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The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander (1st to 4th)

As of 2020, If you buy a used Highlander, the best choice is probably the 2017-2019 version.

The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander

2018 marked a record-breaking year for Toyota Highlander sales. Its record is not without blemishes; let's find out which Highlanders should be removed.

In 2001, the Toyota Highlander was released. Originally based on the Camry platform, it was the first midsize SUV derived from a car. Between the small RAV4 and the larger 4Runner, the Highlander fits comfortably within Toyota's SUV lineup. Highlander was primarily designed to be a capable SUV on highways and an adequate SUV for off-road trails.

Due to its platform, however, the vehicle didn't correlate its success on the road with its ability to perform off-road. In 2006, the Toyota RAV4 stole this title from the Highlander. For 2018, Toyota sold almost 250,000 Highlander vehicles in the U.S., setting a new record. Despite being one of the best, the Highlander still has some shortcomings.

4Fourth-generation Highlander (2020-present)

The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander (1st to 4th): 4th

Best Years: 2020-Present
Years to Avoid: N/A

In 2020, a new GA-K platform will be used to build the fourth-generation Highlander. In terms of ride and handling, the platform was improved. Additionally, Toyota's Safety Sense 2.5+ system was standard across all models, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay were compatible. In the Highlander, Toyota would offer an eight-speed automatic transmission and 3.5L V6 engine as standard equipment. FWD and AWD versions of this engine are rated at 23 and 24 combined mpg, respectively. This time the Highlander grew longer and wider, as expected.

There have been few complaints about the fourth generation on the NHTSA website so far. Even so, the fourth-generation Highlander has yet to be judged, so it may be unfair to compare it with others. New generation unibody cars only have a problem with fuel tanks not filling fully. As it is a problem on both the smaller RAV4 and 4Runner, it is clearly a Toyota issue. It may not be long before Toyota announces a fix. In addition to top safety pick designations for 2020 and 2021, the new Highlander earned Top Safety Pick+ designations from the IIHS. The headlights weren't rated good, but they scored well in other categories. The Platinum model received a "good" rating for 2021. The other trims received an "acceptable" rating. Based on our analysis, the 2020 LE and XLE trims both received a "poor" rating.

RELATED: Why Is The Toyota Highlander So Popular?

3Third-generation Highlander (2014-2019)

The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander (1st to 4th): 3rd

Best Years: 2017-2019
Good Years: 2014-2016

In 2014, the third generation of the Highlander was introduced to showrooms. As expected, both the length and width of the Highlander had increased. Other than the styling, the biggest change was that eight people were able to sit in it. Similarities with the previous generation were also evident in the new Toyota Highlander. Standard in both vehicles was a standard six-speed transmission, front-wheel drive, optional all-wheel drive, and I4 engine with a 2.7L displacement, a V6 with a 3.5L displacement, a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, and excellent safety. A standard FWD Highlander now achieves 22 mpg combined, an increase of three mpg over the 2013 model.

As previously mentioned, the Highlander placed a high priority on safety. During the 2014-2017 model years, Highlander received the top-notch IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation. It doesn't mean that the 2018 and 2019 model years slacked when it came to safety, however, since both were recognized as Top Safety Picks by IIHS. Only a small overlap front score of "acceptable" was given on the safety test of the third-generation Highlanders. The small overlap front test received the acceptable mark for both the driver and passenger sides for model years 2014 and 2015. In contrast with the positive marking on its driver's side from 2016-2019, its passenger side did not receive any marks.

It was reasonably reliable, especially for a third-generation vehicle. In the last few model years, NHTSA received only 100 complaints. That doesn't mean that there have been no problems with the Highlander. Generally, the tailgate has proven to be the most problematic. It will not open when owners attempt to unlock it. The fuel pump is another common problem, but Toyota has addressed this issue with a recall. As a whole, owners don't seem to have any significant problems with this generation. For 2017, 2018, and 2019, Toyota's direct fuel injection system and a slightly higher crash rating make these the best model years.

2Second-generation Highlander (2008-2013)

The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander (1st to 4th): 2nd

Best Years: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Years to Avoid: 2008

For the 2008 model year, the Toyota Highlander was introduced as the second generation. In a single word, this generation can be described as "safe." It has received Top Safety Picks from the IIHS for each of its model years, six in all. Its higher standard features and larger cabin made it an improvement over its predecessor. Second-row seats are split 40/20/40, unlike the previous row. Furthermore, the "20" could be removed from the middle, thus allowing for both captain's chairs and full benches.

Its size increased with its weight. As a result, Toyota made the 3.5L V6 engine with 270 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque standard on the Highlander. With its 5,000-pound towing capacity, the new engine comes paired with an automatic transmission and a five-speed manual transmission. FWD and AWD, both available as options. Both are achieving 19 mpg combined.

First impressions of the second-generation Highlander were not good. According to the NHTSA, there were 13 recalls and more than 300 complaints regarding the 2008 model. In addition to the incorrect labels, it's been recalled twice for airbags, twice for melted window switches, twice for a seat heater that can catch fire, twice for an exhaust tip that fell off, and once for each of the seats belts and accelerator. Nevertheless, every bad thing has a positive side. Fortunately, the vehicle, in this case, has basically been rebuilt from the ground up, so it will be reliable for future owners.

Throughout the model years 2009-2013, Toyota has reduced the complaints in half from its initial model year mistakes. However, there were a few complaints, mostly regarding electrical system malfunctions, according to the NHTSA. On the Toyota Highlander, there is only one common problem that might require a steering shaft replacement. Owners usually can diagnose this themselves, and it's not an expensive repair. When at low speeds, crunching or clunking sounds can lead to shaft replacement.

1First-generation Highlander (2001-2007)

The Best Years to Buy a Used Toyota Highlander (1st to 4th): 1st

Best Years: 2006-2007
Good Years: 2001-2002
Years to Avoid: 2003, 2004, 2005

A five-seat SUV was released as part of the Highlander's first generation in 2001. As opposed to other SUVs of the time, the Highlander focused on performance on the road instead of off-road. The 4-wheel independent suspension and unibody construction of Toyota's vehicles allowed it to achieve this. On the Highlander, a 2.4L I4 engine produced 155 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. The vehicle could tow 3,000 pounds at its maximum speed. A four-speed automatic transmission with a "snow mode" was the only transmission available for the Highlander.

3.0L V6 engines were available as an option on the Highlander. With this V6, the towing capacity increased to 3,500 lbs. It produced 220 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. While the smaller I4 clocked in at 18 mpg, the V6 clocked in at 22 mpg, consuming three more mpg combined. Also offered to buyers were front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options. The Highlander compensated for its poor off-road ability with many features, including optional all-wheel drive and a snow mode on the transmission. AWD versions had an additional 4 in ground clearance, and a skid control system with traction control and selective braking was optional.

The IIHS gave Highlander an "excellent" rating for safety. Approximately 100 complaints were filed against the Toyota Highlander per year, on average, according to NHTSA. Most complaints were related to the sun visors of the 2001-2002 models. As a result, the driver could be obstructed while driving.

A more worrying and expensive problem arose with the 2003 Highlanders. Leaks in the cooling system caused the car to overheat. The buyer may be required to replace the entire engine, which would cost around $3,200. Furthermore, the transmissions of the 2004-2005 models were defective, which was an additional expense. As a result of being less reliable, having more standard features, and having airbags as part of the package, the 2006-2007 Highlanders are the best option.

How to Choose the Right One for You?

The Highlander has proven to be an extremely safe SUV over time. However, some reliability issues have been reported. You should avoid the 2001 and 2005 model years for the Highlander's first generation (2001-2007). These vehicles are reportedly plagued by costly problems, like engine or transmission replacements. As of 2020, If you buy a used Highlander, the best choice is probably the 2017-2019 version.

RELATED: The Most Common Toyota Highlander Problems (1st to 4th)

[1] ^ YouTube: Here's Why You Should Buy a Used Toyota Highlander
[2] ^ U.S. News: Which Used Toyota Highlander Should I Buy?
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