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The headlights on a Toyota Prius.

David Dewhurst/Toyota

How much does it cost to replace a headlight for a Toyota Prius. I heard that it takes four hours of labour by a mechanic. – Ray in Montreal

There is a difference between replacing a bulb and replacing the entire light unit.

The bulb can be changed in 10 minutes, the light fixture itself will take a great deal longer, and likely involve removing many parts of the front end of the vehicle. But that is not unusual in today's crowded engine compartment.

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The cost of these entire fixtures has gone through the roof because of their complexity and incorporation into the design element of vehicle. The Prius is absolutely normal in this respect. Just ask any dealer or auto body repair shop that has to explain the huge bill to replace a "broken headlight" after a minor ding.

It used to be you went to somewhere like Canadian Tire, bought a round or rectangular light – they were all the same – and popped it into place. There was lots of room between the back of the light and the rest of the things in the engine compartment.

Now most vehicles – and there are more than 300 different models on new-car lots – have a different light fixture. That means dealers and auto parts stores have to purchase and stock a vast variety in order to have the right one when you walk in the door. And don't forget, they are not cheap as it is costly to manufacture these complex units in such small quantities.

If the light is merely burned out, the replacement cost is in the order of $20 plus perhaps a half-hour labour, because these new light fixtures take a separate bulb that can be easily replaced.

Back to your question: Toyota says that replacing a normal non-LED headlight on a Prius should cost about $641 a side. The unit itself costs $484.70 and the average national labour rate at a Toyota shop is $93.75. That works out to about 1.6 hours. Arguably a non-Toyota technician, unfamiliar with a Prius would take slightly longer.

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