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Discussion Starter #1
It seems like this car won’t allow the use of windshield defrost vents in combination with recirculate on.

My other car allows this and it’s actually a big benefit for me because our climate is very conducive to windshield fogging (mornings. In San Francisco) while at the same time it’s nice not to have to smell other car exhaust and the sewage treatment plant I drive by regularly. I get that recycle isn’t optimal for defrosting but I have never hit a case where defrosting while on recycle didn’t work.

Is there any way astound this in the Highlander?
 

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I do this all the time : a/c with recirculation. Like you, I don't like all the car exhaust. I will alternate on a long trip though, to get some fresh air in. I don't use the Auto mode though. Turn that off & see if that works for you.
 

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During any high humidity day (i.e. Rain or fog...), turning on the defrost and the within cabin recirculation engaged is the right way to go. Whenever the front defrost is turned-On, the AC is by default is also on (AC compressor engaged) to dry the cabin air, on on top of that with the recirculation engaged that will limit/minimize the outside "moisture"/air from further introduced in to the cabin.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I do this all the time : a/c with recirculation. Like you, I don't like all the car exhaust. I will alternate on a long trip though, to get some fresh air in. I don't use the Auto mode though. Turn that off & see if that works for you.
Mine has the manual air conditioning system (2018 LE)- and the owners manual seems to confirm what I'm seeing- ie selecting either the winshield defogger vents or combo defogger/feet vents automatically disables recirculate. It's super frustrating.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I tried pushing and holding the recirculate button for a long time (20 seconds) after windshield defogger vent was selected but it would not go on... :(
 

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There are two ways to get air to the windshield in my 2018 XLE. There's a specific button with a windshield icon, and the word "Front" just to the left of the left control dial (manual pg. 442). This will force the outside air intake method, since it is a button specifically dedicated to de-fogging the windshield, and outside air is usually less humid than recirculated inside air. The manual says, under defogging,
Set the outside/recirculated air mode button to outside air mode if the
recirculated air mode is used. (It may switch automatically.)
[As you're seeing]

The second method, the one I use, is to press the mode button until the distribution icon shows the windshield, as well as an arrow to the feet. In this mode, I can press the recirculate button to get the light on or off as desired, to recirculate or not. So I can get air to the windshield vents while recirculating, but only by also allowing air to the feet.

Interestingly, in most other vehicles I've had, if I direct ANY air to the windshield, it would also go into A/C mode. I didn't like this, primarily because in the winter, I want warm air going to the windshield and my feet (I don't like air blowing from the mid level vents directly on me), but in dry winter air, I don't want/need A/C on. I was pleasantly surprised to see the HL allows me to turn A/C on or off when air is directed to the windshield AND feet as described above. So this works fine for me. If you ONLY want air to the windshield, via the defog button, then I believe it will force both recirc-off and A/C-on, because that is the quickest way to defog the windshield, and requires no user-decisions.

There is no icon via the mode button for JUST windshield, but in my experience, the windshield+feet mode is completely configurable.
 

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Whenever the front defrost is turned-On, the AC is by default is also on (AC compressor engaged) to dry the cabin air, on on top of that with the recirculation engaged that will limit/minimize the outside "moisture"/air from further introduced in to the cabin.
Not on my Highlander. I have to turn on AC
 

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Discussion Starter #8
There is no icon via the mode button for JUST windshield, but in my experience, the windshield+feet mode is completely configurable.
You are lucky! On my 2018 LE there is a physical mode button for “windshield & feet” but it forces recirculate on (and doesn’t allow me to shut recirculate off). The dedicated windshield defog to the left of the fan speed dial also behaves this way. I guess it’s just a design quirk/fault of the manual AC system over the auto one.
 

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The Carista thing can make many changes. See below for link. Click on Customization, then See Sample Customizations. There are some A/C items, but not what you're looking for. However, these are "Sample Customizations," so you could call the company for more info.

 
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