Discover Worst Toyota Highlander Years to Avoid and Most Reliable Models

Patrick Oziegbe
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Are you in the market for a reliable and adventure-ready vehicle that can keep up with your family’s busy lifestyle?

Look no further than the Toyota Highlander – a popular mid-size crossover SUV with three-row seating, loved among outdoor enthusiasts and families alike.

But before you hit the road, it’s important to know which model years to avoid.

In this publication, we’ll reveal the Highlander years that have caused headaches for drivers and discuss the issues that have landed them on our “avoid” list.

From the problematic 2003 model to the troublesome 2014 version, we’ll give you the inside scoop on which years to steer clear of, as well get a complete scoop about the best year Toyota Highlander to buy all day long.

Armed with this knowledge (check more resources), you can confidently embark on your search for the perfect Toyota Highlander SUV that will deliver the quality and satisfaction you deserve.

Toyota Highlander Overview

Worst Toyota Highlander Years to Avoid
©Photo Credit: DepositPhotos

The Toyota Highlander is a popular mid-size SUV that has been in production since 2001. This family-oriented vehicle is known for its reliability, comfort, and practicality.

As you consider purchasing a Highlander, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the various generations and highlights of this well-loved SUV.

The first-generation Toyota Highlander (2001-2007) was designed with families in mind, featuring spacious interiors and a comfortable ride.

This generation came with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine, providing ample power for your daily commutes and weekend adventures. The available all-wheel-drive option was a plus for those living in snowy climates.

The second-generation Highlander (2008-2013) saw a redesign that offered more space, as well as the introduction of a hybrid model.

The new design made the Highlander feel more luxurious, while also offering improved fuel efficiency for the environmentally conscious buyer. The safety features were also enhanced during this generation, giving you greater peace of mind when transporting your family.

The third-generation Highlander (2014-2019) continued to build on its strong reputation, with more advanced safety features, updated technology, and even greater space for passengers and cargo.

The available hybrid version also saw improved fuel economy, providing an excellent option for buyers focused on reducing their carbon footprint.

Finally, the current fourth-generation Highlander (2020-present) offers a sleek redesign and even more advanced technology and safety features.

This generation also includes an updated hybrid model with better fuel economy, making it an attractive choice for eco-friendly drivers.

RELATED: Discover which is better between Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX350 amazing designed SUV cars!

The Years to Avoid (2001-2010, 2011-2013, 2014-2022)

In this section, we will discuss the Toyota Highlander years you should avoid and the common issues reported in those specific model years.

We’ll break it down into three subsections: 2001-2010, 2011-2013, and 2014-2022.

2001-2010 Model Years

During the first generation of the Toyota Highlander, which spans from 2001 to 2007, the 2003 and 2004 models were most known for problems requiring expensive repairs, such as engine or transmission replacement.

The 2006 and 2007 Highlanders also had some issues reported. In the first few years of the second generation (2008-2010), the 2008 model experienced more severe problems compared to the other years, and it might be best to avoid this year as well.

Some common issues for these years include:

  • Engine problems
  • Transmission replacement
  • Steering issues

2011-2013 Models

Moving on to the 2011-2013 models, the 2012 Highlander has reported issues as well, such as faulty ignition coils and CO2 sensors.

This model is not as problematic as other years, but the potential for expensive repairs may still be a concern.

Issues for these years include:

  • Faulty ignition coils
  • CO2 sensor problems

2014-2022 Years

In the latest years of the Highlander, the 2015 and 2019 models stand out as having more reported issues than their surrounding years.

The 2020 model also experienced some problems but is generally not considered to be one of the worst years.

Some of the reported issues for these years are:

  • Air conditioning problems
  • Interior glitches

By being aware of the years where the Highlander has had more reported issues, you can better navigate your search for a reliable and lasting vehicle. Remember, every car is unique and proper maintenance plays a significant role in a vehicle’s longevity.

Revealing the Common Problems

  • Engine Issues

One of the common problems with Toyota Highlanders in some years is engine bolts becoming stripped, which can lead to coolant leakage and overheated engines.

Additionally, excessive oil usage and engine failure have been reported in certain models.

Tip: To prevent engine problems, keep an eye on coolant levels and oil consumption, and address any issues as soon as possible.

  • Steering and Suspension Issues

Some Toyota Highlander owners have experienced defective steering shafts that may need replacement.

A tell-tale sign of this issue is a crunching or clunking noise when turning at low speeds. Thankfully, this is not an expensive fix and you can diagnose it yourself.

Tip: Stay alert to any unusual sounds or steering difficulties and have them inspected by a mechanic if needed.

  • Brakes and Traction Control Issues

While not as common in Toyota Highlanders, it’s important to be aware of potential problems with brakes and traction control systems.

If you experience any unusual brake performance or traction issues, it’s important to get your vehicle checked by a professional.

Tip: Regularly inspect your brake pads, rotors, and overall brake system to maintain safe stopping power.

  • Electrical and Navigation Issues

Some Toyota Highlander models have reported problems with electrical systems, like faulty ignition coils and CO2 sensors. In addition, there have been complaints about navigation systems not functioning properly.

Tip: Periodically check your vehicle’s electrical components and navigation system, and keep them updated to ensure accurate performance.

Toyota Highlander Best Years and Reliability

One of the top years to buy a Toyota Highlander is 2020.

This model has a solid reputation for its reliable V-6 engine, smooth ride quality, cozy interiors, and many advanced safety features. It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a dependable and efficient vehicle.

The 2021 Highlander also stands out as a reliable option, with improved fuel efficiency and superior off-roading capabilities.

It’s a close second to the 2020 model in terms of reliability, making it another outstanding choice for your next SUV.

A few other exemplary best years for Toyota Highlander models include:

  • 2016: Known for its strong performance, comfortable cabin, and impressive fuel efficiency,
  • 2014: Renowned for its smooth ride and top-notch interior quality,
  • 2012: Features an attractive cabin, roomy seating space, and a fuel-efficient engine.

Also, remember that higher mileage vehicles may have reduced reliability in the long run.

However, with Toyota’s reputation for building durable and dependable vehicles, you can be confident that these selected models offer a good balance of reliability and performance as long as they have been well maintained.

Recalls and Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) frequently receives complaints and issues recalls, which can be a helpful indication for finding the Toyota Highlander years that you should avoid.

One of the worst Highlander years is 2008, with more than 300 complaints and 13 recalls issued.

Having said that, the Highlander has been generally safe, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given good overall ratings to these vehicles.

If you’re considering first-generation Highlanders, you may want to avoid the 2003-2005 models and opt for the 2001-2002 or 2006-2007 models, which have better safety ratings.

Some common recalls and safety concerns for specific Highlander years include:

  • 2003-2005: Engine bolts may become stripped, causing coolant leakage and overheated engines.
  • 2008-2012: Issues with the engine, steering, faulty ignition coils, and CO2 sensors have been reported.
  • 2020: Incorrect seat trim covers on the front seats, which could impact safety in the event of a crash.

When reviewing any year’s Highlander model, check for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, as this designation indicates a vehicle with exceptional safety features.

Remember, while no car can guarantee complete safety, being informed about recalls and common issues with specific years of the Toyota Highlander can help you make a better decision when purchasing this popular SUV.

Alternatives to the Toyota Highlander

There are several alternatives to the Toyota Highlander that you might want to consider, especially if you’re looking for specific features or capabilities.

Kia Telluride

If you’re seeking a comfortable and spacious SUV, the Kia Telluride is an excellent option. It offers generous cargo space, a high-quality cabin, and a smooth, comfortable ride.

Plus, it comes with numerous safety features and tech amenities, making it an attractive choice for families or those who value advanced technology.

Hyundai Palisade

As an alternative to the Toyota Highlander, the Hyundai Palisade is another strong contender.

With its competitive overall score, the Palisade slightly outranks the Highlander in multiple areas, according to Consumer Reports.

It also boasts an upscale interior, smooth drive, and impressive safety features, unfortunately some used Palisade have experienced serious issues..

Honda Passport

Looking for an SUV with the perfect mix of on-road comfort and off-road capability? The Honda Passport might just be the one for you.

It shares a platform with the larger Honda Pilot, so it has ample space for passengers and cargo while offering a more rugged appearance. It falls between the RAV4 and 4Runner in terms of off-road prowess.

Chevrolet Traverse

The Chevrolet Traverse provides a roomy and comfortable interior, making it perfect for those who prioritize passenger space.

With seating for up to eight, it’s an excellent choice for large families or groups, however many families equally reports about negative Traverse issues.

The Traverse also excels in terms of smoothness and quiet cabin, giving you a pleasant drive no matter the distance.

Ford Explorer

Finally, the Ford Explorer is a popular choice among best-selling SUVs. It features a powerful engine lineup, solid towing capacity, and an expansive interior – all benefits may be reduced with worst models of Explorer SUV.

Moreover, the Explorer it comes with a user-friendly infotainment system and available off-road-oriented models, offering you versatility and capability similar to the 4Runner.

In conclusion, several alternatives to the Toyota Highlander are available, each with its unique features and strengths. It’s essential to consider your priorities and needs when choosing an SUV to find the perfect match for you.


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