Huge win for car owners! All TSBs to be made public. The Center for Auto Safety just made the NHTSA (US Government) make public the full text of all TSBs from now on. They are the same organization that has petitioned the NHTSA & filed lawsuits to protect car owners over exploding gas tanks & other major safety issues. Whenever you drive in your car, you are safer thanks in part to a lot of work over the years by this small but very effective consumer advocacy group.

Please take a moment & say thank you by donating $5 or whatever you can to the Center for Auto Safety.

9.7

really awful
Typical Repair Cost:
$3,269.00
Average Mileage:
123,445 miles
Total Complaints:
30 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replace the engine (16 reports)
  2. mechanic has ordered kit to try to fix bolts or new motor (12 reports)
  3. mechanic drilled new bolt holes (1 reports)
  4. not sure (1 reports)
2003 Toyota Highlander engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #30

Jul 182012

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 142,915 miles

A D V E R T I S E M E N T S

PLEASE -- AVOID 4 CYL HIGHLANDER (FIRST GEN).

YOU WILL SEE ANTIFREEZE ON THE GROUND ABOUT 125,000 MILES, then your screwed with the engine bolts giving way a short time later, and the head gasket blowing as you drive down the highway.

Who knew? I shudda!!! NEVER will I NOT research a car on this site that I want to buy again.

Got sucked in by thinking that Toyota means quality.

Of course, despite the stripped bolts issue all over the internet, the dealer in Ottawa (Mendes) says "What? Never heard of this problem." "Honest."

- , Ottawa, ON, Canada

problem #29

Jun 012012

Highlander 2.4L, 4 cyls

  • Automatic transmission
  • 150,000 miles

Engine was overheated, coolant leaked slowly and burnt off, not visible on floor. A Toyota mechanic told me that threads on engine block was stripped, needed a new engine. Toyota should recall this problem.

- , Louisville, KY, USA

problem #28

May 152015

Highlander 2.4L I4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 128,000 miles

The Highlander AC suddenly stopped working and the engine temp went up. We limped home, running the heater full blast to draw the heat off the engine. Coolant was low. The next day, we attempted to drive a few miles after filling up radiator with water, but just got a short distance before the engine temp and rough running made us stop and park the car. We later managed to drive it to the Toyota dealership where we heard the bad news about the engine bolts stripping.

The mechanic said it was a known problem, which was confirmed once we searched the internet. The dealership would not attempt to fix the bolts, and the cost to put in another engine would be in the $7000 range...which didn't seem worth it for an almost 13 year old car. After talking to a couple of repair shops who wouldn't try to fix the bolts, we found a mechanic who was willing to order a kit and give the bolts a try. He had the car for two full months, at which time he finally told us that he was not sure he received the proper kit and was reluctant to try to fix the bolts. The car is still in his back lot. Since we had not any luck finding anyone willing to try the bolt fix, we inquired at a "Japanese Auto" repair place about the cost to get another engine put in. They said there were no used engines available. That it would mean a new engine at $15,000, which is DEFINITELY not worth it. Currently, we are considering having a scrap yard pick up the Highlander, get what we can out of it, and go get some other car.

We are definitely disappointed at Toyota's disregard for this manufacturing flaw. We had owned the car for almost two years. The American made SUV's we had before the Highlander all had problems, so we had decided to spend a little extra and get a Toyota, which presumably would last its full life and be less trouble. We bought the Highlander at 95K, expecting to get 250k miles. It died at 128k.

It sounds like it is just the inline 4-cylinder 2003 models that have this bolt stripping problem.

We have been scouring carcomplaints.com as we look at other cars. It is a great resource.

Update from Sep 22, 2015: We found a mechanic with Toyota experience who had a machinist re-drill the bolt holes and inserted longer bolts. The cost was about $2700.

We have had the car back a few weeks now and it seems to run well.

- , Tacoma, WA, USA

problem #27

Jan 302015

Highlander 2.4L I4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 158,320 miles

A D V E R T I S E M E N T S

Started noticed coolant odor in the garage, reservoir level looked fine. When I opened the radiator cap, no coolant was visible. Took in to a local mechanic hoping it was a simple leak, turned out the stripped head bolt issue. I looked into TimeSert and suggested the mechanic use it, he agreed.

After $1900 spent, he was not able to torque to factory spec he said but would be able to get by. Now 2 weeks after the repair losing coolant again, basically mechanic said only solution is a new engine and not much he can do about the money already spent. Very frustrating place to be in. This is obviously a design error and Toyota should be held accountable,

- , MARIETTA, GA, USA

problem #26

Jul 312014

Highlander 2.4L V4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 111,847 miles

both the coolant and the engine oil were leaking through the gasket for the last two years; but this summer in July it got really worse and the coolant leaked really fast.

The dealer acknowledged this is a known issue with this model and recommended to replace the entire engine ( $2000 -$ 5000 ).

I took it to my mechanic, luckily for me he was capable of replacing the threads, several of them.

Definitely Toyota should acknowledge this issue as an official recall.

- , Mississauga, Ontario, canada

problem #25

Aug 022014

Highlander LX 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 196,000 miles

This car had been in the family since new. It had always been very dependable, other than the check engine light being on since 2006 for bad 02 sensors that were replaced. Just regular maintenance was required until 2 weeks ago. My daughter was on her way to work and called me to say the temperature gauge was getting really high, close to the red line. I told her to pull over immediately and not drive the car. She turned on the heater, the temp went down again and she was 2 blocks away from work. When she got there, she looked at the reserve coolant and there was on 1/4" left in there and it looked black she said. Before this, we never had any coolant or oil loss.

We had the car towed to a mechanic who said it was leaking from the head gasket and we needed a new motor. I had done some reading on these symptoms and they pointed to the stripped head bolt issue. My mechanic was not familiar with this method of repair and didn't feel comfortable doing it and said an engine would be the way to go. I found someone to do the timesert fix and the car is being repaired right now to the tune of $2500.

Toyota needs to do a recall on these engines. There are just too many having this happen and I suspect more will be showing up as the mileages increase. I buy Toyota's expecting to get 300,000 out of them and currently have a 1997 Corolla with over 300000 and a 1997 Camry with close to 200,000 and rides great!

- , Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #24

May 292014

Highlander Vvti 16v

  • Automatic transmission
  • 173,000 miles

A D V E R T I S E M E N T S

I have a 2003 Highlander, never had any issues out of it. I kept it maintained, I am the second owner of the car. While driving one day the car just started blowing hot air!! We looked down and the temperature started rising fast. We pulled over turned on the heat to take the heat off the engine and allowed the car to cool down. We preceded home which thankfully was 15 minutes away. This was a Sunday.

The next morning we went straight to the Toyota dealership, where the car services were maintained. We were told that it could be a combination of issues but to begin looking at it would start at $600.00!! depending on the issue it could cost more. They added coolant to the car we made it home fine. Which was 30 minutes away. we drove it for 2 days no issues!!! then it started again! We thought it was the water pump, had it replaced. Car ran fine with air for 15-20 minutes. (cost $200.00). We then return the car back to the shop, they thought it was a head gasket at the top, replaced it (another $200-300), then few days later we noticed that it was still leaking!!!

We then took it to a special shop for motors/ engines specializing in Toyota, BMW, etc. They told use it was the motor bolts and that it would cost $1600-1800 to repair!!!! We are in the plans to get this fixed. I am so disappointed in Toyota!! I have owned a total of 4 Toyotas and have never had this many issues out of this brand. I have owned other cars as well but came back to Toyota for the reliability but this time I got a rude awakening. Toyota has changed, they are no longer the reliable car of the past. They will not honor to repair these vehicle which is sad and very disappointing. I will no longer tell family and friends to shop Toyota!! What a let down. To customers, do not buy Toyota, it is not worth it!!! Take this from someone that was a true brand fan.

- , Rock Hill, SC, USA

problem #23

Apr 182014

Highlander Limited

  • Automatic transmission
  • 120,000 miles

Expected this car to go at least 200K miles yet this occurred at 120K, just after $1200 worth of brake work!

- , Houston, TX, USA

problem #22

Jul 082013

Highlander 2.4L/4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 136,829 miles

As reported by the other 21 complaints, I decided to replace engine not knowing their w'ere the 21 other complaints for same engine problem ( 2AZ-FE) 4cylinder separating bolts between the cylinder head bolts separating from lower part of engine block causing a coolant leak forcing me to replace engine at a cost of $5500,00 but in my case it happened again after engine was replaced with a remanufactured engine,so I had to replace my engine twice for same issue. Furthermore I also have a complaint on here for a oil consumption problem as well, after 2 replacements of engine now experiencing a oil consumption problem with engine burning 1 qt of oil per approximately every 1000 mile and the remanufactured engine only has 5000 miles on it and told by dealership here in Modesto ca that it's Toyota policy as acceptable for that to be the norm for that engine and am being forced to go thru a 2nd oil consumption test to document the amount of oil being used dealership gave me a 3 yr warranty on the remanufactured engine !!

- , Waterford, CA, USA

problem #21

Aug 072013

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 93,480 miles

EVERYONE!!!!

If you had your engine bolts loose due to the manufacturers defect contact the National Highway Safety Administration and file a complaint. Also, one with the EPA because it is pouring antifreeze on the roads. This is a hazmat situation and Toyota should be responsible. Include the BBB in complaints.

The more complaints pertaining this will make Toyota do something.

Toyota knew about the problem and sent out a technical bulletin but did not advise owners of the potential problem. They are blowing off the problem and telling owners tough luck it is out of warranty. Also, do not use the coil inserts, use the deep and course threaded bolts. Also, have the mechanic do all the bolts not just the couple that are stripped.

- , Galloway, NJ, USA

problem #20

May 092012

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 115,000 miles

A D V E R T I S E M E N T S

I own a 2003 Toyota Highlander 4 cylinder 2wd and until a few days ago, the vehicle ran like a champ. Then the vehicle began overheating. I took it to a Toyota dealership in Orlando. The service department ran a diagnostic on the vehicle and found that it was leaking coolant between the head and the block on the rear of the engine. The Master Mechanic told me that Toyota has issued a service bulletin ( 310436 ) which advised technicians if they had a problem with a coolant leak on the 2003 Highlanders they should look at the rear of the engine block for the leak due to a problem with the threaded holes on the block that were prone to stripping out. They also told me that Toyota had not issued a recall for the problem.

The service department put together an estimate for repairs and at that time advised me that the only repair possible was to replace the entire engine, which would cost between $5,000 and $6,000.

When I got home I searched online for the service bulletin, which I found and I also found dozens upon dozens of complaints from owners of the 2003 Highlander S that had experienced exactly the same problem and were told exactly the same thing by their mechanics and had received the exact same response from Toyota!

When I spoke to the representative at Toyota’s national headquarters, all I got was indifference. I was summarily told that the vehicle was no longer under warranty and that Toyota was not responsible for the repairs. (Complaint # 120511024) I told the Rep. that it was an obvious factory defect and that they should make good on the repairs. I was then told that her decision was final and that Toyota would not take responsibility for a defect they knew existed!

While I was on the phone with the Rep. at Toyota’s national headquarters, I told her that I was not satisfied with their response and that I would be contacting, the Better Business Bureau, local and national news agencies! I’m posting this information because I want Toyota to know that I’ve already done exactly what I said I would do and received responses back from two news outlets that are interested in doing a story on Toyota’s lack of response to making good on an obvious factory defect that is costing their customers thousands of dollars!

I will continue to post this story in every blog, news article or on televised news until, they respond and make good on the repairs. This is not liable or slander, as it is based solely on the facts The proverbial ball is in their court and its time to step up and do the right thing!

- , Orlando, FL, USA

problem #19

Feb 152013

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 118,000 miles

I have a 2003 Toyota Highlander 2.7 L, original owner. At around 118,000 miles I had a coolant leak start at the head gasket. After a couple days is was leaking a gal. of coolant a day, so that put the car non drivable status. I took it in and was told the head gasket was leaking because of striped head bolts. I was told repair costs would be around $5000 and at that cost might as well buy a new motor. I ended up buying a new car instead and still have the Highland sitting in the driveway. After doing a lot of research seems that many people are having the same issue with the 2003 2.7L Highlander. I decided to write a letter to Toyota and of course they deny any design defects or issues that will require a recall. They said I will have to pay for all repairs, and if a recall for that particular problem does happen in the future that they well reimburse me for the repairs.

- , Lake Zurich, IL, USA

problem #18

Feb 242013

Highlander 2.4L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 91,330 miles

ONLY OWNER, SERVICED AT DEALERSHIP FOR 1ST 70K MILES WITH NO REPAIRS. IT OVERHEATED AT 91K. THAT DAY THE CAR STOPPED ON IT'S OWN JUST AS I TURNED OFF AN EXIT RAMP, OVERHEATED BIG TIME AS SOON AS I TURNED IT OFF IN A NEARBY PARKING LOT. SERVICE REPAIRMAN SAID IT HAD COOLANT LEAKAGE, WATER PUMP WAS BAD, AND IT HAD A BLOWN HEAD GASKET DUE TO LOOSE BOLTS ON HEAD, DUE TO STRIPPED SLEEVES, COMMON ENOUGH PROBLEM IN CHEAP ENGINES, SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO GOOD ENGINES, BUT THIS MODEL YEAR HAD MANY REPORTED PROBLEMS. ---- REPAIR OF SLEEVES WAS JUST THE START, LIKELY RUST AND OTHER FAILING PARTS DUE TO LACK OF OIL AND COOLANT. BETTER LONG TERM SOLUTION IS A REBUILT ENGINE WITH STEEL BOLT SLEEVES. I HAD TO KEEP IT RUNNING, COULDN'T RISK SPENDING SAME MONEY ON ANOTHER USED CAR. CAN'T AFFORD A NEWER ONE. --- THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING, SINCE I HAD JUST HAD THE EXHAUST PAN GASKET RECENTLY REPLACED, AND A FULL OIL CHANGE. NO WARNING THEN. NO COOLANT TEMPERATURE WARNING, NO OIL WARNING LIGHT. TURNS OUT THE RADIATOR WAS EMPTY, MOST OF THE OIL HAD ALREADY BURNED AWAY, AND WE NEVER NOTICED WHITE SMOKE COMING OUT THE BACK. SHOCKER.

- , alameda, CA, USA

problem #17

May 042012

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 122,000 miles

Like many other owners of the 2003 Toyota Highlander, my engine failed and had to be replaced. It cost almost $5,000.00. I am so dissapointed. I thought this car would go 200 thousand miles or more.... Does anyone know how many complaints need to be submitted before it can be considered a recall? I did speak to a representative at Toyota who was very nice. Unfortunately there is nothing she can do but pass this complaint along. I'm afraid to go more than 20-30 miles away from home. I don't want to be in the middle of nowhere and have my engine fail again. I'm going to be hopeful that Toyota can and will do something about this issue.

- , Loudon, NH, USA

problem #16

Aug 282006

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 61,100 miles

Car got hot due to a blown head gasket. Took to dealer who gave the cost to fix around $2,000. We had less than 62K miles, and were told, sorry about your luck, warranty period over...by less than 2K miles. They would not even talk with us about sharing cost on blown head gasket. So I had car taken to my mechanic, who also gets calls occasionally from same dealership to help them with large engine problems. He goes to fix head and discovers loose engine bolts...he contacts Toyota on our behalf. same story...out of warranty...too bad. He recognizes this as engine failure due to defect, it would have blown at some point due to loose engine bolts. We bought rebuilt engine and $7K later and six weeks could drive our car again. Needless to say this was my last Toyota. I asked if Toyota would share cost of repair, I buy engine and they provide labor, or vice versa. Customer contact 800 number said, no. I suggested I might contact an attorney, they said go ahead...but after $7K I was done. it's been years and I am still bothered by this. There are too many others with similar story, I just wish I could have had some acknowledgement and help with this major auto repair that I feel appears to be a defect, but no one has as far as I am aware. I first thought it was some freakish accident, but now I realize others say the same thing...loose engine bolts. Thanks for giving me a place to vent my gripe, even after a few years it still hurts and angers me.

- , Lexington, KY, USA

problem #15

Apr 302012

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 160,150 miles

I noticed a pool of red-brown liquid on the garage floor under the engine. The mechanic thought it might be a head gasket problem and the total would be $2,200. Once he opened the engine all up, he said the engine head bolts were stripped and that the car was undriveable. I elected to have the engine replaced, a valve repair and other parts replaced, so the whole repair cost $6,272.86. The car was in the shop for over a week. This happened at 160,000 miles. I purchased a Toyota expecting to go to 250,000 miles and a have a reliable car. Toyota will not offer any financial assistance as it is out of warranty. My mechanic stated that this appears to be a defect with this year and model and that it never should have happened. I filed a complaint with the NHSTA.

- , Laguna Niguel, CA, USA

problem #14

Oct 012010

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 163,000 miles

After an assumed $2k fix last year using Heli-coil.. Different bolts are stripped, and our best option is to replace the motor! The Toyota 2.4L Motor is Junk!

- , Cottage Grove, WI, USA

problem #13

Oct 152009

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 150,000 miles

Had block tapped to accept new bolts assuming we would get a couple more years of life after spending $1900. Wrong! Just under a year later, other bolts stripped out. Now what?!

- , Cottage Grove, WI, USA

problem #12

Aug 312011

Highlander LX 2.4L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 105,000 miles

Our 2003 Highlander started leaking fluid on the garage floor and we thought it was water from the air conditioner, only to find out it was coolant. We took the car into our SAE certified mechanic who pressurized the radiator and found right away we had a bad leak on the back side of the block and from looking at it thought it might be an intake gasket or even a head gasket.

Well we knew we had to do something as we were dead in the water until we did so, so we had him tear into it only to find out just like everyone out on the Internet that is talking about the head bolt problem being stripped out from the factory, we had the same issue. I called our local dealership where we bought the car (Rodland in Everett WA) and Steve in Service said they were aware of the problem but Toyota wasn't standing behind the problem but then said we could call Toyota Corporate and he gave me their number. After going through some hoops I finally reached a human being and she stated Toyota would NOT be helping us... I said we bought the car brand new and it only has 105k miles on it and we have changed the oil every 3,000 - 3,500k and it has been garaged the whole time we have owned it.

I then stated this is NOT a minor problem and that there is no way we could have caused the head bolts to be stripped and of course it could have only happened at the time of manufacturing. She didn't care and said Toyota could not help us! Well... we went on the Internet and see there is hundreds if not thousands of people complaining about the same issue with NO help from Toyota, just crazy if you ask me. I found the engine will start leaking around 90k to 120k, well we are at 105k so just my luck it cost my family $2,750.00 to get repaired. Our mechanic who has been wonderful through all this said the only fix he could find without buying a $4k motor was to buy a Heli Coil kit out of California that was guaranteed to fix/stop the leaking. He had to spend several hours drilling out the block making sure it was straight and lined up so the new bolts wouldn't strip going in.

Well, that was the fix and $2750.00 later we have a 2003 Highlander with a 2.4L 4 cylinder engine that no longer leaks. We were so mad at Toyota we went up and traded the car in for a Cadillac SRX and will NEVER buy another Toyota as long as we live! Ever... In fact we are telling everybody we can to do the same and how Toyota put the screws to us knowing full well this was their issue not the customer who has been keeping the car maintained and has all the records to prove it. Shame on you Toyota, we hope you go out of business real soon so you can stop screwing over the millions of loyal customers. You're NOT who you used to be and it is easy to see you only care about the numbers and not the customers who helped you get where you are... Well, that can change, and we HOPE it does. I know my two companies would never treat customers like you do... Ken W. Everett, WA

- , Everett, WA, USA

problem #11

Jul 162011

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 121,000 miles

Discovered that the Highlander had an internal leak. Dealership had it pressure tested and sent the heads to machine shop. Passed pressure test. Dealership tried to install the engine and discovered that the bolts were stripped and the block was soft and needed to be replaced. Delaership partially absorbed the price of the block but it still came to $3,086. We were excited it was like a new engine and drove it off the lot after 5 weeks and 3 days later all engine lights went on including airbag light and the car went completely dead while on the freeway. Had it towed to Toyota Dealership and am now in my second loaner car.

I am so mad I did not check this site - If I had known this I would have not gone to this extreme to repair. Repairs are guaranteed but now that I know this I am going in fully loaded to make a deal ...... Otherwise, I will join any class action suit if one arises. Never had a problem like this. Loved my Hughlander....

- , Warwick, RI, USA

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