Toyota Highlander is one of the top SUVs, with a record of being the best-selling SUV in 2018. It is a midsize crossover available in only 4-door versions. In spite of the fact that it is a solid vehicle, any machine has some down years, which are important to know before the purchase to avoid inconvenience.
If you want to know more about the Toyota Highlander years to avoid, along with its best years, common problems, and FAQs, then read the full article.
Back History of Toyota Highlander
It was released in 2001 and was the first midsize SUV developed from a car based on the Camry platform. Toyota’s Highlander fits comfortably between the smaller RAV4 and larger 4Runner. In addition to being an excellent highway SUV, Highlander has a good track record off-road.
Here are The different generations of this vehicle given below.
- 2001 – 2007 1st Generation (XU20)
- 2008 – 2010 2nd Generation (XU40)
- 2011 – 2013 2nd Generation (XU40) Facelift
- 2014 – 2015 3rd Generation (XU50)
- 2016 – 2019 3rd Generation (XU50) Facelift
- 2020 – Now 4th Generation (XU70)
Toyota highlander years to Avoid
Here are the top five years to avoid this mid-sized SUV given below.
- 2015 Toyota Highlander
- 2012 Toyota Highlander
- 2008 Toyota Highlander
- 2005 Toyota Highlander
- 2003 Toyota Highlander
2015 Toyota Highlander
The 2015 model of this SUV is also on the list of the most problematic years. The seats are one of the biggest flaws in this Highlander model. People have reported feeling pain after only 15 minutes of driving. Further, the seats are not only uncomfortable but also wear out relatively quickly when compared with similar vehicles.
Some other problems of this model year include annoying wind noise problems while driving, sunroof explosion, audio system settings regularly reset, navigation system, and radio problems.
Short Owner Review
Ted Wright Reviewed: “The buzzing sound from the servo motor will drive you crazy. The buzzing sound occurs when the interior air is trying to sync with the exterior air. The sound is louder than a cell phone vibrating and occurs every 5-10 seconds.”
Jane Reviewed: “Noisy, difficult handling and terrible GPS! Display looks like 100 pixels max sometimes. I didn’t take a good look at the styling of the rear exterior so stuck with a monsterous looking rear-ended vehicle. There are much better electronics and ports on SUVs 10K cheaper. There are several things I just can’t like about it after driving a few thousand miles.”
According to CarComplaints.com, there were 83 complaints about the 2015 Highlander.
2012 Toyota highlander
There were several issues related to the steering lock as well as excessive oil leaks in the 2012 Toyota Highlander. There was not as much oil leakage as in previous years, but the unbalanced car caused steering issues that could have been fatal.
Some of its other common issues include lift gate motor issues, clunking noise while turning, and malfunctioning air conditioners. It is likely that you will have to go to the mechanic again and again due to all these issues.
Short Owner Review
Million mile driver Reviewed: ” I have driven over 1 million miles. I have owned many vehicles. I must say most have been a disappointment including this 2012 Higlander.”
Hedi H Reviewed: “Radio does not work properly. Srs bag alert light stays on. Not enough horsepower. Oil change light is too difficult to turn off. Windows need to be darker without having to be customized. Sun visors need to be horizontally longer or at least able to pull more visor from the bottom out if needed like it already has longitudinally.”
According to CarComplaints.com, there were 50 complaints about the 2015 Highlander.
2008 Toyota highlander
The 2008 model of this SUV is the most problematic one, along with the title of most complaints received for any Highlander. Some of its common issues include engine knocking, Rattling noise on engine start-up, engine refusing to start, and CD player not working appropriately.
Moreover, you may face oil cooler line failure issues, leading to low oil pressure and overheating. You may encounter oxygen sensor malfunctions, resulting in a lack of performance. This sensor may often fail, and every single time, you have to visit the workshop. Although oxygen sensor replacement will cost some hundred dollars, it can be a pain to replace it repeatedly.
Short Owner Review
Jamessaintjule Reviewed: “I drove this pig for some time and had the cost of service and repair estimated. It was overwhelming and interior quality is terrible knobs fall off and entire unit must be replaced.
AK Reviewed: “Luxurious? nope Practical? nope Economical? nope Quality built? nope Ride very edgy, body roll is high, motor is dull, high maintenance costs.
According to CarComplaints.com, there were 78 complaints about the 2015 Highlander.
2005 Toyota highlander
The 2005 model year of this SUV is also on our worst-year list. Some of its common problems include excessive oil leaks, shuddering while accelerating, and a soft brake pedal. You may also face transmission issues, which are the most lethal and can cost a lot of money.
Furthermore, the 2005 model year is also plagued by faulty ignition coils, like most model years of the first generation. Its symptoms include delay or jerking in acceleration. Toyota offered a replacement hose to resolve the oil leakage issue but it was also prone to breaking.
Short Owner Review
Not a fan Reviewed: “Gas mileage not as advertised. Most uncomfortable front seat!! Too short for people with longer legs. Arm rests do not fall in the proper place for people with wide shoulders. For all its bells and whistles, doesn’t have automatic locks (when engaging transmission) which I had on my prior 10 year old car and I consider a big personal safety factor.”
None Reviewed: “The most inportant reason I bought this car was for good gas mileage. Sticker 21 & 26. Well not even close. The year I had to travel I 275 the best I ever got was just under 21mpg. Now that I have only a few miles to go with the air on I am getting 14.5 to 16.0 mpg. “
According to CarComplaints.com, there were 34 complaints about the 2015 Highlander.
2003 Toyota Highlander
Similar to the 2003 Corolla model from Toyota Corolla Years to Avoid article, Highlander also has the same worst model year. Some of its problems include coolant problems, engine noise, brake failures, excessive fuel consumption, numerous interior issues, paint problems, and oil leakage.
Furthermore, the 2003 model year has more than 100 complaints and is the most lethal issue for any vehicle. It is caused by the striped head bolt leading to overheating, other components failure, and ultimately resulting in engine failure. It is an expensive fix, and most users prefer buying a new car instead of repairing it.
Short Owner Review
Carol W Reviewed: “Yesterday I traded in my Highlander after only having it for 6 weeks. I was not happy with the ride, acceleration, and small feel to the interior. It was too tight and not at all comfortable to drive. Seats seem cheap and not well padded. Very little leg room for driver. The stereo speakers had poor quality and bad sound. CDs sounded like a cheap radio.”
BK Reviewed: We purchased this car new and kept it dealer maintained for 7 years. I found it to be quite a reliable vehicle until recently. At 118,000 miles it developed a coolant leak. It was ultimately found to be due to stripped out threads in the engine block (i.e. the car needed a new engine ~ $7500.00).
According to CarComplaints.com, there were 61 complaints about the 2015 Highlander.
Best years of the Toyota Highlander
Below are the best years of this mid-sized SUV.
- · 2022 Toyota Highlander
- · 2021 – 2020 Toyota Highlander
- · 2019 – 2018 Toyota Highlander
- · 2016 Toyota Highlander
- · 2007 Toyota Highlander
2022 Toyota Highlander
The 2022 Model Year of Highlander is the latest model of this SUV, along with advanced technology and features, including tire pressure monitoring, driver-assistance tech, and an anti-theft system with an engine immobilizer, standard hill start assists control, and the latest infotainment.
Furthermore, this model has an exclusive Hybrid Bronze Edition that features a unique interior design, Cement or Wind Chill Pearl body colors, and a set of stylish 18-inch bronze-colored alloy wheels. It also has the title of Top Safety Pick+, awarded by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Short Owner Reviews
Jim Reviewed: “Excellent quality, adequate tech, good economy, drives very quiet and smooth, very comfortable seating, vary comfortable second row captain’s style seating, extra large cargo capacity with third row seating folded down.”
Mrs Rosa Reviewed: “We fell in love with this vehicle because of how comfortable, rides very smoothly but yet it’s very powerful. It is extremely roomie inside, it came with the weather tech mats. The technology on this SUV it’s amazing, cameras everywhere for safety so you don’t have an excuse to bump any were. I cannot say enough good things about this SUV.”
It has a 4.4 / 5 rating by Edmunds and a 4.3 / 5 rating by Kelly Blue Book.
2021 – 2020 Toyota Highlander
Just like its 2023 model, 2021 & 2020 are also on our list of the best year. Both of them are the 4th generation of Highlanders. The 2020 model was completely revamped, including the latest safety, upgraded features, better interior space, and infotainment tech. On the other hand 2021 model has a new aggressively styled XSE trim for 2021, with 20-inch alloy wheels and darker exterior accents. Both of these models are comfortable and a good option for long-route travel.
Short Owner Reviews
MATT BERRY Reviewed: “It is so quiet It’s like sitting in your living room the ride is great I have owned 4 highlanders In the past they just keep getting better pretty sporty makes me feel like a kid again and that’s pretty hard to do because I am 78 years old if you can aford it you will probably by one.”
Lori Reviewed: “I have a platinum model and I could not be happier. Love the body style and the interior is absolutely gorgeous. Rides smooth as glass, has great pickup(V6) and great mpg!.”
Its 2021 model has a 3.7 / 5 rating, and the 2022 model has a 3.8 / 5 by Edmunds. Along with that 2021 model has a 4.3 / 5 rating, and the 2022 model has a 4.3 / 5 by Kelly Blue Book.
2019 – 2018 Toyota Highlander
The 2019 and 2018 model years are also an excellent option to consider. Although these models are slightly old with fewer features than their latest models, they are adequate for quality, economical, and cozy rides.
Compared with its competitors of the same year, the 2018 – 19 Highlander offered unparalleled quality and safety. Some of their main features include a top-notch engine and transmission, a high-quality interior, automatic emergency braking, and several other safety features.
Short Owner Reviews
Sandy Dunbar Reviewed: “Best reliable car around Toyota Highlander 2019. Great all road trips. Spaces and plenty of room for everyone. Bars inside seat for car seats to connect to keep baby safe. I have bought 3 Highlanders and loved everyone.”
Dave H. Reviewed: “This is my second Highlander. The first was a 2008 model and still in the family running great. This model has also served me well. I have 75,000 miles on it. I bought new tires at 60,000 and just had the battery replaced 3 weeks ago. The car runs great!”
Its 2019 model has a 4 / 5 rating, and the 2018 model has a 4.1 / 5 by Edmunds. Along with that 2021 model has a 4.3 / 5 rating, and the 2022 model has a 4.3 / 5 by Kelly Blue Book.
2016 Toyota Highlander
The 2016 model is also one of the best models of this mid-sized SUV and has been the most petite problematic year in the third generation. It comes with a refined interior, exceptional reliability, and a comfortable ride.
It is an excellent choice for those seeking a family ride with more than five seats. Along with its smooth ride and several features, it also offers a standard towing kit.
Short Owner Reviews
Edward Reviewed: “We looked at several SUVs while shopping around and kept coming back to the Highlander. It is a Highlander Limited AWD Platinum Edition. We could not be more pleased with this vehicle.”
GMM Reviewed: “This car drives extremely smooth and I’m very impressed so far. The seats are comfortable and everything is easy to use. I highly recommend checking out a Highlander.”
It has a 4.3 / 5 rating by Edmunds and a 4.4 / 5 rating by Kelly Blue Book.
2007 Toyota Highlander
The 2007 Highlander is another ultra-reliable vehicle that precisely fits a mid-sized SUV’s meaning. Toyota has revised its headlights and added a sport trim in this model year. Some features include plenty of luggage space, an optional touchscreen navigation system, and a pair of cup holders on each side.
Furthermore, two-row side curtain airbags and front-seat side airbags were installed as standard for the user’s safety. Additionally, people can choose between a 4-cylinder and V6 engine, as well as three trim levels, depending on their needs.
Over fifteen years later, the 2007 Highlander model of the first generation is still available and is considered one of the finest on the market. So you can consider this and enjoy its ride.
Short Owners Reviews
Kurt Reviewed: “210,000 miles, bought used at 133,000. only problem other than normal wear parts was leaking power steering hose and muffler hanger. Still no body rust after 14 Michigan winters.”
Kitty Reviewed: “I’ve loved this car for the 11years I’ve owned it, and it’s still a great car. It’s got better looks than new Highlanders and more comfortable seats. It’s been totally reliable and a pleasure to drive and beautiful inside and out.”
It has a 4.4 / 5 rating by Edmunds and a 4.7 / 5 rating by Kelly Blue Book.
Here are the common problems of this truck given below.
Fuel Tank and AC Condenser Problems
- Fuel Tank Problems
- Engine Bolts Becoming Stripped
- Engine Failure
- Faulty Head Gasket and Oxygen Sensor
- Using Engine Oil Faster Than Average
- AC Condenser Problem
Fuel Tank Problem
The fuel tank is also one of the common problems in the Highlander. The redesigned 2020 Highlander received generally favorable reviews from critics and consumers, but reliability issues were dominant.
According to reports, the tank could not hold 17.1 gallons, as advertised. Instead, they were only able to fill up about 12-14 gallons.
Engine Bolts Becoming Stripped
Ripped-off engine bolt sounds like a tiny problem, but it can be severe when left unattended. Coolant leaks and overheated engines are the most common signs of this issue. You may encounter this issue after 100k – 130k miles.
It is possible to replace the bolts and re-drill the bolt holes when necessary, but only if overheating has yet to cause other problems. If, unfortunately, overheating damage the engine, then you have to replace the engine.
One of the most common and significant issues in the Highlander is engine failure. As we have discussed above, engine failure is mainly caused by the engine bolts. They remain unchecked, resulting in overheating, leading to this problem.
You may face this issue after 100k – 120k miles. Furthermore, replacing the engine is expensive, so most users do not want to do it.
Faulty Head Gasket and Oxygen Sensor
2001-2007 Highlander models are prone to engine overheating. This is due to a blown head gasket caused by the head bolts pulling out the threads from the engine block. You can replace the Faulty Head Gasket to resolve the issue.
Several Highlander models were reported to have defective oxygen sensors. This sensor is used to provide the fuel and air ratio to the engine. If you have a faulty oxygen sensor, your vehicle may end up in rough idling and misfiring of the machine. You can fix this issue by replacing or repairing the sensor.
Using Engine Oil Faster Than Average
Toyota Highlander is one of those trucks that eat, or you can say, drink oil. This is the most frustrating issue that can make your pockets empty. In the Toyota Highlander 2001 to 2003 model years, oil sludge was a common issue with the 3.0-liter 1MZ-FE engine.
You can fix this issue by cleaning the sludge by dropping the oil pan, cleaning the oil filter screen, replacing the PCV valve, and changing the oil after driving 1,000 to 3,000 miles.
Some other SUVs of Toyota, like the RAV4, also has excessive fuel usage problem. If you want to know more about it, read our article Toyota RAV4 Years to Avoid.
AC Condenser Problem
AC is not working effectively or not throwing cold air; then your Highlander has an AC condenser issue. It is easy to repair the problem and can be fixed within minutes. Moreover, the Condenser can easily be replaced for a small amount of money so that everybody can afford it.
Toyota has full-size SUVs like Sequoia, Land Cruiser, and the small-sized RAV4 and C-HR. So they needed a mid-sized SUV to hit audiences that do not like or afford full-size SUVs and do not want small-sized SUVs, so they introduced Highlander.
Highlander has all the advanced features, including comfy heated seats, an advanced infotainment system, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, emergency steering assist, front automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, and road sign recognition. So it can be an excellent choice to consider and would be the ultimate choice if you have a family of 6 or 7 people.
Furthermore, make sure to avoid its 2015, 2012, 2008, 2005, and 2003 models as they are the most problematic. You can choose 2018 – 2022 models, or if you are low on budget and want nothing but Highlander, then the 2007 model is the best for you.
Here are the frequently asked question about this truck, and their answers are given below.
What is the average mileage life of a Toyota Highlander?
According to most of the reviews, Toyota Highlander can last up to 150,000 – 200,000.
Is the Toyota Highlander suitable for long-distance driving?
Toyota Highlander has good-quality suspensions, comfortable seats, and a powerful engine, so it can be a reasonable consideration for long-distance driving.
Is Toyota getting rid of the Highlander?
A new Toyota Grand Highlander will join Toyota’s Highlander lineup in 2023 as part of the company’s grand SUV strategy having a fresh design and more powerful hybrid engine.
Is a Highlander better than a Land Cruiser?
Toyota Highlander has low fuel economy and a lower price range compared to the Toyota Land Cruiser. Moreover, Highlander has an 8.9 / 10 reliability rating, while Land Cruiser has a 9.2 / 10. Both are good, but if you want more features and comfort, Land Cruiser is better for you, and if you wish for an affordable but comfortable vehicle, then Highlander can be a good consideration.
What is the most luxurious Highlander?
The platinum trim level of the Highlander is the most luxurious among all its trim levels. Some of its features include heated and ventilated seats, a larger touchscreen display, and a digital rearview mirror.
Rand Frankey is OffRoadsCare freelance Content Editor. He loves offroad Travelling and bikes, jeeps, and dirk bikes. He will explain all his experience with dirt bikes and offroad vehicles which helps you to make a decision like which vehicle is right for you.