Toyota Highlander 2001-2007: common problems, maintenance, fuel economy, photos, specs

Updated: March 07, 2018
Toyota Highlander
2007 Toyota Highlander. Click for larger photo.

The 2001-2007 Highlander offers good handling and soft, quiet ride. For 2001, only a five-seat model was offered. The seven-seater with three rows of seats became available from 2004.

The Highlander comes as a front- or all-wheel drive. It has a 3.0L V6 (3.3L V6 from 2004) or 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. No manual transmission was offered.

The Highlander hybrid was added to the lineup for 2005. The 2007 AWD Highlander hybrid is rated at 27/25 mpg or 8.7/9.4 L/100 km (hwy/city). Toyota Highlander is one of the most reliable SUVs, but there are problems to watch out for, read below.

2007 Toyota Highlander interior
2007 Toyota Highlander interior
2007 Toyota Highlander third-row seats
Third row seat access
2007 Toyota Highlander third-row seats down
2007 Highlander - second and third row seats fold almost flat.

Interior: The steering wheel tilts, but lacks telescopic adjustment. High driving position, wide rear glass and large side mirrors provide excellent all-around visibility. Front seats are comfy and supportive. There is plenty of headroom. The second row space is sufficient. The 60/40 split second-row seat reclines and slides back and forth. The third row, available from 2004 is more suitable for children. Second- and third-row seats fold almost flat. An optional roof rack is available for extra cargo.

Handling and ride: On the road, the Highlander feels very stable. The ride is smooth and fairly quiet; it actually feels more like driving a mid-size sedan than an SUV. The steering is light. The soft suspension absorbs road bumps and pot holes very well. The V6 engine is silky-smooth and responsive, although somewhat lacking low-end torque. The 4-cylinder engine provides enough power for daily driving.

Mechanical: Toyota Highlander has an independent suspension with MacPherson struts on all four wheels. All four wheels have disc brakes; the ABS is standard. Traction control and vehicle stability control are standard from 2004.
The Highlander's full-time 4WD system is not designed for real off-roading, but is very helpful in slippery conditions. We test-drove the V6 4WD Highlander during a bad snow storm and with winter tires it felt very secure and sure-footed.

Timing belt or chain: The 4-cylinder engine has a timing chain, but the V6 has a timing belt. According to FAQ, a timing belt should be replaced every 90,000 miles or six years, whichever comes first. Replacing a timing belt with the water pump can cost $500-800.

Toyota Highlander NHTSA crash tests
2001 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
2002 4 Star 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 3 Star
2003 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 5 Star 3 Star
2004 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star n/a
2005-2007 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star 4 Star

Safety: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the 2001-2007 Highlander with "Good" overall rating.

Pros: Reliability, perfect size, car-like handling, soft comfortable ride, visibility, holds value well

Cons: Liftgate glass doesn't open separately, no telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel, third-row seat room is limited, only tan and gray interior colors are available

Similar cars:

Overall: Toyota Highlander is one of the best mid-size car-based SUVs on the market. The Highlander offers space, versatility and other benefits of larger SUVs combined with car-like handling, smooth ride and reasonable gas mileage. The Highlander is proven to be reliable if maintained properly.

EPA Fuel Economy: MPG
L/100 km
2001-2003 Toyota Highlander FWD V6 17/21 13.8/11.2
2004-2007 Toyota Highlander FWD V6 17/23 13.8/10.2
2001-2003 Toyota Highlander AWD 4 cyl 17/22 13.8/10.7
2001-2003 Toyota Highlander AWD V6 16/21 14.7/11.2
2005 Highlander AWD 4 cyl 19/23 12.4/10.2
2004, 2006, 2007 Highlander AWD 4 cyl 18/23 13.1/10.2
2004-2007 Toyota Highlander AWD V6 16/22 14.7/10.7

Common problems: Check engine light issues are fairly common, especially with the EVAP system. Often the repair involves replacement of the charcoal canister, which is quite expensive. Reports suggest that replacing only the EVAP vacuum switching valve (VSV) mounted at the canister can fix the problem in some cases. Replacing the VSV only is a lot cheaper. Read more: Evap code P0446.

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Brake calipers seize if not serviced regularly. Read more about disc brakes. In 2001, 2002 V6 models, lack of oil changes could cause the V6 engine to sludge up. Loose solder joints at the circuit board behind the temperature control knob can cause heater and A/C issues where the air temperature changes by itself.
Some airbag issues are also reported in earlier models. There are several reports about water pump failures in 2006 and 2007 models. Don't get the wrong picture looking at these issues, overall the Highlander is rated well above average for reliability by Consumer Reports.

What to look for when buying a used Toyota Highlander: Avoid cars after accidents and those that appear to be neglected. It's a big plus if you can verify through the service records that recommended maintenance has been followed. The V6 Highlander has a timing belt; if it has not been replaced by the previous owner, you are looking for additional $500-800 to spend. If there are any signs that the engine has been overheated, avoid the vehicle. Blue smoke from the exhaust and oil leaks are other signs of potential problems. We strongly recommend having the vehicle inspected by your mechanic before purchase.
Guides for used car buyers:

Maintenance: Overheating can result in a very expensive engine repair. If you notice the temperature gauge rises more than normal, have the issue checked out before it causes a major problem. Regular oil changes will ensure your engine will last longer. Toyota recommends 5W-30 oil for both 4-cylinder and V6 engines in the 2001-2006 Highlander. However, in the 2007 model, 5W-20 or 0W-20 is the recommended viscosity for the 2.4L 4-cylinder 2AZ-FE engine. The 2007 V6 Highlander still needs 5W-30 oil. You can find details in "Specification" section of your owner's manual. An electronic copy of the owner's manual can be accessed at the US Toyota Owners website. Check your tire pressure regularly; unequal tire pressure between tires will cause increased wear of 4WD system components.
You might also be interested:

Safety Recalls - NHTSA - check for recalls.
Transport Canada - Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls - check for recalls in Canada.
Toyota Owners - maintenance schedules, electronic owner's manual and how-to videos.

2006 Toyota Highlander short specifications (US non-hybrid)

Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:

184.6 in (4689 mm)
71.9 in (1826 mm)
68.3 in (1735 mm) (4WD model, with roof rails)
106.9 in (2715 mm)

Seating capacity:

5/7 (2 row models /3 row models)

Cargo capacity:
Behind rear sear (2 row model)
Rear seat folded (2 row model)
Behind rear seat (3 row model)
Middle and rear seat folded (3 row model)

39.7 cu. ft (1.124 m³)
80.6 cu. ft (2.282 m³)
10.5 cu. ft (0.297 m³)
80.6 cu. ft (2.282 m³)

Maximum Towing Weight:
with 4-cylinder engine
with V6 engine

3000 lbs. (1360 kg)
3500 lbs. (1587 kg)

4-cylinder engine

V6 engine

2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT-I
155 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 162 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

3.3-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with VVT-I
215 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 222 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy (US mpg, L/100 km):
2WD 4-cylinder:

2WD V6:

4WD 4-cylinder:

4WD V6:

city: 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km)
hwy: 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km)

city: 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km)
hwy: 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km)

city: 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km)
hwy: 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km)

city: 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km)
hwy: 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km)

Recommended Fuel:

87-octane unleaded or higher

Fuel Tank Capacity:

19.2 US gallons (72.5 liters)

Engine oil capacity:
Engine Oil with Filter:
L4-2.4L (2AZ-FE):
V6-3.3L (3MZ-FE):

4.0 US qt (3.8L)
5.0 US qt (4.75L)