really awful
Crashes / Fires:
4 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
4 / 0
Average Mileage:
43,936 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Toyota Highlander brakes problems

brakes problem

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2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments

problem #15

Jan 162012

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 100,000 miles


ABS engages intermittently when accelerating from a complete stop.

- Robbinsville, NJ, USA

problem #14

Feb 222011


  • 100,000 miles
Brake light bulb burns out periodically

- Long Beach, CA, USA

problem #13

Sep 012010

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 93,500 miles
This car has been dealer maintained from day one. Last year, we began noticing an odd, loud drumming sound occurring along with resistance to acceleration in slow speed situations. This included parking lots, stopping for a left turn within an intersection, and every other situation where we needed to maneuver at low speed. The vehicle would vibrate, the engine would not accelerate, and sometimes the car would lurch within a turn. It became alarmingly severe and the periods between incidents began to shorten. While still intermittent, we began to be concerned and took it to the NY dealer who had been servicing the car since it was new. We reported exactly what I have written above, including the comment that the anti-skid light would come on the dash when this happened. After charging us over $900 for fluid replacement and reattaching a vacuum hose, we were told we had no problem, that the noise was normal. It occurred again when we left the dealers lot. The pavement was dry. After a few weeks of increasing difficulty we took it to a different dealer, to be told that our tires were worn. We replaced the tires, and the problem persisted on either wet or dry pavement. With a cross-country trip coming up, we took the car to an aamco, who test drove it and said we had an ABS brake problem. They kept it for three days, and charged us $400 having found a piece of rusted metal they believed was preventing one of the wheel sensors from making constant contact. It felt better, but the problem began to show up again in a couple of days. We could not put the trip off, and drove the car cross country, having the problem re-occur in almost every low speed situation, when we got to New Mexico we made an appointment with the dealer who sold us the car. They said it was unsafe to drive and after four days, told us the ABS ECU was malfunctioning. It cost $2178 to replace. The replaced component is a sealed electronic module with no moving parts. It should have lasted.

- Placitas, NM, USA

problem #12

Apr 042006


  • miles


2003 Toyota Highlander 4.0 have had serious problems with the brakes on this vehicle since I purchased it due to Toyota originally installing brakes that are too small for the size of this vehicle. Trying to get it to a stop is a problem and the brakes fail alot as well as the fact that they destroy the oem rotors and pads and I have replaced the pads several times as well as had the rotors turned twice and now need to replace all 4 rotors and pads due to this something really needs to be done to fix this issue per Toyota.

- Tampa, FL, USA

problem #11

May 262010

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 97,000 miles
Vsc (vehicle stability control, including ABS) & check engine lights have been turning on intermittently almost from the start of our ownership of this 2003 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD limited and after costly repairs at the dealer they are still on continuously. Last time (may-June 2010) dealer replaced front brake pads & rotors; rear axles and speed sensors and now wants to replace additional components that do not appear connected. First time car was serviced under warranty at dealer and that too did not last for long. Toyota car satisfaction center has not been helpfull. Case # [xxx]. Ford has issued a recall for similar issue recently: 10S13 for rear axle breakage in the snow belt! Toyota refuses to acknowledge issue and internet has many discussions on topic. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- West Bloomfield, MI, USA

problem #10

Jun 292010

(reported on)

Highlander 6-cyl

  • miles
2003 Toyota Highlander. Consumer states problem with brakes the consumer stated after he picked his vehicle up from the dealer after having the 60,000 mile service done, he heard a clicking noise coming from the front wheels when driving over uneven pavement or speed bumps at low speeds. The vehicle was taken back to the dealer within days. The vehicle was returned to the dealer and the clicking noise from the brakes had been remedied. In March 2010, while driving on the highway, the consumer detected a shimmy coming from the front end and transmitting through the steering wheel when the brake was applied. The shimmy continued with increased intensity over time during his trip and there was an odor of smoke coming from the passenger side of the vehicle. A closer inspection revealed, the right front wheel had excessive brake dust and it seemed to be hotter than the other side along with a burning smell coming from the same location. The consumer returned to the dealer. The consumer was informed the rotors needed to be replaced and the right front caliper had seized and needed to be replaced as well. The consumer stated according to the invoice, the rotors were replaced due to excessive heat, along with the brake pads and caliper.

- Rotonda West, FL, USA

problem #9

Mar 102009


  • 60,000 miles


Car was being driven slowly in traffic. When other cars stopped, the brakes were applied. Instead of stopping, the car continued forward, hitting another car. It seemed as though the brakes did not work. The car was taken to the dealer the next day to have the brakes evaluated. We were told that the repairman saw those kind of accidents all the time with anti-lock brakes. " you cannot hit them hard or they will fail".

- Manhasset, NY, USA

problem #8

Jan 112010

Highlander 4WD

  • 10,000 miles
I routinely have difficulty with my brakes on my 2003 Toyota Highlander. I brought the car to the dealer several times and they were never able to reproduce the problem. Just recently I discovered that the problem is cuased by my "big feet" - I am a size 14. If my foot is straight up and down the top of my shoe or boot rests against the metal bracket and I lose all the leverage on the brake. In essence - I have to stand on the brake to make the car stop. I now try to remember to keep my foot tilted to the side so that I only push on the rubber pad of the brake pedal. I don't believe that I should alter how I apply the brakes to get them to work. The brake pedal design needs to be changed. At least twice I have had near accidents when I had to stop suddenly and my reflex was to brake noramlly - not tilt my foot to the side. I entered the last date this occured.

- Malvern, PA, USA

problem #7

Jan 272009


  • 95,310 miles
I have replaced the brakes in my 2003 Highlander in Feb and Aug 2008 complaining of squealing and occasional grinding. I returned in Oct, Nov and Dec only to be told they hear no noise. I E-mailed the service mgr in Jan 2009 and they picked up serviced & delivered the car to me. Within 24 hours I had grinding again. I was wondering if these are the same brakes they used on the 2004 Lexus. My husband was unable to stop last week and did tap the bumper of the car in front of us, fortunately their bumper was not a Toyota so it did not scratch like ours does.

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #6

Nov 272005

Highlander 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 67,000 miles
: the consumer hit a patch of black ice traveling at 45 mph when approaching a stop sign; the vehicle proceeded through a stop sign striking another vehicle in the passenger side. The airbags did not deploy. The pre-braking was minimal due to the icy road conditions. Both occupants of the vehicle were wearing seat belts and sustained minor injuries. Police were on the scene and a report was taken. The vehicle sustained extensive damage, but was not totaled due to assessment of the insurance adjustor and the lack of airbag deployment. Prior to the accident, the airbag warning light illuminated in cold temperatures, but the vehicle was not seen by a dealer for this problem. Prior to the accident, the rear brakes and rotors were replaced. Updated 03/03/06. Updated

- Schuyler Falls, NY, USA

problem #5

Mar 012005

Highlander 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 36,232 miles


I have an '03 Toyota Highlander. Brakes failed while parking causing me to crash into cement retaining wall. The brake pedal went all the way to the floor and the brakes failed to slow and stop. There is body damage and leaking fluids as a result. The car has been towed to a Toyota dealer. Brakes have yet to be evaluated. This has not happened before. Although the car was moving slowly I was injured upon impact.

- Seattle, WA, USA

problem #4

Mar 242003


  • miles
2003 Toyota Highlander brakes malfunctioning. Nar 07/09/2003. The consumer requested that the dealership reimburse them all expenses due to a faulty vehicle.

- Laguna Niguel, CA, USA

problem #3

Apr 032003


  • miles
2003 Toyota Highlander's braking system seems to be defective. The consumer is requesting a lease termination for the 2003 Toyota Highlander in accordance to the Georgia lemon law.

- Bonaire , GA, USA

problem #2

Aug 292003

(reported on)


  • miles
Ltr fm william lorber (ca) concerned about the brake problem on his 2003 Toyota Highlander and request Toyota to replace them. Consumer stated the brakes felt as if the master cylinder was faulty. He notified the dealer several times and they stated the brakes were "functioning as designed." Even the dealers service personnel said the same thing after he almost rear-ended a vehicle at 35 mph while test driving the Highlander. The vehicle was taken back to the dealer to try to have the problem resolved but it was not. The consumer was told if he returned again for brake problems, he would be charged a service call. Once again the diagnoses was "functioning as designed." The consumer was told the brakes on the vehicle were smaller and with the added weight it would take longer to stop

- Laguna Niguel, CA, USA

problem #1

Jul 032003

(reported on)


  • miles
Problems with vehicle brakes, master cylinder was faulty. The brakes faded while the consumer attempted to stop the vehicle. The consumer was told by the technician that the brakes were functioning as designed. The consumer requested reimbursement if the brakes were design this way.

- Laguna Niguel, CA, USA

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