Toyota Highlander Transmission Problems

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Also known as the Toyota Kluger, this mid-size crossover SUV is one of the first car-based mid-sized SUVs.

The lineup was introduced in 2000 and is still being worked on. Currently, it is in its 4th generation and is widely praised. That being said, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.

Many people know the Toyota Highlander transmission problems and how erratic they can be.

Not every year brought these issues, and not every year that had them was one to worry about.

However, people have had bad experiences with the Toyota Highlander’s transmission, which generally encompass the following issues:

  1. Vibrations While Driving
  2. Gear Slipping
  3. Loud Whining Sounds
  4. Hesitation When Accelerating
  5. Unresponsive Gears

The Toyota Highlander has only been out for over two decades, so the pool of common problems is fairly low.

If you think you are experiencing any of these issues, then read the article until the end. I will be explaining all of these issues in depth.

5 Signs Of Transmission Problems In A Toyota Highlander

Learn if your Toyota Highlander will have some transmission issues or not

In this section, I will go over all the transmission problems mentioned above and talk about what you can generally experience when facing them.

If you notice these issues and signs, you should take caution and use the car as little as possible.

Do so, at least until you can get the transmission looked at.

1. Vibrations While Driving

One of the easiest ways people can tell that their transmission is having problems is when their car vibrates for no reason.

Additionally, this is one of the most annoying issues people can face.

People tend to enjoy smooth driving, and this vibration can be to the point that it can be very infuriating to ride in the Toyota Highlander.

The issue itself has been reported in many models of the lineup. This problem is usually caused by issues in the gear meshing process and other transmission-related errors.

Alternatively, a low amount of transmission fluid can also be the cause.

2. Gear Slipping

Most transmissions tend to have normal wear and tear as time goes on.

As the transmission nears the tail end of its life, you can expect to see some gear slipping. In the case of the Toyota highlander, you can expect this to occur early on.

If you have driven less than 100,000 miles and are facing this issue, then it is likely that your transmission has a problem.

This could be due to your old transmission if you are facing this beyond 200,000 miles. At this stage, you should consider a replacement.

3. Loud Whining Sounds

An easy way to establish that your transmission is not working as intended is to listen for grinding or whining.

Whining noise coming from the transmission is typically caused by issues in the torque converter.

While there have been no reports of the torque converter of the Toyota Highlander having issues, there have been instances of whining.

This could indicate that you need a simple filter swap, as you might face a clogged filter or have low transmission fluid.

Once again, if you get this issue near the end of your transmission’s natural life, you should consider buying a replacement.

4. Hesitation When Accelerating

The Toyota Highlander has had many instances of the transmission slipping. This issue occurs when the transmission clutch slips.

Often, you will run into this issue when you are low on transmission fluid. On the other hand, you may also be dealing with issues in the oil pump of the transmission.

You may also be dealing with damaged clutches or a failed clutch solenoid. In any case, you will feel your car hesitating when you try to accelerate.

This may happen even more so when you do so from a stop. This can easily cause a lot of damage to your Toyota Highlander.

5. Unresponsive Gears

Distinct from gear slipping, this issue can be easily identified when you try to shift to another gear, but the car does not do so.

The likely cause of this problem can be a worn clutch. This issue will also happen near the end of the transmission’s lifespan.

If you encounter this issue early on or near the middle of the Toyota Highlander’s lifespan, you can be sure there is an issue with the transmission.

If this issue is accompanied by shaking, then you are likely dealing with a bad gearbox. Either way, your transmission has some issues.

When Is It Time To Get A New Transmission For A Toyota Highlander?

While I will talk about the life expectancy of a Toyota Highlander transmission later in the article, you should generally be ready to get a replacement component after 250,000 miles.

If your transmission has an array of issues that are too costly to fix, it might be more economical to buy a new one.

On the other hand, if you are facing complete transmission failure, you will have to get a new one regardless of how old the transmission is.

This is because the transmission is useless now and cannot be fixed.


Which Year Did Toyota Highlander Have Transmission Problems?

I’ll talk about the years which had the most issues regarding the Toyota Highlander.

I will try to rank these years based on models with the most and the least issues in their transmissions.

That said, it does necessarily mean that a year with more issues would be worse than one with fewer.

1. 2015 Toyota Highlander

Regarding this lineup, the 2015 Toyota Highlander is widely regarded as the jankiest and most annoying car.

This is mostly because of its high amount of issues, of which there were plenty of transmission issues.

The most common complaint against the transmission was that the transmission would slip out of gear.

Additional complaints included hesitation and that the car did not shift out smoothly.

2. 2005 Toyota Highlander

Highly complained against by the NHTSA, the 2007 Toyota Highlander takes the second spot on this list.

This is simply due to the many transmission issues that people have complained about. Common issues that surround this model include fluid leaks.

Additionally, people have reported that they have experienced hesitation with the car. There have also been instances of transmission failure and problems with downshifting.

Most of these have been reported in the automatic variant.

3. 2017 Toyota Highlander

Two years after the release of the 2015 model, people were hoping that the Toyota Highlander would get its transmission under control.

This was not the case, as despite the companies, best efforts, the transmission would have two major issues.

These included transmission failure, which was very common and a major issue for most owners of this particular car.

The transmission also had a bad case of slipping, which was very dangerous.

4. 2004 Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander’s transmission issues were anything but consistent. Some years there would be no issues, but in others, it would be filled with them.

2004 was a bad year for the lineup as the 2004 Toyota Highlander was filled with transmission problems.

Transmission slipping was very common. What was even more widespread was the transmission failure that many people faced.

Additional problems included the transfer case seals wearing out.

5. 2012 Toyota Highlander

2012 was another bad year for the lineup as, once again, issues were widespread. These issues expanded beyond the transmission.

In fact, when it came to the transmission itself, the 2012 Toyota Highlander had only a few annoying issues. The most annoying of these was transmission whining.

If you look more into the year, you can see that the car also faced issues like the all-wheel drive, not engaging, and hesitation when accelerating from a stop.

6. 2002 Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander lineup was no stranger to transmission issues.

This was evident by the fact that even a decade before the previously mentioned model, the transmission was struggling.

Back in the 2002 Toyota Highlander, people reported a lot of vibration while driving.

This would often be accompanied by the car not staying in the park, which could easily lead to some bad scenarios. Most complaints were lodged against the automatic transmission.

7. 2003 Toyota Highlander

The 2003 Toyota Highlander also comes at the bottom of the barrel on this list when it comes to transmission problems.

This is mainly due to the fact that people only had one major problem with transmission. This issue directly resulted in the owners of the car not being able to shift properly.

This issue itself was enough to warrant the entry of this model into the list.

8. 2013 Toyota Highlander

When it comes to transmission issues, 2013 was not that jam-packed with issues. That being said, the car did have a few issues that made it get to the lower end of this list.

The biggest of these issues was the fact that the car would hesitate upon being accelerated. You can imagine the amount of frustration that this can cause.

Additionally, the transmission was just plain noisy.

9. 2006 Toyota Highlander

The 2006 Toyota Highlander could have easily avoided this list but eventually had to end up here.

This is simply because, despite its flaws, the car had some degree of transmission issues.

That being said, it did have a lot of complaints from the NHTSA, which gave it a position on this list.

Transmission failure was very common in this model. This was also the case when it came to lunging and searching for gear.

10. 2011 Toyota Highlander

The final entry on this list is the 2011 Toyota Highlander.

This model of the Toyota Highlander was anything but flawless but had a relatively perfect transmission. That is, if you could ignore the constant whining.

The only major issue people had with this model at all was the fact its transmission made a distinct whining noise.

Other than that, it was a perfectly fine component that lasted as much as advertised.


NHTSA Complaints And The Toyota Highlander’s Transmission Recalls

In the lists above, I have mentioned time and time again that the NHTSA had complaints in some years of the Toyota Highlander.

Despite getting various different complaints time and time again, there have been no major or even minor transmission recalls for the Toyota Highlander.

This means that, for the most part, there has either not been enough outcry or similar complaints to launch an investigation to trigger a recall.

The majority of the above issues, most of which were about gear slipping and acceleration hesitation, were brought up by owners to the NHTSA, and despite their efforts, nothing became of the complaints.

I have factored all of these complaints into the list above. This way, you can be sure to avoid a particular model mentioned above.

What To Do When You Have Transmission Problems In Your Toyota Highlander

With the aid of the list above, the first thing that you should do is assess what issue you are having with your Toyota Highlander’s transmission.

After this, you should check your car’s warranty and see if you can claim it to get your transmission without much hassle.

If you do not have a warranty, your next step is to decide whether this is something that you can fix on your own or if you require the help of an expert.

Regardless of what you decide, you should aim towards getting the transmission fixed as soon as possible, as driving with a bad one is very risky.


Despite all of the transmission issues, you can be sure that the Toyota Highlander is a pretty good car. The biggest issue people had with the lineup is the fact that it is not consistent.

One model can be perfectly fine when it comes to transmission issues, and the other can be riddled with them.

You should now be able to identify the years when the Toyota Highlander transmission problems hit the hardest. This can aid you immensely in avoiding them easily.

Furthermore, you can use this to your advantage to avoid bad models entirely.