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Best & Worst Years of Toyota Highlander – Graphs & Owner Surveys

Those looking for a used Toyota Highlander will want to look at the 2021, 2019, 2017, and 2015 model years, as well as the 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007, and 2002 editions. Versions to stay from are the 2020, 2018, 2016, and 2014 model years, in addition to those from 2013, 2011, 2008, 2003-2006, and 2001.

White Toyota Highlander display.

There are few automotive market areas as crowded as the mid-sized SUV segment. This is where vehicles like the Toyota Highlander take on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Chevrolet Traverse. In other words, there are many options for those seeking a capable family hauler. 

The Highlander has remained at or near the top of this competitive list for more than 20 years. And this strong interest extends into the used car arena. But despite Toyota’s praised reputation for building dependable vehicles, not every Highlander model year is a worthy buy. 

We’ll sort through the good and the bad. This is valuable information for those with a second-hand Highlander on their shopping list or with a Highlander already in the driveway. 

Our determinations are based on a detailed review of data from Toyota Highlanders with a FIXD sensor installed. This gives us a FIXD Reliability Score. We also look at the results of a comprehensive survey that FIXD conducted with Highlander owners. We get an Owner Reliability Score from this study and insights into perceptions, problem areas, repair costs, and a take on the overall ownership experience. 

The FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores are then combined with published data about government safety testing and fuel economy ratings. We also look at KBB resale values to help develop a list of the best and worst Toyota Highlander model years. 

Here’s a summary of the results, but keep reading for a complete breakdown.

Best Years Why? Worst Years Why?

Perfect reliability scores, exceptional hybrid fuel economy

>> See 2021 Toyota Highlanders for sale


First year of the 4th generation, mediocre FIXD Reliability Score

>> See 2020 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2015, 2017, 2019

Strong reliability scores, no expensive repair history, and excellent safety ratings

>> See 2015, 2017, 2019 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2014, 2016, 2018

First year of 3rd generation (2014), increased chance of costly repairs

>> See 2014, 2016, 2018 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2009-2010, 2012

Good owner reliability scores, lack of costly repairs, and admirable hybrid fuel economy

>> See 2009-2010, 2012 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2008, 2011, 2013

First year of 2nd generation (2008), elevated risk of costly repairs, lower FIXD Reliability Scores

>> See 2008, 2011, 2013 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2002, 2007

High owner reliability ratings, no pricey repair history, and good/perfect NHTSA crash test scores.

>> See 2002, 2007 Toyota Highlanders for sale

2001, 2003-2006

High likelihood of costly repairs, Low FIXD Reliability Scores 

>> See 2001-2003, 2006 Toyota Highlanders for sale

Toyota Highlander Engine Reliability Score, Safety Ratings & MPG Year by Year

The following factors determine the good and bad Toyota Highlander model years:

  • FIXD Reliability Score (engine reliability) 
  • Owner Reliability Score (owner perceptions about reliability)
  • NHTSA safety testing ratings
  • EPA-estimated fuel economy
  • Annual maintenance and repair costs as they relate to KBB resale value

If you’re in the market for a car, take a look at our article on the USA’s most reliable and cheapest to repair vehicles. Don’t get stuck with a lemon; use our data to help you shop.

Engine Reliability Score – Over The Years

Toyota Highlander Engine Reliability Score

The graph highlights two engine reliability benchmarks:

  • FIXD Reliability Score (green): The frequency of check engine lights observed in Toyota Highlanders with a FIXD sensor. This measure is weighted by mileage. 
  • Owner Reliability Score (gray): The tracking of how owners perceive the reliability of their Toyota Highlanders. Highlander owners are asked how suitable their vehicles are for journeys of different lengths. A Highlander that is thought only to be able to handle a short point A to point B trip gets the lowest score. Meanwhile, the score increases for more extended travels, such as a cross-country trip. 

Both measures are based on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest); 5 is average.

The two scores seldom align precisely with each other—this is normal. The Owner Reliability Score tracks higher because owners usually accept check engine lights as the norm, particularly in older cars. On the other hand, the FIXD Reliability Score captures the number of check engine light occurrences; there’s nothing subjective about this data.

Generally, we want to spot patterns. So, if both the FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores take a dip for a specific model year, then this is probably a Highlander to avoid. For instance, the 2001 Highlander ranks very low in both indexes, which is why it’s among the model years on the worst list.  

If just one score is low, other factors (such as repair history and recalls) are added to the mix for a final decision. Looking at the 2009 Highlander, for example, reveals a subpar 3 for the FIXD Reliability Score. However, the data shows that not a single surveyed owner of these Toyotas spent more than $500 on an engine or transmission repair in 2022. That’s impressive for a 14-year-old vehicle with an average of 133,000 miles. 

In other words, these scores are an excellent starting point for determining reliability, but supplemental information is frequently needed. 

You may also find it helpful to read the Toyota Check Engine Light article about the most common reasons for a check engine light to happen in a Highlander and other popular Toyotas. 

NHTSA Safety Score – Over The Years

Toyota Highlander NHTSA Safety Rating

Safety is a strong selling point for family vehicles like the Toyota Highlander. In fact, 47% of surveyed owners report using their Highlanders to transport their clans of kids. Another 27% are behind the wheel for “lots of driving” (traveling and commuting). So, a vehicle with excellent performance in National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing is a must-have for this crowd. 

And the Toyota Highlander delivers. NHTSA safety scores for the Highlander (green line) are equal to or better than the average of all the vehicles that FIXD assessed (gray line). Among all years, the Highlander averages a stellar 4.5 (out of 5). Only for the 2002 model year did testing drop below 4.0 (the 2002 Highlander scores a 3.8). Otherwise, this Toyota received at least a 4.0, and most years came in with a 4.4 or better. There was no NHTSA testing for the Highlander’s debut year, 2001. 

The Highlander even performed well when NHTSA introduced more stringent testing in 2011. You’ll notice a drop in the average safety rating during this time, yet the Highlander’s score remained relatively stable (dipping only to 4.4 from 4.5).

High safety ratings also are vital in keeping insurance costs low

If you live in one of the states listed below, we can show you the cheapest vehicles to insure in yours.

What Used Cars Are the Cheapest To Insure In:

What Used Cars Are the Cheapest To Insure In:
North Carolina
New York

MPG – Over The Years

Toyota Highlander Average MPG

Larger crossovers aren’t the most friendly vehicles when it comes to fuel economy. At least the gas-powered Highlander holds its own against the competition, like the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot (see table below). 

20 MPG or better meets most families’ needs for keeping gas station trips to a minimum, but 26-35 MPG is even more appealing, thanks to Toyota’s hybrid technology. 

  Toyota Highlander (Gas) Toyota Highlander (Hybrid) Ford Explorer Honda Pilot
2009 20 MPG 26 MPG 16 MPG 19 MPG
2015 21 MPG 28 MPG 20 MPG 20 MPG
2021 23 MPG 35 MPG 23 MPG 23 MPG

Hybrid fuel savings range from 25%-40% over the conventional engine and reach 50% with the fourth-generation Highlander. For new cars, the extra cost of a hybrid edition may not outweigh the gas savings, but the price differences are less for pre-owned vehicles.

And Consumer Reports research shows that newer hybrid cars are proving to be just as reliable (if not more so) than conventional gas-powered rides.  

Current Market Value of All Toyota Highlander Years & Cost Per Year to Repair and Maintain Each

Toyota Highlander Value vs Cost of Repairs

High repair and maintenance costs can drag down resale value (that’s why many luxury imports have terrible depreciation). However, this isn’t a problem for the Toyota Highlander. Average upkeep expenses (gray line) stay relatively consistent, and the associated KBB resale value (green line) increases as the model years get more recent. 

A drop in the resale for the 2015 model year reflects above-average mileage (200,000 miles) among the survey samples, not expensive repairs on critical systems. 

Overall, the 2001-2021 model years of the Toyota Highlander have an average of $646 in yearly maintenance and repair costs, according to FIXD surveys. That compares to $573 for the typical mid-sized SUV and $652 for all vehicle models, says RepairPal

A look at the different Highlander generations shows that upkeep expenses don’t deviate significantly from the $646 yearly average.

Toyota Highlander Generation Years Average Annual Upkeep
First 2001-2007 $638
Second 2008-2013 $787
Third 2014-2019 $547
Fourth 2020-2021* $545
* As of June 2023, the fourth-generation Toyota Highlander remains in production

However, owners of specific model years report above-average outlays in 2022. On the worst years list, those with a 2005 Highlander spent $850 to keep their vehicles on the road. And this model year has a high incidence of expensive ($500+) engine repairs. 

Interestingly, other examples of higher spending are all associated with Highlanders that make our best years ranking. For instance, owners of the 2012 Highlander spent an average of $1,050 to keep their cars running, while those with a 2015 edition shelled out $1,000. Neither of these Highlanders has reports of costly powertrain repairs. The extra costs are associated with consumable parts (like brake pads and tires) that have to be replaced on every vehicle and aren’t usually attributable to reliability problems. 

It’s also worth mentioning that some Highlanders, particularly older ones, are cheap to keep, according to their owners. The average repair and maintenance expense in 2002 for a 2003 Highlander was $375, and $464 for the 2004 model year. But these Highlanders (and a few others) didn’t make the best years list because of an elevated risk for costly engine and transmission repairs (detailed later). 

When shopping for a used Toyota Highlander, it’s important to keep in mind that not all vehicles are cared for equally. To protect yourself from lemons, take along a FIXD Sensor on your test drive. FIXD connects to a free app on your smartphone to tell you more about the vehicle you’re checking out, including check engine lights and other hidden issues that the owner or dealership may be attempting to hide. Click here to learn more and get FIXD for only $19.99 (regular price $59)!

Important Features Timeline

Toyota Highlander Timeline of Important Features

2001: First year of the Toyota Highlander

2002: No major changes

2003: No major changes

2004: Exterior updates; new V6 engine

2005: Remote keyless entry and a cargo cover are standard

2006: First year of the Highlander Hybrid

2007: Front-seat side airbags and two-row side curtain airbags are standard

2008: Debut of the second-generation Toyota Highlander

2009: A four-cylinder engine is available with the FWD Highlander

2010: A sunroof is available with four-cylinder Highlanders

2011: Refreshed exterior styling; Sport trim is dropped

2012: No major changes

2013: The Plus trim joins the Highlander lineup

2014: First year of the third-generation Highlander

2015: No major changes

2016: V6 trims get a standard tow package

2017: Exterior updates; more standard safety equipment

2018: No major changes

2019: Minor styling changes

2020: Launch of the fourth-generation Toyota Highlander

2021: The sport-themed XSE trim is added to the Highlander range

2022: No major changes

2023: Turbo four-cylinder engine replaces V6

Best Years of the Toyota Highlander

Toyota Highlander close up photo in the showroom

The best years of the Toyota Highlander are determined by analyzing FIXD Reliability Scores, Owner Reliability Scores, NHTSA safety testing, and EPA fuel economy ratings. Supporting information comes from common diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) and NHTSA recall information.

2021 Toyota Highlander

FIXD Reliability Score: 10/10

Owner Reliability Score: 10/10

KBB Value: $32,918

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 23 MPG/35 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $625

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.4/5

It doesn’t get any better than a perfect 10 for the FIXD Reliability Score and Owner Reliability Score. That’s the strongest justification to start the best years of the Toyota Highlander with the 2021 edition. 

However, it’s wrong to assume that newer cars are always the best for reliability. The 2020 Highlander, the first year of the fourth generation, didn’t make the cut. The details are covered below in the worst years section.

That said, there are other reasons to like the 2021 Toyota Highlander. Unsurprisingly, this includes no owner reports of expensive ($500+) engine or transmission repair, a problem with some older Highlanders. And the $625 in annual upkeep costs is right on target with the overall average ($646) for all Highlanders. Although, this is likely to increase as maintenance tasks require new brakes and tires.

No one who owns a conventional gas-powered Highlander will complain about an average of 23 MPG for fuel economy. Still, those with a Highlander Hybrid will smile about the 35 MPG rating for this crossover. To put the hybrid’s impressive fuel economy in perspective, that’s better than the average MPG for the 2021 Toyota Corolla.

NHTSA safety testing gives the 2021 Highlander an overall safety rating of 4.4 (out of 5), which is a solid score, but slightly behind the testing of the same-year Ford Explorer (4.8) and Honda Pilot (4.6). 

It’s worth pointing out that despite a FIXD Reliability Score of 10, a few occurrences of check engine lights were recorded by FIXD Sensors. However, these are single-digit levels of instances. So until the data says otherwise, these are the exception, not the rule. 

Most of these error codes are for P0171 and P0174, which reflects a fuel mixture that’s too lean. It’s an unusual problem for a newer vehicle but something that’s not unheard of. The situation should be looked at right away to avoid damage to the engine or catalytic converter. 

Remedies are likely to involve fixing an exhaust or vacuum leak ($100-$200) or cleaning the mass airflow (MAF) sensor ($100). Other repairs could require replacing the MAF sensor ($300), fuel pressure regulator ($200-$400), or fuel pump ($1,300-$1,700). A factory warranty may protect a 2021 Highlander so that Toyota could cover repairs.

There’s just one recall for the 2021 Highlander, and that’s only for the hybrid version. The 2021 gas model has no recalls as of this writing. 

The KBB average market value of $32,918 is a starting price for a base 2021 Highlander with higher mileage when purchasing through a dealer. KBB valuations reflect private-party transactions, which are usually lower than what dealers sell cars for. You’ll also find used 2021 Toyota Highlanders in the $50,000 range for a loaded low-mileage example with a hybrid engine. 

It’s also common to find a 2021 Highlander sold as a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle through a Toyota dealer. You’ll get a year or 12,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain protection. The extra cost of a CPO vehicle provides peace of mind. 

About the 2022 and 2023 Toyota Highlanders: Given the newness of these most recent Highlanders and a lack of data, these vehicles aren’t yet ready for good or bad determination.

2015, 2017, and 2019 Toyota Highlander

 Black 2015 Toyota Highlander car stands on a roadside in foggy morning, closeup photo

FIXD Reliability Score: 8-10/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9-10/10

KBB Value: $13,677-$28,329

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 21-23 MPG/28-29 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $400-$1,000

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.6/5

Curiously, only the odd years (2015, 2017, and 2019) of the third-generation Highlander make the best years list. You’ll need to read the worst years’ information to learn about the 2014, 2016, and 2018 Highlanders.

Seeing high FIXD Reliability Scores (8-10) and Owner Reliability Scores (9-10) is encouraging, particularly as some of the Highlanders in this group approach a decade of use. Notably, not a single surveyed owner reported an expensive engine or transmission repair in 2022. High reliability scores and zero costly service work are a used car jackpot. 

Except for the 2015 Highlander (with an average upkeep cost of $1,000 in 2022, according to owners), these crossovers are cheap to own. Survey data show owners of the 2017 and 2019 Highlanders spent $400 and $523, respectively, to keep their cars on the road last year. 

Other favorable characteristics of these Highlanders include moderate fuel use, with the hybrid editions getting 28-29 MPG. Even the conventional Highlanders average 21-23 MPG, which isn’t bad for a three-row SUV. And a NHTSA safety score of 4.6 makes these among the best-performing Highlanders in government testing. 

But no matter how ideal these Highlanders appear, trouble codes appear. But what’s interesting with these Highlanders is that the most common check engine light causes are isolated to specific model years. This is unusual as typical DTC codes are often spread out among several model years of a particular generation. Sometimes this situation can come from a bad batch of components from a supplier. 

Let’s dive into the details. The 2019 Highlander is prone to code P0430, a malfunctioning catalytic converter, which typically requires a pricey replacement ($1,538-$2,041). 

Meanwhile, P0300 and P0301, potentially serious engine misfires, are known to occur in the 2017 Highlander. With luck, repairs are inexpensive, such as new spark plugs ($66-$250) or spark plug wires ($100-$200). The problem may also trace to a vacuum leak or a bad fuel pressure regulator or fuel pump. Pricier fixes could require new ignition coils ($230-$640) or fuel injectors ($1,500-$1,900).

The 2015 Highlander isn’t exempt from error messages. This is most likely to reflect P1604, an engine starting issue. Sometimes this can be corrected with a new fuel filter (cost: $5-$182) or by avoiding cheap gasoline. A new car battery ($150-$450) also can resolve the problem sometimes.

These Highlanders also have their share of recalls, but the volume is modest compared to other model years. In particular, the 2015 Highlander has two recalls, while the 2017 edition has four. There are three recalls for the gas-only version of the 2019 Highlander (the hybrid has no recalls). 

The 2015, 2017, and 2019 Highlanders are the sweet spots for used car buyers—they are modern, safe, and fuel efficient. Diligent shopping should be able to find some examples around $20,000, but pricing can reach $40,000. These are very in-demand vehicles.

Always have a used car inspected by a qualified mechanic before buying. And be sure these used Highlanders are checked for the problems associated with the relevant error codes mentioned earlier. 

2009-2010 and 2012 Toyota Highlander

2012 Toyota Highlander at the city street.

FIXD Reliability Score: 3-6/10

Owner Reliability Score: 8/10

KBB Value: $7,467-$11,647

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 20 MPG/26-28 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $833-$1,050

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.4-4.5/5

We’ll be upfront, the 2009-2010 and 2012 Highlanders aren’t perfect. But for buyers who don’t want to spend $20,000 or more, these second-generation Highlanders are your best choices (dealer pricing runs from $12,000 to $18,000).

These Toyotas enjoy above-average Owner Reliability Scores (8 out of 10) and no history of expensive powertrain repairs in 2022 (based on owner surveys). And this is from vehicles over a decade old with an average of 140,000 miles. 

Good fuel economy (up to 28 MPG for the hybrid) is notable, as is solid performance in NHTSA testing (4.4 to 4.5 out of 5). 

But knowing the other aspects of owning a 2009-2010 and 2012 Toyota Highlander is vital. A FIXD Reliability Score of 3 for the 2009 model year is well below average. At least the 2010 and 2012 Highlanders do better in this index (5 and 6, respectively). 

Owners of the 2012 Highlander spent $1,050 last year to keep their cars going. It’s the costliest model year for this expense. Similar costs for the 2009 Highlander averaged $913. It’s $833 for the 2010 edition.

Given the age of these Highlanders, check engine lights are to be expected. The most likely error code for this group of Toyotas is C1201, a malfunction in the engine control system. There can be many reasons for this problem, but common issues often point to a faulty gas cap ($20) or a malfunctioning oxygen sensor ($275-$500). Occasionally, repairs involve correcting a leak ($100-$600) in the evaporative emission control (EVAP) system.

C1241, a low power supply voltage malfunction, may also appear with these Highlanders. Repairs are as basic as recharging the car battery, although a battery replacement may be in order. The issue sometimes leads to a bad alternator ($350-$400). Code P1604, an engine starting issue (covered earlier), rounds out the third most frequent cause of the check engine light.

There are also recalls to be concerned with. The 2009 Highlander has numerous recalls; nine for the gas version and ten for the hybrid. There are 11 recalls for the 2010 Highlander. Recalls dropped substantially, to two, for the 2012 model year.

A word of caution about hybrid batteries: If your car shopping includes a Highlander Hybrid, be sure that pre-purchase inspection includes examining the high-voltage hybrid battery. These components generally survive for ten years; the last thing you want to do is spend $7,493 to $7,584 on a replacement. 

2002 and 2007 Toyota Highlander

FIXD Reliability Score: 2-6/10

Owner Reliability Score: 8-9/10

KBB Value: $3,736-$5,458

Fuel Economy (Gas Only): 19-20 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $650-$750

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 3.8-4.7/5

If the budget for a used Toyota Highlander is less than $10,000, concentrate your efforts on a 2002 or 2007 Highlander. With one exception, the numbers prove these models to be unexpectedly reliable, even for 15-to-20-year-old cars. 

What’s the exception? Avoid the Highlander Hybrid, which Toyota introduced for 2006. Recalls (11 for the 2006 Highlander Hybrid and 6 for the 2007 edition) show this technology was far from bulletproof. Plus, there’s the issue of aging hybrid batteries (mentioned earlier) and they can cost as much as $7500. 

So, stay focused on the gas-only version of the 2007 Highlander (the hybrid setup wasn’t available for 2002). 

An Owner Reliability Score of 8 (2002) or 9 (2007) is remarkable for vehicles of this age and ones with an average of 200,000 miles or more of usage. That doesn’t mean these Highlanders are free of check engine lights (we’ll get into the specifics shortly), but rather shows their owners still have confidence in these Toyotas.

A FIXD Reliability Score of 2 for the 2002 Highlander reinforces that these cars aren’t flawless. However, the 2007 model year gets a mid-grade 6 for a FIXD Reliability Score. 

What’s really noteworthy about the 2002 and 2007 Highlanders is that surveyed owners didn’t have any expensive engine or transmission repairs for these vehicles in 2022. And average upkeep for these Toyotas is reasonable, too. 2002 Highlander owners spent $750 last year, while those with a 2007 edition had maintenance and repair bills totaling $650. An exploration of the related data shows some of these costs are associated with the brakes, a repair that isn’t necessarily tied to vehicle age.

There’s an abundance of P0325 (a malfunctioning knock sensor circuit in engine bank 1) error codes with the 2002 Highlander. But, as far as problems go, it could be a lot worse. A new knock sensor harness costs $14 to $66, while replacing the knock sensor runs $297 to $381. Sometimes the repairs require a replacement temperature sensor ($392-$427).

A related error message, P0330 (a malfunctioning knock sensor circuit in engine bank 2), is also associated with the 2002 Highlander. Repairs are similar to code P0325. 

FIXD sensor data shows that the 2002 and 2007 model years are prone to instances of code P0420, a faulty catalytic converter. These components don’t last forever, and cheap gas and poor maintenance increase the likelihood of needing a replacement catalytic converter. Ideally, any used Highlanders you’ve encountered will already have this work taken care of. 

Other information to be aware of is a less-than-ideal NHTSA safety score of 3.8 for the 2002 Highlander. However, the 2007 edition received a 4.7 in the same testing. 

Recalls are also part of the Highlander conversation, but at least they’re not overwhelming for these model years. The 2002 Highlander has two recalls, while the 2007 (gas-only) version has four recalls

The Worst Years of the Toyota Highlander

Black Toyota Highlander car moving on the street.

Toyota isn’t immune from making bad cars, as evidenced by this list of the worst years for the Highlander. Low FIXD Reliability Scores and expensive repairs are just some reasons to stay away from these Toyota Highlanders.  

2020 Toyota Highlander

FIXD Reliability Score: 7/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9/10

KBB Value: $30,723

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 23 MPG/35 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $464

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.4/5

As a rule, we caution against buying the first year of an all-new model or generation. It’s the best way to avoid the gremlins frequently accompanying new automotive designs. And nothing we see with the 2020 Highlander (the first year of the fourth generation) proves otherwise. In particular, three-year-old vehicles with an average of 39,000 miles should have a FIXD Reliability Score higher than 7. 

We also notice that much older Highlanders have an Owner Reliability Score of 10. The 2020 Highlander gets a 9. This might be nitpicking, but these Highlanders aren’t cheap, even as used cars. 

To the 2020 Highlander’s credit, there are only two recalls. A NHTSA overall safety score of 4.4 is also commendable, as is admirable fuel economy (23 MPG for the gas-only version and 35 MPG for the hybrid). 

FIXD sensor data uncovers numerous instances of error code P0456 in 2020 Highlanders. The warning is for an evaporative emission control (EVAP) system leak. 

Repairs for code P0456 frequently involved tightening the gas cap or buying a new one. But a new control valve runs $150 to $200, while a replacement EVAP line costs $50 to $100. In more extreme cases, the problem is fixed with a replacement charcoal canister ($200-$600). Repair costs may be covered by the factory warranty, depending on the vehicle’s age and mileage.

The 2020 Highlander isn’t terrible, but for a few thousand dollars more, buy the 2021 edition. You’ll get the confidence that comes from a model year that isn’t the first of a new generation. 

2014, 2016, and 2018 Toyota Highlander

2016 Toyota Highlander in the city street, car in motion

FIXD Reliability Score: 6-7/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9-10/10

KBB Value: $15,744-$26,353

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 21-23 MPG/28-29 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $375-$600

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 78%-100%

Safety Rating: 4.6/5

Here’s a simple memory trick, stay away from the even years (2014, 2016, and 2018) of the third-generation Toyota Highlander. Here’s why.

Lower FIXD Reliability Scores (6-8) hint that these Highlanders aren’t trouble-free. Vehicles of this age (less than a decade old) should perform better. And we know this because other third-gen Highlanders (2015, 2017, and 2019) are on the best years list. Yes, Owner Reliability Scores are strong for the 2014, 2016, and 2018 Highlanders, but we know owners tend to be loyal to their cars and forgiving of imperfections. 

But let’s put these arguments aside and look at hard (and revealing) numbers. Owner surveys show instances of expensive engine repairs for these Highlanders. Another thing that shouldn’t occur with newer vehicles. 

Almost one in ten 2016 Highlander owners spent over $500 last year fixing the engine. It’s one in six for those with the 2018 Highlander. There were also instances of costly transmission repairs for both these model years. 

The 2014 Highlander appears to escape powertrain troubles, but it’s the first year of the third generation, raising concerns about new design failings and other issues. Plus, five recalls for the 2014 Highlander put this model year on the higher side of most recalled examples. There are three recalls for the 2016 Highlander and three recalls for the gas-only version of the 2018 Highlander.

Several error codes we’ve seen with other Highlanders are also common to this group. P1604 (an engine starting problem) and C1241 (low power supply voltage) are among them. P0430, a bad catalytic converter, is another frequent culprit. 

Low annual upkeep costs (an average of $454 in 2022), good NHTSA safety scores (4.6), and good fuel economy (up to 29 MPG for the hybrid) don’t offset the risk of expensive repairs for this vehicle. 

2008, 2011, 2013 Toyota Highlander

FIXD Reliability Score: 4-6/10

Owner Reliability Score: 8-9/10

KBB Value: $6,401-$13,652

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 20 MPG/26-28 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $417-$813

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 89%-100%

Safety Rating: 4.4-4.5/5

While there are several second-generation Highlanders worth checking out (the 2009-2010 and 2012 model years are covered earlier), examples from 2008, 2011, and 2013 are not among them. 

Why? Let’s start with below-average FIXD Reliability Scores (the 2008 and 2011 receive a 4). These rankings are just one series of indicators that require deeper investigation, especially since the Owner Reliability Scores are solid (8 & 9/10). Even low annual repair and maintenance costs average a reasonable $640.

However, owner feedback also shows an elevated risk for expensive repairs among this group of Highlanders. 25% of surveyed 2011 Highlanders paid for a pricey transmission repair in 2022. Would you want a car with one-in-four odds of a troublesome gearbox? Probably not. The 2013 Highlander isn’t as bad, but 10% of owners faced a similar situation. 

Let’s talk about the 2008 Highlander, which has two strikes against it. It’s the debut year of the second generation (strike one). The presence of first-year kinks is confirmed by many recalls (13 for the gas-powered 2008 version and 14 for the 2008 hybrid edition). As of June 2023, these are the most recalled Highlanders sold in the U.S. (strike two). At least the recalls subside somewhat for the 2011 (5 recalls) and 2013 (3 recalls) Highlanders.

As the low FIXD Reliability Scores show, these Highlanders are not strangers to check engine lights. Error messages that we’ve already covered are common to the 2008, 2011, and 2013 model years. 

The codes include C1201 (a faulty engine control system), C1241 (a low power supply voltage malfunction), P0430 (a bad catalytic converter), and P1604 (a problem with the engine starting). 

The 2008 Highlander is especially prone to P0455, a leak in the EVAP system. So, like code P0455, you’ll need to get a new gas cap, replace an EVAP line, or install a new control valve.  

Don’t be fooled by the good NHTSA safety score or decent gas mileage. If the budget keeps you in second-generation Highlander territory, avoid the 2008, 2011, and 2013 model years. 

2001 and 2003-2006 Toyota Highlander

FIXD Reliability Score: 1-4/10

Owner Reliability Score: 8-9/10

KBB Value: $3,351-$5,414

Fuel Economy (Gas/Hybrid): 19-20 MPG/27 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $375-$850

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 50%-92%

Safety Rating: 4.0-5.0

At the bottom of the Toyota Highlander heap are the 2001 and 2003-2006 model years. On the surface, high Owner Reliability Scores (8-9) and lower annual maintenance costs (an average of $613) make these Highlanders look like winners. But other numbers say something different. 

25% of owners of the 2003 and 2005 Highlanders owners got hit with an engine repair bill of at least $500 last year. And an average of 15% of those with a 2001, 2004, or 2006 model year encountered similar issues. There are also high incidences (up to 25%) of transmission problems for the 2001, 2003, and 2004 Highlanders.

Recalls are modest initially. There are three for the 2001 model year and two for the 2003 Highlander. Yet, it goes up to five recalls for the 2004 edition and six recalls for the 2005 model year. However, it gets ugly for the 2006 Highlander. The gas-only edition gets recalled seven times, while the hybrid has eleven recalls (the second highest for a Highlander Hybrid). 

A look at error codes offers further insights into these oldest Highlanders. There are hundreds of error messages involving P0420 and P0430, a bad catalytic converter. Admittedly, these devices eventually fail on most vehicles. But that doesn’t soften the blow of a $2,000 repair bill on a car worth less than ten grand. 

Although not the most expensive problem, these Highlanders have numerous episodes of troublesome EVAP systems. Codes P0441, P0442, or P0446, like other EVAP-related issues, usually mean a trip to the shop and an outlay of up to $600. One exception – if the gas cap is the source of the problem, count your lucky stars, you just saved a good chunk of change.

If tight finances mean a first-generation Highlander is the only option, drive past the 2001 and 2003-2006 Toyota Highlanders. Instead, look for a 2002 or 2007 model year (see the best year list).


What years of the Toyota Highlander have engine and/or transmission problems?

Costly engine work is common in 2001, 2003-2005, and 2018 Toyota Highlanders. The 2001, 2003, 2004, 2011, and 2018 model years have a higher likelihood of transmission troubles.

What is considered high mileage for a Toyota Highlander?

Toyota Highlanders and high mileage go hand-in-hand. Let’s examine survey data to see what that means for each generation. 

Toyota Highlander Generation Years Average Mileage
First 2001-2007 193,027
Second 2008-2013 138,163
Third  2014-2019 93,152
Fourth 2020-Current* 37,143^
* The fourth generation is still in production as of June 2023
^ Reflects survey data for the 2020-2021 model years

It’s evident that the Highlander can add on the miles. Not only does the first generation have an average that approaches 200,000 miles, but several individual model years have already crossed this benchmark. 

For instance, the survey results show that the 2002 Highlander has an average of 217,000 miles. While the 2001, 2003, and 2007 editions aren’t far behind, with averages of 200,000 miles. And together, all Highlanders in the study have a combined average of 133,970 miles. 

Assigning 150,000 miles as the Highlander’s high-mileage threshold is reasonable based on all this data. 

That doesn’t mean every Highlander will get to this point and beyond. Thoughtful driving, proper maintenance, and good fortune (no accidents) make a difference. A well-maintained Highlander with 150,000 miles of mostly highway use is likelier to see 200,000 miles than one with 100,000 miles and a history of mostly city travel and poor servicing. 

Ultimately, a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified mechanic is how you can determine if a pre-owned Highlander under consideration has more miles in its future. This is good practice no matter what used car you’re thinking of buying.

Some of the Highlanders on our best list (the 2009, 2010, and 2012 model years) are already approaching the high-mileage mark and appear well-suited for additional use. For those looking to start with a Highlander that hasn’t been driven as much, check out the 2017 and 2019 model years. And if the budget allows, a 2021 Highlander is ideal. With just an average use of about 35,000 miles, these SUVs are barely broken in. 

What other vehicles should I consider?

Toyota sells a broad range of crossovers and SUVs. Options smaller than Highlander include the subcompact C-HR, the compact Corolla Cross and RAV4, and the two-row Venza. The larger Sequoia is a three-row alternative. The off-road-oriented 4Runner is available with either two or three rows (depending on the trim). The bigger Toyota Grand Highlander will join the automaker’s lineup for the 2024 model year.

Outside of Toyota, vehicles that compete with the Highlander include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, and Volkswagen Atlas.

What owners of the Toyota Highlander like to use their car for:

Frequent Use Categories: How Useful? (Out of 5 Stars)
Family Vehicle *****
Lots of Driving (travel/long commute) ***
Hauling/Towing **
Luxurious Driving *
Office on Wheels *
Outdoor/Off-Road *
Sport/Fast Driving *

A Note About Data and Information Sources

This article has many details about Toyota Highlander reliability; here’s what we used for our assumptions and recommendations.

  • FIXD Reliability Score & Data: Engine reliability information is captured via the FIXD App

The FIXD Reliability Score is calculated using the number of DTCs per year, weighted by mileage. This is then turned into a scale of 1-10 for easy graphing. 

This is an objective score.

  • Owner Reliability Score & Data: This data results from surveying Toyota Highlander owners who use FIXD

The Owner Reliability Score comes straight from the owners of the Toyota Highlander.  

This is a subjective score.

To determine the Owner Reliability Score, we ask each car owner:

How reliable would you say your Toyota Highlander is?

a. Just point A to point B driving

b. A Daily Commuter

c. Good for a 100-mile road trip

d. Good for a 500-mile road trip

e. I could take a cross-country road trip, no problem

From here, we translate their answers into the Owner Reliability Score:

a. = 2

b. = 4

c. = 6

d. = 8

e. = 10

Keep in mind owners may think their car is more or less reliable than it actually is. 

One potential problem is that people often buy the same make or model they are used to when they go car shopping, just a newer year.

Ford, for instance, has a number of consumer loyalty awards for the Ford F-Series and Ford Expedition.

Car owners may be so loyal to the make or model they currently own that they would have trouble accurately comparing their cars’ reliability to others. 

It’s for this reason that we ask car owners a question that is relative to mileage rather than relative to other cars. 

Still, be mindful of the accuracy of these Owner Reliability Scores; people’s perceptions and unconscious blindspots can skew data. 

We suggest looking at both the FIXD Reliability Score and the Owner Reliability Score for this reason.

  • KBB Value: Average private-seller valuations as supplied by Kelley Blue Book (KBB), based on a Toyota Highlander with typical mileage for that respective model year.
  • Fuel Economy: Mileage-per-gallon estimates according to the EPA MPG on Fueleconomy.gov
  • Annual Maintenance/Repair: Upkeep expenses as reported by surveyed Toyota Highlander owners
  • Safety Rating: Crash test data collected and reported by NHTSA. We average all ratings for each year to come up with a simplified, average safety score. This makes it easier to look at on a graph.


  1. Toyota Highlander model-specific information, edmunds.com (various dates). Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://www.edmunds.com/
  2. Model-specific recall information as per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls
  3. Toyota Used Car Certification Information. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://www.toyotacertified.com/certification
David Goldberg

Dave Goldberg is an automotive journalist and lifelong car fanatic. He writes for numerous enthusiast and business outlets and is an ongoing contributor to HotCars.com, one of the most popular car culture websites. When he’s not writing or driving, Dave is either under a hood or asleep. His credentials include a BA in Journalism from The George Washington University.

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.


About the Author

David Goldberg

David Goldberg

Dave Goldberg is an automotive journalist and lifelong car fanatic. He writes for numerous enthusiast and business outlets and is an ongoing contributor to HotCars.com, one of the most popular car culture websites. When he’s not writing or driving, Dave is either under a hood or asleep. His credentials include a BA in Journalism from The George Washington University.

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