Prius problems with Invisicord

So, the other day I was driving home from work on highway 518, and this black mustang pulls in behind me. I was traveling at the exact speed limit (or maybe up to 10 mph over!) and this guy was riding my tail the whole way until the I-5 turnoff. When I say he was on my tail, I mean I couldn’t see his grill in my rear view mirror-- he couldn’t have been more than 10 feet away at 70 mph…. scary incompetent. A few minutes later, a guy cuts in front of me, again at full speed, and I had to slam on my breaks to avoid hitting him. Given this, I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and buy a dash cam… that way if they did this again and we crashed, I would have video footage. Also, I have a tendency to report people who are assholes in traffic, and this will allow me to record the license plate number without my having to search for a pen and write on my leg at 70 mph.

So, I bought a dash cam… a Lukas LK-9700, with a Lukas lk-270-12vt power interruptor, with the intention of hooking it up the way it says in the manual. Well, it turns out I would need to find an “always on” fuse in the prius, then someplace to bolt the ground to the chassis. It turns out that in a Prius, the fuse box is in a ridiculously inaccessible location, such that you have to turn upside down and put your head on the drivers side floor, to look up at the fuses. And these are tiny little fuses that are extremely difficult to get out (there is a tool in the front fuse box-- rather there is SUPPOSED to be a tool there, but mine was missing), and I don’t have any way of tapping a fuse if I could find one that was always on, anyway. So, I did some research and found a simple and elegant solution, that turned out to be the start of a major nightmare… the Invisicord.

You see, the Prius comes with a special mirror, which senses daylight and automatically dims the mirror, and includes “homelink,” which allows you to program your garage door opener into the mirror, so you just press a button in the mirror instead of having to grab a different device. And it runs on a 12 volt feed! The invisicord product allows you to plug any 12 volt device directly into the mirror, but splicing off the electricity that powers this mirror. So I checked voltage and polarity to the 3 wires (red, black and black and white) going to the mirror, and confirmed that black was neutral, red was always on if the car was or not, and the white/black appeared to be 12 volt switched power, only coming on when the car was on. So, I cut the cable for the power interruptor, affixed in the invisicord ends to the cable, and plugged them in. The camera did nothing. It should have turned on as soon as the power was connected, as I connected to the always on power. I pressed the start button on the power interruptor, and the camera immediately powered up. After a few seconds, however, it started displaying LoPo, which is its signal indicating it has low power. I set the interruptor to 12v output and to stop supplying power when the battery reached 11.8 volts. I confirmed that the power coming through the homelink mirror was about 12 volts. The power coming through the other end, even though output voltage was set at 12 volts, was measured at 5 volts. I tried every combination of output voltage setting and it always stayed at 5 volts. Somehow, the power interruptor was dropping the voltage when it should have been passing it directly through. After dealing with this for a long time, I decided to just skip the power interruptor, as it was apparently malfunctioning.

So, I switched the invisicord tips to the power cable from the camera, bypassing the power interruptor. It came on right away and stayed on. Or at least it looked that way. In fact, it never appeared to turn off, but about every 30 seconds, the display very briefly went blank, then it immediately started the startup sequence again. We had to go to a party, and so I tested it out while driving, and if I recall, it stopped doing this as I was driving. Great, I thought. When I got there… strange things started to occur. When I powered the car off…. the car wouldn’t turn off. I initially thought it did as the engine went silent, but then AC kept blowing at me and the dashboard was still lit up, or at least parts were. I turned the car off and on again… same thing. So, I decided that I should just disable the thing by unplugging it… the car immediately shut down. After the party I had to go to work (8pm to 3 am shift… ugh). I plugged the camera in for driving and it seemed to work well. Got to Burien, where I work, and was in line at Starbucks, and I got to thinking… the Prius has a tiny 12 volt battery, and I don’t really want to finish a shift at 3 am and then find my battery dead. So I figured that i could just move the positive plug from the always on wire to the wire that was active only when the engine was running.

This, it turns out, was a big, HUGE mistake.

Immediately after this, I didn’t notice anything odd. There were no sounds, there was no indication of anything going wrong. Then I looked down at my dashboard… it was displaying a blinking “no gas” icon. Now, I had filled it less than 50 miles before, so there was no way it was out of gas. I stared at it, blinking a few times. Hmmm. So I decided to turnoff the car and back on again to see what was going on. On restart, everything looked ok except the gas was still flashing. Then, after about 5 seconds, all hell broke loose. All of the indicators on the dashboard went into full frenzied failure mode. The multifunction display (MFD) said P/S on it, and the touch screen wasn’t active anymore to change settings, the radio wasn’t working. It said my tires were flat, it said the parking brake was engaged. Like the HAL-2000, it was going insane. And the air conditioning system lost its mind. It started blasting hot air into the cabin. The indicator for what gear the car was in was going nuts, as well… park was indicated all the time, but every second it flashed so that the background behind all of the letters, D, N, R, B, P etc (apparently called the “running mode indicator”) were lighting up. This kept going no matter what gear I moved the indicator into. I quickly unplugged the camera. The motor did turn on, and I was relieved to find out that despite the flashing running mode indicator, it did continue to respond to the stick shift and did move forward when I pressed the gas. I was even more pleased to find that the brakes still worked fine.

Unfortunately, I found out fairly quickly that the steering had become an issue. I was able to turn the wheels with a great amount of effort-- it seems that the p/s warning on the info panel means that power steering is deactivated. Man how I now appreciate power steering in the prius… making a sharp corner is VERY hard without power steering. Anyway, I managed to make the crippled car hobble to work without an explosion or fire, but it was less than a mile. Let me just tell you that I was pretty distracted during my shift at work. Fortunately it was not busy, and I got to spend quite a bit of time on the internet trying to find out what was going on. I thought I might have friend the car’s computer.

It is hard to find any information on similar problems as this, it turns out. What is the proper search term for “my prius has P,D,R,N,B all blinking, power steering doesn’t work, and p/s indicator light is on after trying to tap power from a home link mirror.” That particular search turned up nothing. Nothing else really did either, untilI found one where someone tried to tap power from their home link mirror for a radar detector. He also had some problems, but not as extensive as mine, and it turned out he had fried a fuse.

So, I was hoping that was the case, and at the end of my shift, I went out to face the car. My intention was to pull a bunch of fuses and see how they all were, but it turned out the tool to pull the fuses was not where it was supposed to be, so I was stuck driving home this crippled car. To be sure-- I expected it to fail at some point on the trip and I would be stuck at the side of the road. All I wanted to do to feel successful was to get in range where I could call AAA and have them tow it to my location (I think they tow up to 20 miles, and work is 26 miles from home). So, my plan was to drive until it broke down, then to call AAA. Remember, every error that could be was displaying. I had the hot air blasting against me and had no control. If I had no control of that, then what is the cooling system inside the car doing? I couldn’t even see how fast the car was going, and I was driving slower than everyone else, as I was never sure the steering wouldn’t fail completely. Moreover, I had no idea if the battery was being charged normally, if it was draining to empty or if it was being overcharged… any of these things could be disastrous for my trip. But, somehow, it managed to limp back home.

This morning I managed to find an alternate tool to pull the fuses… sure enough, the ECU-IGN fuse was blown. It was a 7.5 amp fuse, and I cannot imagine how this could have been blown by a very low power camera… it should not have shorted anything.

Anyway, a quick trip to the auto store to buy a replacement fuse, and a brief 5 minute disconnection of the 12v battery, and the car acts like nothing ever happened.

So, for those of you who don;t want to read this whole diatribe, the motto of the story is this:

DON’T USE AN INVISICORD ON THE HOMELINK MIRROR OF A PRIUS!

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