2020 Toyota Highlander Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Brake, engine, structure, and fuel-related issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

SUVs continue to grow in popularity, including the 2020 Toyota Highlander. The automaker claims owners can “discover more quality for family time,” with this model. But owners who have experienced exploding sunroofs, malfunctioning brakes, faulty fuel gauges, and structure issues, including side mirrors that vibrate, don’t regard this as quality time.

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Most Commonly Reported Problems

There are all sorts of problems that owners of the 2020 Toyota Highlander are reporting to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in complaints. In terms of numbers, the most common relate to faulty brakes and fuel gauges. Other major issues relate to the structure of the SUV, including vibrating side mirrors and sunroofs that spontaneously explode. Although there are not many complaints about the airbags, most of them report injuries due to airbags not deploying.

There are also a significant number of complaints about the engine of the 2020 Highlander, although a large percentage of them combine problems with the brakes or structure.

Other components and systems that feature in complaints include the electrical system, electronic stability control (ESC), equipment, land departure, powertrain, seat belts and seats, steering, suspension, tires, vehicle speed control, visibility, and wheels.

There are also four recalls that affect the 2020 Highlander.

2020 Toyota Highlander Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Service Brakes
22
22
Fuel/propulsion System
17
17
Unknown Or Other
17
17
Engine
10
10
Structure:body
10
10
Electrical System
7
7
Power Train
7
7
Structure
4
4
Vehicle Speed Control
4
4
Air Bags
3
3

Recalls

One that relates to the fuel system, gasoline, and the engine of the SUV affects 38,810 2020 Highlander vehicles with a 3.5 L, V6 (2GR-FKS) gasoline engine. Due to an engine control unit (ECU) programming error, fuel may not be correctly supplied to the engine while using the stop and restart feature. This can result in a vehicle stall, which increases the risk of a crash.

Another recall affects 3,121 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid MY 2020 vehicles that have incorrect seat trim covers. The problem is that these can prevent the seat-mounted side airbag from deploying properly. Airbags are also affected by occupant classification system (OCS) sensors that prevent the front passenger airbag from deploying. Nearly a million Toyota vehicles are at risk.

A total of 750,759 2020-2023 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid vehicles have a structure problem that affects the front lower bumper cover. During normal vehicle operation, minor impact to the cover can cause it to come loose or detach. This increases the risk of a crash. Complaints about this issue describe how bumpers detach and come loose. There are also several complaints that the parts needed for the recall repair are not available — the most recent in March 2024, five months after the recall was issued.

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Brakes

Braking problems include unexpected braking events and various intermittent brake issues. The most serious complaints describe a complete loss of braking power, which can easily lead to accidents. So, it isn’t surprising that some complaints do report crashing.

An owner from Wisconsin was driving behind a truck that was pulling a utility trailer. “We had just stopped and started moving again when he suddenly stopped. I had just sped up maybe going 10 to 15 mph when I applied my brake. The brakes did not engage until after I hit the trailer in front of me and jammed it into (the) truck it was being pulled by. I had front-end damage and radiator damage and the car was not drivable.” This wasn’t the first time the brakes didn’t engage at low speed, but it was the first time the malfunction caused a crash.

A “random loss of braking feeling and jolting forward when stopping,” is how an owner from Maryland describes his brake problems. Blaming it on “regenerative braking letting off,” he states that it generally happens when traveling at about 20 mph.

An owner from North Carolina echoes the problem with regenerative braking. “As you step on the brakes, the regenerative braking supplies most of the braking power. And then at a slower speed, the regenerative braking abruptly disengages.” His concern is that it could cause an accident. “The danger is (that) this occurs when you are stopping at a stop sign or crosswalk, pulling into a parking space, or around pedestrians, even pulling into our garage.”

Recurring problems are a good indication that a vehicle might be a lemon. An owner from Missouri describes “a gap in the braking” that has happened at least 50 times. It happens when turning corners or traveling downhill.

Fuel System

The most common fuel-related problems relate to a limited fuel tank capacity. Several owners report being unable to fill the gas tank to its advertised 17.1-gallon capacity. This significantly reduces the vehicle’s driving range. There are also complaints that the fuel gauge is inaccurate and that the car’s computer system miscalculates the remaining miles a driver can travel based on the fuel level.

Fuel efficiency and range are major selling points. If drivers can’t achieve the advertised range due to limited fuel tank capacity, it undermines a key selling feature of the car. An owner from Colorado states that whenever he fills up the car with gas, “I am unable to fill the tank to its listed capacity. The vehicle has a 17-gallon tank, but when the vehicle is near empty (1-2 gallons remaining), I can pump in only 12-13 gallons of gas. This greatly impacts the range of the vehicle.”

An owner from Washington states that the “fuel is inaccurate, leading to potential safety issues. The fuel gauge does not show as full when the car is refueled, and likewise shows as empty when there is enough fuel to drive hundreds of miles. This has led to situations where the fuel light is on, and (the) car is indicating no remaining miles left, but there is plenty of fuel.” This owner instituted a lemon law claim with the Washington State Attorney’s General office and was offered a replacement vehicle.

Exploding Sunroofs

Sunroof problems are reported as being structure, visibility, and unknown or other problems. In all instances, the sunroof explodes suddenly, without warning. Most complaints describe a sudden sound similar to a gunshot. An owner from Texas describes it as sounding like a bomb.

An owner from Virginia describes how while driving at about 45 mph on a multi-lane parkway. “My wife and I heard a loud explosion which I immediately assumed might be a tire blowout.” Within seconds, they heard the sound of rushing air” above their heads. They discovered a large hole in the sunroof forward panel and saw that the tempered glass had shattered. Although glass shards were falling onto the sunroof cover, because it was closed, they weren’t showered with glass. The “failure” wasn’t covered by a warranty.

“I was driving on a freeway with no cars in front of me and no debris in the air when our panoramic sunroof spontaneously exploded,” states an owner from Minnesota. “The glass blew upwards and the remaining glass around the edges was pointed upwards as if the window had suffered an internal to external impact. Fortunately, the fabric was closed and it could have resulted in a severe accident with glass going everywhere.”

An owner from Washington states that the sunroof of their 2020 Highlander Hybrid “spontaneously exploded (without impact) while driving on the freeway. It was like a loud shotgun went off in the cab of our SUV. We were showered with glass and (it resulted in a) small cut to my wife’s hand. Thankfully there was no traffic otherwise it could have easily caused an accident, putting us and others at risk.” The complaint states that half the glass “broke out.” The “remaining glass had glass shards pointed upwards like a volcano.” Toyota refused to replace the sunroof.

Side Mirrors

Complaints to the NHTSA about side mirrors relate to shaking and vibration or a sudden malfunction that causes a loud explosion. An owner from Texas was driving on the highway at about 65 mph “when there was a loud explosion-type noise. I noticed the passenger side mirror had flipped into the window. The cover on the mirror exploded causing damage to the hood and side panel of the vehicle.”

While driving at about 55 mph, an owner from New Jersey was surprised by a sudden explosion. This dislodged the passenger’s side mirror casing and damaged the passenger’s side window trim and hood of the vehicle. “The cause of the failure was not determined.”

An owner from California states that the “driver-side mirror shakes and vibrates while driving. This is distracting and makes it difficult to concentrate on surroundings. It happens at all speeds. My dealership said that it is normal, but I see many other people on forums have similar complaints. The passenger side mirror does not rattle.”

Engine

The two primary engine problems owners report to the NHTSA relate to sudden engine stalling and loss of power. An owner from California tells how “while the vehicle was idling or parked, the engine would suddenly seize. The failure occurred intermittently. The check engine warning light illuminated with a message that the brakes were enabled.” Despite taking the Highlander to the dealer three times, they were not able to diagnose the problem.

A complaint from an owner in Pennsylvania is a dramatic example that showcases the worst-case scenario of a stalling engine leading to an accident. Turn left onto a busy road, “the Highlander engine turned off and the steering wheel was ‘locked’ into a left position. This caused the car to continue turning into the opposing left lane, resulting in a head-on collision with an on-coming car. With the engine turned off, there was no power steering, no brakes, and no way to unlock the steering wheel. The collision caused my car to bounce back and slowly free-roll back to the stop sign as though I never entered the roadway.”

What Can You Do?

If you have recurring problems that affect your use or value of the Highlander, Lemberg Law will assess your problems free of charge. Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace, or pay cash settlements to thousands of people who discover their vehicles are lemons.

All you have to do is fill out a contact form or call the Lemberg Law Helpline. The law makes Toyota pay legal fees, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

 

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.

See more posts from Brian Jones
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