The Best & Worst Toyota Highlander Years [Models]

Don’t make the costly mistake of buying a Toyota Highlander from one of the worst years. We have provided you with an analysis that shows you which Toyota Highlander models you should avoid.

There has been no doubt that the Toyota Highlander is a formidable competitor in the midsize crossover SUV market.

Best & Worst Toyota Highlander Years [Models]

There have been highs and lows for this vehicle, but it remains dependable, comfortable, and well-rounded.

It is the objective of this book to provide prospective purchasers with an in-depth analysis of the most and least successful Toyota Highlander years.

It’s time to get started.

Table of Contents

Toyota Highlander Generations

Toyota Highlander (XU70, 4th generation)2020 to Present
Toyota Highlander (XU50, 3rd generation)2014 to 2019
Toyota Highlander (XU40, 2nd generation)2008 to 2013
Toyota Highlander (XU20, 1st generation)2001 to 2007

Toyota Highlander generations are shown in the table above. This gives you a clear idea of how the model has developed over time. There are key changes in design, functionality, and technology with each generation, which can influence a buyer’s decision greatly.

Model years designated as “neutral” do not deviate significantly from established norms. A number of exceptional features and pronounced problems do not distinguish these years from previous ones.

A good way to describe them would be average years.

Toyota Highlander Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
4th (2020-Present)202020212022 2023
3rd (2014-2019)2014 2016 2017 201820152019
2nd (2008-2013)2009 2011 201220132008 2010
1st (2001-2007)2003 2004 2005 200620022001 2007

A dozen hours were spent researching a wide range of factors, including owner-reported reliability scores, annual maintenance costs, safety ratings, Consumer Reports reliability and owner satisfaction scores, recalls from NHTSA, investigations, complaints, and Edmunds, JD Power, Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB), VehicleHistory, and owner ratings.

It is possible for these rankings to be negatively affected by certain factors. An increased number of recalls by the NHTSA, for example, can be a sign of a lower level of reliability.

Our next step will be to examine each generation’s finest and poorest years based on the classifications we have established.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 4th Generation [2020 to Present]

In 2020, Toyota introduced the fourth-generation Highlander which featured advanced tech features and refinements to the design.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 4th Generation [2020 to Present]

2020 is the best year

In addition to a comprehensive array of driver assistance features, a spacious and upscale interior, and a powerful V6 engine, the 2020 model set a high bar for the new generation.

As part of the redesign, the vehicles’ exterior was made more stylish and the cabin was made quieter, enhancing their overall appeal. Nevertheless, the introduction of the Highlander Hybrid, with impressive fuel economy, really distinguishes the 2020 model.

2021 is the neutral year

Despite being an excellent midsize SUV competitor in 2021, the Highlander failed to deliver substantial improvements over the model it replaced.

In spite of its good safety scores and comfortable interior, there were complaints about its fiddly infotainment system and relatively high price, which resulted in a neutral rating.

2022 and 2023 are the worst years

Even though these model years are relatively new, they have been criticized. There have been some reports of infotainment system issues, including freezing screens or sudden reboots.

Further, minor mechanical issues were reported with both the transmission and braking systems, which caused them to be placed in the “worst” category.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 3rd Generation [2014 to 2019]

Introducing the third-generation Highlander in 2014, the model offered heightened comfort, increased power, and improved safety.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 3rd Generation [2014 to 2019]

The best years were 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018

Besides being reliable and efficient, these models were also equipped with upscale interiors. A new transmission improved fuel economy, and a more user-friendly technology package was added to the Highlander.

In addition to the pre-collision warning and lane departure warning, Toyota’s Safety Sense package was another strong point.

2015 is the neutral year

There were no notable advancements to the 2015 Highlander, nor did it exhibit any significant flaws. In comparison to the 2014 model, it kept the high standards set by that model but didn’t exceed them.

While its reputation is generally good, there were some reports of infotainment system glitches and a slightly stiff ride quality.

The worst year was 2019

There have been some complaints about the 2019 model, including its less engaging driving experience and some transmission problems, including abrupt shifts and response delays.

While the interior is premium, and there are a number of safety features, these drawbacks contributed to the lower ranking.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 2nd Generation [2008 to 2013]

In 2008, the Highlander was launched with improved styling and a larger, more family-friendly interior.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 2nd Generation [2008 to 2013]

The best years were 2009, 2011, and 2012

Despite their reliability and spacious seating, the 2009, 2011, and 2012 models were well-suited to families with more than one child.

These years marked the introduction of a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine that offered excellent fuel efficiency and power. They were also attractive due to improved safety features like traction control and an improved crash safety rating.

2013 is the neutral year

Although the 2013 model offered decent interior space and was generally reliable, it did not stand out compared to other years.

It was mainly because of electrical problems with the power steering and transmission hiccups that this model year didn’t score higher.

The worst years were 2008 and 2010

The 2008 model, which launched the second generation, was plagued by oil consumption problems due to excessive engine oil consumption.

Also, owners reported issues with the electronic controls in the interior, such as the navigation system malfunctioning and the climate control not working. In addition to premature brake wear and body integrity issues, the 2010 model also had similar problems.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 1st Generation [2001 to 2007]

In 2001, Toyota introduced the first generation of the Highlander, an SUV that was cozy, reliable, and flexible.

Best & Worst Years For Toyota Highlander 1st Generation [2001 to 2007]

2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 are the best years

As the first generation reaches its peak years, it displays exceptional reliability, comfort, and generous cargo space.

In 2004, a 3.3-liter V6 engine was introduced which increased towing capacity and fuel efficiency simultaneously.

The past few years have also seen the introduction of enhanced safety features, such as airbag systems and optional stability controls.

2002 was a neutral year

There were no major problems with the 2002 model in terms of reliability or performance. While the engine performed well, minor issues with the cooling system and oxygen sensor prevented it from being ranked as the “best.”

There were some minor drawbacks, which balanced out its strengths, such as ample interior space and a comfortable ride.

The worst years were 2001 and 2007

It faced several challenges during its debut year, including transmission problems and a malfunctioning air conditioning system. Owner-reported problems spiked because of these issues, tarnishing the initial reputation of the product.

An otherwise strong generation came to an end with this uninspiring model, which had a subpar interior and handling.

Common Issues With The Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander has some common problems that you should avoid.

Common Issues With The Toyota Highlander

Engine Bolts Becoming Stripped

In the event that you don’t catch this issue in a timely manner, it can become a serious problem. It’s not uncommon for overheated engines and coolant leaks to be the first signs of stripped engine bolts. 

In the event that the bolts and bolt holes need to be redrilled, you can do so, provided the engine has not already been damaged by overheating. Many people faced this problem could only resolve it by replacing their entire engines. 

After the first time it happens, this problem is more likely to recur around 130k miles.

Engine Failure

It is also common for Toyota Highlanders to experience engine failures in general. It is most likely that these failures are caused by stripped engine bolts that cause overheating, but other issues can also lead to engine failures. 

As a result, buying a Toyota Highlander from a problem year means you’re a lot more likely to have your engine replaced.

It’s also important to consider whether you have the money to replace your engine or if you’d rather buy a new car in case your engine fails, since it’s not a problem that many car owners are willing to fix. 

A common engine failure occurs around 120k miles, although it can occur a little earlier in some cases. It is possible for Highlanders to reach 120k miles without any problems, but they may have problems as they age. 

Using Engine Oil Faster Than Average

There are some vehicles known for using oil, and unfortunately, the Toyota Highlander falls into that category. Almost any model of Highlander can experience this problem, but it’s more common in recent years. 

The 2002 model year has the worst engine oil burner, but otherwise a great automobile. As long as you are willing to pay a little more for oil, the 2002 Highlander shouldn’t have a problem with this problem. In contrast, you may have an even greater problem if you are considering a model year with other known issues.

Fuel Tank and AC Condenser Problems

The 2020 Highlander was generally well received by consumers and critics alike, but it was plagued by reliability issues. There have been reports of fuel tank issues with the 2020 model.

There were reports that the tank was not able to be filled up to its advertised 17.1 gallon capacity. The maximum amount of gas that they managed to fill up was about 12-14 gallons.

Furthermore, several reports mentioned that the AC system in the Highlander was hit or miss. As a result, the AC condenser failed to blow cool air, which caused the AC to stop blowing cool air. In most cases, replacing the condenser, which costs $60 to $150, including labor, is the easiest fix.

Faulty Head Gasket and Oxygen Sensor

It is relatively common for Highlander models manufactured between 2001 and 2007 to overheat. The overheating is believed to be caused by a blown head gasket, as reported by frustrated owners. When the head bolts are tightened, they pull the threads of the engine block out, eventually causing the head gasket to blow.

It was also reported that faulty oxygen sensors were found in several Highlander models. There is a misfire and rough idle as a result of this defect.

Which Models Of Toyota Highlander Are Great To Buy Used? 

There are numerous good options to buy used among the models we listed in the previous section, but some are better than others. A good deal and a slightly larger and more spacious model are what we recommend for those looking for a good deal. It is also possible to find good deals on other models between 2009 and 2011, but they have more reports of problems than others.

You can find great value in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 models if you’re not worried about the price and don’t mind the performance. For now, we can’t recommend the 2019 and 2020 models because they aren’t tested as used vehicles yet, but they seem to have potential as used vehicles.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Toyota Highlander years should I avoid in the used car market?

It is recommended that you avoid Toyota Highlanders from 2003, 2008, 2014, and 2015. It has been noted that these models have more significant problems than other years.

Were there any Toyota Highlander models with notable engine problems?

Toyota Highlander models have been known to suffer from engine bolts that became stripped, resulting in coolant leaks and overheating, and necessitating complete engine replacements. In the first 130,000 miles of the vehicle, these problems became prevalent.

Has Toyota addressed the fuel tank issue in the 2020 Highlander model?

In the 2020 Highlander, Toyota acknowledged a fuel tank capacity issue that prevented drivers from filling up to the advertised level. There may be a need for dealer service to identify and correct anomalies in the fuel tank assembly and design.

Which model years offer the best balance between cost and reliability for a used Toyota Highlander?

Among the most reliable and affordable models are those produced between 2001 and 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2013, as well as more recent models from 2017 to 2021. The models of these years are generally considered to be good investments since they are less likely to suffer from severe problems than other models.

Are Toyota Highlanders typically reliable?

A trusted family hauler for over 20 years in the U.S., the Highlander carries Toyota’s reputation for dependability. The Toyota Highlander has a good reputation for reliability, but some years need to be avoided (2003, 2008, 2014, and 2015).

How much does a used Toyota Highlander typically cost?

About $6,000 is the cost of an older Highlander, such as one with 100,000 miles from 2002. Newer examples, however, have a tendency to rise quickly in price because they are in high demand. You can expect to pay twice or three times this amount for a 2012 Highlander, depending on its condition and equipment. The tight market has resulted in new car prices for almost-new Highlanders. The asking price for a 2020 Toyota Highlander is $38,158, according to CoPilot Price Pulse. In regular times, the car would sell for 17% less.

Is the Toyota Highlander a good car to purchase?

That’s for sure. Three-row crossovers like the Toyota Highlander are excellent choices. Toyota Highlanders enjoy good reliability in most model years (here are the most reliable Toyota Highlander years). A new Highlander comes with a warranty, which gives you even more peace of mind.


Through its generations, the Toyota Highlander has evolved in a complex but generally impressive way. It is very beneficial to know which years are the best and worst for a model before making a purchase decision.

With a focus on reliability, maintenance, safety, and consumer satisfaction, this guide seeks to highlight the most and least favorable years of the Toyota Highlander.

Do you have a preference for a particular model year of Toyota Highlanders? If you have an opinion, please share it below.

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