Honda Pilot Problems: 8 Common Issues (Explained)

The Honda Pilot is a comfortable and spacious 3-row seat SUV that has everything you need to transport your gear in style, and Honda is a trusted company that makes reliable vehicles.

However, there are some problems that Honda Pilot owners have flagged, which might concern you.

Before we dive in, make sure to check our article on how long the Honda Pilot last and also our article here on interesting facts and stats for the pilot models.

Here are some of the most common problems with the Honda Pilot.

Oil Leaks

Honda engines are cast with a porous engine block which sometimes leads to leaks. Honda issued a service bulletin about oil leaks in the model year.

The 2003 Honda Pilot is model year is most affected, with many owners reporting oil leaks.

Honda has paid for some owner’s repairs as a result of the poor design, but if your Honda Pilot isn’t under warranty you could be on the hook for expensive repairs.

The later model engines are less prone to oil leaks, so consider buying a Honda Pilot made after 2003.

Fender Liner Tire Issues

There is a known issue with the fender liner in the Honda Pilot.

Sunlight and heat can cause the plastic to warp so that the fender liner ends up coming into contact with the tire.

This can cause the tire to wear out prematurely, or even lead to a dangerous tire blowout on the highway.

You can replace the inner liner cheaply, which solves the problem. Otherwise, keep a close eye on the shape of the fender liner and replace it as soon as you see any sign of deformation.

Difficulty Starting and Rough Starts

We have recently reported on the most common problems among Honda SUVs and this also came up.

Some engine issues with the Honda Pilot, including rough starts, vibration, and decreased engine performance have been linked to a faulty EGR valve.

The EGR valve connects the exhaust manifold to the intake manifold. Its job is to control the flow of exhaust.

The Honda Pilot has an EGR valve that is prone to failure, which will cause the check engine light to come on. When the EGR valve fails the engine problems begin.

Cleaning the EGR valve might lead to a temporary improvement in engine performance, but it won’t last because the design of the valve is going to cause the same problems to recur.

The EGR valve has to be replaced completely once you start noticing difficult or rough starts.

You can see more here about the best and worst years for the Honda Pilot here.

Low Beams Fail

Some Honda Pilot owners have reported that their low beams have failed completely, forcing them to use their high beams all the time while driving.

This is a known issue related to the wiring in the headlights.

The Honda Pilot’s headlight harness is prone to overheat, which can affect the wiring.

Once the low headlight beams have failed, you will need to replace the wires as well as the light/turn signal switch and the combination switch connector.

The headlight harness isn’t easy to access and replacing these components is a complex job that is probably best left to a professional mechanic.

Ignition Switch Problem

Some Honda Pilot owners have had issues with the ignition switch. They find that they are either not able to insert their keys, or that their keys fall out even while the vehicle is running. In some cases, owners have been unable to start the vehicle.

This is a known issue online that hasn’t been recognized by Honda, and is unlikely to be covered at the dealership. It can cost between $500 and $1000 to completely rebuild the ignition to fix the problem.

In some cases, owners claim that they had the ignition switch rebuilt completely and the problem recurred.

This doesn’t affect every Honda Pilot owner and does seem to concentrate around the 2003 model year. There are fewer reports of ignition switch problems after that, although they do still exist.

Some Pilot owners have resorted to installing automatic starters, or aftermarket ignition switches that work with the Honda Pilot but are not manufactured by Honda.

Paint Chipping

This isn’t exclusive to the Honda Pilot – it affects most Honda vehicles.

There have been complaints about the paint and the clear coat that Honda uses.

Some Honda Pilot owners claim that they noticed small spots of discoloration where the paint was lighter than everywhere else. Over time, these discolored spots multiplied and expanded, with paint chipping and peeling off in large areas.

The issue is probably cheap or defective materials in the paint and/or clear coat. At this point, Honda hasn’t responded with anything more than advising owners to keep their vehicles protected from excessive sunlight.

This advice isn’t that helpful for most people, who will continue to use their Honda Pilot outdoors.

Repainting your Honda Pilot can be an expensive project. If you decide to paint your Pilot, or you need to repaint due to paint chipping and discoloration, you might want to pick an aftermarket paint rather than bringing it back to the dealership for the manufacturer’s original.

Transmission Problems

In the 2003 model, particularly, there have been reports of major issues with the transmission leading to costly repairs.

Transmission failure can be dangerous and is usually expensive to fix.

In 2004, Honda issued a safety recall for the 2003 Honda Pilot, specifying a potential heat buildup between the countershaft and the secondary gears in the automatic transmission. In higher mileage vehicles, this could lead to gear tooth chipping or gear breakage.

If you do own a 2003 Honda Pilot or you are considering purchasing one, look into whether you might be covered by the recall in the event you do have problems with the transmission.

Rough Suspension

The Honda Pilot is braced by two stabilizer bars that are attached to the rest of the suspension with stabilizer bar links. These links are prone to wearing out, which can cause suspension problems and difficulty steering.

If the stabilizer links are worn out, you will notice that it is hard to turn, and you might hear a knocking sound in the front suspension.

The solution is to replace the stabilizer bar links that connect the stabilizer bars to the suspension. There are aftermarket parts available that will last longer, so the problem doesn’t recur.

More on light and keys

We wrote separate articles about questions about light on the Honda Pilot and another article about how the keys work on a Honda Pilot.

General Pros and Cons for the Honda Pilot

1. Spacious Interior

The Honda Pilot is smaller than its cousin, the Honda Odyssey, but there is plenty of space in this SUV to stretch out and bring your gear with you.

The front seats and the first and second backseats are bigger than the third row of seats, which is better suited for kids or gear, but overall, there is a ton of space for your knees and shoulders and plenty of headroom.

The Honda Pilot is also raised higher than the Honda Odyssey, giving the driver a better view and making the interior spaces feel even larger than they are.

2. Lots of Cargo Space

If you need to transport lots of gear from one place to another, the Honda Pilot has got you covered.

Each of the backseats can fold down for optimal storage. There are 16.5 cubic feet of storage space between the second and third seats, and 83.8 cubic feet of storage overall with the second and third rows of seats folded down.

3. Good Fuel Economy

The EPA estimates that the Honda Pilot gets a combined mileage of 22 mpg – 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

For a vehicle this size, that is great mileage.

When performed its real-world mileage tests, they were able to prove that the EPA numbers were realistic. On a standardized 115-mile drive, they returned 25 mpg, which exceeded the standardized 22 mpg predicted by the EPA.

4. Able to Tow up to 5000 lbs

One advantage that the Honda Pilot has is its towing capacity.

Four-wheel drive models can tow up to 5000 lbs, while the front-wheel-drive models max out at 3500 lbs.

If you want to use your SUV for towing a trailer or pulling anything really, the Honda Pilot has the power.

5. Smooth Ride

The handling of the Honda Pilot is nothing to write home about, but the ride for passengers is smooth and comfortable.

Check this article we wrote on how the Honda Pilot handles snow.

If you want to go on a road trip and bring all of your everyday necessities with you, the Honda Pilot might be the right vehicle. Whether it’s on the highway or back roads, it offers an easy and comfortable driving experience.

There are also some drawbacks to the Honda Pilot, including:

  • Access to the third row of seats is narrow, and this row is less comfortable than the others.
  • An overly sensitive collision warning system goes off because of false alarms.
  • It has a higher starting price than some of its competitors.

What Do the Reviews Say?

“Among three-row SUVs, the Pilot comes across as one of the most well rounded. Its appealing combination of power and relatively rewarding handling is rare. “

“The Pilot is quick, comfortable, and refined, but it’s not exactly a joy to drive. Its three-row seating configuration, roomy cabin, and abundant interior storage make it an extremely functional vehicle… We found the ride to be comfortable, but the handling is ungainly. The touch-screen infotainment system is frustrating to use because it’s a far reach away and is slow to respond to touch commands.”

What’s the Resale Value Of the Honda Pilot?

Year Mileage (miles) Price (USD)
2009 105,269 $12,995
2010 135,113 $12,650
2011 92,423 $19,590
2012 92,555 $20,990
2013 94,392 $18,590
2014 123,317 $15,450
2015 68,549 $21,991
2016 71,592 $27,188
2017 70,431 $29,250
2018 28,405 $36,500
2019 29,831 $33,400
2020 28,197 $28,677
2021 19,395 $41,775

Final Thoughts

The Honda Pilot is spacious, efficient, and stylish – and it can tow up to 5000 lbs. It’s an efficient multi-purpose vehicle that makes a lot of sense for couples or families who want to get out there and stay comfortable at the same time.

There are some known issues with the Honda Pilot – from engine and wiring problems to chipping paint – but the majority of the scariest issues are concentrated in the 2003 model year.

Other model years do have some known issues but nothing as significant as the transmission failures, ignition switch problems, and oil leaks that plague the 2003 Pilot.

If you want a smooth ride with a ton of cargo space, great fuel efficiency, and a spacious interior – the Honda Pilot might be right for you.

GO BACK: Honda problems per model.

Sources | Honda Pilot | Honda Pilot

CarComplaints | Honda Pilot

RepairPal | Honda Pilot

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ⓘ  The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.