Toyota Highlander Brake Problems

By Brian Jones | Updated on

By Brian Jones | Updated on

Lemberg Law is investigating complaints regarding brake problems in the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Vehicle owners report that the dual-stage braking system that switches between regenerative and hydraulic is malfunctioning and causing potential safety issues.

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Does the Toyota Highlander Have Brake Problems?

Yes, there is a problem with the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid brakes. The issue is that instead of switching seamlessly between the regenerative hybrid and hydraulic brake systems, many drivers experience what feels like temporary brake failure. Those who have previously owned or driven hybrid vehicles report that it is a problem they have never experienced before.

There is considerable discussion about this braking problem in Toyota forums and a growing number of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Occasional comments on a forum that this is the way the hybrid is designed are largely dismissed. For example:

“Toyota AWD hybrids’ braking systems work exactly as designed and function that way because of the combination two stage regenerative/hydraulic braking system. Takes a little more driver skill in operation of the vehicle initially when coming from a standard hydraulic brake system….and then driven properly it will work flawlessly every time.”

Response: “If this is true then why have my past 2008 Prius and current 2015 Prius and our 2018 Hybrid Camry (not) had those same braking issues? Sorry, not buying that explanation.”

Another forum member echoes this view: “For those who say ‘I need to learn how to drive the system’, my primary commute is in a Prius that I have been driving since 2007. (My first was a 2007 and now I’m driving a 2018.) We have experienced this Highlander Hybrid braking ‘phenomenon’ many times but only at low speeds, i.e., less than 5 mph.”

What Brake Problems are Toyota Highlander Owners Experiencing?

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid owners report that when they brake, the SUV doesn’t slow down immediately and it feels as if they don’t have brakes.

Complaints go back to March 2021 but there are still no technical service bulletins on record that relate to Highlander Hybrid brakes.

This is what some of the complaints to the NHTSA say:

An owner from Indiana states:

“The Highlander Hybrid is dangerous and someone will get hurt. The brakes will occasionally, at lower speeds and under a variety of circumstances, stop working for a second or two. It actually gives the feeling that the car is accelerating or surging forward.

“My dealer was able to replicate the problem but said they hadn’t heard of a fix yet. They had heard of this issue from several customers. Toyota maintains it is normal operation and is simply the hybrid switching from regenerative braking to mechanical braking. It is completely unpredictable. Sometimes it will go a week without happening. Sometimes it will happen several times in 1 day.

“My wife and I do not feel safe in this car. Very frustrating that Toyota doesn’t seem to take this seriously. It’s simply a matter of time before we rear end someone, or hit something else.”

An owner from New York states:

“My new 2021 Toyota highlander hybrid (is) having random issues when braking. I notice most of the time when the car is going downhill, the car will lose braking for a second and I have to depress the brake harder to slow the vehicle. In that second when it loses the brake the car is actually going forward, which can cause unpredictable stopping distance.”

This owner is worried that it may cause an accident if following too close to a vehicle in front. The complaint goes on to say that there is no warning light displayed on the dashboard and it isn’t possible to reproduce the problem. “It can happen randomly.”

An owner from Alabama states:

“At random times, when traveling at 10-15 mph and applying the brakes to stop or slow, the brakes will slip for a second or less and then re-engage. Never experienced this before with 2 other Toyota hybrids I have owned. Scary feeling. Have notified Toyota Customer service since I have read others with (the) same model (Highlander Hybrid Platinum) have (the) same problem.”

This same owner stated in a forum that the SUV was only two months old.

“It seems to happen when I’m braking to stop at an intersection and I’m driving at a decline (like going downhill). It doesn’t happen every time, so it is hard to reproduce the problem. The service center at my dealership said that there were no malfunction codes when I took it in to be serviced. Nonetheless, this has caused me enough concern that I’ve submitted a complaint with NHTSA and to Toyota corporate office. Something should be done about this before someone gets hurt.”

Another owner states:

“I am noticing a little ‘gap’ in the brakes when I am slowing down in traffic and going down hill. It is as if the brakes let up for just a second. The car surges slightly as if I had taken my foot off the brake. (Then) the brakes lose power and I have to press on it harder to stop the car. It’s a bit disconcerting! I’ve checked with the dealer, they confirmed the brake is fully functional, no issue.”

What Should You Do if Your 2021 Toyota Highlander is Experiencing Brake Problems?

Lemberg Law is currently investigating complaints about the brake problems 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid owners are having. It is possible that the vehicles they own are lemons.

If you have problems relating to brakes, all you have to do is fill out our contact form or call our Helpline. It won’t cost you anything because the law mandates that Toyota must pay the legal fees for lemon law actions.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 20 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
11 COMMENTS
  • Robin N

    Same issue. Appears when I brake at low speed when coming to a stop the vehicle surges ahead. Been doing it since I purchased it but it still scares me each time it happens.

  • Arun N

    I experienced the same problem and met with a minor accident due to this. I am not sure how to take this forward. This happened on 6th October. Still occasionally face the problem of my 2021 highlander hybrid not stopping immediately after brakes are pressed.

  • Lee

    I have precisely the same issue with my 2020 high lander hybrid. Totally unsafe to drive. I am taking it to the dealership today and will see what they can do with this.

  • Max p

    I just bought a 2023 camry hybrid, and it has this EXACT issue. I brought it to the dealership and they say they’ve never heard of this issue before and that it’s normal for the transition between regen and hydraulic brakes. I’ve driven hybrids before and this never happened, it could definitley cause an accident.

  • Julia

    I am also having trouble with 2021 Highlander Hybrid Platinum (15,600 miles) feeling like brakes temporarily fail for a second when going downhill to stoplight while applying brakes. The car surges forward and I then have to apply brakes very hard to come to stop. It’s intermittent and scary. What if someone were walking in a crosswalk at intersection when my car won’t stop? My eleven year old 2011 Toyota Highlander feels safer to drive! Toyota needs to fix this quickly or people could be seriously hurt by this malfunction. I took it to my Toyota dealership today to report and ask for a fix.

  • Carrie M

    Same issue with our THH! Random surging feeling while braking, also feels like it happens at random times!! We have been scared that we were going to hit other cars who might unexpectedly stop in front of us, even though we are cautious drivers. Not what I’d expect for a car with this price tag!!

  • RAE A

    I have a 2022 Highlander Hybrid and am experiencing the same thing . I mostly notice it when I going downhill. It feels like the brakes release for a second or two then catch again. I just had the car in for its 11,000 mile oil change and explained to them the issue I was having with the brakes. They asked if I had ever driven a hybrid before because they can drive differently. I told them I have had two other Prius’s and they did not have this issue. They said they would look at it but came back and said they couldn’t find any wrong. Worries me that it will happen when I’m really trying to stop and may cause an accident.

  • oliver c

    i bought a 2022 toyota highlander some times it seems as though the brakes are not working for like a few seconds

  • Gwyn

    I own a 2022 Highlander Hybrid and have had continuous weird braking sensations from the start. Sometimes the brakes seem to fail. At slow speed if I hit a bump the brakes fail and the car surges forward. Other times the brakes are too sensitive, and the car stops abruptly. I have spoken with my dealer about it but they don’t seem concerned.

  • Mary M

    When attempting to stop while driving at a slight down hill to stop, the car brakes don’t engage – it is almost as though you have no brakes but suddenly you will feel the brakes and you stop but no before fearing you’ll rear-end the car in front of you.

  • Jeffrey

    I am having the same issue, slowing down the car in a hill, you can tell the brake gave up for 1-2 sec and I press it harder to stop the car completely. Because it happens so randomly and unexpected, if there is not enough space I will hot the object. I have talk to Toyota dealer about it, but nothing have done to correct it.

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