really awful
Crashes / Fires:
13 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
3 / 0
Average Mileage:
68,856 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 engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #23

Dec 292016


  • 150,000 miles


The contact owned a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While the vehicle was in reverse, it accelerated independently. The contact stated that the brake pedal was depressed, but failed to effectively slow down the vehicle. The gear shifter was placed into drive and the vehicle sped forward and crashed into a tree. The air bags failed to deploy. There were no injuries and a police report was not filed. The vehicle was towed to an independent mechanic. The failure recurred twice prior to the crash. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 150,000. The vehicle was destroyed.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #22

Jun 182016


  • 156,160 miles
Saturday June 18 2016 at 6:40 a.M. driving on tully road in my 2003 Toyota Highlander. My speed was 35 miles per hour when the car suddenly accelerated at a high rate of speed. I applied my brakes to slow down the Highlander this had no effect on slowing down the Highlander. The brakes went into anti locking mode the wheels started to pulsate. While this was happening my foot was not on the accelerator, but on the brakes. The Highlander was not slowing down but increasing speed. I down shifted into a lower gear, the engine raced at a high rpms. I then put the car in neutral the rpms still racing at a high rate. I then applied the brakes again to slow down. The Highlander started to slow down I then turned off the engine and then came to a stop. I waited for a minute and started the car the engine raced at a high rpms as if my foot was pushed all the way down on the accelerator, but my foot was not on the gas pedal. I waited again a few minutes to start the Highlander, the same high rpms happening again. A few minutes later I tried again to start the Highlander and this time the Highlander idled normal. I turned the Highlander around and went home which was half a mile away. The total distance of uncontrolled acceleration was in my estimation over 1,000 yards. I had to Highlander towed to stevens creek Toyota where it remains now June 27 2016.

- San Jose, CA, USA

problem #21

Jan 152016


  • 95,268 miles
Pulling into a parking space at kaiser hospital as I hit the brake the car unexpectedly accelerated. The car sped forward while my foot was still on the brake. I hit a tree causing damage to the left front area of the car (lights, fender, bumper) had car repaired. At the time I thought that I had accidentally hit the gas pedal;however, one month later while approaching an intersection, as I stopped, the same thing happened. Luckily no car or pedestrian was in the intersection. I was able to stop the car by shifting into park. Took the car to my mechanic. He was unable to replicate the problem. Since this unexpected acceleration occurred in the same way (coming to a stop with foot on brake and gear-shift in drive), in a five week period, it could be a transmission or accelerater problem. I no longer feel confident driving the car and consider it unsafe.

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #20

Dec 312015


  • 51,082 miles


The contact owned a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The contact stated that while the brake pedal was depressed, the vehicle accelerated rapidly without warning causing a crash. The contact sustained injuries to her left foot. Medical attention was required. A police report was filed. The vehicle was towed and deemed destroyed. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 51,082.

- Broomfield, CO, USA

problem #19

Nov 182013

Highlander 6-cyl

  • miles
Grandmother was leaving and drove through a closed wrought iron gate that was over 10' tall and 16' wide. Continued accelerating through a parking lot across the street, drove over a large decorative boulders and came to halt after crashing into a neighbors fence. She said that she attempted to stop in front of her gate to open it but the breaks would not work and the car kept accelerating. Thankfully it ended how it did leaving her with minor injuries. It is also disgusting knowing that it could have been much worse and if a car defect is the reason nothing will be done until deaths begin to occur.

- Albuquerque, NM, USA

problem #18

Jul 112013

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 101,400 miles
On 7-11-13, going at highway speed on route 52 in North Carolina, the throttle became stuck wide open causing my car to accelerate beyond my control. I slowed down to get off on the side of the highway, but I could not stop the car, only slow it down, to approximately 10-15 mph. Got back on the road and took the next exit. Again I could not stop the car, and though I slowed again to about 10-15 mph, I drifted through the intersection at the stop sign, with traffic approaching from both left and right! I turned sharply left, got off to the side of the road, and turned the key off to stop the car. God was watching, because no collision occurred. When I started the engine again, it roared like I've never heard it before. Somehow, I don't remember how, I got the car about 100 yards down the road to a marathon gas station, to get completely off the road and out of the way. A man stopped and walked over to me, telling me that my throttle was stuck because of a faulty tps (throttle position sensor). He introduced himself as a mechanic, who formerly worked at a Toyota dealership, and said that was a "known? problem with Toyota. He towed me to his house, replaced the tps, and we tested the car, to the satisfaction of both of us. It ran just fine, so I followed him to the pnc bank to get money to pay him. While there, the lady helping me, in response to my story, told me that her Toyota parked outside had the very same problem! except it cost her a lot more than my tow & repair did. My incident was most definitely a part failure, not an operator error, or a problem due to floor mats, as is alleged in the pending unintended acceleration" litigation against Toyota, and my 2003 Highlander is not specifically listed in that litigation information on-line. I am sending a letter to Toyota, the ntsb and our local dealership where we purchased the car.

- Bay Village, OH, USA

problem #17

Dec 062011

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 85,000 miles


Car accelerated and chased into house in Nov 20011. Car accelerated in parking lot Dec. 2012. No damage this time but in 2011 there was 14,000 $ damage to house and car. Car was checked out at Toyota twice, no problem found. Wife will never drive the car again. She is infear of hurting someone.

- Homosassa, FL, USA

problem #16

Jan 262011

Highlander 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While driving approximately 25 mph, the contact applied to brakes but the vehicle began to accelerate. The contact tried several ways to stop the vehicle (shifting into neutral, using the emergency brake) but the vehicle continued to rev. The tires also were spinning. The contact shifted into neutral again and turned the vehicle off which stopped it. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer who stated that the transmission dropped and the extra floor mat caused the failure. The vehicle had not been repaired. The current and failure mileages were 90,000. Updated 03/24/11 the consumer stated the floor mat was nowhere near the gas pedal. It was securely in place. Updated 11/16/11

- Fullerton, CA, USA

problem #15

Nov 012010


  • 125,000 miles
Auto was stopped three feet from another auto. Sudden non initiated acceleration (full throttle) with damage to other vehicle severe, minimal to Highlander.

- Saint Johns, FL, USA

problem #14

Jul 202010


  • 95,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While attempting a right turn at approximately 5 mph, the vehicle abnormally accelerated and crashed into another vehicle. There were no injuries. A police report was available. The vehicle was towed to an authorized dealer where they were unable to diagnose the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileages were 95,000.

- Washington, DC, USA

problem #13

Jul 082010


  • 86,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While driving 50 mph, the accelerator pedal became stuck to the floorboard in the open throttle position. The vehicle proceeded to accelerate without driver intent. The contact was able to stop the vehicle by turning it off. The vehicle was taken to the dealer for diagnostic testing. The current and failure mileages were 86,000.

- Madison , NJ, USA

problem #12

May 162008


  • 55,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While driving at 75 mph utilizing the cruise control mechanism, he attempted to shut off the cruise control when the vehicle abnormally accelerated up to 90 mph. He immediatley put the vehicle into neutral and depressed the brake pedal almost to the floor. The vehicle finally came to a stop when he noticed that the driver's side floor mat was lying over the accelerator pedal. He immediately removed all floor mats from the vehicle and had not experienced the failure since. The approximate failure mileage was 55,000 and the current was 96,000.

- Santa Fe, NM, USA

problem #11

Feb 162010


  • 62,300 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. He stated that while driving 2 mph with his foot on the brake pedal, it accelerated on its own without a warning and crashed into a building. There were front end damages to the vehicle. There were no injuries. The vehicle was towed. A police report was available. The dealer was contacted and they stated that his vehicle was not on the recall list. There were repairs made to the vehicle. The failure and current mileages were 62,300.

- Roanoke, VA, USA

problem #10

Aug 102008

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 75,752 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The contact was driving 5 mph when the vehicle accelerated to 90 mph. The contact applied the brake which did not work. The contact then put the gear neutral which slowed the vehicle down and she was able to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, however the engine was still racing. The contact called the manufacturer but no action was taken. Failure mileage was 75,752. Updated 04/09/10. Updated evoq 06/08/10. Updated 06/15/10.

- Milton Mass, MA, USA

problem #9

Apr 282008


  • 56,546 miles
On Monday, April 28, 2008 at approximately 7:45 a.M. cdt, I drove my 2003 Toyota Highlander on to the employee parking lot at unigroup, Inc. As I always did, I pulled up past my assigned parking spot, stopped, and put the vehicle in reverse to back into my space. When I moved my foot from the brake to the accelerator and turned the steering wheel to back into space 304, the SUV suddenly accelerated at a tremendous speed, hit and bounced off the Ford Explorer parked in space 305 and then hit the Subaru legacy wagon parked in space 317 immediately behind space 304. One witness who was in the parking lot at the time later told me that while he did not see the crash, he heard a huge roar of a motor and the crashing noise of the impact. The owner of the Subaru also did not see the initial acceleration of the SUV, but heard the tires screeching and turned in time to see my SUV hit his Subaru. Both of the two witnesses helped me load the back bumper of my Highlander into the cargo area. Prior to going into the office, I checked the floor mat under the steering wheel, but could not see any indication that it in any way had moved. I am convinced that the only thing that stopped my Highlander was the fact that it hit the two vehicles in spaces 305 and 317. Later that day (4.28.2008), I called Toyota to report the incident. I was told by a representative by the name of barbara that there were no problems or recalls on the Highlander, only the Camry (this according to the NHTSA.) my report was given. There was extensive damage to my SUV and the two other vehicles that were hit. Thus far, Toyota has not acknowledged that my vehicle (2003 Highlander) is included in the recall and since the VIN # begins with a J, I am told that there is no problem with any vehicle made in Japan. Therefore, I cannot even take it to a dealership for repairs. I am left in limbo with a defective Toyota.

- Arnold, MO, USA

problem #8

Jan 012010


  • 80,000 miles
2003 Toyota Highlander, I have a randomly occurring problem with the gas pedal sticking when you are trying to accelerate from a stop. My year model is not included in the current recall but I wanted to make you aware that there are other possible problems out there. I have called the dealership and they said without being able to duplicate the problem there is nothing that I can do and it is randomly occurring.

- Deer Park, TX, USA

problem #7

Jan 272010

(reported on)


  • miles
2003 Toyota Highlander uncontrolled surge in acceleration. Consumer states there was limited to no use when the brake pedal was depressed. The consumer stated the floor mat played absolutely no role in the sudden acceleration incident. The truck was taken to the dealer where they replaced numerous parts, but could not explain the cause.

- Unknown, DC, USA

problem #6

Aug 082008


  • 82,467 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While driving 45 mph the accelerator pedal became stuck. He down-shifted, then shifted the vehicle into neutral, and then applied the brakes. He was able to stop the vehicle. During the failure, the floor mat was not under the pedal. The vehicle was taken to the dealer for inspection. The technician stated that the throttle was open, which could affect the speed. However the dealer could not duplicate the problem or locate any diagnostic error codes.. the failure mileage was 82,467.

- Kearsarge, NH, USA

problem #5

Jun 102009

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 112,000 miles
Throttle stuck open and continued to accelerate on my 2003 Toyota Highlander limited while driving North on rt 4 in calvert county, md. It was necessary to weave in and out of traffic until I could safely get off road. Had vehicle towed to nearest garage. Mechanic blamed throttle body assembly and cleaned. Drove vehicle home without incident. Throttle again stuck open next time I started vehicle and began to drive away from house. I had the towed vehicle to bayside Toyota, prince frederick, md with throttle still stuck open for them to see what was occurring. Service manager said it was necessary to replace throttle body assembly which was bad. Replaced to the tune of $1,668.74. Service manager, who suggested my floor mat may have pushed down throttle before tow truck arrived, said I was lucky to get the car to the garage since the worn throttle body assembly made driving dangerous. I sent a letter to Toyota motor sales usa, Inc, torrance, ca on 07/10/2009, and explained the incident, the possible dangerous results, and the high cost of repair. Toyota responded with an acknowledgment dated 07/25/2009, and said I could call their office if interested in discussing incident. I called and their representative said they had no record of similar incidents, and the vehicle had to many years and miles for a warranty consideration of a credit on the new throttle body assembly. I don't know if this conversation resulted in a record being made since I received a duplicate of the 07/25/2009 acknowledgement letter in 09/2009. Unfortunately, I was unaware of the throttle body assembly being a problem in Toyota vehicles prior to the repair, and I did not request the old part be returned to me. I do have my copy of correspondence to Toyota and their acknowledgment of receipt. Updated 06/14/10.

- Port Republic, MD, USA

problem #4

Oct 012007

Highlander 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 5 miles
While attempting to park my 2003 Toyota Highlander at a mcdonald's, as I was applying the brake and almost parked, the car suddenly accelerated, jumped the curb and crashed through the entrance of the mcdonald's. I continued to apply the brake when this happened, and it would not stop.

- Pasadena, TX, USA

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