2003 Toyota Highlander Problems

2003 Toyota Highlander Problems: Major Faults In Vehicle

Toyota has been working on the midsize SUV Highlander since 2000. Although having good performance, some frustrated owners found the 2003 Toyota Highlander problems.

But what are the common issues in this Toyota Car that made it worse in the market? Well, we found troubles such as

  1. Engine System
  2. Transmission
  3. Ac Unit
  4. Faulty Windows
  5. ABS Difficulty
  6. Faulty Head Gasket
  7. Heater, Speed, And Climate Control System
  8. Fuel Pump Issues
  9. Oil Feed Hose
  10. Faulty Oxygen Sensor
  11. Airbag Sensor
  12. Body Or Paint
  13. Electrical Problems
  14. Exhaust System
  15. Powertrain Or Drivetrain
  16. Tire, Wheels, And Steering.

However, if you intend to get the Toyota Highlander, at least check the review. Or you may look into the highlighted major issues, and statistics about this car model to know why you should avoid this one.

What Years Was The Toyota Highlander Bad: Check Complaint List

In terms of engine-related problems, the Toyota Highlander model 2003 is the worst one. A lot of issues are there but we enlisted the major reasons. Besides, we’ll mention other compartments or parts-related complaint numbers in the list. 

Based on user experience from forum sites, Toyota’s 2001 to 2007 models are considered problematic and got more than 300 complaints. You can also search by “What years was the Toyota Highlander bad forum” for more info.

Problem TypeNumber of NHTSA And User Complaints
Engine And Cooling System91
Brakes Issue 38
Windows Or Windshield31
Speed Control28
Body Or Paint 18
Electrical System15
Lights 16
Power Train13
Gasoline Fuel System10
Wheels Or Hubs 10
Air Bag9
Tire And Steering14
Interior And Exterior10
Exhaust System2

2003 Toyota Highlander Problems: 16 Complained Issues

Toyota has always been the best automobile brand, but the 2003 Highlander got some negative reviews from users and the NHTSA. So, we’ll look at the problems that caused the car to be underestimated by users.

Engine System

The worst and most villainous part is the engine failure in the 2003 Toyota Highlander. We have already received more than 100 complaints about engine problems. The most frequently encountered parts are:

  • Engine bolt threads can be stripped
  • Burning out of the spark plug case
  • Check engine lights on.
  • The engine may blow after a little drive. 

Solution: Replace the engine. Additionally, watch out for the 2003 Highlander’s 4-cylinder engine and ensure the hoses are in the right position to turn off the check engine light.

Transmission Issue

The Toyota included a 4-speed transmission from 2001 to 2003. But unfortunately, we discovered 2003 Toyota Highlander transmission problems, such as:

  • Shifting trouble
  • Jumping out of the gear issue. 

Solution: These problems typically happen when you’re around 77,000 miles. And the estimated cost is maybe $2,000 to fix it.

AC Unit

We found it was the Highlander’s AC system that was emitting a moldy smell. Such AC troubles usually happen when the system flows hot air, is damaged, or has weak airflow. 

Remember, when the system blows cool air and then becomes warm, it’s a sign of leakage, a blown fuse, or a faulty compressor clutch. 

Solution: A simple fix is to replace the parts or repair the systems.

Faulty Power Windows

There is a chance that the rear passenger window may stop functioning and get broken. The auto window lock mechanism may up and down. Additionally, there might be a loud noise, which may get louder based on the speed of the car. 

Solution: Fixing the regulator is important and could potentially cost $200 to $250.

ABS Or Brake Difficulty

Another unfortunate occurrence we found was that the ABS sensor, or Anti-Lock Braking System, causes acceleration problems. 

Solution: You can resolve the ABS problem by giving it a proper reset. The best would be to follow the OBDII scanner method.

Faulty Head Gasket

While driving, due to a blown gasket, users found the engine overheating a lot. Particularly the 2003 Toyota Highlander owners have reported that a defective head gasket often blew around the 140,000-mile mark. 

Solution: Replacing the head gasket is the best solution. However, you may pick another model year rather than 2003.

Heater, Speed, and Climate Control System 

Many Highlanders display problems with the temperature system. Particularly, we noticed 2003 Toyota Highlander heater control problems such as 

  • Low coolant level
  • Jammed heater core
  • Faulty thermostat
  • Bad blend door actuator
  • Faulty water pump
  • Dirty cabin air filter
  • Faulty blower motor
  • HVAC control unit malfunction. 

Solution: You may have to fix any of these parts or compartments to run the heater optimally.

When it came to speed control, we discovered some problems. For example, 

  • The vehicle unintentionally accelerates at high speed.
  • When the gear shifter was pushed into drive, the car accelerated without control.
  • The accelerator pedal got hooked to the floorboard in a free throttle position. 

Solution: You can take it to the dealer or repair it after diagnosis.

Even a test revealed that the Highlander 2003 had a problem with the climate control module. The complaint was about the knob’s loose nuts, which allowed the control variable resistor to shift and perhaps damage the solder joint or wires. 

Solution: You may only have to reheat them with one or two drops of fresh solder, reassemble them, and reinstall them properly. 

Fuel Pump Issues

We found consumers complaining of a drop in gas mileage that indicates a fuel pump issue. For this reason, the whining sound may also come. 

Solution: A new fuel tank pump is required to fix the car.

Oil Feed Hose

Another offender in this car we found was an oil feed hose problem. Due to the corrosive pollutants present in old oil, it wears out. 

Solution: Replace the oil supply hose with a solid line with better durability and chemical-resistant characteristics.

Faulty Oxygen Sensor

Sadly, the Toyota Highlander 2003 gets complaints about poor driving performance due to oxygen or O2 sensors. Basically, the front sensor gets triggered as it regulates the air-fuel ratio. 

Solution: Sensor replacement is necessary here. 

Airbag Sensor

In general, airbag sensors transmit data that helps diagnose any system failure. However, users find it faulty after a little while. 

Solution: Changing the sensor will clear the code and turn off the dash light. Reprogramming is another good idea.

Body Or Paint

Even in the body structure and paint, we found this model got some negative reviews. Users discovered damaged and rusted paint on the subframe.

Solution: You will have to spend a good amount to paint or clear the rust.

Electrical Problems

Electrical problems while starting or the Check Engine Light are a big issue in the Highlander 2003. Sometimes the breakdown of the car is ensured by bad wiring, fuses, or circuit breakers.

Solution: Fix the cables, fuses, or other electrical things by spending some dollars.

Exhaust System

Besides all the issues in Highlander 2003, the heat gauge on the car indicated the car had started to warm up. Even the leakage happened!

Solution: Ensure the exhaust system is all good.

Powertrain Or Drivetrain

NHTSA received a report about the 2003 Toyota Highlander with a V6 AWD that had front-to-rear driveshaft failure.

Solution: Repair the driving shaft ASAP.

Tires, Wheels, and Steering

The final issue on the Highlander 2003 is the power steering being seized with the rear driver’s side wheel locked up. The complaint notice says the steering pump was corroded and leaked fluid. Even PWR-assisting steering fails.

And whenever looking at the 2003 Toyota Highlander for sale notice, ensure the tires are in good condition. We got some tire failure complaints as well.

Solution: The best solution is to check the tire condition and leakages and ensure the wheels are open.

What Year Is A Good Year For Toyota Highlander?

We noted 2001 to 2007 Highlander models are the worst in the automobile market. So, you may look for 2008 to the latest versions of the Toyota Highlander.


We’ve got some frequently asked questions to know some other facts about Toyota 2003 Highlander.

Q. Are Toyota Highlanders fuel efficient?

The 2023 Toyota Highlander model has an EPA-estimated 22/29 city or highway mpg rating, making it a fuel-efficient model. But the 2003 model has some complaints about fuel efficiency.

Q. Why does my Toyota Highlander shake when I accelerate?

Worn-out or out-of-balanced tire problems cause the Toyota Highlander vibration when accelerating.

Q. Is Highlander good for off-road?

The Highlander Toyota has nearly met the ideal ground clearance range for off-roading, which is between 8.8 and 10.8 inches. However, you can drive with Highlander on an off-road or even on dirty or snowy roads.

Bottom Lines

After going through this article, you’ve understood the 2003 Toyota Highlander problems that made this model avoidable. Particularly, engine, cooling, brakes, visibility, windscreen, controlling sensors, and electrical system failure are the major issues in Highlander 03. So, whether you have one or intend to get one, ensure you check the complaint list and reviews.

The issues we highlighted used to be the worst experience. But we hope they’ve resolved such issues. Or, you can even take the Highlander problems lightly since we already discussed the solutions. Besides, you got the best Toyota model year names as well.

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