really awful
Crashes / Fires:
3 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
51,023 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 drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments

problem #6

Jun 152014


  • 78,000 miles


Noticed white smoke coming out of the tailpipe in June. Then I noticed reddish/pink fluid accumulating on garage floor in July. Took it in assuming either a coolant or transmission fluid leak. Toyota told me I needed a new engine because the back headbolts were stripped and the head gasket was blown. All this was determined without removing valve cover and cams, but instead because it's a known issue. Many owners report the same thing on message boards.

- Tampa, FL, USA

problem #5

Jul 192013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 77,867 miles
I was backing my car from across the street. After shifting to drive, my car jumped back in reversed full speed crash in to my garage. I had my foot on the brake but wouldn't stop till it hit my garage wall.

- Overland Park , KS, USA

problem #4

May 152012

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 62,000 miles
On April 15, 2013 while parking my 2003 Toyota Highlander all of a sudden my car accelerated while shifting from reverse to drive while I was parking. Suddenly my car took off with the engine full speed to red line on the tachometer in a space of four feet it jumped the parking block and smashed into the center block wall with my foot on the brake. The damage to my car was $2000. This was the second time this has happened. I consider myself lucky, because I could have been hurt and other people. I am scared now when I drive my car.

- Sylmar, CA, USA

problem #3

Oct 162009

Highlander 4WD

  • 23,270 miles


I pulled into a parking space at a shopping center near my home, then backed up a few feet in order to straighten my car. When I put the transmission into drive, the car suddenly surged forward entirely on its own, striking the concrete barrier a few feet in front of my car. I did not accelerate, there were no floor mats on the driver's side, and the force threw me against the steering wheel. A witness ran over to see I was injured, but I was just badly frightened. The front fender was dented, but actually popped back out as I was standing beside my car with the witness. I had previously complained about the engine alternately slowing and surging as I drove, usually only at speeds up to 40mph, to my local service department. When I called my service department, they gave me a toll free number where I spoke to a Toyota case manager who assigned me a case number and treated me very coldly and with suspicion, asking personal questions about my health, insurance company and driving record. I said I was just concerned that my car had behaved like one I had just heard about on the local news, and I wanted to know what to do and prevent others from experiencing what had happened to me or worse the case mgr. Said they would call me back. They never called back. The following month I took my car in for service and asked them to check the electrical system. They said they found no problems.

- Reno, NV, USA

problem #2

Jan 012010


  • 65,000 miles
2003 V6 AWD Toyota Highlander front to rear drive shaft failure (propeller shaft).

- Hanover, MA, USA

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problem #1

Jul 062007


  • 0 miles
Gentlemen: I am writing you this E-mail because there is a problem with my car that is not only irritating, but is potentially dangerous to all who own a full time four-wheel drive Toyota Highlander. My Highlander is a 2003, and although we were promised full time four-wheel drive when we bought it, we found out later to our horror that it is not. When driving down a paved highway, all four wheels are driving. This is a time when four-wheel drive is not needed. However, a few months ago, we drove off the pavement into sand on a picnic trip, but did not worry because the ┐full time┐ four-wheel drive would pull us out. It did not! one of the front wheels began to spin in the sand and the other three immediately stopped driving. We were stuck! the problem is that the differential between the front and rear wheels is not anti-slip, but the standard differential that will stop all wheels from driving when one looses traction. This is hardly full-time four-wheel drive no matter how you define it. We were sold a car we paid for but did not get, and something needs to be done to rectify this situation. Who knows how many customers have been bilked by Toyota with this car, and will get them into trouble thinking they had a car that would pull them out. I would like to start a class action law suit to get our money back or get a free car that is indeed the full time four wheel drive we paid for and deserve.

- Placerville, CA, USA

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