really awful
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
114,950 miles
Total Complaints:
7 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (3 reports)
  2. needed to put in used engine (2 reports)
  3. replace engine!!! (2 reports)
2003 Toyota Highlander engine problems

engine problem

Find something helpful? Spread the word.
Get notified about new defects, investigations, recalls & lawsuits for the 2003 Toyota Highlander:

Unsubscribe any time. We don't sell/share your email.

2003 Toyota Highlander Owner Comments

problem #7

Oct 102013

Highlander LX 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 156,586 miles


Such an expensive piece of junk. Saying more won't change anything.

Update from Mar 31, 2018: Had a blown head gasket. Bought a used engine and had about 150,000 miles on it before the piston rings started failing causing it to have a severe loss of compression. Decided one more time to replace the engine but this time I only got 12,000 miles when the engine head gasket got blown.

- Marlon S., Toronto, ON, Canada

problem #6

Jan 032017

Highlander 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 134,000 miles

I bought my Highlander with the confidence of Toyota reliability. I took extremely good care of my Highlander for 13 years and it always looked an ran great! When my mechanic diagnosed my sudden coolant and gradually increasing oil loss, I was really shocked. To be told that an engine defect causing the head bolts to pull out and strip the threads in the engine head was something I would never had given a thought. Then, to be told that he had previous experience with this problem and was told that Toyota was well aware of the severity of the problem but refused to correct or compensate for it, to me was unimaginable.

Guess what? I just bought a new car. Do you think for a moment that I would ever trust Toyota again? Hey Toyota. You didn't lose just one loyal customer. You lost ANY potential customers in my family, friends and acquaintance circles. I BOUGHT A HONDA!!!!

- Ralph P., Staten Island, NY, US

problem #5

Jan 262015

Highlander 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 164,000 miles

I have a 2013 (4) cylinder Toyota Highlander and out of nowhere the engine quickly began to overheat. I had recently changed the thermostat, though that initially remained the likely culprit. My mechanic quickly discovered that a cylinder head was leaking and that the resulting heat had caused it to warp. The cylinder head bolts were stripped so the block was sent in to be machined.

I checked with the service department of a Toyota dealer who quoted me $3800 for a solution. I passed on that and my mechanic completed the repairs for $1895 which included a new radiator and 3 engine mounts.

In reading the reviews, this issue is obviously a recurring one for many Highlander owners. The vehicle has been flawless with the exception of this issue. We will see how long this repair which included re-threading the engine block holes will hold up.

- John R., San Diego, CA, US

problem #4

Jan 252010

Highlander 3.22

  • Automatic transmission
  • 54,736 miles


We have owned our Highlander and from time to time the engine would make a rattling noise, then it would stop and out of no where it would start again. About 2 weeks ago we just filled up and every time we start the car a puff of black smoke would come out and now the engine light is on , we change our oil every three to four months.

- smithwv, Charleston, WV, US

problem #3

Dec 012008

Highlander Limited V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 97,000 miles

We sold our Honda (185,000) Accord and bought this Highlander new. I have two 70's era vw buses that have more miles on them and have never had this type of failure.

I started getting a puff of blue smoke in early December 08 when I started the car - this didn't build up - just one morning there it was - not really a puff as more of a big cloud of choking smoke.

I was in Southern Calif when this started and had to wait till I got back up north to my dealer before I could drop the car off.

I don't think the dealer is lying - the problem is probably as bad as they say it is but 97000 miles on a well maintained car? I personally changed the oil religiously at 5k - this is really an outrage for a modern day vehicle to fail like this. The service manager claims he will 'help' but has never heard of the problem before.

Anyone else have a similar issue?

- Nicholas M., Oakland, CA, US

problem #2

Sep 242007

(reported on)

Highlander V4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 94,000 miles

My engine blew up on a long distance trip. I was 5000 miles from home and was experiencing a loss of radiator fluid that came on suddenly. I had just had the car serviced oil change, fluid top off, before we left and couldn't understand what was happening. Took it to a local S. Carolina Toyota dealership (Sparks-never ever go there) and they told me I blew the head gasket, then called me back an hour later and said the bolts to the engine somehow got stripped and I needed a new engine!!! A 2003 94,000 mile Toyota needing a new engine, how crazy is that. Never had a problem, always maintained the vehicle oil changes etc... This is my third Toyota and by far the worst. The most awful part is that my warranty ended at 80,000 and Toyota will do nothing to help you and I was out $7,000 this was a $29,000 vehicle bought brand new in 2003 the engine should have lasted more than 4 years. I will never buy Toyota again, its not worth the money.

- W C., Canton, MA, US

problem #1

Nov 162006

(reported on)

Highlander V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 104,000 miles

Engine failed suddenly with no warning. The car was 3 years old - no apparent engine problems -- oil changed regularly - changed 1 month prior to problem - no warning lights - no early signs of trouble - my wife was backing out of driveway - car stopped would not restart - engine was trashed - this was my first Toyota - and last -- Previous ownership has produced Dodge with 500,000 miles on engine and Nissan's with 400,000 and 350,000 miles to engines. Have had very good luck with previous cars - provide standard maintenance- Very shocked to have had such drastic engine problem with no signs or symptoms. Up to that point - no problems with car - but it now has the distinction of being the worst care i've ever owned.

- wyrickj, Owings Mills, MD, US

Not what you are looking for?