Toyota Highlander Brake Problems

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

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 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
  • Robert D

    I’m from Canada and we have similar complaints to others with our 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum. On several occasions, usually on a downhill incline, when you slow with the brakes by gradual pressure, the brake suddenly require significantly more brake pedal effort to maintain the same deceleration rate. Most times it is while going relatively slow 10 km/h or less. However one time down a long incline and probably going 50 km/h the same sudden requirement of significantly more brake pedal effort was needed. It happens so suddenly you feel as if you are actually accelerating and gives you a very uneasy feeling. My wife is getting very nervous about driving it. I had it to the dealership and they could not find a problem, they even engaged Toyota Canada because we said that vehicle was not safe, and they found nothing other than saying we pressed gas and brake at the same time on two occasions which we did not. They closed the case. I have filed a complaint with Transport Canada.

  • Chris

    I have a 2023 Highlander Hybrid with the same braking concerns. Frequent momentary feeling of loss of brakes, causing me to slam on the brakes and endanger everyone around me. I am due for a service in a month and want to ask the right questions or make the right demands of the dealership to start the lemon law process. They need to resolve this known issue in their hybrids

  • Erica M

    We have experienced the same braking issue with our 2020 Highlander Hybrid. Unpredictable, scary, especially since like another poster our teens are learning to drive on it. We’re in Ontario, Canada and have advised our dealer but they said it was normal function. Had to pay for a brake inspection for this feedback.

  • Sri

    I’ve been facing same issue with my 2021 Hybrid Highlander.
    So far I’ve noticed 10+ times in last few months and brought it to dealership notice but they declined it’s working as Designed
    They also checked the Vehicle data and responded that I was hitting brake and Accelerator at the same time. I have been driving for 18 years now. Never I faced with any vehicle I have driven.
    This could be a serious issue and worried if I end up hitting someone

  • Yoly

    I’m financing a 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE since May 2023 due to my old car being unreliable for any trips out of state, It broke down on my first trip from PA to VA. I can’t believe that after taking 3 years to decide if I should finance or not, this practically new car breaks down on me leaving me stranded so far from home. Supposedly the transmission is bad and it needs a new one. I’ve been waiting for Toyota to ship it to the dealership for 3 weeks now and I just can’t believe this is happening to me, I just got it literally 2 1/2 months ago. Paying it monthly. I’m in that one in a million situation! Did a lot of research and TRUSTED Toyota with reliability….

  • Jennifer k

    Often even at high speeds when trying to stop it feels like the brakes go out for a second and then re engage. It is very scary as it happens at high speeds, such as on the highway when driving 70 mph. I have never before experienced this before. I have a 2020 Toyota Highlander hybrid.

  • MaDonna H

    I have a 2020 Highlander Hybrid XLE & was just told today by the service department ‘what you’re experiencing is a normal hybrid braking system’. Which is BS I also have a 2022 Rav4 awd hybrid & it doesn’t have any issues at all. We just recently got the highlander, it was one owner prior, because I missed having a bigger vehicle (downsized from expedition which I miss). It sucks having a vehicle I do not feel safe driving with my children because who knows when I could read end someone or it surge me into an intersection.

  • Jan O

    I have a 2022 Hybrid Highlander and have similar brake issues. When I am going down a hill and braking the brakes cut out for a second or two and then re-engage. I talked to my dealership and they dismissed my concerns saying it was just the way the braking system on hybrids function.

  • jc

    2021 highlander hybrid, going to slow down to make a turn and all of a sudden the car accelerates for a couple of milliseconds before the brakes come back to normal

  • Brian

    Same issue here with HH platinum. Did not happen in yr 1, but happens frequently now

  • Corina C

    Thank you for sharing. I don’t drive as often as my spouse has and he is terrified that if this happens he will hit another car. He complains that it gives out and propels forward in traffic.

  • Roger V

    We have similar complaints about our 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. On several occasions, usually on a downhill incline, as you slow with the brakes, the brake suddenly require significantly more brake pedal effort to maintain the same deceleration rate. Most times it is while going relatively slow–15 mph or less. However one time down a long incline and probably going 35-40 the same sudden requirement of significantly more brake pedal effort was needed. It happens so suddenly you feel as if you are actually accelerating and gives you a very uneasy feeling. Could easily see if this happen when you were close behind someone that it could be dangerous.

  • Jennifer G

    2022 Prius semi frequently accelerates for a split second before brakes engage. Happens at all speeds, particularly down hill or on curves/turns. Very frightening in traffic.

  • Malia

    I am from Australia and I have been trying to find answers as my Toyota Kluger Hybrid 2021 has been experiencing the exact same issue with the brakes.

    I bought this car brand new and I noticed the jolts when braking about 3 months into having my new car. I have advised Toyota each time when I take it in for a service but they have never experienced the jolts when taking it for a drive. It’s very hard to be able to show them as the jolts are random. Some weeks I can go without any and other weeks it can happen 5 to 7 times in that week.

    This just raises such a big safety concern. Something needs to be done before someone gets seriously injured.

  • Jane

    2020 Highlander Hybrid Limited, New Mexico. With one exception we have high speed braking issues when exiting interstate 40, so slowing down from 65-75 mph. Extremely scary, same feeling as others, press the brake pedal, car starts to slow, then lurches forward as it feels like the brakes gave out. Can’t use the parking brake as a backup anymore, there isn’t one, but still reach for it. Dealerships tell us we’re driving too fast and then waiting for the last minute to slow down, which isn’t true, usually coast onto the exit ramp if there’s little to no traffic to avoid wear and tear. Knowing the brakes may give out we now leave more distance than normal between us and the vehicle in front of us, start braking way earlier than normal just incase, don’t want to rearend someone or go through an intersection. Had first encounter with a low speed braking issue this past weekend. Love that car other than the braking, don’t feel safe and if we could afford to would sell it and go get a Kia hybrid instead.

  • Fabian D

    2021 Toyota highlander Hybrid Limited -Florida- flat roads- driving kids to school at low speeds, I have the brake depressed and then randomly the car continues to move forward which causes me to slam the brakes? that could be dangerous.

  • James

    Did they fix the brake issue on the 2023 Toyota Highlander limited AWD Hybrid.

  • Kim

    Same issue as other posters with our 2020 hybrid Highlander. Very worrisome especially because we are teaching our teen to drive with it. He even experienced the lurching when brakes applied. 😞

  • J k

    2016 Toyota hybrid platinum. Brake issues randomly I have complained & they had me replace front and back rotors and pads. On FLAT roads SUV at times keep going after brakes applied. I feel like I am going to hit the vehicle in front with my brake pad to the floor. Other times I just lightly tap brake pad and car acts like i JAMMED brakes and everything in SUV flies and bodies go forward in force. Neither actions occur in high speeds. Brakes were squeaking before front was done after all done still all 4 squeaking. So loud that a man in parking lot told me I needed brakes. I’m afraid I will be hurt or some one else will because of this SUV’s braking issues. Not fixed yet and I have a Toyota Extended warranty. Never had brake issues like this before. I either have no power or it goes to too much power…is it brakes or combo with system that is to avoid hitting cars in front of you. It has jammed when no one is in front of me but I have to stop when coming to a cross road out of a parking lot even with no vehicles near me. Thank you

  • 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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