Problems With Toyota SUVs: 6 Known Issues (Explained)

Toyota SUVs have been growing in popularity for a long time and with good reason. These cars have plenty of space, appealing looks, and are quite safe.

But they aren’t perfect.

Here are some of the common problems with Toyota SUVs.

Oil Sludge Buildup in Engines

One of the problems with Toyota SUVs is oil sludge in the engines. When sludge is present, oil won’t be able to lubricate the moving parts of your car’s motor.

This problem is often seen with earlier SUV models.

Engine oil is the core of an engine. It lubricates and cleans the internal engine parts, making movement friction-free. Aside from that, it also helps the engine maintain an optimum operating temperature, thus preventing it from overheating.

Many things can lead to oil sludge buildup, including how you maintain your vehicle.

For instance, if you delay changing the oil past the recommended oil change schedule, sludge is likely to build up. Also, when oil additives burn, oxidation happens, and pollutants gather, producing sludge.

The symptoms of engine oil sludge include the following:

  • Clicking or ticking noise from the tappet
  • Low oil pressure and check engine light

Frequent oil changes can prevent sludge buildup. But if you already have this issue, we suggest flushing the engine to remove the sludge.

Faulty Suspension System

Quite a number of Toyota SUV owners have reported issues with the suspension system. The anti-roll bar and the front struts fail more quickly than usual. At times, it can be as early as a year down the line.

When this system fails, you’ll feel the car ‘pull’ or ‘drift’ when you turn.

What this means is that the shocks can’t keep the car’s body stable against the centrifugal force created by a turn. Ultimately, this increases the risk of a rollover.

This is one of the reasons why a test drive is important when buying a car. Other signs that your car needs suspension repair include the following:

  • A bumpy ride
  • Damaged or oily shocks
  • Uneven tire treads
  • Nose diving every time you stop

Don’t ignore a faulty suspension system, as it affects your ability to control the car and can lead to an accident.

Fuel Pump Failure

Another problem we’ve noted with some Toyota SUVs relates to the fuel pump, particularly on injection. You may experience a jerky acceleration, or the car fails to accelerate because the pump injects excess or very little fuel into the engine.

However, this behavior doesn’t always mean you have a bad fuel pump. Faulty clutches also lead to this behavior.

You’ll notice that your engine revs to a greater extent than normal before catching up. This can lead to many other issues, including the likelihood of an accident.

When you notice this problem with your SUV, take it to the auto repair shop for a maintenance check.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration

If you’ve ever experienced forced acceleration, you know it’s one of the most alarming experiences one can have. And over the years, certain Toyota SUVs have experienced this problem.

Sometimes, even slamming the brakes fails or doesn’t give you the desired effect, particularly if you’re in traffic.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that this isn’t always Toyota’s fault. The company has stated that other issues can lead to forced acceleration.

For instance, the pedal can get stuck on a floor mat that has been replaced or moved.

But then again, gas pedals can also get stuck, which is a manufacturing issue. With that said, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested NASA Engineering and Safety Center to investigate the problem.

The team found that the floor mats could be the likely cause for forced acceleration, just like Toyota had said. The other possible explanation was that drivers were pressing the wrong pedal.

Poor Air Conditioning Conditions

Another issue that a few SUV drivers have reported is related to the AC. Most users complained of a moldy and musty scent. Fortunately, this is an issue you can fix through car maintenance.

A moldy smell can be caused by dust, debris, and dirt buildup in the air intake vent, trapping moisture and water in the evaporator. Because mold thrives in wet areas, combined with the trapped dirt, that’s why your AC is producing that moldy smell.

You can use a household disinfectant to flush the AC evaporator through the air intake.

But we also suggest living this to the pros.

They will use a commercial-grade bacteriostat to eliminate or kill the spores and other contaminants causing that foul smell.

Transmission Slipping Between Gear Shifts

We have mostly witnessed this issue with the 2021 Highlander.

Some car owners complained of experiencing extreme hesitation and jerking between gear shifts.

You can read more about this issue in our article about problems with Toyota Land cruisers.

The good news is that a slipping transmission doesn’t mean it’s going to fail. However, this means that you need to go to the repair shop as the transmission is one of the most complicated parts of a car.

A slipping transmission will give you a number of signs, such as:

  • Difficulty shifting gears
  • Whining, grinding, or other strange noises
  • Car won’t go in reverse
  • Weak, delayed, or slow acceleration
  • Strange smells like burning
  • Engine chugs or revs
  • Check engine light

When the transmission slips, you’ll notice that the car is slow to respond. Other times it won’t respond even if you press the gas pedal. If your car suddenly changes gears for no reason, it’s time to go to the mechanic.

Air Bag Issues

It’s also worth mentioning that some Toyota 4Runner owners have reported issues around the airbags systems.

Some reported airbag lights switching on/off or showing that airbags were engaged when it wasn’t the case. So, that’s something to look out for as well. We have more on this in our article about problems with the Toyota 4Runner models.

General Pros and Cons of Toyota SUVs

Let’s now talk about some of Toyota SUVs’ selling points and downsides. We’ll start with the pros.

Comfortable and Plenty of Cabin Space

By virtue of being an SUV, these vehicles are comfortable with plenty of space. From headspace, boot space, and everything else, these vehicles are larger than sedans, giving passengers an element of luxury and comfort in the cabin.

The extra room makes them family and pet-friendly. And the additional compartments and storage space give you plenty of room to neatly tuck away your snacks and toys.

Great Grip and Handling

Another advantage of SUVs is that they can easily handle wet and slippery conditions. Rough or uneven ground isn’t an issue for these vehicles. Basically, most of them take you wherever you want to go.

Great Storage Capacity

SUVs are great for large families who enjoy outdoor activities like sports. These cars have enough space, allowing you to bring large-sized equipment like mountain bikes, kayaks, tents, and surfboards.

They Are Versatile

You can use an SUV for a variety of things compared to a sedan. It’s the ultimate vehicle for families that love adventure. In addition, most of them have powerful engines, allowing you to tow a boat, trailer, or caravan.

Full View Ahead

Because SUVs have a higher seating position, you’ll see the road clearly. Therefore, you can avoid hazards like fallen items on the road and potholes in time.

And even when you’re stuck in heavy traffic, you can see smaller cars ahead of you, and you’ll also have the advantage of seeing a parking spot easily, even in a crowded lot.


SUVs have a sturdier frame which gives them a robust foundation that allows for durability and power. If a regular adventure is your kind of thing, you don’t have to worry about the car not lasting a long time.

Significant Ground Clearance

Besides the ability to mount pavements, SUVs can go through deeper waters without ruining the engine. But note that if you ever find yourself in a situation such as a flooded bridge or street, proceed cautiously.

High Safety Ratings

Because of their large size, it’s no surprise that Toyota SUVs are some of the safest cars we have on the roads. These cars can effectively take the force of a collision compared to smaller cars.

That’s because they are heavier and larger, reducing the possibility of severely injuring the occupants.

But these vehicles aren’t just great for collisions. They are also effective in preventing accidents. Toyota SUVs have a variety of driver-assist features that alert drivers about hazards on the roads.

For instance, features like blind spot assist and parking sensors come in handy because spotting obstacles can be challenging when driving a large vehicle.

Fuel Efficiency

Newer Toyota SUVs like the RAV4 Hybrid are quite fuel-efficient.

Check our article here about the most common problems across the Rav4 models.

This allows car drivers to use this vehicle for daily errands as opposed to off-road use only.

Modern SUVs come with all-electric and hybrid powertrains to maximize how far a full tank will take you.

Cons of Toyota SUVs

  • Oil sludge buildup in engines
  • Faulty suspension system
  • Fuel pump failure
  • Sudden unintended acceleration
  • Poor air conditioning conditions
  • Transmission slipping between gear shifts

What Do the Reviews Say?

‘The Toyota RAV4 is one of the greatest compact SUVs. It’s a well-rounded utility car with a large cabin and high-end features. It’s also fuel efficient with an engine that delivers ample power.’

‘The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is an amazing car that has been transporting passengers in a fuel-efficient manner since 2006.

It’s the only hybrid SUV to survive for that long in the US and will likely continue to soldier on for years to come.’

What Is the Resale Value of Toyota SUVs?

We have a full overview here of Toyota SUV depreciation.

Toyota builds some of the best SUVs in the automotive industry.

But at the end of the day, cars depreciate in value.

Let’s look at some of the resale values of different Toyota SUVs.

Toyota C-HR


Toyota RAV4 Toyota 4Runner Toyota Venza Toyota Highlander


Toyota Sequoia


Toyota Land Cruiser


Year 2021 2019 2021 2016 2020 2018 2016
Mileage (miles) 60000 60000 60000 60000 60000 60000 60000
Price ($) $20,785 20,970 $44,562. $23,606 $28,078 $44,280 $66,300


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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.