Potential safety hazard in popular car

February 27, 2013 9:20:02 AM PST
Dozens of drivers of late model Toyota Priuses say something odd is happening that affects their ability to drive safely. They say traffic lights and oncoming lights are distorted by the windshield. 7 On Your Side has been looking into these complaints.

It's an issue federal regulators say doesn't appear to be a safety issue. But numerous people who say they've experienced the problem first hand, strongly disagree.

Amit Rawlani of Fremont is concerned for the safety of his family.

"I have a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. I don't take them out in this car at night," said Rawlani.

So is Jason Reinstedler of Orinda. He avoids driving at night if at all possible.

"I've been actually leaving work early in some cases," said Reinstedler.

Both own a 2012 Toyota Prius and both say their vision through the windshield at night makes driving unsafe. This is video of the view through Rawlani's windshield that he posted on YouTube. Rawlani and Reinstedler say tail lights, street lights, oncoming headlights and traffic lights appear blurry, seem larger than normal and can be seen in triplicate. Reinstedler recalls the day he almost hit a pedestrian because he was blinded by the multiple images of light.

"I was just kind of freaked out. I didn't understand what was going on," said Reinstedler.

Rawlani told me the so-called ghosting effect is best seen on dark streets from a distance of about 50 feet.

Finney: "Will we see it when we go driving around right now?"
Rawlani: "Yeah, we will see it right now."
Finney: "Let's go, let's see it."
Rawlani: "Let's go."

The problem he has with his windshield is not always evident. Rawlani says it usually can't be seen on well-lit streets or from closer distances.

Rawlani: "Now look at the red arrow up front. You can see three arrows actually."
Finney: "I see the one below it. I don't see the one above."
Rawlani: "There's one above as well."
Finney: "I'm seeing it now."

Then as we get closer to the light, the ghosting effect seems to disappear and the multiple arrows we saw merge into one. Reinstedler and Rawlani aren't the only ones complaining about this.

A forum on the website PriusChat includes postings by 40 Prius owners who say they have the same problem.

Prius 4 Owner wrote: "On the stop light I can see 3 images of the red light -- in the middle the real one, and two ghost images below and above it."

John Hoskins posted: "Dealer denies any warranty coverage and says the problem was caused by the environment."

And finally from Mike: "Hopefully there will be a recall and get these defective windshields replaced."

Finney: "Some people are going to say it just isn't that big of a deal. It's just lights."
Rawlani: "I think it's a big distraction while driving. And I just don't feel safe enough. Second thing is this is a brand new car and I don't expect to have these kind of issues."

We found a dozen formal complaints submitted since January 2012 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA. NHTSA told us, "Based on its review of available data, the agency has found no evidence of a safety defect trend in these vehicles. NHTSA will continue to monitor the issue and will take appropriate action as warranted."

Toyota agrees with that assessment and told 7 On Your Side by email, "Toyota is aware of a small number of complaints on the NHTSA website regarding windshield visibility for 2010 through 2012. Where customers have contacted us directly, we have made arrangements to evaluate some of their vehicles."

AGC, the Asahi Glass Company in Tokyo, manufactured the windshields. A U.S. spokesman for AGC did not get back to us with answers to our questions.

Toyota has replaced Reinstedler's windshield. But his attorney Mark Anderson said that didn't improve the situation enough.

"They replaced the windshield once but it didn't help much so they don't have a fix," said Anderson.

Our investigation has caught the attention of industry experts. Herb Yudenfriend is a former member of the Society of Automotive Engineers auto glazing standards committee and after seeing the YouTube videos, plans to bring this up at the next meeting.

"I want them to investigate the cause of the distortion and to indicate what kind of testing might be required," said Yudenfirend.

"I would definitely urge Toyota to please fix this issue," said Rawlani.

Meantime, Reinstedler has sued Toyota under the lemon law and is demanding a full refund. Toyota declined to comment on the suit.


Load Comments