Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid – Which Are These Years?

by Conner Mckay

Are you on the market for a good and reliable mid-size crossover SUV? If that is the case, probably the Toyota Highlander is the way to go. But what are the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? Knowing this is key if you want to avoid a bad Highlander since not all of the production years are perfect and some of them are more prone to problems than others.

That’s why doing proper research is key if you want to avoid any future issues with your car. You basically need to be a step ahead of the possible problems. Knowing the possible issues is going to save you thousands of dollars in the long run and it will be less likely that you will end up in a money pit.

Also, don’t be afraid of checking the car before you purchase. A good pre-purchase inspection is going to tell you quite a lot about the car that you plan to purchase. The mechanics over there will see what is wrong with the Highlander and what will cost to fix these issues. This can cost some money but it’s completely worth it. We also going to share our tips in this article where we will dive deep into the issues of the Highlanders.

In this article, we are going to go through every generation of the Toyota Highlander where we will cover the specs, the problems, and the Toyota Highlander years to avoid. Then we will also discuss the alternatives that are out there. So, follow along.

What Is The Toyota Highlander?

The Toyota Highlander is one of the cars Toyota is making that you just cannot avoid since there are so many on the road. The Highlander is one of the most popular mid-size SUVs on the market that people love to buy.

That’s why the Highlander is enjoying a long production run of more than 20 years. In fact, there have been 21 years since the first Highlander was introduced at the New York Auto Show in early 2000. Then it debuted for the 2001 model year.

And up until now, it is in its fourth iteration. This means that there are four generations of Highlanders out there and each of them has different problems that you have to learn in order to get the right one for yourself.

Since the production run has spanned for more than 20 years there are plenty of Toyota Highlander years to avoid and you probably don’t want to get yourself a lemon. Even though in the situation of the Highlander this is hardly true. Since Toyota is highly reliable and they don’t leave anything to circumstance.

And that’s why people love Toyota products in general. They are highly reliable and durable when it comes to the overall strength of the vehicle to withstand the stress that is accumulated throughout the years of hard service.

Even though after so many miles, there are some problems that develop and there are some Toyota Highlander years to avoid if you don’t want to get yourself a bad Highlander for yourself. And which problems will cost a lot of money in order to get sorted. So, if you want to learn which are these model years. Follow along as we go through each of these generations.

Toyota Highlander Generations

In this chapter, we will go through each of the Toyota Highlander generations and we will learn the specs for each of these cars. Then we will cover the problems that these generations have and the Toyota Highlander years to avoid. So, let’s get started.

Toyota Highlander 1st Generation Specs

As we mentioned, the first generation of the Highlander was introduced back in 2000 for the 2001 model year. Toyota understood that there was a market for a smaller SUV and decided to fill this gap and deliver a product. And the Highlander was quite a good product, to be honest.

But unlike the 4Runner and other competitors like the Chevy TrailBlazer (also, check out our guide on the Trailblazer bolt pattern)and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Highlander was aimed at a different audience. The people who wanted more comfort than off-road capabilities. And the Highlander was delivered with its unibody construction and independent rear suspension.

The Highlander was built on the K platform by Toyota that was shared with the Camry and other Toyota products that were available at the time.

It was produced until 2007 when production has ended and it was replaced with the second generation of the Highlander. But which are the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? More on that later. Let’s first see what engines and transmissions were available.

Engines & Transmissions

In terms of engines, there were three engines available in the Highlander. And all three engines were petrol engines. There was the smallest 2.4l straight 4 making 155hp and there were two V6 engines.

One produced between 2001 to 2003 with a 3.0l capacity that produced 203hp and then was the more powerful engine from 2004 to 2007 that had 3.3l and made 225hp. Quite more in comparison to the early models. And also more from the competitors like the Honda Pilot and Nissan Murano. This engine was able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in under 8 seconds. Which was quite quick back in the day.

In terms of transmissions, there were two automatics that were offered for the Highlander. And both of them were automatics. One of them was a 4-speed automatic while the other one was a 5 speed automatic. They were not particularly sharp, but they got the job done.


In terms of safety, the Highlander was quite good and it offered a lot in comparison to other cars in this segment. That’s why if the safety is number one priority the Highlander should be at the top of your picks.

Many safety features were standard like ABS, brake assist, traction control. Overall, the safety for the Highlander at the time was excellent. Especially for the updated model of 2005.


Even though the Highlander is a good car, it definitely has some issues. In this chapter, we are going to cover them in detail.

1. Broken VVT Oil Feed Hose

The hose that is feeding the VVT system on the engine can fail sometimes and splashes of oil can come out. Making your car undrivable and possible engine damage can occur.

2. Stripped Cylinder Head Bolts

Cylinder head bolts can break and cause the coolant to escape and the engine would simply overheat and destroy itself. The driver in most situations would be not aware of this happening and in the end, it would have to replace the whole engine.

If this problem is detected on time. You might be lucky and only have your bolts replaced with new ones. That’s why if you have a Highlander, it is good to monitor these bolts.

This problem mostly happens on the 4 cylinder engine and it needs to be checked every once in a while if you don’t want to replace your engine with a new one.

3. Check Engine Light After Replacing Air Filter

On the air filter box, there are a couple of hoses that can easily get removed and the check engine light would flash. So, if you have been replacing your air filter pretty soon and you got a check engine light it is a good idea to check these hoses.

4. O2 Sensor Issues

And the last big problem is the O2 sensor. The O2 sensors on these old cars can break and cause all sorts of issues. If you have a check engine light it is a good idea to inspect the problem and learn if it is caused by this sensor. If it is, then you will have to replace it.

Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid

So, which Highlander from this generation to avoid? I would say to avoid the early models of the Highlander. Most notably the models between 2001 to 2005.

After the refresh, the Highlander is a much better car overall. Also, avoid the 2.4l engine. It is notorious for breaking the bolts and causing the engine to overheat and destroy itself.

Toyota Highlander 2nd Generation Specs

The second generation of the Highlander was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007 and the sales have begun in that same year.

This model similar to the predecessor can be considered as a mid-size SUV that is targeting people who want comfort.

This model also similar to its predecessor is built on the same K platform. This means that there was no significant redesigning to the platform that was already in use.

This generation of the Highlander was in production until 2013 when it was replaced with a new model. It had one mid-life refresh in 2010 where some changes were made concerning the looks of the car and the powertrains. But what about the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? More on that a bit later.

Engines & Transmissions

There were considerable changes in terms of powertrains for the new generation of the Highlander which means a lot of new engines were introduced.

The smallest was a 2.7l straight 4 engine that made 187hp. Then there were more powerful options. Namely the 3.5l V6 and also the new 3.3l V6 engine. These engines were also paired with electric motors in a hybrid configuration that was extremely more powerful and also more fuel-efficient in comparison to other engines that were out there in similar size vehicles.

In terms of transmissions, there were two of them to choose from. One was a 5-speed automatic while the other was a 6 speed automatic. The six-speed understandably was included in the more powerful options. But what are the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? More on that a bit later after we cover the safety aspect.


The safety of the new Toyota Highlander similarly to its predecessor was pretty much on par with the best at the time. It got 5 stars on most of the tests by the NTHSA except for the frontal passenger where it got only 4 and also in case of a rollover were also got 4 stars.

There were also many safety features included as standard like brake assist, traction control, ABS, and airbags around the whole vehicle.


Now let’s cover the problems with the second generation of the Toyota Highlander before we cover the Toyota Highlander years to avoid.

Fortunately, the new generation of the Highlander didn’t have big mechanical issues. But there were electrical problems that we are going to cover now.

1. Door Closes/ Chime Stays On

Many people have reported problems with the buzzer even though they closed the door accordingly.

This buzzer annoyed a few drivers and they reported that it is going off when they hit a bump while turning or even accelerating.

It is a very frustrating situation, to be honest. Especially if it scares you all of a sudden. Fortunately, it was an electrical issue and it was patched by Toyota.

2. Interior Lights Turn On And Off

Another problem connected with the first one is that the interior lights came on and off while hitting a bump or accelerating.

Another frustrating electrical issue that you don’t want to have in your Highlander. And there are many other small electrical problems that we are going to list in the next chapter.

3. Other Electrical Issues

In order to save some time, we are going to list these issues that occur on the Highlander. These are: door locks don’t work, the rear door doesn’t shut all the way, a master warning light comes on, bad starter, and other minor problems.

Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid

When it comes to the second generation of the Highlander, there are practically no years to avoid. Why is this the case? This is the case because the Highlander or this generation is pretty much bulletproof.

If you want a Highlander, this generation is it. But be aware of some electrical gremlins in your system. Make sure that you check every electrical component before you buy.

Toyota Highlander 3rd Generation Specs

In 2013 at the New York Auto Show was unveiled the new Highlander model that replaced the previous generation.

It was based on the same K platform as the previous generation but improved in comparison to its predecessor. This generation saw an increase in overall length and width in comparison to the previous generation.

And also saw a departure from the old plasticky interior design language into something more modern and posh as the Brits would say. Making the new Highlander a better place to be while driving. With this new generation, Toyota gave the driver to experience the Highlander as he should from the beginning.

This model incorporates soft-touch materials, an infotainment system, HD Radio, Bluetooth, and many other technologies.

Engines & Transmissions

In terms of engines, the Highlander saw a slight improvement in comparison with its predecessor. Toyota ditched the 3.3l V6 and there were basically two engines available. The 2.7l straight 4 and the 3.5l V6 that was also used with the hybrid variant.

But the transmission saw an improvement. There was the 6 speed auto as the base transmission and the 8-speed auto that improved the fuel economy by a good margin. The 8 speed was included on the cars after 2016 where the 6 speed was ditched on the V6 models.

But what about the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? More about that a bit later after we cover the safety and the problems of this generation.


When it comes to safety. The Highlander exceeded again. Even though it is not perfect. But the extra size has done its thing and made the Highlander quite safer. Gaining 5 stars on all NTHSA tests except the frontal driver where it got 4 and this can be a deal-breaker for some. And also got 4 stars in case of a rollover.


Similar to the previous generation of this model. The problems were not mechanically related. But the Highlander had some gremlins in it. Some of them were electrical while some of them were other things that annoyed people. So, which are these problems?

The first problem was the very uncomfortable seats on the 2015 model. Many people hated these seats and most of the complaints were concerned with this. People felt too much pain while driving the car for a long time.

Then there were the audio settings that were constantly resetting. People have set their favorite radio stations and the car simply reset the settings to default for no reason.

Excessive wind noise can be noted. This in fact is due to the design of this vehicle which created a lot of turbulent air that was even heard inside of the cabin.

Some people also claimed that on their 2014 Highlander models the infotainment simply stopped working and they need to replace it with a new one.

Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid

When it comes to Toyota Highlander years to avoid. I would say to avoid the cars up until 2015. The 2016 to 2019 models are quite good.

They are all good in terms of mechanical issues. But the early models have some downsides like the problem with the seats and the infotainment system. That’s why get the latter ones if you can. Or find one that is quite sorted.

Toyota Highlander 4th Generation Specs

The newest 4th generation of the Highlander was introduced at the New York Auto Show. This new model goes a step ahead and it is built on a completely new platform called the GA-K which is shared with the new Toyota Camry.

Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid

This new model is offered in five different trim levels. Namely, the L, LE, XLE, Limited, and the highest trim level the Platinum.

Engines & Transmissions

There are two engines in total for the Highlander. Toyota is trying to downsize and the 3.5 V6 Is offered with the regular trims while the 2.5 is used on the hybrid. Which makes sense. That’s why the sales of the hybrid have gone up pretty much in comparison to when the hybrid was offered with the 3.5l V6 and there was also a separate non-hybrid version of the 3.5 V6.

The hybrid also has a 54hp electric motor as well.

The transmissions used in the newest generation are the 8 speed automatic for the standard and the CVT for the hybrid models.


The safety of the new Highlander is quite good and on par with the best in its class. Similar to the previous generation, this one has a lot to offer as well. But what about the Toyota Highlander years to avoid? Well, more on that later after we cover the problems of this model.


With this new generation, there are no particular problems to be noted except the uncomfortable seats that some drivers were annoyed of and also the A/C condenser has failed on some occasions. But these things are pretty minor. In the forthcoming years, we are going to see how good is this Highlander.

Toyota Highlander Years To Avoid

Since the 4th generation is particularly new there is no Highlander to avoid when it comes to the newest gen of Highlanders.

If you want to avoid some possible issues, avoid the first cars that came from the production line. Because these cars are hiding the most problems. Get the newest one and you will be trouble-free, considering that every new car has a warranty and you will be safe in the upcoming years with the Highlander.

Then sell it and get the newer generation. That’s how many people work and they are pretty much tackling these problems that higher mileage cars develop over time.

Toyota Highlander Facts: Model Years to Avoid and Best Years

  • The Toyota Highlander was first introduced in 2001 and was the first car-based mid-size SUV.
  • The first-generation Highlander (2001-2007) was designed to be great on the road and not off-road, and it had 6.9 inches of ground clearance and an optional vehicle skid control system with traction control and selective braking.
  • The 2003 and 2004 model years of the first-generation Highlander should be avoided as they reportedly suffer from problems that require expensive repairs, such as an engine or transmission replacement.
  • The second-generation Highlander (2008-2013) had a rough start with 13 recalls and over 300 complaints for the 2008 model year, and the best years are from 2009 to 2013.
  • The third-generation Highlander (2014-2019) received the IIHS Top Safety Pick for every model year, and the best years are from 2017 to 2019.
  • The fourth-generation Highlander (2020-present) is the most aggressive-looking Highlander yet and has a new GA-K platform, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, and Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+ standard on all models.
  • The most common problem with the Toyota Highlander is an oil leak from a burst VVT-i line.
  • The 2010 through 2013 model years of the Toyota Highlander are the best value as they have taken most of their depreciation already and have a great reliable engine and transmission.
  • If you have a higher budget, the best years to look at are from 2017 to 2019 when Toyota started adding its safety suite to all of its vehicles.
  • The Toyota Highlander is known for its safety and reliability and is a great choice for a midsize SUV.


In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to the Toyota Highlander. We have covered what is the Toyota Highlander and its characteristics.

Then we went through each of these generations and discussed the basics and the engines and transmissions that were offered. Then we have covered the safety and also the problems for each generation.

Lastly, we have covered the Toyota Highlander years to avoid so you have a better perspective on which are the best models out there for you to buy. If it was up to me, I would go for a good newer model with low miles. Especially if they also offer a warranty on it. This warranty will be somewhat of a guarantee. Overall, good car, Toyota always delivers good cars.

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