Best and Worst Years For The Toyota Highlander Answered! (6 Years To Avoid!)

Choosing the right Toyota Highlander involves knowing its best and worst years; our article covers the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander.

You can think of this as a valuable guide on which used Toyota Highlander years to avoid and which to buy. Get the inside scoop on the Highlanders that excel and those that disappoint for a smart buying decision.

Best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander: image shows a red Toyota Highlander against a rocky background

The Toyota Highlander has earned praise from owners ever since it came out in 2001. This midsize SUV checks all the boxes: practicality, convenience, and reliability. 

Additionally, the automotive media loves the Toyota Highlander, with many magazines and sites rating it as highly reliable. 

So, in a sense, it’s hard to define the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander. After all, many of them have been excellent. However, it’s not impossible. 

The best years for the Toyota Highlander, per generation, are as follows:

  • First generation: 2007
  • Second generation: 2010-2013
  • Third generation: 2017-2018
  • Fourth generation: 2020-2022

Conversely, the worst years for the Toyota Highlander are 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015. The list doesn’t end there, as you will see later, as we dive into other model years that perform well and you can consider. 

The Toyota Highlander is one of the best SUVs on the market. Sites like iSeeCars have the SUV rated as one of the likeliest to reach 250,000 miles or more

Reliability is standard, and there are plenty of years to choose from. So, let’s dive into the years that shine the most, plus we’ll cover the worst. 

What are the Best and Worst Years for the Toyota Highlander?

Since there are four generations of Toyota Highlander, and it has existed for more than two decades, there are plenty of years to choose from. So, we’ll analyze each generation separately. 

Best and worst first-generation Toyota Highlander

The first generation of the Toyota Highlander entered the market in 2001 and lasted until 2007. It pleased the buyers by providing a comfortable ride, plenty of space, and decent power. 

At the same time, it had all the latest creature comforts and driver aids. Plus, it was excellent for long trips thanks to its optional AWD and adequate fuel economy. 

Overall, the first generation is very reliable. The following table shows the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander in the first generation:

Best YearsGood YearsYears To Avoid
2006
2007
2001 
2002
2004

It’s important to note that there are some years that magazines rate highly, while others consider it bad. One example is the 2004 year. 

According to Consumer Reports, this year is exemplary. However, Vehicle History and Car Complaints rate as one with more issues. On that same note, the 2003 Highlander isn’t the most reliable option to buy. 

Most Reliable First-generation Model Year 

The most reliable years for the first-generation Toyota Highlander are the 2006 and 2007 models. 

Image for Best and Worst years for the Toyota Highlander shows the front of a silver Toyota Highlander against a green scenery

Best and worst second-generation Toyota Highlander

The second-generation Toyota Highlander saw a marked improvement. This SUV also grew, making it more comfortable and ideal for large families. 

At the same time, it got new powerplants, including the Highlander hybrid option, with excellent fuel economy. This generation earned high praise, with a cluster of years being highly reliable. 

The best and worst years for this generation of the Toyota Highlander are: 

Best YearsGood YearsYears To Avoid
2012
2013
2010
2009
2008

With this generation, it’s interesting that JD Power rated the 2008 Highlander with one of the highest scores in its history.

Meanwhile, other sources rated it as one of the worst Toyota Highlander years ever. This is common, as it was the first model of the new generation. 

Most Reliable Second-generation Model Year 

The most reliable years for the second-generation Toyota Highlander are 2012 and 2013. Plus, the 2010 is a notable mention as well. 

Best and worst third-generation Toyota Highlander

The third-generation Highlander received massive improvements in driver aids and technology. With a larger structure, it could now fit eight passengers comfortably.

Also, this generation of Toyota Highlander had a more stylish design, making it more appealing than older models. This midsize SUV now had better acceleration thanks to the inclusion of a new eight-speed transmission and a 3.5L V6 engine. However, handling wasn’t particularly noteworthy. 

This generation is highly reliable. The best and worst years for the third generation are: 

Best YearsGood YearsYears To Avoid
2017
2018
2016
2019
2014
2015

Notably, the 2014 and 2015 model years have a higher complaint ratio in Car Complaints than other years. 

Most Reliable third-generation Model Year 

Overall, the most reliable years for the third Highlander generation are 2017 and 2018. Plus, 2019 and 2016 Highlander models are notable mentions. 

Best and worst fourth-generation Toyota Highlander

The fourth-generation Highlander marked a considerable leap in technology. At the same time, it kept its comfort and practicality. 

Notable improvements included a more powerful engine. Plus, the hybrid showed excellent fuel economy, which now could reach 35 mpg. 

Interior features and driver aids are plenty, passengers ride comfortably, and the design is sleeker. Interestingly, while the 2024 model year has plenty of hype, the 2023 hasn’t met expectations. 

The best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander in the fourth generation are: 

Best YearsGood YearsYears To Avoid
2020
2021
20222019
2023

As mentioned, the 2023 model year didn’t match the hype. This doesn’t mean it’s unreliable, but owners don’t feel as satisfied as with other model years. At the same time, the 2019 model is troublesome, having the most complaints across the generation. 

Most Reliable fourth-generation Model Year 

The most reliable years for the fourth-generation Toyota Highlander are the 2020 model and 2021 Highlander. The 2022 Highlander is a notable mention

Common Problems In The Best And worst Toyota Highlander model years

While the Toyota Highlander is exceptionally reliable, this doesn’t mean it’s immune to problems. Some model years have issues, but most aren’t severe. At the same time, these problems can affect both the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander.  

Common problems with the first-generation Toyota Highlander

The worst model for the first-generation Toyota Highlander is the 2003 model year. Unfortunately, the four-cylinder engine is prone to failing due to the bolt design. 

Over time, the threads wear out and loosen, causing the gasket to fail. Unfortunately, it’s complex to repair them. 

This problem led many owners to replace the engine entirely. The reports show that the replacement could cost several thousand dollars. 

This problem is known, and there are several complaints on the matter. The most affected engine is the four-cylinder option, and you can expect the issue to appear at about 125,000 miles. 

So, if you are considering a first-generation Toyota Highlander, you should avoid the 2003 model year. 

Problems Associated with the second-Generation Highlander

The 2008 Toyota Highlander is the worst second-generation model. It’s common for the first model year to be troublesome, and this is no exception. 

The most common problem with the 2008 Toyota Highlander is a rattling noise that can lead to engine failure over time. The problem was due to failing sensors, lack of adjustment, and oil leaks. 

Overall, the problem is rare, but repairs are costly. Plus, if left unattended, it can lead to severe consequences. 

Owners have reported the problem to happen most with the 3.2L V6, with mileage as low as 60,000 miles. 

Common problems with the third-generation Toyota Highlander

The most unreliable model year of the third generation is the 2015 Toyota Highlander. While this is, overall, a reliable generation, the 2015 model does have several issues. 

These include a recall due to possible loss of electric power steering. 

Owners have also complained of the engine running rough, particularly in the 3.5L V6 option. This isn’t a frequent problem, but it can lead to issues such as engine failure. 

Also common is the complaint that the interior is highly uncomfortable. While you cannot do much about this, it’s essential to consider if you’re looking to buy one. 

Common problems with the fourth-generation Toyota Highlander

Fortunately, the fourth-generation Highlander isn’t prone to trouble. At the same time, given it’s new, it has proved reliable. 

However, the 2019 Toyota Highlander is the worst model of the fourth generation. Problems include a faulty navigation system and Bluetooth connectivity issues.

Plus, some owners have reported that the engine cuts out or is sluggish while accelerating. Moreover, these owners highlighted that repairs were expensive or took too long. 

Closing thoughts On The Best And Worst Years For The Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander is an excellent midsize SUV with an excellent reputation for reliability. Therefore, many people want to know the best years for the Toyota Highlander. 

Since this SUV has existed since 2001, there are plenty of model years to choose from, and it’s vital to separate them by generation. This way, finding the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander is easier. 

The best years for the first generation are the 2006 and 2007 Highlander. Meanwhile, the worst model for the first generation is the 2003 Toyota Highlander. 

The best years for the second generation are the 2012 and 2013 Toyota Highlander model years. On the other hand, the worst model is the 2008. 

The 2017 and 2018 Toyota Highlanders are the best years of the third generation. On the other hand, the worst year is the 2015 Highlander. 

Finally, the 2020 and 2021 Toyota Highlanders are the best model years for the fourth generation, while the 2019 Highlander is the worst. 

These make up the best and worst years for the Toyota Highlander. So, if you’re looking to buy a used one, you can rely on this list to make an informed decision. 

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