May 22, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Hacking your Prius

Heaven knows, Prius owners love their hybrid cars.

But some of the most passionate among them are finding there are certain factory-set features they don't like, and they're increasingly finding ways to take matters into their own hands to change them.

They're the do-it-yourself Prius hackers, many of whom likely are more comfortable in front of a computer than in a garage. But unlike early generations of car buffs, they're more interested in saving the planet than winning a drag race.

"It's the new breed of hot-rodders," said Phillip Torrone, an associate editor at do-it-yourself tech journal Make Magazine. "In the 1950s, it was all about getting more speed. Now, instead of getting more horsepower, it's about getting more miles per gallon. So your hot-rodders are going to be your hot-greeners."

Jacob Gordon, a writer for the online publication Treehugger who has covered several kinds of Prius hacks, said that today's high gas prices and widely publicized energy crisis mandate such behavior.

"People want environmental technological solutions, and they want them faster than the market can necessarily dish them out, so they take things into their own hands," said Gordon. "With hacking the Prius, a lot of it is looking at your energy consumption, and a lot of stuff in the Prius is latently available, because the Prius has such an advanced computer system, but much of it is not available to the driver until you start messing around with it."

It became a pretty tight-knit community. So ideas are passed back and forth.
--Dave Watson
president, Coastal Electronics

Of course, it's not just about the mileage. On late-model Priuses, for example, when the car is in reverse, there is a loud beeping sound. There's also a similar sound when the driver or the front passenger isn't wearing a seat belt. Some people want to turn off the beep.

Though Toyota said there is a method described in the Prius' manual for overriding the backup beeping sound, some say the procedure is not easy to find.

"It's not something they advertise (and) whether it's buried someplace or not, I don't know," said Patricia Pizer, a Los Angeles video game designer and Prius owner. "But they're not very upfront about it."

So what do you do about it? Pizer took advantage of what she said was a relatively simple hack. "It's quite a few steps, and you have to turn the car on and off, and you have to get the sequence right, (but) it was a piece of cake," said Pizer. "It reminded me of beta testers. Beta testers in a game will have a 20-step sequence for finding an exploit, and they're bizarre, bizarre sets of steps. It was very much like that, and I loved the idea of people figuring it out."

Other hacks include making it possible for a Prius to drive mostly on battery power and in the process get nearly 100 miles per gallon, and driving an American Prius in all-electric mode at low speeds--a standard feature on European and Japanese models.

Another hack makes it possible to use the car's onboard navigation system while driving, something that is impossible on a Prius right off a showroom floor.

Dave Watson, president of Coastal Electronics, which markets several Prius modification kits, said that the hybrid car owners generally have the know-how, motivation and connection to other Prius owners to search for the latest hacks.

"The early (Prius) adopters were typically a very high-tech crowd, and there were such long lead-times (to get a Prius) and short supply," Watson said, "that they grouped together, and it became a pretty tight-knit community. So ideas are passed back and forth.

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24 comments

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Not like it wouldn't benefit big oil!!??!!
From the article:

"The fact that the feature isn't available in the U.S. may have to
do with the way the Environmental Protection Agency measures
fuel efficiency in the U.S., and that such a dual-power system
would upset such measurements, said Coastal Electronics'
Watson."

From 05 Ladybug:

Rather than being affected by the EPA, I rather believe that it is
not offered because it might offend Big Oil and sell more hybrid
cars. I've learned from friends that back during the Carter
administration, when solar credits were offered and interest in
solar energy was piquing, that many of the patents were bought
up by those in Big Oil so that they could "discourage" solar's
growth by not allowing it to happen.

The possibility of getting 100 MPH on a Prius? Well, that is a
danger to the selling of gasoline and puts a crimp on Big Oil's
profits. They have a lot of influence--who is to say that they
didn't prevent the switchover to electric power in slow driving?
After the events of the last 5 years, I certainly would look for
answers within the most oil-friendly administration even.
Posted by 05 Ladybug (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Read the next paragraph
I really don't buy your theory that the switch to electrictric button was removed from the car due to some kind of big oil conspiracy.

This is just like "that carburetor" that gives cars 200 MPG that big oil companies crushed right?

Maybe you should have read the very next sentance in the article (it crushed your conspiracy).

"Kwong said Toyota doesn't offer the switch to electric mode because of U.S. laws mandating that it offer a minimum eight-year warranty for the car's power system. Thus, he said, by disabling the switch, the company is able to ensure a longer battery life."

In other news: 9/11 was a plot by the Bush administration to get the people to accept a police state.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
"Kwong said Toyota doesn't offer the switch to electric mode because of U.S. laws mandating that it offer a minimum eight-year warranty for the car's power system. Thus, he said, by disabling the switch, the company is able to ensure a longer battery life."

I have a 2008 UK Prius. My model has the EV mode button, and also an eight year warranty for the car's power system. So frankly that excuse doesn't really hold water.
Posted by zvonkman (5 comments )
Link Flag
Not able to use the navigation system while driving???
That 's rediculous... Isn't that the point of navigation system? That it is giving directions while driving?

I wonder why they put multiple seats in the car? A bunch of kids in the back of the car can also distract the driver...

Only in America...
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Not able to use the navigation system while driving???
They're talking about being not able to enter a destination while driving.
Posted by RichStevenson (1 comment )
Link Flag
it is so you dimtwitted self doesn't crash into me while doing 50 on the
highway
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
Traffic Hazard
That's why when in stop-and-go traffic you see all of the Prius owners taking a large amount of time to start moving again.

In my opinion, Toyota has created quite a hazard by locking out navigation features while driving over 5mph.
Posted by lconly (1 comment )
Link Flag
I agree its ridiculous. I have a Garmin and I can operate it while I'm driving so why are Prius owners deprived? At the very least why don't they activate it if there is someone sitting in the passenger seat. The car can detect whether someone is in the passenger seat for the airbag so why not use this to allow the passenger to operate the navigation system?
Posted by davewhite5 (1 comment )
Link Flag
The "0,1 Revolution" Continues
I posted awhile ago that the internet is putting power back into average peoples hands. The big company has long been taking away our individual rights because the average person can't compete against lobbyiest, corrupt bribe taking officials, and big corporations.

Enter the "0,1 Revolution"

The ability to manipulate software is allowing the people to have the rights they desearve. Changing factory defaults is just another way "We the People," can choose our own freedoms.

Respectfully,
Matthew
Posted by juchestyle (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Testify!
Testify! Sing that opensource gospel!

Serously, every day I see a new example of big business trying to restrict the customer (whom they claim to serve) in a new and inovative way that premotes gross profit. I'd go through the list but this would be a really long comment and would take away from the simplicity of the original statement.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
GPS in car
Since we got lower end machine, we depend on Garmin hand helds. Never, ever is it used by driver. With a second person at the GPS it is fine. With a pair of RINO's we can even find each other in WAL-MART on the intercom mode. Cells don't inside the emporium
Posted by bigduke (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can't "modify" the navigation system
As Steven already mentioned the navigation system still operates while driving but you can't enter new destinations/search while driving. Essentially they expect you to program your destination and then start your trip, if you change your trip you are expected to pull over and park to do so.

In reality it would be much more dangerous to program your navigation system while driving compared to operating the radio or even making a cell phone call but the ludicrous thing is that even your passenger can't operate the system while driving. They could work around this by using the already present passenger seat sensor (used for the airbag) to activate/deactivate the controls if they wanted to.
Posted by raitchison (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This could lead to open source hybrids
How does a company get ahead of it rival by using hackers and open source it?
A Prius Hybrid could get advancement in efficiency and get leap on it competition.
100 Engineers cant compete against 10,000 freelance engineers college students and independent technicians. This kind of R&D could cost billions of Dollars. Software companies hate and love them for making their software better. In end the world winning on that subject.
Posted by cohaver (189 comments )
Reply Link Flag
prius doesn't sell much in europe
In europe we use diesals, ok we will probably see more hybrid diesals in the future as all it requires is a bit bigger starter motor and a bit bigger battery. But the principle reason prius doesnt sell in europe is the economy in a diesal is typically better than a prius, for example a VW lupo will do 70mpg
Posted by X-mass (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Prius Bluetooth hack needed
I think there's a need for a simple bluetooth hack to add bluetooth to the standard Prius easily.

Jim Forbes
Posted by (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Power off/on switch
The reason for not being able to switch to full battery operation is obvious. Our Government has not been able to figure out a way of TAXING the milage driven while in electric mode. It is truly a shame that we as consumers care more about the environment than our representitives.
Posted by Peter8105 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sequences are not a hack.
The story talks about turning the 'beep' off when reversing, and the key on/off sequnces to do so.

Thats not a hack. Thats the way to do it.

I have a Ford Freestar (canada) van that I use for work. I'm constantly in and out of the van and opening all the doors all day. The van automatically locks all the doors when you start driving. A quick look through the index of my manual tells me a simple 4 or 5 step sequence involving the ignition, and the power lock button. When done, the horn honks twice to confirm.

In that regard... I've 'hacked' a ford freestar...

Read the manual.
Posted by grantbwilson (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sequences are not a hack.
The story talks about turning the 'beep' off when reversing, and the key on/off sequnces to do so.

Thats not a hack. Thats the way to do it.

I have a Ford Freestar (canada) van that I use for work. I'm constantly in and out of the van and opening all the doors all day. The van automatically locks all the doors when you start driving. A quick look through the index of my manual tells me a simple 4 or 5 step sequence involving the ignition, and the power lock button. When done, the horn honks twice to confirm, and the doors no longer lock automatically.

In that regard... I've 'hacked' a ford freestar...

Read the manual.
Posted by grantbwilson (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
navigadget guide to hack prius navigation
Navigadget has some info on hacking your toyota prius navigation system:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.navigadget.com/index.php/2006/05/24/hack-your-toyota-prius-gps-navigation-system/" target="_newWindow">http://www.navigadget.com/index.php/2006/05/24/hack-your-toyota-prius-gps-navigation-system/</a>
Posted by germanfive (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
OK
So how do I get rid of the anoying "beep" on my 2009 prius??
Posted by joevitale (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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