutely convinced.  Before I could say anything though, my wife, who had been trying to distract herself playing Words With Friends and clearly hadn’t seen me, was startled by the deafening silence, looked up and remarked, “What happened? It’s gone!”

I smiled and explained how the solution was literally in front of our noses the whole time and this realization facilitated the simple adjustment that led to the buzz kill.  In retrospect, the funny thing was that because the noise was coming from right between our seats, we had both been correct in hearing the sound coming from the opposite side.  And as it turns out the noise had nothing to do with Toyota engineering so perhaps there’s another 10 years of life left in Ol’ Blue.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Paul We went through the same buzz with our car.  I said it came from her side of the car, she said from mine.  It took our ten year old grandson with much better hearing than me or Sandi to point out where the noise was coming from.  Popped open the sunglass holder and readjusted the sunglasses (i.e. wedged them in) and the noise has been absent since.  Terry

    Editor’s response: Thanks Terry. Wow, I thought this sort of thing was a bit universal but didn’t expect to hear that others had the exact same experience! Too bad our grandson is not quite three or he might have helped us solve it much more quickly too.



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