really awful
Crashes / Fires:
1 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
114,140 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Toyota Highlander engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #38

Apr 232016


  • 129,000 miles


I have been the owner of my 2003 Toyota Highlander, for almost 8 years. I got it in Nov.2008 at around the 69,000 mark. Since then, I have made sure that my car/baby has had the works in care, to keep the quality and value of the vehicle up. This would include:oil changes, new brakes, new tires, repairs of belts/filters etc, hoses, tune ups, great gas and car washes/body care. Most of this has been done by the dealership here in culver city ca. I've depended on them to tell me what was good/bad about my car and trusted them in doing so. I also made sure to do the repairs they suggested. Sometimes however they said it was fine, but would come to find out, I did have issues. This made me wonder if Toyota was trustworthy/doing their jobs right and now I feel the same lack of trust in my cars performance /current state. I can say I have only put 50,000 miles or so on my car in the last 8 years, and I know Toyota can/should last until 250,000 or so, without major issues. However since 2015 I have dealt, with one thing after the next with the car. Most recently this past weekend where my engine completely blew. How could a engine blow out on such a well maintained car" well after reviewing other complaints online, it seems this year and model has this problem often, once they reach around 110,000 mark or so. Why" it seems to be a faulty engine /something that should definitely be recalled. We as consumers shouldn't have to spend thousands on a car, thousands to keep it in great condition and then thousands when are engines fail and this has been reported. Other may simply think there is no hope and don't bother. But I am bothered, because now I am without a car. I don't have the funds for this repair. I have a young child and when I bought this car, thought it would last. I also have had problems with braking/cars pedal going into the floor! this is unacceptable!! help!!

- Los Angeles, CA, USA

problem #37

May 152015


  • 128,000 miles
The engine overheated suddenly, blowing hot air from the ac and the temperature gauge went up. We managed to get home and get to the Toyota dealership the next day. The dealership mechanic told us the engine bolts stripped due to the block being soft, and that he had seen this problem before. The issue of the soft block was confirmed in a subsequent search of the internet. Apparently Toyota is aware of this flaw, but there is no warranty remedy. The 2003 inline 4-cylinder engine is the model with the bolt stripping problem. Neither the dealership nor another Japanese auto repair place would consider trying to replace the bolts. They said that because of the soft metal in the block, a new set of larger bored bolts would be unlikely to hold. The cost to put in another engine is approximately the value of the car, if there were used engines available. A new engine would be in the $15K range, much more than the car is worth. We will likely sell the car for scrap. When we bought the car, we felt we could reasonably expect a 250K mileage life. The engine failed at 128K. Just half of its useful life.

- Graham, WA, USA

problem #36

Sep 162014

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 148,500 miles
Needed to have a total engine rebuild due to faulty head bolts that stripped and allowed coolant to enter the engine and burn. Lucky-I guess-that I acted quickly so as to avert catalytic converter issues or sensors getting damaged by burning coolant. I also avoided the total loss of antifreeze and the resulting damage &/or inconvenience that thousands of others had. Still, a huge inconvenience and huge $5425.82 cost due to manufacturer's defect: Weak metal that couldn't withstand the torque/pull on them... perhaps the threading played a part. I only know that 1000S upon 1000S of people suffered the same issue from Toyota on this engine in several years/models. There should be a recall. There should be compensation.

- Bellerose, NY, USA

problem #35

Feb 232015


  • 121,321 miles


Check engine light went on the morning of February 23, 2015. White smoke emerged from vehicle as I was driving. Then, the vehicle started overheating. Mechanic indicates head gaskets were blown and short block screws stripped and bent, leaking coolant on my 4 cylinder 2003 Highlander. He repaired the same make, model and year the prior year with the same issue. $69,000 for a new engine. $44,00 for a rebuilt one. I have never had any mechanical issues with this car since I purchased it two years old in 2005. Although, I have kept up with the servicing, this type of sudden malfunction is a shocker.

- La Puente, CA, USA

problem #34

Jun 152014


  • 78,000 miles
Noticed white smoke coming out of the tailpipe in June. Then I noticed reddish/pink fluid accumulating on garage floor in July. Took it in assuming either a coolant or transmission fluid leak. Toyota told me I needed a new engine because the back headbolts were stripped and the head gasket was blown. All this was determined without removing valve cover and cams, but instead because it's a known issue. Many owners report the same thing on message boards.

- Tampa, FL, USA

problem #33

Apr 152014

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 138,000 miles
I've had my Toyota Highlander for about 11 years now. I got it as brand new car and I am the single owner and well maintained car. At about 138,000 miles the temperature gauge started going up, almost to red. It would go up and then down to normal and repeat. Turned out I blew a head gasket. While it was at the shop being repaired they found that the head bolts were stripped which is a known problem with this year, make and type of engine my Highlander has. Now they can it will cost me $4500 to rebuild the engine. Real Toyota design problem, need action and support from Toyota

- Covina, CA, USA

problem #32

Apr 142014

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 101,150 miles


Head gasket bolts stripped out causing coolant to leak and loss of cylinder compression. This occurred on a Toyota 2.4 liter engine. This is a common failure mode on these engines due to a design defect. The thread fatigues at the intake side of the engine because the manifold is plastic and there is a rubber insulator between the manifold and block which traps the heat in that part of the block and fatigues the aluminum threads on the head bolts. This happens on many models from 2001-2006 that utilize the Toyota 2.4 liter aluminum engine. This is a $2,500-$5,000 repair. Toyota has issued a service bulletin on this. I believe they should have some responsibility in fixing this design problem. Engines shouldn't fail at 100,000 miles without cause such as overloading or abuse. I don't have a tow package and have garaged this vehicle. There was no cause and effect. This failure I've come to learn is common for this engine.

- Wauwatosa, WI, USA

problem #31

Jul 082013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 136,829 miles
Cylinder head bolts separated from lower engine block causing a major coolant leak (eng:2az-fe) had to replace engine with a remanufactured engine only to have same problem again forcing me to once again replace engine with a remanufactured engine and theirs 22 complaints on car complaints website for same issue, Toyota is refusing responsibility.

- Waterford , CA, USA

problem #30

Jan 242013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 99,900 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The contact stated that the engine released a pink fluid as a gurgling noise emitted from the steering wheel column. The vehicle was towed to a local mechanic for inspection, who found that the engine cylinder, bolt head and the thread were stripped from the cylinder block due to defective material. The vehicle was repaired. The failure mileage was 99,900 and the current mileage was 111,500. Updated 6/17/14 the engine block and valve were replaced. Updated 07/03/14

- Costa Mesa , CA, USA

problem #29

Oct 202013


  • 126,621 miles
My 4 cylinder engine overheated very quick, very high, causing a gasket to blow. Upon repairing the catalytic converter and gasket, the mechanic ran into another issue that I've been reading about happening to others, the threads are stripped where they hold the engine block. Something needs to be done. There are too many people writing about having this issue for it be a rare occurrence for this type of vehicle. The costs are high to fix and Toyota needs to help rectify the problem.

- Gilbert , AZ, USA

problem #28

Apr 102013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 146,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The contact stated that while driving 50 mph, the engine overheated. An independent mechanic was contacted and the technician diagnosed that the motor bolts were stripped, causing radiator fluid to leak. As a result, the motor needed to be rebuilt. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 146,000. Updated 11/12/13

- Pikeville, KY, USA

problem #27

Aug 072013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 93,480 miles
The engine was pouring anti freeze on the road from the engine. The engine's head bolts were striped causing the head gasket to leak. This was a manufacturers defect and even sent out a service bulletin but should have been a recall due to the safety of other cars on the roadway. The epa should also be involved due to the hazardous material being placed in the ground.

- Galloway, NJ, USA

problem #26

Sep 062013


  • 95,000 miles
Head gasket failed, head bolts stripped, coolant leak, A/C blows hot.

- Hillsboro, OR, USA

problem #25

Jul 112013

Highlander 6-cyl

  • 101,400 miles
On 7-11-13, going at highway speed on route 52 in North Carolina, the throttle became stuck wide open causing my car to accelerate beyond my control. I slowed down to get off on the side of the highway, but I could not stop the car, only slow it down, to approximately 10-15 mph. Got back on the road and took the next exit. Again I could not stop the car, and though I slowed again to about 10-15 mph, I drifted through the intersection at the stop sign, with traffic approaching from both left and right! I turned sharply left, got off to the side of the road, and turned the key off to stop the car. God was watching, because no collision occurred. When I started the engine again, it roared like I've never heard it before. Somehow, I don't remember how, I got the car about 100 yards down the road to a marathon gas station, to get completely off the road and out of the way. A man stopped and walked over to me, telling me that my throttle was stuck because of a faulty tps (throttle position sensor). He introduced himself as a mechanic, who formerly worked at a Toyota dealership, and said that was a "known? problem with Toyota. He towed me to his house, replaced the tps, and we tested the car, to the satisfaction of both of us. It ran just fine, so I followed him to the pnc bank to get money to pay him. While there, the lady helping me, in response to my story, told me that her Toyota parked outside had the very same problem! except it cost her a lot more than my tow & repair did. My incident was most definitely a part failure, not an operator error, or a problem due to floor mats, as is alleged in the pending unintended acceleration" litigation against Toyota, and my 2003 Highlander is not specifically listed in that litigation information on-line. I am sending a letter to Toyota, the ntsb and our local dealership where we purchased the car.

- Bay Village, OH, USA

problem #24

Jul 192013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 77,867 miles
I was backing my car from across the street. After shifting to drive, my car jumped back in reversed full speed crash in to my garage. I had my foot on the brake but wouldn't stop till it hit my garage wall.

- Overland Park , KS, USA

problem #23

May 252013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 138,831 miles
Leak at rear of engine, under intake manifold. Head gasket, or warped head. Cylinder head bolt threads damaged. Toyota said some vehicles equipped with the 2az-fe engine may exhibit damaged cylinder head bolts.

- Olathe, KS, USA

problem #22

Jan 012013

Highlander 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 140,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The contact stated that while driving 45 mph, the temperature gauge increased suddenly. The vehicle was towed to a mechanic where the contact was advised that the motor bolt was stripped, causing the radiator to leak fluids and the engine to overheat. The contact was advised that the motor needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileage was 140,000. Updated 07/10/13 updated 07/11/203

- Pikeville, KY, USA

problem #21

May 102013


  • 101,000 miles
I took my 2003 Toyota Highlander to the garage after I noticed that coolant was leaking from the engine block. It had just gone over 100,000 miles and we bought it new. I was told that a head gasket was blown which was due to a defect since the engine didn't overheat. There weren't any issues other than the fluid leaking. I did some research and found that many other Highlander owners have had the same issue (head gasket blown, leaking coolant, and stripped bolts on the block). I called my local Toyota dealership and they said there was nothing they could do. This is very frustrating that they are not taking accountability for a manufacturing defect.

- Orlando, FL, USA

problem #20

Feb 152013


  • 108,000 miles
Engine started to leak coolant from the head gasket, and after a couple days was leaking about a gallon a day. At that point I stopped driving the vehicle and took it in to have it looked at. They said it was leaking from the head gasket because the head bolts are striped out. Cost would be around $5000 because it had to be striped down and taken to a machine shop to be fixed. And more then likely it would need a new motor block. I still haven't had the car fixed because I cant afford to spend that kind of money right now. I have done alot of research on this and seems many people are having the same issue with the 2003 Highlander. This for sure is a design defect in the Highlander and Toyota will not acknowledge it and help resolve the problem because there has not been a recall. I wrote several letters to Toyota and that is basically the same answer I got every time.

- Lake Zurich, IL, USA

problem #19

Apr 112013


  • miles
My 2003 Toyota Highlander ( 2.4L 4-cylinder) developed a coolant leak on the back side of the engine. My mechanic informed me it had a blown head gasket and that the back three head bolts are completely stripped, allowing coolant to leak onto the engine. After some research on the computer I find this is a very common problem. What will it take to get Toyota to step up and take care of their problem?

- Whiteville, NC, USA

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