Toyota Highlander 3rd Generation 2014-2019 (XU50) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Toyota Highlander 3rd Gen

Read in this article:

3rd Generation Toyota Highlander: What Owners Say

  • Owners love the space the 2014-2019 Toyota Highlander offers. As it's longer and wider than its predecessor, it accommodates up to eight people in three rows. All this, while maintaining a passable 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row - a fair showing for a mid-size SUV.
  • The refined, comfortable driving experience and high-quality cabin materials are impressive. Thanks to the long-serving Toyota K platform on which it's built, the Highlander's ride feels more like a car than a truck.
  • The Highlander provides a variety of drivetrain options, including hybrid models. The V6 drivetrain is loved by owners and offers decent performance and relative fuel economy. In fact, the facelift V6 beats the four-cylinder variant in terms of gas mileage. The V6 has been the most popular choice and it was further enhanced with the 2017 facelift to offer more power and an eight-speed transmission.
  • There are quite a few complaints about the early 3rd-generation Highlander's uncomfortable seats. Testing out seat comfort on an extended drive is a must before signing on the dotted line.
  • The 3rd-generation Highlander suffers from a couple of high-profile reliability issues and some of these attracted quite a lot of bad press and even the odd class-action lawsuit. The fuel pump and transmission problems of the facelift are well-documented, but most of these problems should have been sorted out under recall.
  • The Highlander's towing capacity is a bit below par for the class at a maximum of 5,000 pounds. Less plush rivals offer a bit more.

2017 & 2019 Toyota Highlander Third Generation Facelift

The Highlander was substantially updated for the 2017 model year, with revamped styling and a new engine and transmission. Only a few minor changes were made to the 2019 model.

2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Front Changes CarBuzz
2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Front Changes

The front-end design was made a lot sleeker with new, slim LED headlights. The grille has been extensively refreshed fo ra much more aggressive, full-size design1. It features dark or silver slats, depending on the trim. New vertical foglights are incorporated on either side of the grille2, and DRL light strips are integrated into the lower edges of the headlight clusters3. Sportier SE models receive darkened headlights and foglights. Another nip and tuck for the 2019 model year adds LED fog lights with chrome bezels to the Highlander Limited and Limited Platinum.

2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Rear Changes CarBuzz
2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Rear Changes

The rear light clusters retain their shape but are revamped with LED strips in place of the incandescent bulbs1. Other than that, the rear end remains much like that of the previous model. The new SE gains blackened tail lights.

2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Side Changes CarBuzz
2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Side Changes

Updates are far less noticeable in side profile. However, the new front bumper with its upright foglight slots and the slimmer headlights can easily be identified from the side1, although you'd need eagle eyes to spot the revised taillights2. The sporty-looking SE gets special two-tone 19-inch wheel design3, and for the 2019 model year, the LE and XLE trims receive new black rocker panels below the doors.

2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Interior Changes CarBuzz
2017-2019 Highlander 3rd Gen Facelift Interior Changes

While the facelift brought with it a lot more standard and optional luxury and safety features, the basic design of the interior remains the same. More trim options are offered and some materials, like seat upholstery, were revised, but the layout has remained the same as before.

Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain

At launch, the third-generation Toyota Highlander XU50 was fitted with a naturally aspirated 2.7-liter four-cylinder base engine delivering 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels in the entry-level LE trim. Other trims (and the LE V6) and all AWD models make use of a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine with 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The default transmission across the range is a six-speed automatic. The V6 is by far the most popular engine choice and provides decent performance, with 60 mph coming up in a whisker over seven seconds. The base engine is barely adequate and not much lighter on fuel than the V6; it's certainly not worth the worse performance. There is a hybrid drivetrain as well, with the V6 engine mated to a hybrid setup, tuned to provide a combined output of 280 hp. It is mated to a continuously variable transmission, and is AWD-only.

The 2017 facelift retains the four-cylinder base engine and six-speed automatic transmission, but all V6-engined models receive a more powerful version of the 3.5-liter V6 with dual (direct and manifold) injection and increased outputs to 295 hp and 263 lb-ft. The 2017 V6s are mated exclusively to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that proved troublesome at first and led to recalls and some transmission replacements. The V6 hybrid's power output is increased to 306 hp and it carries over the CVT transmission.

2.7-liter Inline-Four Gas Engine
185 hp | 184 lb-ft
185 hp
184 lb-ft
Six-speed automatic

The base engine is a 2.7-liter derivative of Toyota's AR engine that first appeared in 2008. It retains the basic qualities of the AR engines, one of which is excellent durability. The valvegear's hydraulic lifters mean that the engine should remain virtually maintenance-free, save for periodic oil and spark-plug changes. However, like all modern engines, it has a variable valve-timing system and other advanced features that rely on a ready supply of clean oil, so deferred maintenance can wreak all kinds of havoc with long-term reliability. The cams are driven by a chain, not a belt, so this item also requires little maintenance except for regular clean oil to extend its life.

3.5-liter V6 Gas Engine
270/295 hp | 248/263 lb-ft
270/295 hp
248/263 lb-ft
Six-speed or eight-speed automatic

Toyota's proven GR V6 engine is used in third-generation Highlander V6 models, specifically the 3.5-liter 2GR derivative. The engine experienced some issues in the first few years of its life until around 2010 but, by the time the third-generation Highlander was launched in 2014, the GR turned into a solid, reliable engine that should exceed 200,000-250,000 miles with few problems if properly maintained. The 2GR-FE in the 2014-2016 Highlander has conventional manifold injection and develops 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The 2017 facelift received the updated 2GR-FKS engine, which uses Toyota's D-4S dual-injection system. This adds direct injectors in the combustion chambers to the existing manifold injection, upping power and torque to 295 hp and 263 lb-ft, respectively.

3.5-liter V6 Atkinson-Cycle Gas Engine and Two Electric Motors
231/NA hp | 215/NA lb-ft and 235 hp combined | 350 lb-ft combined
231 hp
215 lb-ft
CVT automatic
  • Electric motors: Two permanent synchronous electric motors
  • Horsepower: 167 hp (front wheels) + 68 hp (rear wheels)
  • Torque: 247 lb-ft (front wheels) + 103 lb-ft (rear wheels)
  • Engine + electric motors hybrid system output: 280/306 hp

The 2014 Highlander Hybrid makes use of an Atkinson-cycle version of the 3.5-liter V6 engine with 231 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque, supplemented by two electric motors - one developing 167 hp and 247 lb-ft and driving the front wheels and the other with 68 hp and 103 lb-ft driving the rear wheels. The outputs cannot simply be added together because the engine and motors don't develop peak power at the same time, so the combined system output is 280 hp. For the 2017 model year, the Highlander Hybrid receives the dual-injection V6. Toyota does not say how much power and torque this revised Atkinson-cycle D-4S engine develops, but the electric motors stay the same and the total system output increases to 306 hp.

2014-2019 Toyota Highlander Real MPG

Right from the start, the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine's existence was called into question, as it doesn't provide a significant fuel-efficiency benefit over the V6 engine. The EPA claims 20/25/22 MPG on the city/highway/combined cycles for the 2014 Highlander FWD with the four-cylinder engine, while the similarly configured V6 nearly matches it with figures of 19/25/21 MPG. In fact, the 2017 facelifted Highlander receives a more efficient V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and in that configuration, even the AWD V6 produces better gas mileage than the FWD 2.7.

Once a vehicle has been on the market for a while, enough of them are on the roads to determine what its real-world consumption is. People submit the fuel consumption they achieve with their vehicles to the EPA, which then publishes these figures alongside the EPA-estimated figures. While these user-submitted figures must be taken with a grain of salt because there is little control over the type of usage patterns they represent, they do give an indication of the true state of affairs. Once enough people have submitted their figures, one can average them all out to arrive at a realistic figure. To this end, we can see that the EPA's claims for the Highlander are quite accurate. Most models obtain averaged-out real-world figures that are about the same as the EPA's combined figure, with the exception of the hybrids, which seem to be performing slightly worse than claimed, on average.

EPA MPGReal-World MPG *
2.7 NA four-cylinder six-speed automatic FWD20/25/2221.5 combined
3.5 NA V6 six-speed automatic FWD19/25/2118.3-25.7 combined
3.5 NA V6 six-speed automatic AWD18/24/2016.6-24 combined
3.5 NA V6 eight-speed automatic FWD21/27/2321.2-22.2 combined
3.5 NA V6 eight-speed automatic AWD20/27/2320.4-33 combined
3.5 NA V6 hybrid CVT automatic AWD (2014-2016)28/28/2823.4-29.7 combined
3.5 NA V6 hybrid CVT automatic AWD (2017-2019)30/28/2925.5 combined

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.


Safety is a third-generation Toyota Highlander strong point. The NHTSA scores the 2014 model five stars overall, with four for the frontal crash and rollover test and five for the side crash. Over at the IIHS, this model scores "Acceptable" for the small-overlap frontal crashes and "Good" for the rest, which is enough to bag it a 2014 Top Safety Pick+ award. The NHTSA's scores for the 2017 facelift are identical, but the IIHS tests of the same model demonstrate that Toyota improved safety, with the driver-side small-overlap frontal crash getting a "Good" score (the passenger side achieved the same "Acceptable" score as before) and the Highlander again earns a Top Safety Pick+ award. The third-generation Highlander is very good in terms of safety, and still makes for good family transport even by more modern standards.

The 3rd-gen Highlander's standard safety specification is also comprehensive, with even the base 2.7-liter 2014 model coming as standard with no fewer than eight airbags, as well as stability control, automatic headlights, a hill-hold function, ABS brakes with brake assist, and a rear-view camera. For the 2017 facelift, safety is substantially shored up, with the Toyota Safety Sense bundle becoming available as standard on all trims, adding automatic high beams, forward-collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure intervention.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

Overall Rating::
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating::
Side Crash Rating::
Rollover Rating::

3rd Generation Toyota Highlander Trims

At launch, the 3rd-gen Toyota Highlander's gas-powered lineup comprised five main trims, namely LE, LE Plus, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum, with some models branching out from these. For example, the base 2WD LE could be had with either the four-cylinder or V6 engine and it also offered a V6 4WD. All the other trims - LE Plus, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum - could be had in either 2WD or 4WD and used the V6 engine by default. This arrangement continued for the first three years, but the 2017 facelift also introduced the SE trim in either 2WD or 4WD. The 2014 Highlander Hybrid was only offered in Limited and Limited Platinum trims at launch and had to wait until the 2017 facelift before LE and XLE trims were added.

2.7-liter inline-four / 3.5-liter V6 / 3.5-liter hybrid V6
Six-speed/eight-speed automatic transmission / CVT

The FWD LE is the only trim fitted with the base four-cylinder engine. There is also an LE V6 FWD and an LE V6 AWD. Whatever drivetrain is fitted, the LE comes as standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic halogen headlights, a rear roof spoiler, and heated exterior mirrors. On the inside, it has eight seats, cloth upholstery, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat (four-way manual adjustment for the passenger), a sliding/reclining 60/40-split second row, a 60/40-split third row, cruise control, automatic climate control, a manually tilting/telescoping steering wheel, and illuminated sun-visor vanity mirrors.

The infotainment system consists of a 6.1-inch central touchscreen and includes an iPod/USB interface, auxiliary audio jack, and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player. Standard safety fare includes eight airbags, stability control, a backup camera, and a hill holder. From the 2015 model year, an LCD driver-information display was added to the gauge cluster and for 2016, a standard towing package was fitted to all V6 models. The 2017 facelift marked bigger changes, with the introduction of a more powerful V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission (the four-cylinder retained the old six-speed transmission), in addition to the exterior restyling. New standard features were added too and included the Toyota Safety Sense suite that added forward-collision mitigation, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and pedestrian detection. The 2017 facelift also introduces an LE Hybrid model for the first time.

LE Plus
3.5-liter V6
Six-speed/eight-speed automatic transmission

The 2014 LE Plus has everything the LE does but loses the four-cylinder engine altogether, and is only available with the V6. Additional standard features include front fog lights, a power liftgate, separately opening liftgate glass, SofTex leatherette upholstery, an eight-way electrically adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar adjustment, three-zone automatic climate control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, HD radio, and satellite radio. The 2017 facelift LE Plus got the larger 8-inch Entune infotainment touchscreen with App Suite and mobile-app integration - a feature that used to be standard only on the XLE and up before.

3.5-liter V6 / 3.5-liter hybrid V6
Six-speed/eight-speed automatic transmission / CVT

Upgrading to the XLE means roof rails and a sunroof are present, as well as keyless start, leather upholstery for the first two rows (and SofTex leatherette for the third), a better driver-information display, a second-row 110-volt power outlet, retractable second-row sunshades, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and a Driver Easy Speak voice-amplification system. The Entune infotainment system with App Suite and an 8-inch touchscreen is used and it offers mobile-app integration for compatible handsets. In time for the 2017 facelift, the XLE became available with the hybrid drivetrain as well.

3.0-liter inline-six
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission

Based on the XLE, the SE trim joined the lineup for the 2017 model year, sharing the basic specifications of the XLE, but with a sporty bent. To this end, it has sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, and various visual upgrades inside and out to lend it a sportier flair. The firmer suspension does spoil the ride somewhat and most certainly does not turn the Highlander into a track-day special, so it's really all a bit unnecessary in a vehicle such as this. It makes no case for itself except for lending the car a more dynamic appearance.

3.5-liter V6 / 3.5-liter hybrid V6
Six-speed/eight-speed automatic transmission / CVT

The Limited builds on the XLE's standard specifications and adds LED daytime running lights, 19-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, driver's-seat memory, ventilated and heated front seats, a four-way electrically adjustable front passenger seat, a seven-seater layout with dual captain's chairs in the second row, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a 12-speaker JBL sound system. It also gained access to the Driver Technology Package (adding items such as adaptive cruise control, auto high beams, automatic braking, and lane-departure warning) and the Platinum Package (adding the Driver Technology Package, as well as a heated steering wheel and second row, plus a panoramic sunroof).

Limited Platinum
3.5-liter V6 / 3.5-liter hybrid V6
Six-speed/eight-speed automatic transmission / CVT

The Limited Platinum is usually listed as a separate trim, but can be seen as a Limited with the Platinum Package added. The additional features are automatic high beams, collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row captain's chairs, and a panoramic sunroof. Front parking sensors were added to the 2017 facelifted model, as well as a surround-view camera.

Third Generation Toyota Highlander Features

LELE PlusXLESELimitedLimited Platinum
Back-Up CameraSSSSSS
Bluetooth ConnectionSSSSSS
Leather SeatsN/AN/ASSSS
Apple CarPlayN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Keyless EntrySSSSSS
Keyless StartN/AN/ASSSS
Alloy WheelsSSSSSS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

Toyota Highlander 3rd Gen Interior Overview Toyota
Toyota Highlander 3rd Gen Interior Overview

The 3rd-generation Toyota Highlander has accommodation for up to eight people but, as is often the case with mid-size SUVs, three in the back row is a squeeze and even two will have limited space for their limbs. There isn't much cargo space behind the third row - only 13.8 cubic inches. Folding the third row increases this figure to 42.3 cubic feet (42 for the hybrid) and folding the second row as well opens up a cavernous 83.7 cubic feet (a maximum of 83.2 for the hybrid), turning the SUV into a van.

Even the LE trim is well-equipped, especially the facelifted one, but there is better value to be had elsewhere in the lineup. Toyota offers many trim levels, so there is a Highlander for every taste. LE Plus adds a few useful features and XLE starts to become luxurious, with leather trim included. This is also the trim on which the sporty SE is based. You have to go all the way up to Limited Platinum before you get adaptive cruise control or a heated steering wheel though, and it's worth noting that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are nowhere to be found, even in 2019 flagship trims.

TrimLELE PlusXLESELimitedLimited Platinum
Black, Gray cloth seatsSN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Black, Ash, Almond leatherette & cloth seatsN/ASN/AN/AN/AN/A
Black, Almond, Gray leather seatsN/AN/ASN/AN/AN/A
Black leather seatsN/AN/AN/ASN/AN/A
Black, Almond, Gray, Harvest Beige leather seatsN/AN/AN/AN/ASS

2014-2019 Highlander Maintenance and Cost

Most of the things that can go wrong with the 3rd-gen Highlander are recall or warranty issues that should've been attended to when the car was new. As always, proper maintenance is critical on older vehicles in order to keep them reliable and many headaches can be avoided by changing the engine oil frequently, as well as the transmission fluid. A service record with evidence of this can offer a lot of peace of mind. Keep in mind that a hybrid battery will start to degrade from about ten years of age and a replacement costs nearly $5,000.

Toyota recommends that the engine oil and filter be replaced every 10,000 miles unless the vehicle is operated under severe conditions, such as on dirt roads, in freezing temperatures, or with extended periods of idling, such as in taxi duty - in which case the interval is 5,000 miles. At those 5,000-mile intervals, Toyota also rotates the tires and inspects all the other fluid levels, as well as the brakes and wipers. Every 10,000 miles, the cabin air filter is replaced. Every 30,000 miles, the engine's air filter is replaced and vehicle systems, such as the 4WD system, are inspected. All engines use a timing chain, not a belt, so this item should last a long time and not require periodic replacement as long as you stick to your scheduled oil changes.

Toyota Highlander XU50 Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter (Gas)

Oil capacity for 2.7-liter naturally aspirated 1AR-FE inline-four gas engine: 4.4L (4.65 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 0W-20 fully synthetic oil, Amsoil product code OEZQT-EA

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $170-$230

Oil capacity for 3.5-liter naturally aspirated 2GR-FE/2GR-FKS gas engines: 6.1L (6.45 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 0W-20 fully synthetic oil, Amsoil product code ASMQT-EA

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $190-$260


Naturally aspirated 1AR-FE 2.7-liter inline-four gas engine (2014-2019)

Part code: 9091901247

Replacement: Every 120,000 miles

Average price: $67 for four

Naturally aspirated 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 gas engine (2014-2016)

Part code: 9091901247

Replacement: Every 120,000 miles

Average price: $100 for six

Naturally aspirated 2GR-FKS 3.5-liter V6 gas engine (2017-2019)

Part code: 9091901263

Replacement: Every 60,000 miles

Average price: $108 for six

Air Filter

Naturally aspirated 1AR-FE 2.7-liter inline-four gas engine

OEM part number: 17801YZZ01

Price: $18

Naturally aspirated 2GR-FE/2GR-FKS 3.5-liter V6 gas engines

OEM part number: 17801YZZ11

Price: $22

Naturally aspirated 2GR-FE/2GR-FKS 3.5-liter V6 hybrid gas engines

OEM part number: 17801YZZ14

Price: $22


2.7-liter naturally aspirated 1AR-FE inline-four gas engine

Type: Bosch AGM, part code S6523B

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Replacement cost: $197

3.5-liter naturally aspirated 2GR-FE/2GR-FKS V6 gas engines

Type: Bosch AGM, part code S6523B

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Replacement cost: $197

3.5-liter naturally aspirated 2GR-FE/2GR-FKS V6 hybrid gas engine

Type: Hybrid high-voltage battery pack, part code G951048011

Replacement: Every 10 years

Replacement cost: $4,850

3rd Gen Toyota Highlander Tires

LE, LE Plus, and XLE
Tire Size:
All-season BSW tires:
$736-$932 per set
SE, Limited, and Limited Platinum
Tire Size:
All-season BSW tires:
$756-$1,202 per set

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

Most of the 2014-2019 Toyota Highlander problems are well-known and most were rectified under warranty or recall. A few minor issues popped up over the years and while these aren't widespread enough to deserve their own sections in this report, we mention them here.

Some minor problems worth mentioning include:

  • Facelift 2017 Toyota Highlander windshield-cracking problems apply to other years as well and serve as a reminder of how complicated cars have become. If you've cracked a windshield and need to have it replaced, keep in mind that you'll have to have the sensitive windshield-mounted camera and driver-assistance equipment recalibrated at your own cost.
  • There is a 2014 Toyota Highlander airbag and safety problem recall dealing with an issue where the restraint systems might not restrain heavier passengers adequately in a crash due to being programmed with incorrect software.
  • The third-generation 2014 Toyota Highlander 2.7's leak problems with water escaping from the cooling system in a few cars are also not commonplace enough to establish a worrisome pattern. Most used-car buyers shun the weak four-cylinder anyway, so it shouldn't present a problem.
  • There were also some 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Toyota Highlander power door lock problems, although this can also occur on 2014 and 2019 models.
  • Oxygen sensors can go bad, triggering error codes such as P2195, P2197, and C1201. These cost between $350 and $550 to replace.
  • Models with the JBL audio system can suffer from speaker rattles, vibrations, and buzzes. There are tutorials on the internet showing how to fix this problem at home.
  • All engines can suffer from oil leaks at high mileages, but the V6 engine is especially prone to develop an oil leak at the cam position sensor's bolt hole.

As seems to be the case with many complicated modern cars, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Toyota Highlander electrical problems do occur but seem to have been mostly sorted out by 2019. It seems as though 2014, 2015, and 2016 Toyota Highlander AWD, hybrid battery, key fob, brake, console, voice recognition, mass air flow meter, and starting problems are all exceedingly rare. Likewise, in terms of the facelifted model, there doesn't seem to be any uptick in 2017, 2018, and 2019 Toyota Highlander AWD, hybrid battery, battery-draining, key fob, console, cruise control, panoramic sunroof, engine, start-stop, vibration, defogger, brake, or other mechanical problems either, with all these systems remaining relatively trouble-free. There is also no need to worry about 2017/2018 Toyota Highlander 2GR-FKS problems - this more powerful V6 engine is just a refined version of the reliable pre-facelift V6 and still a durable power plant.

It's worth keeping in mind a few common error codes:

  • The Toyota Highlander code P0025 could indicate Toyota Highlander crankshaft sensor problems, because it means that the ECM has determined that the exhaust variable cam timing is incorrect.
  • The Toyota Highlander code P0741 refers to a difference of more than 200 rpm in the speed of the transmission's torque converter and input shaft.
  • The Toyota Highlander code P0909 refers to a transmission gate select control error that could indicate disconnected or damaged wiring in the powertrain control module.
  • The Toyota Highlander code P0990 could refer to various problems, including low or dirty transmission fluid, a faulty transmission fluid pressure switch, or damaged connectors or wiring.
  • The Toyota Highlander code B2313 refers to an anomalous exhaust gas recirculation sensor B circuit reading.
  • The Toyota Highlander code P0171 is for an oxygen sensor not registering enough oxygen in the exhaust tract.
  • The Toyota Highlander code B1876 refers to a seat-belt pretensioner circuit failure.
  • The Toyota Highlander U0142 code means that communication with the Body Control Module B has been lost.
  • The Toyota Highlander U0155 code means that communication with the instrument panel cluster (IPC) has been lost.

The most noted 3rd-gen Highlander problems are as follows:

3rd Gen Highlander Common Problems

Fuel Pump Failure

Mostly affecting the facelifted 2017-2019 Highlanders, the low-pressure fuel pump in the gas tank may fail. This is a very common problem and almost six million Toyotas were recalled globally for this problem, including around 3.35 million cars in the US and leading to a 2017, 2018, and 2019 Toyota Highlander fuel pump recall. Under the recall conditions, Toyota replaces the fuel pump with an improved part. Any Highlander of these model years should have had its fuel pump replaced.

Mileage: N/A

Cost: Free replacement under the recall conditions

How to spot: Engine may lose power or stall, and may not restart

Transmission Problems

While there are very few six-speed 2014, 2015, and 2016 Toyota Highlander transmission problems, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Toyota Highlander 8-speed transmission problems and recall have been much publicized, although these problems reduced in number as the years went on. The facelifted Highlanders' new eight-speed automatic transmission was the culprit and one of the service bulletins outlining the various problems is T-SB-0194-17. This outlines the reprogramming of the ECU and is covered under Toyota's Federal Emissions Warranty of 96 months/80,000 miles. T-SB-0160-18 describes a whining noise and awkward shifting, which usually means a complete transaxle replacement. Test drive any 2017-2019 and be sure to check that the transmission shifts swiftly and smoothly without hesitation, jerks, or rev flares, that it doesn't delay shifts, and that it makes no whining noises.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Free repair under recall conditions

How to spot: Hesitation, power loss, high-rpm shift points, warning lights, whining sound

Suspension Noise

This can affect any Highlander model year and you have to take the vehicle for a test drive on a rough road to identify the issue. This usually takes the form of popping, squeaking, creaking and/or clunking noises from the suspension. It is not a very common problem, but may suggest abuse and rough usage and might raise other red flags. It's wiser to avoid a Highlander with noisy suspension. Repairs usually entail replacing the rear struts and resetting the wheel alignment.

Mileage: 50,000 miles on average

Cost: $300-$450 plus wheel alignment

How to spot: Clunking, squeaking, and popping noises from the suspension on rough surfaces

Rodents Eating Wiring

If your Highlander is parked in a place where rodents hang out, you risk having its wiring chewed because Toyota uses a cheaper, environmentally friendly soy-coated electrical wiring insulation in many of its cars. Unfortunately, this wiring attracts rodents and they like to chew on it, potentially causing major damage to the electrical wiring loom that may be very expensive to put right. This problem even led to a class-action lawsuit in 2016. Remedies mostly revolve around rodent control where you keep your car, as it's impossible to treat all the wiring with rodent deterrents.

Mileage: N/A

Cost: Can vary widely depending on the damage

How to spot: Droppings, signs of rodent activity, chewed wires, electrical problems

Power Liftgate Failure

2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Toyota Highlander recall notices for rear hatch/door, liftgate, or tailgate problems are quite common. There was no pre-facelift 2014 or 2017/2018 Toyota Highlander liftgate or rear hatch recall, so if you encounter this problem, the fix will be for your own pocket. Although the locking mechanism sometimes fails or becomes stuck, the most common problem is usually the lifting struts failing. They should be replaced with updated struts that are not prone to failure. However, keep in mind that a power liftgate that won't open does not necessarily indicate a failure. The liftgate won't open if your key fob's battery is low, if the pop-up liftgate glass hatch is open, or the liftgate switch in the glove box is set to "off". Test the system properly.

Mileage: From new

Cost: $500-$1,000 for a strut replacement job

How to spot: Power liftback stops unexpectedly or refuses to open, requiring physical force to open

Loss Of Electric Power Steering

More than 110,000 Highlanders were recalled as part of a 2015 Toyota Highlander power steering recall due to a possible loss of power to their electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system. In this Toyota Highlander 2015 recall, one of the parts in the EPAS system may have been damaged during assembly, causing a loss of power assistance and a steering wheel that is difficult to turn, increasing the risk of a crash. All vehicles should have been repaired for free under the recall conditions. Look up the vehicle's VIN on the NHTSA website to see whether it was recalled and be sure that the work is done.

Mileage: 28,000 miles on average

Cost: Free repair under the recall conditions

How to spot: Heavy steering and difficulty turning the vehicle

Infotainment System Problems

There seem to be many 2014 and 2015 Toyota Highlander Entune, Bluetooth, radio, and navigation system destination selector problems. The Panasonic-supplied Entune infotainment system is buggy and the first two years are the most troublesome, although there is also a fair number of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Toyota Highlander Entune, Bluetooth, and radio problems. Keep in mind that there was no recall on the nav screen on the Toyota Highlander for 2014 or any other year, so any expenses to sort out the problem will be for your account. The service bulletins T-SB-0035-16 for 2014-2015 models and T-SB-0003-20 for 2016-2019 models outline most of the problems, which include the system shutting down and rebooting repeatedly and the radio controls freezing, as well as dropped Bluetooth connections and hearing the echo of one's own voice during telephone calls when making calls over Bluetooth. Some of the Bluetooth problems can be remedied by unpairing unused Bluetooth devices from the system. For the rest, getting the latest Entune software update from a Toyota dealership at a nominal fee should render the system usable once more. However, you can try a DIY job by downloading the update onto a memory stick and updating the system yourself - there are various online tutorials available to show you how.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Free DIY job

How to spot: Freezing radio control, system rebooting, Bluetooth connection dropping, echos during calls

Moldy Smell From Air-Conditioning

A common Toyota problem, mildewy-smelling air-conditioning systems seem to be common among the third-generation Highlander as well. This is one of those irritating 2014 and 2015 Toyota Highlander AC problems that also affect later years to some extent. It's not serious and does not affect the operation of the air-conditioning system, but it's offputting nonetheless. Bacteria and other microorganisms that grow where moisture collects in the system are the culprits and there is no real fix for it. What you can do when you notice the smell is to buy a can of air-conditioning disinfectant from your local auto-spares shop and spray it into the intake of your AC system at the base of the windscreen with the air-conditioning's fan on low and the windows open to kill this bacteria and remove the smell.

Mileage: 16,000 miles on average

Cost: $10

How to spot: Moldy, mildewy smell from ventilation system

Uncomfortable seats

Quite a few owners complained that the seats of the pre-facelift model are uncomfortable, with the 2015 model getting the most flak. Go on an extended test drive to test seat comfort and be sure that the seats work for you and your family before buying.

Mileage: From new

Cost: N/A

How to spot: Discomfort and aches after a long drive


Besides all the recalls mentioned above there were several others issued. Some 2014-model Toyota Highlander car seat problems were noted in a recall that involved a few thousand cars in which the second- and third-row seats might not be properly secured in their floor rails, increasing the risk of injury in a crash, should the seats come loose. There was also a brake wire recall on the 2016 Toyota Highlander to address an issue where a wire connecting the brake-level sensor to the wiring harness has not been plugged in, failing to alert the driver of a low brake fluid level. There was a 2016 recall for the Toyota Highlander's front cowling that may admit water, which could then penetrate the windshield-mounted wiring harness and, ultimately, the engine control module (ECM). On the 2014 Highlander, almost 16,000 units were recalled to fix a fuel-supply pipe that may leak fuel into the engine bay, posing a fire risk. 2016, 2018, and 2019 models were recalled for either incorrect or degrading load-capacity labels that may lead to the vehicle being overloaded. Just over 6,000 2018 models were recalled for a brake-assist vacuum that may fail, leading to a loss of brake assistance.

Which One To Avoid

In terms of equipment, the LE and LE Plus models are a bit bare-bones, especially the pre-facelift models. From the 2017 model year, there are a lot more safety features added, but these models are still not what you would consider luxurious. Don't even consider the base four-cylinder either, as it offers no fuel-economy advantage. The SE should also be avoided, as the sports suspension just spoils the ride and is at odds with a family vehicle.

Which One To Buy

The sweet spot in the pre-facelifted lineup in terms of standard equipment is the XLE, offering the minimum number of features and luxuries one would expect from a modern SUV. Of course, the indulgent Limited models are the ultimate 3rd-gen Highlanders if you can get one that has been well cared for at a good price. The V6 2WD will go most places, has ample power, and the drivetrain is tough and reliable. The facelifted Highlander from the 2017 model year and on is lighter on fuel, looks significantly more modern, and comes with a suite of driver-assistance features as standard. As a proper family hold-all, it is an excellent SUV, as long as you're aware of the transmission recalls. Try to find one where the transmission has a clean bill of health or has been replaced under the recall. The transmission must be quiet and smooth and should last a long time once sorted out. We'd go for a late-model 2019 XLE or Limited if the budget allows.

3rd Gen Highlander Verdict

The third-generation Toyota Highlander is not the most spacious, the fastest, or the safest SUV around, but it offers a superb blend of abilities and, by and large, the expected Toyota reliability. If you only want the third row for occasional use, it has more than enough space for the family. Most of the problem areas were sorted out under warranty or recall, so a well-maintained Highlander that has a Toyota service history, low mileage, and up-to-date recall history should provide many years of trouble-free service.

To Top