10 Things Every Toyota Highlander Owner Should Know

Owning a Toyota Highlander comes with numerous benefits, from its reliable performance to its advanced features. Whether you’re a new owner or have been driving your Highlander for years, there’s always something new to learn.

This guide provides ten essential tips and insights to help you get the most out of your Highlander and make car ownership more enjoyable.

Toyota Highlander concept car - presentation in showroom

1. Maximizing Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+

Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+) in your Highlander is an advanced system designed to protect you and your passengers.

The Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection has been upgraded to work effectively at intersections, a common site for accidents.

This means your Highlander can detect and react to potential collisions with vehicles or pedestrians from multiple angles, not just from the front.

The Lane Tracing Assist goes beyond basic lane departure warnings; it actively helps keep your Highlander centered in your lane, even on curves, reducing driver fatigue on long trips.

Perhaps one of the most useful features for daily driving is the Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. This system can manage your speed in traffic, bringing you to a complete stop if necessary and resuming when traffic moves again.

2. Fuel Efficiency in Your Highlander

Optimizing fuel efficiency in your Toyota Highlander, whether you have a standard or hybrid model, can significantly reduce your running costs and environmental impact.

Some universal tips apply to all Highlander owners: maintain proper tire pressure to reduce rolling resistance, remove unnecessary weight to lessen engine load, and adopt smooth driving habits by avoiding rapid accelerations and hard braking.

Using cruise control on highways helps maintain a steady speed, which is key to fuel efficiency. At higher speeds, keep windows closed to reduce air resistance.

Hybrid Highlander owners have additional tools at their disposal to maximize efficiency. The EV mode is perfect for short, low-speed trips, allowing you to run solely on electric power.

For longer journeys, engage ECO mode, which fine-tunes throttle response and climate control settings to prioritize fuel economy.

Steering wheel of a Toyota Highlander

One often overlooked feature is the energy flow display. This real-time visualization helps you understand how your driving style affects efficiency, allowing you to adjust your habits for optimal results.

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3. Your Highlander's Infotainment System

The Toyota Highlander is a sophisticated command center that can significantly improve your driving experience. At its core is the Entune 3.0 system, which offers a range of features that many owners may not fully utilize.

Start by syncing your smartphone through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. This integration allows seamless access to your favorite apps, messages, and calls directly through the touchscreen, minimizing distractions while driving. 

Apple CarPlay starting up on an iPhone 8 connected

Voice command functionality is a standout feature that's often underused. With it, you can control navigation, adjust climate settings, change music, and even access certain vehicle functions without taking your hands off the wheel.

One often overlooked feature is the ability to set up custom driver profiles. These profiles can automatically adjust seats, mirrors, and climate settings based on who's driving.

To get the most out of your system, regularly check for software updates. These updates often include new features, improved functionality, and important bug fixes.

Lastly, don't forget to customize your home screen. Arrange the icons for your most-used features for easy access, reducing the time you spend navigating menus while driving. 

4. All-Terrain Capabilities

Many Toyota Highlander owners may not realize the full potential of their vehicle's sophisticated terrain management systems. The Multi-Terrain Select and Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD features can significantly improve your driving experience in various everyday conditions.

The Multi-Terrain Select system offers modes like Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, and Snow, each fine-tuning your Highlander's performance for specific conditions.

For instance, in Snow mode, the system adjusts throttle sensitivity and traction control to prevent wheel spin on slippery surfaces. Don't reserve these modes for extreme conditions - they can be invaluable during challenging weather or on unpaved roads.

The Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD system works in tandem with Multi-Terrain Select. This advanced technology continuously monitors road conditions and adjusts power distribution between the front and rear wheels for optimal traction.

What sets it apart is its ability to direct power to individual wheels. During cornering, it can send more power to the outside rear wheel, enhancing stability and reducing understeer - a feature particularly useful on winding roads or in inclement weather.

5. Regular Maintenance for Longevity

First, adhere to Toyota's recommended maintenance schedule. This isn't just a suggestion - it's a roadmap for your vehicle's longevity. Oil changes are crucial; they're the lifeblood of your engine.

For most Highlanders, synthetic oil changes are recommended every 10,000 miles or 12 months. However, if you frequently drive in severe conditions (like dusty roads or extreme temperatures), consider more frequent changes.

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Tire rotations are often overlooked but are vital for even wear and extended tire life. A good rule of thumb is to rotate your tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. While you're at it, check your tire pressure monthly - proper inflation improves fuel efficiency and handling.

For Highlander AWD owners, pay special attention to your transfer case and differential fluids. These should be checked every 30,000 miles. A simple inspection can prevent costly AWD system repairs down the line.

Hybrid Highlander owners have a unique maintenance task: keeping the battery cooling intake clear. Located behind the rear seats, this intake can accumulate dust and debris.

A quick vacuum during your regular interior cleaning can prevent overheating issues and maintain battery efficiency.

Don't neglect your brake system. Have your brake fluid checked annually and replaced every 2-3 years. This maintains optimal braking performance and protects your brake components from corrosion.

The cabin air filter is an often-forgotten maintenance item. To maintain air quality and HVAC efficiency, replace it every 15,000 to 20,000 miles. It's a simple DIY task that can significantly improve your driving comfort.

6. Maximizing Your Highlander's Space

Whether you're hauling cargo or accommodating passengers, your Highlander has features designed to make every cubic inch count.

Let's start with cargo space. The Highlander's fold-flat rear seats are your key to flexible storage. For maximum capacity, start by folding down the third row. Need even more room?

The second row also folds down, creating a cavernous area perfect for large items or weekend getaways. Pro tip: keep a blanket in the car to protect the seat backs when folded down for cargo.

Don't overlook the underfloor storage compartment. This hidden gem is perfect for keeping emergency supplies, tools, or valuables out of sight. Organize this space with small bins to prevent items from rolling around.

View of the rear storage area in a SUV car.

Now, let's talk about passenger comfort, particularly in the third row. The sliding second-row seats are key to balancing legroom. By adjusting these, you can create a comfortable environment for all passengers.

Lastly, invest in some cargo organizers. Collapsible crates or cargo nets can keep your groceries or sports equipment from rolling around, making the most of your Highlander's space while keeping things tidy.

7. Advanced Climate Control Features

The Toyota Highlander's tri-zone automatic climate control is a standout feature. It allows for independent temperature settings for the driver, front passenger, and rear passengers.

This is particularly useful for families with children or when transporting passengers with different temperature preferences.

To maximize its effectiveness, use the "SYNC" button on the climate control panel to unify the temperature settings across all zones—perfect for when you're driving alone or when all passengers agree on a temperature.

Many owners underutilize the rear-seat climate control panel. Educate your backseat passengers about this feature, as it allows them to adjust their settings without disturbing the front occupants. This can be especially useful on long trips.

For colder weather, the Highlander offers heated seats and a heated steering wheel in some models. These features warm up faster than the cabin air, providing quick comfort in winter.

Pro tip: in extreme cold, turn on both the heated seats and steering wheel a few minutes before your drive for a cozy start to your journey.

In hot weather, use the "MAX A/C" button for rapid cool-down. This recirculates the air inside the vehicle, cooling it more quickly. Once the cabin is cool, switch to fresh air mode for better air quality.

car air conditioning flow inside detail

A lesser-known feature is the Highlander's humidity sensor. This helps prevent window fogging by automatically adjusting the air conditioning to reduce humidity levels.

If you find your windows fogging frequently, keep this sensor clean and unobstructed.

For tech-savvy owners, some Highlander models offer remote climate control start through the Toyota app. This allows you to pre-condition your car's interior temperature before you even step inside - a luxury on extremely hot or cold days.

Lastly, for those with older Highlander models that have manual climate control, it's possible to upgrade to an automatic system. While this requires some technical know-how, it can be a worthwhile project for enthusiasts.

You'll need parts like the climate control unit from a higher-trim Highlander, a wiring harness, a fan control module, and various sensors.

Most Highlanders were designed to accommodate both systems, making the upgrade more straightforward than you might expect.

8. Digital Cluster & Connected Services

Your Highlander's digital instrument cluster is a customizable information center. Using the steering wheel controls, you can cycle through various display options.

For the efficiency-minded, you can prominently display real-time and average fuel economy. If you frequently use navigation, you can set turn-by-turn directions to appear right in your line of sight.

Safety-conscious drivers might prefer to keep the Toyota Safety Sense status always visible.

Pro tip: Take some time when you're parked to explore all available layouts. You can often combine different information sets, creating a personalized display that gives you all the data you need at a glance.

Don't forget to adjust the brightness - many owners find that slightly dimming the display reduces eye strain during night driving.

The Toyota app is your gateway to Connected Services. Remote start is more than just a convenience feature—it allows you to pre-condition your car's interior temperature before you get in, which is especially useful in extreme weather.

The remote lock/unlock feature can be a lifesaver if you've accidentally locked your keys in the car. You can also use it to let family members access the vehicle when you're not there.

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Vehicle status checks allow you to confirm that you've locked the doors or check your fuel level without returning to your parked Highlander.

One often overlooked feature is the ability to set geofences or speed alerts through the app. This can be particularly useful for parents of teen drivers or if you lend your Highlander to others.

You'll receive notifications if the vehicle leaves a designated area or exceeds a set speed limit.

The Safety Connect feature provides more than emergency assistance. In the event of a severe accident severe enough to deploy airbags, it can automatically notify emergency services and provide your location.

You can also use it for roadside assistance if you have a flat tire or run out of fuel. For the maintenance-conscious, the app allows you to schedule service appointments and receive reminders.

Lastly, if your Highlander is equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots, take advantage of them. These can keep passengers connected on long trips or serve as a backup internet connection in a pinch.

9. Leveraging Towing Capabilities

Your Toyota Highlander is more than just a comfortable family SUV; it’s also a capable towing vehicle. The Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, making it suitable for trailers, boats, and more.

Begin by installing a quality tow hitch that matches Toyota’s specifications. Using a weight-distributing hitch can help maintain balance and improve handling.

When towing, engage the Highlander’s Tow/Haul mode to optimize transmission performance. This mode adjusts shift points for better power delivery and control, which is especially useful on inclines or when driving in challenging conditions.

Trailer towing hitch

Regularly inspect your tires and brakes before towing to be sure they are in good condition. Overloaded or poorly maintained tires and brakes can compromise safety.

Additionally, always check your trailer’s lights and connections to confirm they are functioning properly. Knowing and adhering to the towing capacity is crucial; never exceed the maximum limit, as it can damage your vehicle and pose safety risks.

10. Warranty & Extended Coverage Options

Understanding your Highlander’s warranty coverage can save you time and money. The basic warranty covers defects in materials or workmanship for 3 years or 36,000 miles, while the powertrain warranty extends to 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Hybrid components are covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles, providing peace of mind for hybrid Highlander owners.

Toyota also offers several extended warranty options for those looking for additional coverage.

The Toyota Care Plus plan extends routine maintenance services, and the Vehicle Service Agreement offers extended mechanical coverage. Research these options to find the best plan for your needs.

Keep all service records and receipts so that warranty claims are processed smoothly.

Regular maintenance is crucial for vehicle longevity and a requirement for maintaining warranty coverage. Toyota’s roadside assistance services can be a lifesaver in case of a breakdown or flat tire.

Learn everything you need to know about your Highlander's warranty here.

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Maximizing Your Toyota Highlander Experience

By following these tips and utilizing your Highlander’s features, you can enhance your driving experience and keep your car in top condition.

Regular maintenance, smart driving habits, and understanding your vehicle’s capabilities will keep your Highlander reliable and enjoyable for years to come. Enjoy the ride!

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