2014-2019 Toyota Highlander: Reliability, Problems, Engines

March 13, 2021
The Toyota Highlander is what you get when you combine classy with dependable. Although it's not the rig for offroad trails, the Highlander really shines as a smooth and quiet cruiser. It is a popular three-row mid-size SUV that comes with a 4-cylinder or V6 engine, as well as a hybrid.
2018 Toyota Highlander 2018 Toyota Highlander.

For reliability, ConsumerReports rates the 2014-2018 Highlander as “Well Above Average” and the 2019 Highlander as “Above Average”. Compared to many other SUVs, we found a noticeably low amount of complaints from owners about expensive repairs. It's no surprise that the Highlander holds its value well. What problems have owners reported so far?

Reported problems: Some owners have reported troubles with the Entune infotainment system. Toyota Service Bulletins T-SB-0035-16 for the 2014-2015 Highlander and T-SB-0003-20 for the 2016-2019 Highlander describe symptoms including freezing and rebooting of the Infotainment system. According to the TSBs, a software update will need to be performed. If out of warranty, dealerships may charge fees to update the Entune system, but it isn’t expensive. Toyota has also made Entune system updates available online for free here.

Owners have also reported Bluetooth connectivity issues. Often, troubles are caused because too many phones are paired. The Toyota Tech Tip T-TT-0578-19 describes the procedures for unpairing and resetting the Bluetooth system. You can also find step-by-step videos describing troubleshooting of the Bluetooth here.

2017 Highlander interior 2017 Highlander interior.
A faulty gas cap could cause trouble codes P0441 or P0445 in the 2014-2017 Highlander. The part is inexpensive and easy to replace.

A bad O2 sensor may cause the trouble codes P2195, P2197 or C1201 in the 2014-2016 Highlander, and will need to be replaced. The repair costs from $350 to $550.

At higher mileage, the rear struts may need replacement, costing from $300 to $450 to replace both. A wheel alignment may also need to be done.

According to the Toyota Service Bulletin T-SB-0232-17, in the 2014-2017 Highlander, the Power Back Door latch may not release, causing the Power Back Door (liftgate) not to open. If the back door lock assembly is bad, it will need to be replaced. The service bulletin T-SB-0027-15 for the 2014-2015 Highlander also describes the lift gate not opening due to Power Back Door actuators (struts) going bad and requiring replacement. The repair cost depends on which component has failed, and can go from $500 to $1,000. Check out these videos on troubleshooting the Power Back Door to help diagnose the issue. If your Power Back Door is not working, it could also just be the power back door switch located in the glove compartment is OFF, the glass hatch is open, or the battery in your key may be low.

There were a few reports about some glitches in the 8-speed transmission in 2017 Highlanders, including hesitation, lack of power and high RPM shift points. According to T-SB-0194-17, the ECM (PCM) may need to be reprogrammed. The bulletin says that the repair is covered under the Toyota Federal Emission Warranty (96 months or 80,000 miles, whichever comes first). In certain 2017-2018 Highlanders, if a whining noise from the transaxle accompanies awkward shifting, the transaxle may need to be replaced in some cases, according to T-SB-0160-18. Additional warranty information is included in Customer support program bulletin POL19-04.

2017 Highlander rear seats folded down 2017 Highlander with rear seats folded down.
Check for any recalls on the NHTSA website.

Does the engine come with a timing belt or chain? All 2014-2019 Toyota Highlander models come with a maintenance-free timing chain that only needs to be replaced if there is something wrong with it.

Transmissions: All non-hybrid Highlander models up to 2016 come with a proven 6-speed automatic transmission. From the 2017 model year, the V6 Highlander comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The Highlander is available as a FWD or AWD.
Engines: The 2.7L 4-cylinder (1AR) is available, however the V6 (2GR) is far more common. Other than a slight edge in fuel economy in earlier years, the 4-cylinder does not offer any advantages over the reliable V6, so we recommend opting for a V6 Highlander. A more fuel-efficient V6 hybrid is also offered, however it is rare as well.
2017 Highlander V6 engine 2017 Highlander V6 engine.
Starting from 2017, the Stop-Start feature is standard on trims above base and optional for the base trim. The system works by shutting off the engine when the car comes to a stop and turning it back on on acceleration. This is meant to increase fuel economy in stop-and-go traffic. Owners have had mixed feelings towards this feature. It can be turned off with a button on the dash, but is ON by default at the start of each trip.

D-4S system: The D-4S (Direct Injection 4 Stroke Gasoline Engine Superior Version) fuel injection system comes in Highlander V6 engines from 2017. This system combines port injection with direct injection, increasing fuel economy and power. Check out these videos describing the technology and benefits.

Fuel Economy: According to the EPA, the 2014-2016 AWD 3.5L V6 Highlander gets 18/24 MPG city/highway, getting up to 384 miles/618 km on one tank. The 2017-2019 AWD V6 Highlander without Stop-Start scores 19/26 MPG city/highway, and the 2017-2019 Highlander with Stop-Start is rated at 20/26 MPG city/highway, getting 422 miles/679 km to a tank. The hybrid gets about 28 MPG combined, varying through the years. For example, the 2017 Hybrid got 29/27 MPG city/highway, allowing up to 482 miles/776 km on a full tank. The 2.7L 4-cylinder Highlander gets 20/25 MPG city/highway for 2014-2016 and 20/24 MPG for 2017-2019. This will get you up to 422 miles/679 km on one tank.

Safety: According to the NHTSA, the 2014-2019 Toyota Highlander gets 5 stars for its overall safety rating and side crash tests. In the frontal crash tests, the Highlander received 5 stars for the passenger side and 4 stars for the driver side. The rollover score was 4 stars.

Pros: Reliability, holds value well, 2nd and 3rd row folds down, quiet interior with nice fit and finish, smooth ride, good safety ratings, available as a hybrid.

Cons: 3rd row tight for adults, little space for cargo with 3rd row up, 4 cylinder Highlander can feel underpowered, finicky infotainment and navigation system, front passenger seat offers limited adjustment.

What to look for when buying a used Toyota Highlander: If you would prefer a V6 Highlander with a proven 6-speed transmission, opt for the 2014-2016 Highlander. Some owners have reported that they found the seats uncomfortable, so check if you can adjust yours to a comfortable position in the test drive. Try out the Power Back Door, does it open and close automatically? Does the transmission shift harshly or make any odd noises? Check for leaks; are there any signs of oil leaking out of the engine such as a burning smell? If the Check Engine light stays on after startup, avoid the vehicle.