Grille Shutter Malfunction: Causes And How To Fix It

What is an active grille shutter in Toyota cars, and what causes its malfunction? This system controls airflow into the engine compartment. It uses sensors to determine when to open or close the grille vent.

Grille Shutter Malfunction can result from driving on icy roads, making ice blocks jam the shutters and destroy the temperature sensor. A faulty actuator, consisting of a motor, relay, and controller, is also a likely cause.

This article focuses on the causes of Grille Shutter Malfunction and how to fix it. Let’s dive in for details!

What Is An Active Grille Shutter?

An Active Grille Shutter System controls the airflow through the radiator and into the engine compartment.
Credit: jazhanel (

An Active Grille Shutter System includes an actuator that controls the airflow through the radiator and into the engine compartment. It does this by opening or closing the grille vent under different conditions and situations.

The system will open the grille vent to allow more cold air to cool the engine. The same happens when you turn on the AC system since air has to pass over the vent.

If cooling is not needed, the active grille system closes the grille vent to reduce the aerodynamic drag. That usually happens when you drive at highway speeds, causing air currents to decrease the dynamic performance.

The air is rerouted around the vehicle when the grille vent is closed. Reduced aerodynamic drag comes with improved mileage per gallon since less energy is needed to push the car along. Also, it is closed in cold weather to minimize the engine warm-up time. You might also see it closed in the park to retain the engine’s heat.

ECM controls the Active Grille Shutter actuator through the data from modules and sensors. To operate, it requires:

  • coolant temperature sensor,
  • ambient air temperature sensor,
  • air conditioning system parameters.

Other vehicles also have an active shutter system, not only Toyota. But for Toyota, you will mostly find it in hybrid models.

How does an active grille shutter work?

What Does Grille Shutter Malfunction Mean?

grille shutter malfunction
The actuator has encountered a fault and may not close or open the grille vent as it is designed to do.
Credit: dzotik (

The Grille Shutter Malfunction message follows soon after the check engine light illuminates on the dashboard. It shows that the actuator has encountered a fault and may not close or open the grille vent as it is designed to do.

The Griller Shutter Malfunction can happen due to faulty sensors, a blocked grille shutter, or damaged electronics in the actuator. These can result from a car accident, driving on a snowy or icy road, or water getting into the unit.

Is It Safe If I Drive With This Message?

Yes, but it depends. Let’s revisit what this system does to know if it is safe to drive your Toyota car with the Grille Shutter Malfunction message. It opens to allow air through the radiator and engine compartment for cooling. If the shutter malfunctions in a closed position, the engine will become overheated and you should never drive your car with the message. Also, the AC system won’t function as expected.

But if it is stuck open, you can safely drive the car but never get the benefits of an operational Active Shutter System. There will be more warm-up time and aerodynamic drag, which reduces fuel economy.

Can I Fix It Myself?

Yes. You can fix the problem if you have OBD2 diagnostic tools or if the cause is physical such as sensor blockage or grille obstruction by ice. Replacement parts are also easy to fix for an auto DIYer in the home garage.

Grille Shutter Malfunction: Causes and How To Fix It

You can fix the Grille Shutter Malfunction if you can diagnose or identify the problem. Here are the causes and possible fixes for it:

Based on these 3 causes, you can confirm which is the culprit and find out the immediate solution.

Shutter Jammed By Debris Or Dirt

Shutters are located at the front-most part of your car. Debris can accumulate and jam them over time, thereby compromising their operation. So, if you see the malfunction message, safely pull over and get out of the car to physically inspect the grille shutters.

Remove any debris that you can see on the grille shutter. If that was the problem, the error message should clear, and the system becomes operable again.

How to remove debris from you car’s grille shutter.

Snow Buildup

If you live in a snowy area or get a lot of snow during the winter months, the shutters can be jammed with snowballs, or snow blocks can damage the coolant temperature sensor. The DTC for a faulty coolant temperature sensor is P0115.

Once again, pull over when you see the message and inspect the grille shutters.

If the shutters are covered by snow or ice, hose them down using water under high pressure and park your car until they dry. But if that is not the case, you will need an OBD2 scanner to determine whether the temperature sensor is the culprit or not. 

When you confirm the temperature sensor is faulty, you can replace them.

Bad Actuator

The Active Grille Shutter actuator itself can get damaged, especially in case of an accident or when water gets into it. It consists of an electronic control module and a drive motor. The motor can get smoked or the electronics can become damaged by water. 

If you suspect an actuator fault, please take your car to an authorized Toyota dealer to diagnose it. When the culprit is confirmed, you should buy a new one to replace the one in your vehicle. You can do that yourself or pay a mechanic a few bucks to handle the task.

Position of an actuator in the grille shutter.

How Much To Fix A Malfunctioning Active Grille Shutter?

The cost of fixing a malfunctioning grille shutter depends on the problem at hand. Replacing a temperature sensor will not cost the same as a radiator shutter assembly or an entire actuator. It also depends on the car model and year of manufacture.

An active grille shutter can cost anywhere between $100 and $400 in parts alone, and a temperature sensor is about $40-$80. To have a new actuator for grille shutter replaced, you will pay around $200. Labor charges will be $200 or more.


The Active Shutter Grille is an essential system in your Toyota car that controls airflow through the engine compartment. It opens the vent to let in the air needed to cool the engine and closes it when necessary to reduce aerodynamic drag for a better fuel economy. If it is faulty, fix it as soon as possible. Driving your car with the error message can lead to costly damages.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *