2008-2013 Toyota Highlander: problems, engine, timing belt or chain, fuel economy, pros and cons, maintenance tips, photos

Updated: October 14, 2019

Toyota Highlander is a roomy mid-size SUV with comfortable and quiet ride. It can seat five or seven people. It's one of the top choices for this type of vehicle. The Highlander offers good 8 inches of ground clearance.

2013 Toyota Highlander interior
2013 Toyota Highlander interior.

If equipped with the Towing Package, the V6 Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

In a seven-seat configuration, the 40/20/40 split second-row seat has a small "Center Stow" middle seat that can be removed and stored in the driver's centre console, see photos below. The liftgate glass opens separately in all but base models; power liftgate is available in top trims. With the seats folded, you can get up to 95.4 cubic feet of cargo space.

Is a used Toyota Highlander reliable? How is the fuel economy? What are the common complaints? We've done our research; read details below.

Engines: The all-wheel drive models come with the smooth 270-hp V6, model 2GR-FE.

2013 Toyota Highlander
2013 Toyota Highlander.

The 187-hp 2.7L 4-cylinder engine (1AR-FE4) is available, but only with front wheel drive. Both engines have proven to be reliable. The 2008-2010 Highlander Hybrid has the 3.3-liter V6, model 3MZ-FE mated to a hybrid drive. The 2011+ Highlander Hybrid has the 3.5L V6. See the oil capacities listed below.

Timing belt or chain: Both the 2.7L 4-cylinder 1AR-FE and the 3.5L V6 2GR-FE engines have a timing chain; however, the 3MZ-FE engine in the 2008-2010 Highlander Hybrid does have a timing belt. According to the Warranty and Maintenance Guide for the 2010 Highlander Hybrid, a timing belt must be replaced every 90,000 miles or 108 months.

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Handling and Ride: The Highlander handles well but not sporty. The ride is smooth and very quiet. The steering is light. The soft suspension soaks bumps and road imperfections very well. Overall, it's a very comfortable vehicle to drive whether around town, or on the highway.

Safety: Antilock brakes and Vehicle Stability Control are standard. In the NHTSA crash tests, the 2008-2010 Highlander earned five stars for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in the frontal tests and five stars in the side-impact tests.

Toyota Highlander third-row seats
Third-row seats.

In more stringent crash tests introduced for 2011, the 2011-2013 Highlander received four stars overall, with four stars for the front and five stars for the side-impact protection.

Consumer reviews: We looked through hundreds of consumer reviews, and the majority are positive. Many owners praise roominess, second-row space and car-like handling. Nearly all mentioned a very comfortable and quiet ride. Complaints include things like real-world mpg, material quality (some interior plastic feels hard) and cargo space with the third-row in use.
It's also worth noting that the Highlander scored well in the owner's satisfaction survey conducted by the Consumer Reports.

Toyota Highlander EPA Fuel Economy: mpg
L/100 km
2011-2013 3.5L V6 AWD hybrid 28/28 8.4/8.4
2008-2010 3.3L V6 AWD hybrid 27/25 8.7/9.4
2009-2010 4-cyl FWD 20/27 11.8/8.7
2011-2013 4-cyl FWD 20/25 11.8/9.4
2008-2013 3.5L V6 FWD 18/24 13.1/9.8
2008-2010 3.5L V6 AWD 17/23 13.8/10.2
2011-2013 3.5L V6 AWD 17/22 13.8/10.7

Fuel Economy: The 2008-2010 V6 automatic Highlander gets 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (13.8/10.2 L/100 km); the 2011-2013 V6 AWD Highlander is rated at 17/22 mpg (13.8/10.7 L/100 km) on regular gasoline. In our test drive, the 2013 V6 AWD Highlander got 20.5 mpg combined (11.5 L/100 km) in mostly highway use. See the EPA ratings in the table.

Pros: Reliable, roomy interior, easy to use controls, comfortable ride, good visibility, decent gas mileage, liftgate glass opens separately, plenty of cup holders, cargo capacity with the seats down, adjustable seat heaters.

Cons: Interior materials, limited cargo space with the third-row seat in place, the second-row middle seat is small and not very comfortable.

Competitors: If you can get past its boxy styling, the 2009-2012 Honda Pilot is good. The Pilot seats eight and is also reliable. The 2012 Pilot is rated at 17/24 mpg. The seven-seater Mazda CX-9 is more sporty but not as quiet. The 2012 AWD Mazda CX-9 gets 16/22 mpg city/highway. Chevrolet Traverse, as well as its siblings GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave, are very roomy and can seat up to eight adults, however, the reliability is not as good. The 2012 AWD Chevrolet Traverse is rated at 16/23 mpg. Subaru Tribeca handles very well and has a good all-wheel drive system, but the second- and third-row space is limited. The truck-based 2005-2012 Nissan Pathfinder is very thirsty and is not as reliable. Acura MDX is more upscale and handles better, but it needs premium gasoline and is more expensive to maintain. The EPA rates the 2012 AWD Acura MDX at 15/20 mpg on premium gasoline.

Reliability and common problems: There were some issues with leaking water pumps in early models. Replacing a water pump costs from $550 to $800, as reported by some Highlander owners.

The Toyota TSB 0348-09 for the 2008-2009 Highlander mentions the problem where a faulty neutral start switch can cause the engine to start in Neutral but not in Park.


A revised neutral start switch assembly is available to solve this problem, according to the bulletin.

The TSB-0184-09 describes an issue with the throttle body that can cause the code P0505 in the 2GR-FE engine. According to the bulletin, the PCV hose connections and air induction system must be inspected for leaks. If no leaks found, the throttle body must be replaced.

The oil cooler pipes may seep oil in the 2008–2011 Highlander with the 2GR-FE engine, According to TSB-0201-11. The bulletin advises replacing the oil cooler pipe assembly.
This forum also has some info about common issues.

Overall, the Highlander is still one of the most reliable SUVs. As of October 2019, Consumer Reports marks all model years of the 2008-2013 Highlander as 'Recommended'. Since various leaks are mentioned, it's a good idea to keep all the fluids topped up and check the vehicle for leaks regularly. Drops of oil on the driveway is an early sign.

Photos: 2013 Toyota Highlander 4WD V6 with Sport Package

2013 Toyota Highlander Toyota Highlander liftgate glass Toyota Highlander interior Toyota Highlander third row folded Toyota Highlander seats folded Toyota Highlander interior Toyota Highlander  Instrument panel Toyota Highlander second-row seat Toyota Highlander removable middle seat Toyota Highlander interior Toyota Highlander engine

What to look for when buying a used Toyota Highlander: It might be a good idea to opt for the 2009 or newer Highlander, as the first-year models always have more issues. Avoid the car if the engine rattles when started cold.

Toyota Highlander second-row seat
Second row bucket seats with a small removable middle seat.

Watch out for coolant/oil leaks in the engine compartment and under the car. Check if all the windows go up and down smoothly. Test the rear-passenger climate controls, see if the rear heater and air conditioner work properly. There should be no clunks or rattle felt in the steering.

During the test drive, watch out for drivetrain noises, see if the transmission shifts smoothly. Have the vehicle properly inspected by an independent mechanic or used car inspector before buying; it can save you a lot of money.

Maintenance: Regular oil changes are important to keep your engine in good shape. The owner's manual for 2013 Toyota Highlander recommends using 0W-20 oil for the 2.7L or 3.5L engine. The same 2013 owner's manual recommends using only Toyota Genuine ATF WS transmission fluid. According to the manual, using other fluids in the transmission will damage it. You can find the electronic version of an owner's manual, maintenance schedule and how-to videos at the U.S. Toyota Owners website. When taking the vehicle for an oil change, ask to check for leaks. As we mentioned above, the oil cooler pipes can leak.

AWD System Maintenance: The Highlander AWD system has two major components: the transfer case and the rear differential. We checked the maintenance schedule for the 2013 non-hybrid Highlander, and it recommends inspecting the fluids in the transfer case and rear differential every 15,000 miles, but changing the fluids for normal driving conditions is not mentioned. However, when "Driving while towing, using a car-top carrier, or heavy vehicle loading" the fluids must be changed every 15,000 miles, according to the schedule. We would recommend changing the rear differential and transfer case fluids at least every 60,000 miles even when driving in normal conditions. These components also need to be inspected regularly for leaks. Using only the same size tires and having them inflated to the recommended pressure is also important for the AWD system health.

You might also be interested:

Where to check for recalls: Safety Recalls - NHTSA or Transport Canada - Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls

Related: Toyota Highlander 2001-2007 review »

2013 Toyota Highlander short specifications

Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:

188.4 in (4,785 mm)
66.2 in (1,910 mm)
68.1 in (1,730 mm)
109.8 in (2,790 mm)

Seating Capacity:


Ground clearance:

8.0 in (203.2 mm)

EPA Cargo Volume:
Behind 1st row seat:
Behind 2nd row seat:
Behind 3rd row seat

95.4 cu. ft.
42.3 cu. ft.
10.3 cu. ft.

4-cylinder engine

V6 engine

2.7-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT-I
187 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 186 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with VVT-I
270 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy:
2WD 4-cylinder:

2WD V6:

4WD V6:

city: 20 mpg (11.8 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)

city: 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km)
hwy: 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km)

Recommended Fuel: Unleaded, 87 or higher

Fuel Tank Capacity:

19.2 US gal. (72.5 L)

Engine oil capacity:
Engine Oil with Filter:
4-cylinder 2.7L (1AR-FE):
V6-3.5L (2GR-FE):

4.6 US qt. (4.4L)
6.4 US qt. (6.1L)

By Samarins.com Staff