2012 Plug in Prius

This is a schizophrenic car. Cutting edge technology with a crappy user interface. The 'dashboard' is in the center of the car. Perhaps this is to make it visible to everyone in the car, or so the car in a right hand drive configuration only needs on dash. What is worse, is that it is 2/3 of the way towards the front edge of the the windshield. There is nothing in front of the steering wheel, where the dashboard belongs. Hard to see under high glare conditions. Epic fail.

I was driving today, and I realized that the date was set to Jan 2011. I decided to fix it. You can't set the date when the car is moving. So when I got home I tried to set it. It took over 10 minutes to figure out the user interface. I have no idea who does the user interface, but I suspect they have never seen a digital watch. It takes under a minute to set any digital watch I have owned, and I have owned a wide variety of watches. In addition, somewhere along the way I mistakenly set the charger timer without realizing it. The car wouldn't charge. I eventually realized what was happening and was able to cancel the charger timer. That also has a crappy user interface. Perhaps this can all be fixed in software, and new manuals issued. One can only hope. With all the computers and screens in this car, the manuals should be online. I have never owned anything with such a bad user interface.

There is an area for storing stuff between the front seats. I will call it the center console. The lid for the center console is about 2.5 inches thick. On my Camry, there is a compartment inside the lid. There is plenty of room for that in the Prius, but the lid is a sealed hollow affair. Pretty silly. Next the area under the lid is of reasonable size. If you look at the outside of the center console, it goes down to the floor. At least 50% of the volume of the center console is not accessible. It would make more sense for there to be some storage for the rear passengers, or something. Perhaps there is a secret compartment that mortals cannot access. Not very clever.

There are LED daytime running lights. Since I didn't get the super expensive 'advanced' option, I don't get LED headlights. The tail-lights and brake lights are LED. There are no other LED's in the car as far as I can tell (except the tiny one which lights the stick shift in the dark). I ordered a buncha LED lights. First were the 2 map lights. Next were the 2 exterior parking lights. I next replaced the side lights (I haven't done the passenger one as it is really tough to get to). I ordered 2 LEDs for the license plate lights and 1 for the interior dome light. These are typically $1 to $1.5 each (the dome light was $3). Toyota coulda paid a few cents for them. The prices I am paying are retail and include shipping from Hong Kong.

Heating and Cooling

Next there are the controls. The car comes with a thick stack of manuals, and they really are needed. For example, the temperature controls include 13 buttons and a display. On my 2002 Camry, there are three knobs with three buttons inside the knobs. It would be nice to be able to adjust the temperature controls without looking down. It is pretty much impossible with the Prius. For the fan speed, there is a button to turn it off, a button to make it flow more, and a button to make it flow less. There is also a display to show the fan speed. I am not sure what is wrong with a knob to control the fan speed. That is what almost all cars have, and you can adjust it without looking at it. When the car is in 'Eco' drive mode, the two highest fan speeds are disabled. Also the air conditioner is less powerful in 'Eco' drive mode.

Then there is the micro dust and pollen filter button, which has a graphic that makes no sense. The owners manual explains "Outside air mode switches to recirculated air mode. Pollen is removed from the outside air and the air flows to the upper part of the body. Usually the system will turn off automatically approximately 3 minutes later." I really like the 'usually' part. Under what conditions does it not behave 'usually'? The button that controls the air outlets cycles through all of the options, which requires you to look at the graphic to see what setting it is on. My Camry has a knob with several positions. You can learn what they are, and then adjust it without looking at it. For the fan speed, if they wanted to use the cycling interface, they would have needed just one button to cycle through all of the settings, saving two buttons on the dash. Having an inconsistent user interface is stupid. Having an interface that requires you to look at a screen is stupid. Having both is really stupid.

Then there is the temperature 'auto' mode. It is too complicated to explain, which is not a good sign. There are two pages describing how it works. Of course, all the temperature controls are affected by the 'driving mode'. The way the air conditioner works and the fan speed can be modified. Setting the temperature digitally doesn't seem to engage the air conditioner unless the system is in 'auto' mode. Then there is the remote air conditioner settings, available via the key fob. Clearly there are several microprocessors involved, talking to each other. Epic fail.

Entune Radio, GPS and other stuff

The radio is a decent unit, with 6 presets and 6 pages of presets. However, they are all touchscreen presets, which means you have to look at them to see which one you are pressing. You can cycle up and down through the presets with the control on the steering wheel. If you want to select a different FM HD channel, you have to press the right spot on the touchscreen, which means you have to look down. There is a lot of versatility with the touchscreen, but I can tune a conventional radio by feel. In addition, when the sun is out, it is often difficult or impossible to read the screen. The USB and audio input jack are buried at the bottom of the center console, not near the radio, which isn't a good design choice. If you use the GPS which is built into the unit, the volume control is on the screen. The big volume control doesn't effect it, nor does the volume control on the steering wheel. Perhaps this is so you can have separate volumes for the radio and the GPS, but since it is one entune control center, one volume control should control it.

I think the entune control center thing is worth several hundred dollars, not $1050 (which is roughly what Toyota charges to bundle it in). It is quite curious that the entune radio has no specifications like RMS power output or FM sensitivity or frequency response. The 'high-end' JBL GreenEdge one has 120w of power, but most aftermarket car radios have 200w built in. The JBL GreenEdge uses smaller and lighter parts, but claim to sound like bigger, more powerful parts (specifically they claim 600 equivalent watts, whatever that means). I am pretty dubious, as there are very high efficiency switching amplifiers available and there are physical limits to the efficiency of cone speakers. I think this is 99.9% snake oil, at a premium dollar. I have no idea how much power my non premium entune radio has, but I am guessing less than 120w of power.

Entune Speakers

The factory speakers are junk. I have never seen worse car speakers. The ones in the front doors have a really tiny magnet, and are riveted in. The ones in the rear doors are even smaller, and are also bolted in. The doors have very very little soundproofing. I added some 'peel and seal' which helped immensely. I put in $50 (retail) Kenwood speakers in the door. There are 'squawker' tweeters in the dash that are in parallel with the front door speakers. There is a 6 or 8 microfarad non-polarized capacitor in series with the squawkers. Even more amusing, there are 4 wires per speaker going to the dash. Basically, the front channel wire goes to the dash, is shorted by the connector on the dash speaker, and then goes back down, and then to the door. I have no idea why they ran extra wire. If you disconnect a squawker, the sound goes out on that side in the front door. I replaced the squawker speakers with some 3.5 inch pioneer speakers. I added a 100 microfarad non polarized capacitor in parallel with the tiny one. I also added a 2 ohm resistor in series with the squawker speakers and front door speakers. This way, there won't be less than a 3 ohm load on the amp. The wire is pretty thin, but would be a big hassle to upgrade. Perhaps one day I will buy a 6 or 8 channel amp...

Entune GPS

The GPS is decent, but much worse than my 2 year old Garmin. It doesn't show what lanes to be in. It doesn't do a good job of letting you know what offramp to be in. And the realtime traffic costs $5 as it is bundled with XM radio. My $120 Garmin has free lifetime traffic, as well as free lifetime map updates.

Entune Radio

There are 36 presets in the radio. What I didn't realize is that they are shared between FM and am. On every other radio I have ever seen, there are am presets and FM presets. I suppose this is more flexible, and you can scan through all of your presets. I wonder if the 36 presets include XM radio? My Sony radio has 24 FM presets and at least 6 am presets (I don't listen to much AM). So 36 presets isn't a whole lot. I don't like the decision to merge all presets, as it is different from all other radios. Different has to be much better, and this isn't. It is quite nice that HD AM and HD FM are supported. Do you know what HD stands for? It isn't high definition - it stands for nothing. Now that is clever marketing!

Entune USB Input

I was impressed by the USB input. It could organize songs by genre, artist, album, etc. Easy to select a specific album. The problem is when the album is over, it repeats. It should advance to the next album, or stop or do almost anything except repeat. Equally silly, when there is a USB drive in the radio, and you turn the radio on, it starts playing the USB drive. This happens even if you were last listening to the radio before turning off the radio. I have never seen a radio that didn't remember what it was doing when it was turned off. Even cassette radios remembered what was happening before they were turned off.

I have used the USB input enough to notice some interesting 'features'. Sometimes Entune displays album art. I have no idea where it is coming from. It isn't coming from my flash drive. Perhaps there is a database inside of it somewhere that recognized well known albums and has album art for these well known albums. It is an amusing feature.

What is not amusing is that music files are somehow sorted by album. The file name of the mp3 file is ignored as far as I can tell. The directory where the mp3 file is ignored as far as I can tell. This is really stupid. My Sony car radio plays files by directory and filename. It is pretty straightforward to put mp3 files in directories, and to give them reasonable names. Entune seems to ignore that, and only read the ID3 data inside the mp3 files. If it isn't in the format Entune likes, tough for you. I was able to use an ID3 tag editor and edit some of my mp3 files. I specifically set the 'album' field. I did this because I couldn't find the albums with Entune. After editing, I was able to find the album with Entune. It is straightforward to put files in directories with reasonable names. It is 10 times more complex to use an ID3 tag editor just to make Entune happy.

The USB Input Breaks, and Toyota Replaces the Radio

Yesterday, the USB input worked. Today it broke. When I switched to USB, it would hang Entune (which I heard is running Windows CE). Sometimes it would just hang and do nothing. Sometimes the audio would cut off. Sometimes the Entune system would shut down. Sometimes USB input was not recognized. Finally, the USB input isn't recognized at all. This is with a short USB extension cord and a flash drive. I called the local dealership. Nobody is available on Saturday to look at it, and he said I would have to leave the car there. I will be taking it in on Monday. They do have a PiP certified technician, however I suspect something is wrong with Entune hardware and/or software. It will be very amusing if they flash the Entune radio via the USB port. I suspect it won't be fixed in a day...

I took the car in on Monday, and the dealer said it was fixed Tuesday afternoon. They replaced some kind of junction box (which I presume included the USB port). The next morning, the radio was broken. I took it in, and they replaced the junction box as well as the Entune radio. It works now. I recommend avoiding buying anything with Entune if at all possible.

The USB Track Forward and Back Breaks

The USB player has the ability to play 'albums', that is a group of songs from an album. When planing an album, you can use the Seek and Track buttons to advance to the next song, or go back a song. Well, that stopped working today. Last week, it was fine. I will be taking it to the dealer next week to fix. I suspect they will switch the radio out, like they did the last time I had a problem with it (when the USB input broke). So the radio is very expensive, works very poorly, and has failed twice in less than 10,000 miles. Why would Toyota make and sell suck a piece of junk?

Well, the radio has 'fixed' itself. After 2 days of ignoring the track forward and back, it decided to start working again. Not inspiring of confidence...

I now can reproduce the problem 100% of the time. If you turn the car on, it starts to play the radio. Within a few seconds it switches to the USB input (even it if wasn't playing when the car was turned off). If you press an entune button, such as the input selection or the power off button, during the first few seconds, the button often does not work. What is worse, it will cause the USB track forward and back to not work. Turning the radio off and on doesn't help. The only cure is to turn the car off and then back on. When turning the car on, don't press any entune buttons for about 20 seconds. Then the track forward and back buttons will work. I have never heard of a radio that gets confused when pressing buttons just after turning it on, but this one does. I don't know who wrote this software, but I give them a failing grade.

I was reading a prius forum, and found out why the USB input starts to play when the car is turned on. I think it makes a lot of sense, as I observe this problem with a class 4 32gb drive. According to Chris Hays:

Hello. I stumbled on this while looking for something else. I had this problem. The dealer was clueless. But I decided to experiment with different USB drives and lo and behold, when a good fast usb drive is used, the problem goes away!

Here is what I think is happening:

You turn on the car.
The system boots up.
Slow USB drive does not fully initialize before the system is ready.
System becomes ready.
USB drive finally finishes initializing.
When the drive comes on line, the car "thinks" it has just been inserted into the USB jack, and thus switches to it.
A faster USB thumb drive solved this completely. I use a Transcend USB 3.0 drive, but I'm pretty sure that any thumb drive rated for high speed will work. If you have a bunch of different makes/models you might just want to experiment.

More Entune bugs

On several occasions without any user input, the Entune radio switched to the Bluetooth input. When this happens, the radio stops playing, and the music in my cell phone starts to play. I have to manually switch the input source back to the radio to stop this. I have no idea why this happens.

I was playing some music from the USB input, when I noticed that the songs from an album were not playing in order. I couldn't figure out what was going on. I powered off the radio and it still happened. I switched flash drives, and it still happened. I was thrashing around, when I noticed that the USB input had the ability to 'shuffle play' tracks. What was curious was the option was selected. I didn't select it, so it happened for some unknown reason. I un-selected it, and the songs now play in order. This has only happened to me once, but it is still concerning. I have never had another radio switch into shuffle play without user input.

The radio displays the name of the band and the name of the song. It uses what the radio station transmitts. If the band name is 'U2' it gets displayed properly. If the band name is 'X' (the Los Angeles band), nothing gets displayed. I guess entune thinks one character long band names don't exist. My Sony car stereo doesn't have this issue.

Sometimes the USB input stops playing. Sometimes unplugging and replugging the USB connector fixes the problem. Not today. Nothing I could do would fix the problem. I thought about it for awhile, and I decided to power cycle the radio. Now turning it on and off with the power button doesn't power cycle the radio. Apparently, it always is on to some degree when the car is on. The only way to power cycle the radio is to turn the car off and then back on. This isn't very convenient while driving, but fortunately, I was in stop and go traffic. When I was stopped, I turned the car off and then back on. The problem went away. I have had to power cycle the radio many times to solve weird behavior of the radio. I recommend pulling over to a safe location before doing this. I also recommend Toyota fix their bugfest software in Entunes so this isn't ever necessary.

Well, I have found another Entune USB related but. I have a USB flash drive with a lot of albums. When I tried to play one album, Entunes decided the album had 30 tracks, rather than 15 tracks. Entunes decided that each track should appear twice. So if the tracks were named A,B,C, etc. Entunes showed A,A,B,B,C,C etc. I removed the flash drive and reinserted it, but that didn't fix it. I looked at the USB drive with my computer and there was only one copy of the album. This is only happening for one album as far as I can tell. I suspect that the cache that Entunes uses has been corrupted somehow. I have no idea how to clear the cache. Perhaps using several different USB drives will solve the problem. Clearly Entunes is a bugfest.

Yesterday, with my headlights turned on, the display was quite dim, almost impossible to read. I guessed that something had broken because it used to work fine. It also worked fine when the headlights were off. After taking it to the dealer and trying a bunch of things, it turned out that there are 'brightness' and 'contrast' settings for the radio with the headlights off as well as with the headlights on. There are also settings for the reverse camera. Somehow the settings changed for the headlights on mode. I have no idea how it happened. The battery was never disconnected. The service people had no idea. It turns out that low 'contrast' produces high brightness and high contrast makes the display quite dim. It is fixed for now, but the settings changing by themselves is quite mysterious.

Entune 5.2 (Aug 2016) still a bugfest

Since 5.1 was so buggy, I decided to update to 5.2. I have not tested it thoroughly, but I have tested it enough to know it is a bugfest. I have a 128gb usb thumb drive. This is not exotic hardware, and can be bought for $20 to $40. If you have about 400 top level directories, most of them seem unreadable to Entune. I reduced them down to about 80 and Entune seems able to find all the files. Sometimes when switching to the USB input, Entune scans the drive. No biggie, but it often hangs and you need to reboot it (aka power cycle the car) to get out of the hang. That is unacceptable. It doesn't seem significantly worse than 5.1 in my limited testing. I got my hands on an old 3rd generation iPod touch. It seems to be from 1000 years in the future compared to Entune (it was introduced in 2009). I think Entune might be state of the art for 1970 or so.

Well, after some more use I have noticed that Entume hangs regularly with my 128gb flash drive. I also noticed that when I turned the car off in the middle of the song, it resumed in the correct place. Entune used to do this correctly, but the last few versions would start at the beginning of the song. So something is better than 5.1. I am using a 2gb flash drive and have had no issues so far.

Entune Conclusion

It is clear to me that whoever developed the Entune radio has never seen a car radio before, or a mp3 player. Entune does so many stupid things. It is as bad as the drivetrain is good. I would pull it out of the car except that there is the car setup and monitoring features built into it. Using 'setup' will change many settings of the car. Using the 'car' button will display things like tire pressure (it is documented to work, but doesn't work on the car), historical mileage, and other useful stuff. It is curious that the documentation is so inaccurate.

Buying a car with a built-in GPS is a bad idea because you are beholden to the car maker for map updates, software updates, and traffic information. Buying a car with something like Entune is even worse, because it combines a GPS, a mp3 player, and car setup and monitoring functions. You are stuck with Toyota to make sure the user interface is good and that everything works. Unfortunately for me, the PiP has Entune, and there is no way to avoid it. In addition, there are a bunch of buttons on the steering wheel to control the radio and GPS. Total integration and total lock-in.

Kenwood makes a decent double DIN 'radio'. It uses Garmin GPS technology. A pretty smart idea. You can buy an adapter to make it work with the steering wheel buttons, but I have no idea how to use it to set up the car settings and get the car displays that Entune has.

The radio has another unique 'feature'. If you turn it off, and turn the car off, when you turn the car back on, the radio turns on also. Of course, it starts playing the USB input, no matter what you were listening to previously. I have no idea how Toyota came up with these user interface decisions... I just found out that if the car is running, and the radio is turned off, and then you open a door, the radio turns on. Yet more bad user interface design.

I hit the brakes hard while listening to the USB input. It switched to AM radio. The USB didn't come loose, as I switched back to USB input without incident.

Interior Lights

For some reason I cannot fathom, Toyota only used one LED as far as I have noticed in the interior of the car. It lights up the 'shift lever'. I replaced all the interior lights I could find with cheap LEDs I found on ebay.

I replaced the 2 overhead lights in the front passenger area. You want to use LEDs that put out their light straight down. That means that the light comes out at a 90 degree angle to the T10 connector.

I replaced the 2 vanity lights by the visors. You want to use LEDs that put out all their light parallel to the T10 connector, on one side only. I used generic 5 LED 5050 lights, as they were lying around and still put out more light than the silly light bulbs. You can buy LEDs that are a flat circuit board with the T10 connector at the end, and 4 5050 LEDs on one side of the circuit board. If you get LEDs that work with AC power, they are sure to work in the bulb socket no matter which way it is polarized.

I replaced the 2 lights on the front doors. You want to use the same LEDs as the vanity lights.

I replaced the overhead dome light with a flat array of 12 5050 LEDs. The array has an adapter to fit the festoon bulb socket, and the flat array is held on with strong double sided sticky tape, which is already applied to the back of the flat array.

I replaced the trunk light with a flat array of 6 5050 LEDs. The array has an adapter to fit the festoon bulb socket, but the adapter was too big. When I put it in, it shorted out and blew a micro fuse under the hood. I eventually soldered wires to the bulb socket. This was easy on one side, but the other side was steel or something else unsoderable. I wrapped the wire around the steel and soldered it to itself as tightly as I could make it. It has held up fine. It is also plenty bright, far brighter than the factory light bulb.

Exterior Lights

I replaced the front side marker lights with 5 LED 5050 bulbs. The socket is a bit lose, and I managed to drop the bulbs a few times. I managed to lose 2 bulbs this way. I recommend buying LEDs that have a wire on both sides of the T10 connector. Some only have one wire per side of the connector. They fit looser. You want to see two wires per side of the T10 connector. The one on the passenger side was hard to access. Removing the radiator coolant tank would probably help a bunch.

I replaced the front marker lights in the headlight assembly with 9 LED 5050 bulbs. You could use 5 LED bulbs as well. They were easy to access.

I replaced the license plate lights. You want to use use the same type of LEDs as the vanity light bulbs. This way, all the light will light up the license plate. If they are too long, the will bump against the exterior sheet metal and you won't be able to seat the T10 sockets. Get the shortest ones you can find.

I replaced the headlights with HID lights from XenonSupply.

Garmin GPS mount

The Entune GPS sucked so bad, I had to put my Garmin GPS in. I tried mounting it near the rear mirror, but there is a textured bumpy surface on the inside to provide some shade. This makes the suction cup not stick at all. I tried a super sticky dash mount. It is the Bracketron UFM-210-BL Nav Mat II. It lasted about 5 minutes before peeling off. I finally found a good solution. I got a ARKON GN042 Garmin Nuvi 8.5 inch Windshield Suction Gooseneck Mount with 17mm Ball Head. I paid $9.76 from Amazon. The suction cup attaches to the driver side tiny window that is in front of the side door window. The GPS mounts to the end of the gooseneck. The suction cup has come off once in 6 months. I would rather have the GPS on my right than left, but this works without modifying the dash (by gluing the GPS mount on). Highly recommended.

TRD Rear Anti-Roll bar

For reasons that elude me, the Prius is sold without a rear anti-roll bar. If you get the TRD performance package, you get it along with some 'lowering springs' and a body kit. The car is so low, it scrapes going out of many driveways. No idea why anyone would want to lower one unless they live where there are no driveways. However, the anti-roll bar is quite useful. It somewhat reduces the understeer found on almost all vehicles. There is still plenty of understeer after installing it. Though it is not very obvious, the rear bar includes the complete mounting kit, so there is only one part to order. Installation is pretty simple. The only tricky part is you need to have full weight on the rear wheels when tightening everything down. I jacked up the rear via the rear jacking point, and placed 4x4 pieces of wood under the rear wheels. I then lowered the wheels onto the wood. Remove the lower shock mounts, put in the bar, the center braces, the end links, and then reattach the lower shock mounts. Likely the best performance bang for the buck for the Prius.

Full Size Spare Tire

The plug in prius does not include a spare tire of any kind. It has a box of fix-a-flat and a tiny compressor. I added a tire patch kit and a real compressor. Still, that might not be enough. I ended up buying 4 2010 prius OEM wheels and tires, which happen to be the same size as the 2012 plug in prius (and all the 2012 standard sized prius) wheels. I only wanted one, but nobody was selling one. I ended up selling the other 3 to other plug in prius owners, who also wanted a real spare tire. I thought about a space saving spare which would be a bit less bulky. However, you are only supposed to go 50 mph and no more than 50 miles. With a full size spare, you can go as fast as you want, and as long as you want. I suspect a used one is also cheaper than a compact spare.

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