hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
92,252 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

problem #14

Nov 192010


  • 126,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. The vehicle had a head gasket water leak. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who stated that the head gasket was blown and it would cost $2500 to be repaired. The manufacturer was not notified. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage 126,000.

- Piscathway, NJ, USA

problem #13

Oct 152010

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 95,500 miles
My 2003 Toyota Highlander's temp gauge started going toward the H while driving about 30 mph. I turned the heat on in the car and that made the gauge go back down to normal. I took the car to a Toyota dealership where I was told my head gasket was blown and I needed a new engine for about $8000! I took the car to an independent mechanic that told me the engine itself was fine but 3 bolts on the head gasket were stripped. The repair is costing an approximate $2500 to retap the holes and use different bolts. I had done some research and I found out that this is a known problem with the 2003 Highlanders and Toyota is not doing anything about it (I have the website info and complaints if needed). Many people who have purchased this year/make/model have spent thousands of dollars repairing this defect that Toyota knows about but will not take care of. I called Toyota national customer service and they gave me this website information to file a complaint (I have a claim number if you need it). I am very upset, actually outraged, that here we are again finding out that Toyota has more issues with their vehicles and won't do anything about it. I bought this car because I thought Toyota were reliable. Please do something about this and help all of us who bought the 2003 Highlanders recover the money we have spent on repairs to an obvious manufacturer's defective part usage. Thank you!

- Island Lake, IL, USA

problem #12

Aug 172010

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 110,000 miles
2003 Toyota Highlander with 110,000 miles started to overheat and lose coolant. Took it to dealership and learned that the cylinder head bolts had come loose due to the holes in the block being stripped. Toyota estimated $3000 to take the block out to a machinist to bore new holes, but if that didn't work it would cost $6000 to replace the block. I then took the car to a private mechanic who said it would cost $9600 to take out the block and send to machinist or buy a re-manufactured engine for $8200. The private mechanic stated this problem is due to faulty manufacturing of the engine and also stated that he sees this problem all the time in these types of vehicles. On the internet I have found consumers sharing the same stories about similar vehicles by Toyota with similar engines that have the same problem; some only lasting 70,000 miles. I put in a call with Toyota headquarters and they gave me a reference number in case any recalls should arise. Toyota said that there was nothing they could do out of "good faith" since it is passed the warranty mileage and since I did not do all my servicing at Toyota. I changed the oil every 3,000 miles and took very good care of this vehicle as it was my first purchase of a new vehicle and I thought it would last me a long time.

- Atascadero , CA, USA

problem #11

Jul 042010


  • 155,000 miles


TL-* the contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While traveling 55 mph, the contact noticed that the temperature gauge was indicating that the vehicle was running hot. After examining the vehicle, the contact discovered coolant leaking from the rear of the cylinder block. The vehicle was taken to a local mechanic where Z taps were installed inside of the engine. The current and failure mileage was 155,000.

- Liveoak, FL, USA

problem #10

Nov 012009

Highlander 4WD

  • 80,000 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota Highlander with only 97,000 miles that keeps "over heating". I have replaced everything under the hood except the engine. This problem started around Nov. 2009. I have read other blogs that have the same complaint and it appears to be the "bolts on the engine are stripped/defected" and allows the coolant to leak out causing overheating. One blog I read stated he had the "blots" replaced and the new bolts are expanding and doing the same thing (over heating) again! I have called several dealers and so far no recall from Toyota to fix this problem, although one dealer said there is a memo from Toyota regarding this problem, but no recall! please help, I am a senior on a fix income and can not afford the cost of a new engine. I hope you can help all of us with this problem.....thank you.

- Phelan, CA, USA

problem #9

May 252010


  • 135,599 miles
My wife's truck began leaking coolant. I was told the head gasket was blown. I paid nearly $1600 for the repairs. A year later, the coolant is leaking. When the head was pulled, the thread stripped out on 3 bolts. I found the same complaint numerous times on this website and on others. At this point, the options are thread inserts that may work or a new engine! at this point, I have been attempting to get help from Toyota. There has been nothing to date.

- Humble, TX, USA

problem #8

Apr 272010

Highlander 4WD

  • 150,215 miles


Toyota Highlander 2003 2.4 liter, blown head gasket due to stripped threads on the short block engine.

- Vernon, CT, USA

problem #7

Aug 282009

Highlander 4-cyl

  • 75,000 miles
This pertains to my wife's 2003 Toyota Highlander SUV, 4 cylinder engine. On Friday, August 28, 2009, while driving she noticed the temperature gage on the dashboard was high. She drove the car home and checked the coolant level. It was extremely low. She refilled the coolant and didn't drive the SUV until she went to her appointment on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 with the Hawaii Toyota dealer servco's motor imports service & parts center at 609 South street, honolulu, Hawaii 96813. They told her the engine had a blown head gasket. We understand this is because the cylinder head bolts are stripped on the back side of the engine. This is what caused the coolant leak in the first place. Servco told us that the sure repair (a whole new engine) would exceed $20,000, and the less sure repair (trying to fix the old engine) would cost $13,000. We picked up the car the next day and took it to priam's automotive service & repair at 2002 pauoa road. They did a quick test and said that the head gasket was indeed blown, and referred us to rod's auto service at 972 kawaiahao street because priam's was not equipped to handle that magnitude of repair. Rod's has advised us that the best solution is replacing the entire engine with a rebuilt engine for $5,000, but this has become a common problem with Toyota Highlanders and locating a rebuilt engine on the mainland will take time. In doing some internet research, I've learned that Camry of the same vintage have also developed similar problems, but it looks like Toyota is refusing to recall the vehicles and fix the design flaw. www.camryforums.com/forum/showthread.php?P=21539 to date, the vehicle remains in disrepair.

- Honolulu, HI, USA

problem #6

Jun 222009


  • 102,000 miles
Engine overheated. Service dept diagnosed bad head gasket. Discovered stripped threads in the block for two rear head bolts. Service dept attempted repair with rethreaded helicoil but would not hold. Engine replacement is required.

- Gobles, MI, USA

problem #5

Nov 012007

Highlander 4WD 4-cyl

  • 68,000 miles
While driving on the highway, my engine temp in my 4 cyl, 4WD 2003 Highlander suddenly spiked high. I had to pull of the road. Towed to dealer. Dealer said bolts on short block of engine were stripped and allowed coolant to leak out and engine overheated. I was at 68,000 miles, so over the warranty period. I took it to my local dealer and they said I had a bad water pump...I paid to have that fixed, but the car still overheated. I took it back to the dealer and they then said it was the engine itself..the short block, something about the screws were stripped, that I had gotten a bad engine with stripped screws. Dealers service manager told me this was a known issue on some 4cyl 2003 Highlander but couldn't help me as it was out of warranty!!! the service manager called me back later and said that Toyota would help out...I ended up paying a total of almost $1000 for the replacement short block, with Toyota paying the rest of the cost for the short block replacement. This was on top of the cost I paid just a few days prior for a water pump that turned out to not be the issue. Very frustrating...I have all my receipts for maintenance and for these repairs. I am filling out this complaint over a year after the incident, because I have seen the same thing in the complaints and wanted to add mine. I do have all the documentation for my repairs for this and am more than willing to answer any questions, thank you.

- Puyallup, WA, USA

problem #4

Apr 222009


  • 64,417 miles


The SUV was out of coolant & water and my husband take the car to the dealer to check this problem and for regular maintenance (the car only has received service at the dealer, except for tires). The diagnostic was that the shock block has it threads separated from the screws (or bolts). The engine has to be removed in order to change the shock block. The repair has cost $4701.31, because it was also recommended to change the oil pump. Previous to this repair, the SUV was taken to the dealer because there was a recall to reprogram its computer because the check engine light turned on (this happened twice). We have a full record in the dealer of all maintenance checks and repairs the SUV had.

- Cayey, PR, USA

problem #3

Mar 242009


  • 87,000 miles
Engine head bolts on 2003 Toyota Highlander became loose; threads had worn off on 2 or 3 bolts that hold the top of the engine to the main engine block. Vehicle has been well-maintained; 87,000 miles. Repair requires new engine block at cost of $6,400. Appears to be manufacturing defect - engine bolts should not come loose. Toyota refuses to provide any assistance in repair. Vehicle overheated and was towed to repair shop.

- Anchorage, AK, USA

problem #2

Nov 062006

Highlander 4WD 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Highlander. While driving at an unknown speed, the check engine light illuminated. Two to three months later, the contact received a recall notice regarding the engine. Toyota repaired the vehicle. The current mileage was 50,000 and failure mileage was 40,000.

- Deer Park, NY, USA

problem #1

Apr 032004

Highlander 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 2,800 miles
A few months after the purchase of my new 2003 Toyota Highlander, it has developed a pronounced "ticking" sound within the engine. I am concerned that this could mean that a problem is developing, and it is also an annoying sound in an otherwise quiet vehicle. I am going to report this to Toyota via their web site. This vehicle cost me almost $35K and I do not feel that this problem is insignificant nor should be ignored by the dealer. Should I choose to sell the vehicle, I would suspect this will significantly lower the price I could ask and may even prevent me from unloading it altogether.

- Myerstown, PA, USA

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