Does the Toyota Highlander Have a Timing Belt or Chain?


The Toyota Highlander sports comfortable seats and smooth ride quality. The third two seats are a little cramped, but everything else about the vehicle is awesome. 

There is so much to like about the Highlander, especially if you plan to go off the road. 

To keep your Toyota Highlander operating as it should, you need to observe a strict maintenance schedule and that involves checking the timing belt or chain. 

But does the Highlander have a timing chain or belt?

Does the Toyota Highlander Have a Timing Belt or Chain? 

Toyota Highlanders with an interference engine have a timing chain while Highlanders with a non-interference engine have a timing belt. The majority of the Highlander models have an interference engine and, therefore, a timing chain. 

Highlander models between 2001 and 2007 and those between 2009 and 2014 with a four-cylinder engine have a timing chain. 

Models between 2001 and 2007 with a V6 non-interference engine have a timing belt. 

V6 interference engines between 2008 and 2021 have a timing chain. 

Hybrid models between 2006 and 2010 with a non-interference V6 engine have a timing belt. 

Models between 2011 and 2021 with an interference engine have a timing chain. 

The Highlanders with a timing belt will need you to replace it after 90,000 miles while the models with a timing chain do not need replacement throughout the life of your SUV. 

What is the Difference Between Interference and Non-Interference Engines? 

Timing belts have the same function in different engines. 

However, the kind of engine determines how the belt performs and what happens when the belt or chain fails. 

There are two basic types of engines; interference and non-interference engines. Most automakers, including Toyota, use an interference engine. 

Most Highlanders actually have an interference engine and, therefore, a timing chain. 

In an interference engine, the pistons and valves interfere with each other. 

The belt rotates from the crankshaft and the camshaft. 

The crankshaft causes the pistons to rise while a camshaft causes the valves to open as the belt rotates. 

While the camshaft opens the engine valves, the pistons rise into the space created by the open valves. 

If there is a problem with belt timing, the camshaft fails to rotate and the valves do not open. 

However, the pistons will still rise only this time they will hit the closed valves. 

If the belt breaks when the engine is running, the force of the pistons on the valves is too much that it leads to an immediate engine failure. 

The engine will stall immediately and this can lead to further damage to the pistons and valves. 

Damages on the belt and more damage on the pistons and valves when the car is in motion could cost you up to $5,000 to repair. 

The difference in non-interference engines is that the pistons do not enter into valves. 

This means that if there is a timing belt failure, the pistons do not knock on the valves and the damage is less severe. 

While non-interference engines may be better in that they do not suffer damages in case of a timing belt breakdown, most automakers do not use them. 

There are only a few Highlanders using a non-interference engine and, therefore, timing belts. 

When a vehicle has this type of engine, it has a lower compression ratio and, therefore, reduced performance. 

Interference engines offer more power. 

If everything in your engine is working fine, you never have to worry about the pistons knocking on your valves. 

Chain and belt failures are not common if you follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule. 

What is the Difference Between a Timing Belt and Chain? 

Timing belts and chains have the same function. 

The main difference between them is in the material they are made of, the location on the engine, and how long they last. 

Timing chains are made of metal and have links just like bike chains. 

Timing belts are made of rubber or nylon, and they have grooves where the gears come in. 

Because of the material of construction, the belts will last less long, and they need replacement after about 90,000 miles. 

Timing chains were common in the 70s. 

However, automakers wanted to cut the cost of vehicles, and they replaced the chains with belts made of rubber. The rubber belts were lighter and cost-effective and could last up to 10 years with good care. 

While they are lighter, the chains are more effective and automakers reverted to using chains. 

Chains are much more resilient, and you never have to replace them. 

Timing belts are at the outer side of the engine, and you can see them when you open the bonnet of the vehicle. 

This makes it easy for you to replace them and service them as necessary. 

Chains, on the other hand, are located deep in the engine and the mechanic has to disassemble several parts to get to the timing chain. 

This means that if you have to replace the timing chain, the cost of labor will be too much compared to the cost of parts. 

However, if everything goes well, you never have to replace the timing chain. 

Most modern Toyotas have timing chains and interference engines. 

That combination makes the engine highly efficient, and it means you never have to replace the timing chain; just keep it oiled, and you never have to worry about it unless you are replacing the entire engine. 

How Do I Know When to Replace My Timing Chain?

Timing chains and belts synchronize the movements of the camshaft and the crankshaft. 

Without this belt, the engine will not function at all. 

Minor damages could lead to major damages to the engine, and you need to get the chain replaced as soon as you see the first sign of failure. 

Some of the signs that you need to replace the belt or chain include:

Engine Misfires – When the belt or chain misses a few teeth, the camshaft and crankshaft do not work in sync and the valves and pistons move in the wrong order. 

This could lead to an engine misfire. 

Misfires occur when the fuel and air mixture doesn’t go into the combustion chamber at the precise time it’s needed. 

The spark fails to occur at the needed time and combustion, therefore, doesn’t occur. 

The engine will lose power based on the number of cylinders in the engine at the time. 

Rough Riding – Shaking and vibrating might occur for no particular reason even when you are sitting idle. 

Shaking is a result of loose teeth that come off and fall into the gears. 

Low Oil Pressure – If teeth get loose and fall into the oil pan, they may clog it. 

This interferes with the circulation of oil through the engine as the oil pressure reduces and can consequently lead to the engine overheating. 

Engine Noise – Noise should be the first sign that something is wrong with your timing belt or chain. 

You may hear a humming sound, ticking sound, or a whirring sound when the timing belt or chain starts to fail. 

In most cases, the noise from the engine is fast-paced and seems to appear suddenly. If that happens, you need to have the engine checked immediately. 

Closing Thoughts

The cost of replacing a timing belt can go up to $2,000. 

In a Highlander, you could spend a few hundred dollars buying the chain, but the labor costs can be up to $1,000, depending on where you live. 

The mechanic needs to disassemble so many engine components to get to the chain unlike the belt, which is easily accessible. Luckily, you never have to replace the chain throughout the life of the Highlander. 

Belts are easy to replace as you can access them with ease. 

They are also inexpensive to buy, and you could spend less than $1,000 replacing one after 90,000 miles. 

If you take good care of your engine, you never have to worry about the timing chain or belt. 

You only need to keep the engine oiled and tuned up to perform efficiently. 

Timing chain and belt failures are not common, so relax and have fun with your Highlander.

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

Recent Posts