Toyota Highlander Hybrid Problems

by Dennis Hartman

Since 2006 Japanese automaker Toyota has offered a hybrid version of its Highlander mid-size crossover SUV. The Highlander Hybrid offers better fuel economy than its gas-powered counterpart while still giving owners the convenience of an SUV. Despite Toyota's reputation for quality vehicles, the Highlander Hybrid has been known to experience certain problems that owners and potential buyers should be aware of.


One of the most often cited problems with the Highlander Hybrid involves the vehicle's braking system. Owners have reported brakes that are overly sensitive, difficult to press hard enough to slow the vehicle, or excessively noisy. The Highlander Hybrid uses a combination braking system in which the electric motor is used to slow the vehicle unless extra stopping power is needed, in which case the hydraulic brakes are activated. For drivers used to conventional brakes, this system can be difficult to get used to and produce dangerous situations on the road.

Electrical System

Other known issues with the Highlander Hybrid involve the vehicle's electrical system. Though integrated with the electric drive system, these problems tend to occur in non-driving components. On early Highlander Hybrid models, power inverters have been known to fail, stopping the vehicle from being driven and requiring a costly repair. Some owners have also experienced problems with error codes and warning messages displayed on the dashboard. These messages may indicate problems with the vehicle systems that are working properly, or may remain on even after repairs are made.


The tires on some Highlander Hybrid models are another point of concern. Owners have reported tires that wear out quickly or unevenly. Because tires are considered part of the vehicle's general maintenance, there are reports that Toyota has been reluctant to compensate Highlander Hybrid owners who find themselves replacing tires prematurely. Replacing factory tires can also be difficult due to the fact that aftermarket manufacturers may only produce tires slightly larger or smaller than those specified by Toyota.


The Highlander Hybrid has been the subject of several recalls by Toyota. The largest of these occurred in 2008 when over 90,000 Highlander Hybrids were recalled due to third-row seat belts that failed to meet federal safety standards. New seat belts were installed to correct the problem. In 2009, Toyota was forced to recall just over 39,000 optional stainless steel exhaust tips that were prone to cracking, putting the Highlander Hybrid's exhaust system in danger of damage.

General Shortcomings

Some problems with the Highlander Hybrid are more a matter of opinion. Due to the space needed for battery packs and additional electric motors, Highlander Hybrids have slightly less passenger and cargo space than their gas-powered counterparts. In addition, the Highlander Hybrid has a less powerful gasoline engine, making it less powerful when the electric motors are not engaged and less fuel efficient during highway driving. Perhaps the biggest problem of this sort is the Highlander Hybrid's price, which can top $41,000. A standard Highlander is priced between $25,000 and $34,000.

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