2018 Toyota Highlander Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Fuel system, powertrain, and electrical issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

SUVs are taking over the roadways, with the 2018 Toyota Highlander remaining one of the top options. The newer models claim to be “refined for the daily drive,” which makes many people wonder if the 2018 Highlander was the one that needed to be upgraded. After all, this Toyota SUV features a defective fuel system, a malfunctioning powertrain, a faulty electrical system, shoddy service brakes and poor visibility.

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NHTSA Complaints for the 2018 Toyota Highlander

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Service Brakes
Unknown Or Other
Electrical System
Air Bags
Fuel/propulsion System
Fuel System, Gasoline
Power Train

Click on other model year to view more problems: 2019   2020   2021   2022

Problems with the Fuel System and Powertrain

One of the biggest problems that the 2018 Toyota Highlander is known for is the fuel pump failure. This has been the subject of many complaints, as well as class-action lawsuits.

Here’s one Edmunds review to consider. “The 2018 Toyota Highlanders (possibly 2019) have a recall on the fuel pump according to the Department of Transportation for which there is no remedy at this time.  This could be a mechanical problem and a potential safety issue according to their notice.”

In November 2020, Toyota issued NHTSA Campaign Number 20V682000 stating that the low-pressure fuel pump inside the tank could fail. However, the company has left customers without a repair, continuing to push off the date that parts will be available. Because of this, class action lawsuits have been filed as customers are left without resolution or a loaner vehicle to replace the defective SUV. Clearly, this is one instance of a system that needs to be “refined” in the future, if Toyota doesn’t go bankrupt before that happens.

In a family-focused SUV, the powertrain ensures the drive is smooth for all occupants, but this defective system in the Highlander is causing quite a stir.

Here’s another Edmunds review. “This is the most aggravating vehicle I can recall ever driving. I’ve had it for three months now and very much regret buying it. Overall, it’s a very good SUV but the transmission/drivetrain is a failure. The 8-speed transmission is uncertain and unpredictable at lower speeds (less than 30 mph). It hesitates, stalls, downshifts, and does whatever else it decides to do without any warning or sense of purpose. We live in Washington, DC, and driving in stop-and-go traffic in this Highlander is frustrating and dangerous since we don’t know what it will or will not do when we need it to go now! I drive a lot of rental vehicles and have never experienced anything this bad; in fact, the 1996 Nissan Pathfinder I gave up for this was far, far smoother.”

Toyota isn’t ashamed to discuss transmission problems. Service Bulletin #ZJC-Toyota POL19 discusses a whining noise, harsh shifting, warning lights and a reduction in power due to defects with this system. Toyota points to the washer tab that got bent during assembly. This vital component prevents the loosening of the nut inside the transmission. It might seem like a small part but shouldn’t have been overlooked during manufacturing. Maybe moving forward, part of the Toyota refinement program will be hiring assemblers that pay attention at work.

Problems with the Electrical System

Today’s vehicles are equipped with tons of electrical components that can make or break the entire ride. Sadly, the Highlander suffers from complaints that cause this SUV to fail with customers.

Here’s one more Edmunds review illustrating some of the troubles. “I have a new 2018 Toyota Highlander XLE and the GPS is BEYOND ABYSMAL.  Better GPS units existed ten years ago and NO, I am not exaggerating.  I have persisted with the GPS in ten states now and this is a hardware, map data, and algorithms problem.  The navigation system is junk and Toyota has to know it.”

Again, Toyota is proud of all the problems. Even addressing Bluetooth issues with Service Bulletin #T-TT-0600-20 Rev. This document shows that people using the Hands Free system might experience echoing. This is great for people that enjoy hearing themselves speak, but not so great for anyone hoping to have a meaningful conversation.

Problems with the Service Brakes

The brakes in a vehicle are designed to stop the SUV. Yet, the Highlander exhibits many braking troubles that might put people at risk.

One NHTSA complaint states, “Intermittently during normal driving conditions, there exists instances where brake hydraulic failure occurs. At times, the ‘Brake’ indicator light will illuminate associated with increased brake pedal feel. Braking power is reduced. Also, driver display screen displays ‘Braking Power Low’ warning indication. After stop and placing in Park, brake hydraulic power returns and operates as normal.”

It turns out, Toyota issued a recall for this system as well. NHTSA Campaign Number 18V211000. The Highlander contains a brake booster vacuum pump that might not have been machined correctly, leading to a loss of braking assist that could create an accident. Maybe Toyota is hoping that owners total the SUV; then they wouldn’t need to replace all the defective parts after all.

Problems with Visibility

Finally, a look at the auto glass shows even more concerns, creating the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Another look at the NHTSA website reveals this statement. “The windshield cracked spontaneously at two years old. The vehicle was not even moving and never got struck with a stone or vehicle debris. The crack is very clean and linear without any dent and starts from the bottom of the windshield all the way to one-fourth of the height of the windshield on the passenger front side. Numerous complaints about this problem are logged in Toyota Customer Complaint Website about the Toyota Highlander from 2016-2018 having the same problem.”

It should come as no surprise that there is also a recall related to the windshield. NHTSA Campaign Number 18E107000 states a manufacturing defect can cause water to enter through the windshield and get to the wiring harness. ECM damage can result from this problem, leading to stalling, which could create a crash. To refine all the problems found with a 2018 Toyota Highlander, it might be easier for the automaker to create a whole-new vehicle. Starting from scratch might be easier than repairing all of the current issues.

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Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

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  • Susan M

    Got a 2018 Highlander at a Toyota dealer not knowing it was “as is no warranty” back on Feb 2020. Now the car turns off while I drive, I almost drove into a school bus with all 4 kids in my car a week ago. I have the brake issues as well and the car not accelerating, I have to turn the car on and off for the issue to go away. I tried reaching out to the dealer for electrical issues but they ignored my calls and never responded to any of my emails.

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