9 Common Toyota Highlander Problems & Issues (W/ Recall #s)

If you’ve decided it’s time to buy a new car, you’re likely wondering what you may run into once you buy it.

And like most, you’re probably considering the top manufacturers known for producing good quality vehicles. While Toyota is a reputable manufacturer, its vehicles are not exempt from having common problems.

The most common problems with Toyota Highlander are faulty fuel pumps that can cause engine stalling, stripped head bolts, and faulty oil lines. In addition, many have issues with a droning noise from the exhaust and noisy suspensions. Certain models are also known to have problems with the electronic power steering assist features.

Before you decide that the Highlander is the right one for you, you should be sure to do thorough research.

Luckily, we’ve done that part for you and put it all together in one article. So read on to discover the common problems, the reliability, and what other Highlander owners have to say about their experience.

Why your Toyota Highlander is Having Issues

If you’re wondering why your Toyota Highlander is having issues or what issues you may encounter if you buy a Highlander, it’s related to one of the most common issues many Highlander owners have experienced.

Luckily, many of these were included in a recall or service bulletin. For those that aren’t, they generally have a simple solution.

Most Common Problems With the Toyota Highlander

1. Stripped Engine Bolts

Stripped head bolts is one common problem for Highlander owners. This problem is most common in 2002-2006 Highlanders. Of these models, the 2013 seems to be the most commonly affected.

When they heat up from the engine’s heat, it puts pressure on the head bolts and causes them to pull up, resulting in the stripped threads.

When this happens, the engine block is no longer properly connected to the head gasket and cylinder, allowing your coolant to leak steadily. If you continue driving your vehicle after this happens, you could cause worse damage to your engine.

When Highlander owners first started experiencing this problem, they believed that their vehicle had run hot and was leaking coolant because of a blown head gasket. This was when they learned that their head bolt threads had been stripped.


The best solution to this problem is to check your coolant regularly. If you can catch the leaks early, you can fix the issue before it causes severe damage to your engine.

Depending on the severity of the damage done to your threading and whether or not the problem caused further damage to your motor, it’s possible that the threads could be fixed. However, it’s a complex and time-consuming job.

The most time-consuming part of the process is tearing down the top part of the engine so you can get to the cylinder block. Afterward, you’d use an insert kit to repair the stripped threads.

A quality kit to use for this costs around $150. However, it’s important that you get a kit with everything you’ll need to do the job.

You can have this done at a shop, but it’s likely to cost around the same as having an engine rebuilt because of the hours of labor that would go into the job.

In addition, there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again or that you won’t find that the initial incident caused worse damage once you get it back together. So, you may end up having to replace the engine.

A new engine will cost around $5000. After labor, the total cost could but up to $9500. You can find a used engine for about $3000, depending on the year of your Highlander.

2. Ruptured Oil Lines

Other common Highlander problems created much more significant issues for owners than the stripped head bolt threads.

These issues were related to sludge building up in the engine, which created a lengthy list of issues for Highlander owners. On the other hand, hose failures have caused problems, with some models losing oil pressure.

3. Sludge

2001-2005 Highlanders with the 3.0L V6 engine had many problems with oil sludge building up in their motor. Other Toyota vehicles had the same issue, including certain Camry, Avalon, and Lexus models.

Many Highlander owners have argued that this problem was Toyota’s fault for not recommending the correct intervals for oil changes. Some came away with repair bills as high as $8000 because of the problem.

Oil sludge refers to when the oil thickens up in your motor and can be a result of many things, including:

  • Not changing your oil often enough
  • Only driving your car for short distances over an extended period of time
  • Using bad quality oil in your car
  • Not changing the oil filter often enough
  • A bad head gasket
  • Poor oil circulation
  • The engine is running too hot or cold in certain areas of the motor.

There are many ways that you can tell if this is happening. Some of these things include your car using excessive oil, your engine seeming to be bogged down, or you may notice thick or dirty oil on your dipstick.

Another common indicator may be that your oil light comes on frequently.


One of the best things you can do to prevent oil sludge is to stay on top of your preventative maintenance. This includes making sure that you keep your oil changed around every 3000 miles and keeping your filter changed. Using synthetic oil may also help prevent this buildup.

If you notice this problem, one of the best ways to fix it is to start changing your mile around every 1500 miles until it gets better.

You may also want to consider taking your car to a mechanic and letting them flush your engine. This is one of your best options if you need to remove an excessive amount of sludge buildup.

4. Hose Failure

In contrast to oil building up in the motor, all Toyota and Lexus models 2005–2009 with 3.5 L V6 2GR–FE engines were recalled after many owners had a specific rubber hose burst that allowed all of their oil to drain. The oil light comes on when this hose bursts, and you immediately lose all oil pressure.

Several Highlander owners had also reported that when it happened, they would find oil all underneath the undercarriage of their vehicle. One even mentioned that they noticed oil all over their back glass as soon as it happened.

In addition, many owners have voiced several complaints about the engine oil cooler pipe leaking. Most affected are the Highlanders which feature a towing package.


The service bulletin from Toyota requires the repair of these hoses. This bulletin offers metal replacement hoses for the defective rubber hoses (VVTi line) they originally installed.

For the oil cooler pipe, Highlander owners who owned 2008-2011 models were offered a warranty enhancement. Owners of these models were offered a special warranty covering the issue for up to 10 from the first date they used the car or 150,000 miles.

Those not covered by this special warranty can expect to pay approximately $186 for the part. In addition, labor for this repair usually costs between $150 and $190.

5. Steering Sounds

In addition to engine problems, 2008-2013 Highlanders make a popping or clanking sound when the steering wheel is turned. These issues have been known to start around 45,000 miles.

Many owners say the sound is worse when the steering wheel is turned while moving at slower speeds. This issue, in particular, is related to the steering shaft. While the sound may sound concerning, there have not been any reports of the steering failing or other safety concerns.

In addition, the 2015 was recalled because of a potentially damaged electric power steering control unit that could cause the power steering assist to fail. Power steering-related steering sounds will generally sound more like a whining sound than a mechanical clunking sound.

This issue can be dangerous, as it can cause the power steering to fail while you’re driving. If your power steering assist fails, it will be much more challenging to control the vehicle. Sometimes, it could also cause your steering wheel to lock up.


Toyota issued a service bulletin and is replacing the steering shaft in these models free of charge for Highlander owners of 2008-2013 models.

For repairs not covered in this, you can expect to pay around $170 with labor included to fix your steering shaft.

If you have a 2015 Highlander and are experiencing issues with your power steering, you should call your local Toyota dealer to have the module replaced if you haven’t already. Aside from this recall, the power steering control module costs around $700 plus between $150 and $185 for labor costs.

6. Rear Suspension Sounds

Another noisy problem common for Highlanders is that the rear suspension squeaks or scrubs when you’re going over bumpy areas. You may also notice that the squeak gets louder when the temperature is cold.

According to many owners, the issue started after a couple of years of use, rather than immediately. Instead, it was also showing up in brand-new vehicles.

Because of this issue, Toyota issued a service bulletin for 2014-2019 to replace the rear trailing assembly. However, unlike other bulletins, this one would only replace the part for free if the car was under warranty.


It’s important that you fix the problem as soon as possible if you think the traling arm could be bad. Those left faulty for too long could also cause problems with your bushings.

If your Highlander is still under warranty, your local dealer will be able to replace the part free of charge. For those not under warranty, it will cost around $265. With labor included, you’ll likely spend between $380 and $410.

7. Limited Third Row Space

Many Highlander owners are also less than satisfied with the amount of space in their third-row seating area.

There are only under 28 inches of legroom when seated, so the space is really only suitable for children. So, while they technically seat seven people, they don’t allow much extra space for adults.

The Highlander’s third row is smaller in comparison to other SUVs in its class. For example, most of its competitors average over 31 inches of legroom, while the Ford Explorer has almost 41 inches.


Unfortunately, there is little you can do to change the lack of space in the Highlander’s third row. If you’re still shopping for a car, you may want to consider a vehicle with more space.

However, if you already own a Highlander, it just means you have plenty of time to decide if you’d rather go with something different next time.

8. Exhaust Drone

While the lack of space has been a big annoyance to some, other Highlander owners are trying to find the best way to stop the humming/drone/buzzing sound that their vehicle makes at certain speeds. This is most common for 2014-2016 (Third Generation) Highlanders.

Some mistake this sound as coming from the tires. However, this distinct “drone” sound is because of the exhaust.


There are a few different things that you can try to make the droning stop. First, you should check to see if there’s anything that could be loose near your exhaust pipe that could be causing the sound when it moves.

The sound usually stops after replacing the manifold, according to some owners who have tried this. Others have had luck with changing the factory hangers.

9. Fuel Pump Issues

In addition, Highlanders are known to have faulty fuel pumps, which could be significant. If the fuel pump is going bad, you’ll likely notice sputtering when accelerating, hesitance when accelerating, or even random engine stalls.

These things can be dangerous when you’re driving down a busy highway. For example, you cannot keep up with traffic if your car doesn’t accelerate properly.

Similarly, you could be sitting still in heavy traffic when the engine stalls. In turn, the risk of someone rear-ending your car is much higher.


Toyota recalled some 2019 models. Contact your local dealership for information regarding your specific model. You can have your fuel pumped replaced for free if it was included in one of these.

If you have fuel pump issues with your Highlander that haven’t been recalled, a new fuel pump will cost around $150—labor costs for having your fuel pump replaced run between $150 and $250.

What Years Did the Toyota Highlander Have Problems

Based on problems reported to carproblemzoo.com since 1996.

When looking to buy a Toyota Highlander, there are a few different years to avoid. The 2019-2021 are some of the most problematic.

All three of these Highlanders had many problems reported with the fuel system, the most common being related to the fuel pump.

While the 2019-2021 Highlanders do not have the most problems overall, they do have a concerning number of complaints considering their age.

In addition to these, 2008 Highlander owners experienced many problems with their engines and brakes.

Best Years to Buy Used With Little Complaints

Although some have a lengthy list of problems, others have had few complaints, many of which were not severe problems.

For example, the 2004 is among the best Highlander years. The most common problem with the 2004 Highlander was related to the fuel pump, which is a simple repair compared to some others.

In addition, the 2009-2013 Highlanders had few significant problems. Overall, owners of these models have been pleased with their experience with the vehicle.

Avoiding the models with known problems and going with a model that has proven to be reliable is one of the best ways to ensure you have a good experience with the one you choose.

Recent Recall #s

The number assigned to a recall when it is issued is called the recall number. It can be used to identify the specific recall. It makes it much easier to look up information on the recall if you need to find it at a later date.

Toyota has issued several recent recalls for the Highlander. The recall numbers lists are some of the most recent.

Recall NumberYears IncludedReason
22V3100002022Load capacity labels made fade and be unreadable.
22V2390002021The stability control system stays off after restarting the vehicle.
20V6330002020The side airbag may not deploy.
20V1620002020Fuel may not be supplied correctly with the stop and restart feature.
20V6820002017-2019The low-pressure fuel pump may fail.

There are likely other open recalls for your Highlander. You can check to see if there are open recalls by visiting the NHTSA website.

Check to See Whether Your Vehicle Has an Open Recall

  1. To see if there are open recalls on your Highlander, go to https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.
  2. Once you get to the website, you can enter your VIN or choose to enter the make, model, and year of your Highlander.
  3. When you hit search, they will provide a list of recalls that are specific to your year model Highlander.

How Reliable is the Toyota Highlander?

The Toyota Highlander is a reliable car, overall. JD Power gives vehicles a reliability rating based on surveys from those who have purchased the car. All of the Highlander years score above 80 out of 100.

In addition, Repair Pal analyzes the cost, severity, and frequency of repairs/maintenance for the vehicles over time to produce a reliability score. They rate the Highlander 4 out of 5 in this rating.

They also determine averages for the average annual cost and frequency of repairs, and the Highlander is slightly below these averages. For example. The average price of all vehicle repairs is $652 per year, and the Highlander’s average is only $489.

The severity of these repairs tends to be average, meaning they don’t generally need severe repairs more often than is normal for a vehicle.

However, it’s important to consider how Highlander’s reliability looks compared to other cars of its class. So, we looked into that as well.

How is it Compared to Similar Cars?

Another popular option is the Chevrolet Traverse. Overall, the Highlander is rated more reliable than the Traverse. However, the Traverse ranks higher with JD Power for 2022 model rankings, The overall rating of the Traverse with Repair Pal is a point lower than the Highlander (3/5).

The Traverse often requires more expensive and urgent repairs than the Highlander.

We also looked at how the Highlander compared to the Ford Explorer. While the Highlander’s repair cost is average, the Explorer’s repairs run a bit above average at $732 each year. The repairs are less frequent but tend to be a bit more urgent and costly when they occur. They ranked the Traverse a 3.5/5.

Both the Chevrolet Traverse and the Buick Enclave were rated higher than the Highlander in the 2022 year model ranking from JD Power. This is likely due to the increase in problems the latest Highlander model owners have experienced.

When comparing the overall comparison between the Buick Enclave and the Toyota Highlander, the Buick Enclave does have less frequent repairs than the Highlander. However, when they do require repairs, they tend to be more expensive and severe than the Highlander.

What is the Life Expectancy?

When determining how reliable a vehicle will be, it’s also critical to consider how low the vehicle is likely to last.

However, the life expectancy of a vehicle will vary based on several things. The most important factors include, how well the car was made, how it was driven, and how well it is maintained.

On average, a Toyota Highlander will last up to 200,000 miles or 15 years. Well-maintained Highlanders have lasted over 300,000 miles. However, this requires the utmost care from each of its owners.

Proper Car Maintenance

It’s best to ensure that the proper maintenance is maintained at appropriate intervals to get the most extended use from your Highlander.

Every service visit should include an oil change and tire rotation. In addition, you’ll need to check all of your fluid levels and brake components and replace anything that needs it. You should do these things every 5,000 miles or at least twice a year.

You should replace your oil and cabin air filters every 10,000 miles or at least once a year.

At least every 18 months or every 15,000 miles, you should have your car inspected to ensure everything is still in good condition. This inspection will check:

  • Ball joints
  • Exhaust pipes and mountings
  • Coolant levels
  • Dust covers
  • Drive shaft boots
  • Steering pieces

, You should replace your spark plugs every three years or 60,000 miles. This is also the point where you or your mechanic should start inspecting the drive belt for evidence of wear and tear You should check this belt every 15,000 miles after this point.

There are other important parts of maintenance as well. You can find a full maintenance schedule for your exact model on Toyota’s website or in your Highlander’s user manual that came with the car.

What is Good and Bad About the Car?

If you’re considering buying the car, you should also consider the pros and cons that will come along with it. To make that easier, here’s a breakdown of the good and bad things about the Toyota Highlander.

The pros of the Toyota Highlander include:

  • Reliable and long-lasting vehicles.
  • Some options have third-row seating.
  • They provide a smooth ride.
  • Good fuel economy.
  • You can choose a hybrid option.

The cons of the Toyota Highlander include:

  • The third row has minimal space.
  • Newer models have several recalls, mainly fuel pump related.
  • Some may be noisy while going down the road.
  • May have voiced complaints regarding the navigation system.

Weighing the pros and cons makes it much easier to decide if the good things will make it worth dealing with the bad that may come with your new car. It’s also a good idea to look at what others who have owned the car have to say about their experience.

What Do Owners Say About the Car?

Below you can see what several Highlander owners had to say about their Highlander.

I used to own the Infiniti QX60 and loved it in every way. Had to get rid of it because of the famous transmission CVT problems, so I got a Toyota. Aside from the interior, which is not super sophisticated as the Infiniti, Toyota is a very reliable car. I know the engine will always start and the car will always perform. Very comfortable and mileage is great for a V6! Toyota is the best! Everybody else is just an mature.

(2019 Owner)

“A very reliable vehicle. We took it on all trips and my wife drove it to work every day. We would’ve purchased another but cost was prohibitive.” (2005 Owner)

Spend the extra money for the Platinum Hybrid. Smooth, quiet and phenomenal gas mileage. Plenty of power to drive whatever speed you need on the freeway. Impressive list of options. Toyota reliability. I’ve had mine for 6 months and am very pleased with it.

I have driven over 1 million miles. I have owned many vehicles. I must say most have been a disappointment including this 2012 Highlander. I owned a 2009 Highlander and it was the best vehicle I owned. But, this 2012 is completely different. The cabin is far from quiet. The seats are stiff and not well bolster.

(2022 Owner)

If you have long legs, the driver seat does not bolster the leg well. The electric steering motor in the steering wheel makes noise if you turn the wheel fast. The plastic under the car makes noise if at the right speed and right wind direction. Overall, not Toyota quality more like US quality. Might be because they are now made in the US.” (2012 Owner)


In general, Toyota has a very good reputation for producing quality vehicles. This is why those looking to buy a new car include them in their list of top choices. Because of this, they are also among the top choices for used vehicles.

With the right amount of research, you can easily pick the model that comes with the features you want without the ones you’d rather avoid. As long as it is taken care of, your Highlander is likely to last many years.