2009 Toyota Prius - Click above for high-res image gallery

We'd wager that the last thing Toyota wants in the midst of the super-important launch of its new third-generation Prius is a negative stigma attached to the previous model. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the Japanese automaker may have on its hands right now as a number of owners of 2005-2008 Toyota Prius hybrids with the "high-intensity discharge" (HID) headlight option are banding together on online forums, message boards and in possible class action lawsuits against the automaker in relation to failing headlamps.

According to Advertising Age, these HID headlight bulbs and their associated electronics can sometimes cost well over $1,000 to replace after they've gone faulty, and Toyota is unwilling to pick up the tab. At least one lawsuit was filed last month by Girard Gibbs in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of a Putnam County, N.Y., Prius owner. The suit contends that the problem is a "dangerous but undisclosed safety defect" and alleges that "Toyota is concealing the problems from owners" despite having been "long been aware of Prius' HID headlight problem." It's possible that the suit will get class-action status.

The NHTSA has reportedly filed a preliminary investigation into the issue and contacted Toyota on May 13 regarding the 338 complaints it has received so far from Prius owners regarding the HID headlamps. Spokesmen from Toyota have said the automaker is cooperating with the NHTSA in its investigation, which may or may not end up calling for an official recall.

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[Source: Advertising Age]