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Toyota Highlander Years to Avoid: Stay Away from the 2015 and 2003 Model Years! 

Toyota Highlander Years to Avoid: Stay Away from the 2015 and 2003 Model Years! 

According to the most reported complaints about Toyota Highlander vehicles, we concluded that Toyota Highlander years to avoid are 2003 and 2015. These two model years received the highest number of reported complaints and the worst problems that required very high repair costs. 

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE

Toyota Highlander attracts many customers over the year, and many loyal customers would rush to purchase the new model year as it comes out. This unique SUV comes with a long list of safety features and other characteristics to attract customers over the years. 

Like any other automaker, Toyota Highlander still has its own drawbacks, and there are certain model years that people complain about. Of course, these years don’t have same number of reported complaints.

Our team conducted an in-depth review of all reported complaints about Toyota Highlander from different model years. We analyzed complaints posted on carcomplaints.com, edmunds.com, repairpal.com, and others. 

This article provides you with all that you need to know to understand what Toyota Highlander years to avoid. It highlights the top reported problems and the mentioned repair costs, and the timing at when these problems occurred.  

What are the common Toyota Highlander years to avoid? 

This more analysis to the most reported complete we discovered that the worst model years are the 2003 and 2015. 2003 was featured as the worst model year not because of receiving the top number of reported complaints but more because of receiving complaints requiring very high repair costs. On the other hand, the 2015 model year was featured as one of the worst because it received the highest reported complaints. 

  • Toyota Highlander years to avoid: 2015

One of the biggest drawbacks of the 2015 Toyota Highlander model is the seats. Despite the great advertising features about what's coming with the Toyota Highlander this year, it came with the worst and most uncomfortable seating ever, according to customers. 

In some scenarios, people reported feeling some pain when they drove the car for only 15 minutes. Others reported having some back and shoulder pain because of the uncomfortable seats. On top of that, the seats are not comfortable but also wear out pretty quickly compared to other vehicles in the same class. 

Customers also complained about the 2015 model year due to very loud wind noise problems whenever they drive. They indicated that the wind noise does not occur at only higher speeds but also very lower speeds of about 25 mph. Based on additional digging on the same topic, we learned that the loud wind noise came from issues with the mirror design as it came in a much larger size than what it should be. 

In addition to the seating and loud wind noise issues, some customers recorded complaints about the radio and navigation system problems. They indicated that the system reboots itself without any imports from the driver. Obviously, drivers were concerned that this display issue could affect their safety because it distracts the driver from focusing on what's more important, which is driving. 

  • Toyota Highlander years to avoid: 2003


The majority of reported problems about the 2003 Toyota Highlander has to do with complete engine failure and excessive oil usage. These problems required significant-high repair costs approaching a little less than $5000. 

Engine failures were most likely related to problems with coolant leaks resulting in engine overheating quickly. Some drivers reported paying up to $15,000 to install a new motor to replace the old one. 

On some other occasions, drivers of a 2003 Toyota Highlander reported complaints about braking issues. These braking problems required repair costs up to $600 in some scenarios. Of course, the rigging system is one of the very crucial systems in your vehicle, and without it working properly, you can put yourself at risk of crashes. Thus, before purchasing a 2003 Toyota Highlander, you need to think twice. 

What problems does Toyota Highlander have?

Although every model year from the Toyota Highlander has its own problems, there are some problems observed consistently across most years

  • Toyota Highlander engine problems 

Stripped engine bolts are a huge problem reported by most customers on carcomplaints.com. They indicated that this problem requires replacing the entire engine immediately because of causing complete engine failure. While a combination of different problems might cause engine failure, stripped engine bolts were the primary culprit. 

Fuel lines issues were also reported by a good number of customers about the Toyota Highlander. Customers mentioned that the oil lines might get ruptured suddenly without any previous warning sign. Unfortunately, ruptured oil lines caused significant engine failure in model years between 2005 and 2013. 

Lack of oil was another reported issue about Toyota Highlander. The good news is that when this problem occurs, our customers can resolve it by only cleaning the lines and any affected component around the oil lines. Taking care of oil problems was not too bad if the problem was detected early. However, for customers who delayed inspecting and resolving the issue, they replaced the entire engine. 

  • Toyota Highlander transmission problems 

Transmission problems were reported frequently by several Toyota Highlander vehicles, mostly from the 2015 model year. Surprisingly, most transition problems occur at relatively newer vehicles of only about 1000 miles. The complaints indicate that the only solution for transition problems like slipping was by replacing the whole part. The good news is that at 1000 miles, most vehicles would still be at the manufacturer warranty, which means that they might have got the costs covered under the manufacturer. 

  • Toyota Highlander body problems 

Additional body problems were reported consistently among many Toyota Highlander years. For example, and as we discussed earlier, wind noise was a big issue for many years. Also, power liftgate problems were reported showing that the target does not open for no clear reason.

Some customers also indicated that their vehicles smell like a mold order even though it was a brand-new car. This small order was not reported as often, and it was only one complaint by one customer for the 2015 model year. 

  • Toyota Highlander windows problems 

Few reported complaints indicated that the Toyota Highlander might have some windows problems. Some of these problems include the windows not opening at vehicles at around 6000 miles.

Obviously, at 6000 miles, you wouldn't expect some problems in the windows for a brand-new vehicle that you invested thousands of dollars on. Although windows problems were minor, they were persuading enough to disappoint many Toyota Highlander loyal customers, especially those who purchased the 2015 model year. 

Toyota Highlander recalls 

If you're planning to purchase a used Toyota Highlander, it's a good idea for you to familiarize yourself with the top reported recalls about this vehicle. This way, you can avoid purchasing a car that has a measure issue and was not resolved when the recall was active.

Despite the significant number of reported complaints about the 2015 Toyota Highlander, very few recalls were issued to address the most reported problems. The only recall was issued on May 7th, 2015, to address problems with the steering system. Although the steering system was not the most reported issue about this model year, knowing such a problem is a must for any driver who is planning to purchase a 2015 Toyota Highlander. 

Similarly, the 2003 model year did not receive many recalls even though many people were struggling with multiple mechanical problems. The only two recalls have to do with the spare tire with the right lug nuts. 

What is the life expectancy of a Toyota Highlander? 

This on recent statistics, Toyota Highlanders seem to last up to 300,000 miles or 20 years. This life expectancy is fair enough and satisfied most Toyota Highlander drivers.

Of course, the life span and the lifetime of any vehicle are affected heavily by your driving style and the amount of effort you put into taking care of this vehicle. For instance, if you don't take care of your Toyota Highlander and perform regular maintenance on time, you will most likely reduce the lifespan of this vehicle.

Therefore, if you would like your Toyota Highlander to hit the 300,000 miles threshold, you need to maintain all repairs and take care of any problem you see immediately before it becomes more complicated and affects other surrounding components. 

What is the best year of Toyota Highlander?

While we focused this article on highlighting the Toyota Highlander years to avoid, let's have this section list the different model years from Toyota Highlander to choose from.

Although the 2003 and 2015 model years were not as pleasing, there are still many Toyota Highlanders that you can choose from and get the best ride.

For example, the 2007 model year did not receive as many complaints as any other year for the same brand. It only received very few complaints, and most of these complaints were focused on minor issues. Obviously, no one vehicle comes problems free and having only nine reported complaints is not too bad for a vehicle like this one.

If you're looking for a more modern Toyota Highlander, your next best option would be either the 2017 or the 2018 model years because they both did not receive as many reported complaints as the other newer vehicles. Most reported complaints about these model years were minor. However, you need to keep in mind that a couple of reported complaints about some major components in the vehicle, like the engine, the brakes, and the fuel system. 

Even with this advice, we still recommend that you bring a professional mechanic to take a prepurchase inspection and look at the vehicle in detail before purchase. Sometimes the car might have hidden problems that you won't discover immediately. Having a mechanic can help you detect these problems to avoid purchasing a Toyota Highlander with major mechanical problems. 

What year is Toyota Highlander's most reliable?

When it comes to reliability, we can still say that 2007, 2017, and 2018 are the best model years. However, based on some expert’s opinions, choosing a Toyota Highlander between 2006 and 2007 would be a good choice if you're looking for a vehicle with the least common problems. 


Toyota Highlander is one of the popular SUVs on most public roads. Although the vehicle comes with many amazing features to attract tons of customers every year, there are several model years that you need to stay away from to avoid purchasing a vehicle with mechanical problems.

Based on our analysis two most reported complaints about Toyota Highlander, we concluded that 2003 and 2015 are the worst model years to avoid from the Toyota Highlander. 

If you are still interested in buying a Toyota Highlander, there is still a good list of years to choose from. For instance, you can go with 2007, 2017, and 2018 if you are interested.

If you have at Toyota Highlander and you just discovered dealing with major mechanical problems, it might be the right time now to sell this vehicle and use the money towards a better car to avoid the headache in repair costs. Cash Cars Buyer is one of the fewest companies that accept your Toyota Highlander despite its major problems. 

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