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Toyota Highlander Maintenance and Repair



  • ecotrklvrecotrklvr Posts: 519
    My 2002 4-cylinder Highlander had an erratic idle - sometimes too high, sometimes it would stall because it was too low. Turned out it was the Idle Speed Control Valve, or ISCV. Toyota dealer knew all about it - he even had an old (bad) one in his top desk drawer to show me. Toyota uses this ISCV method to control idle speed, and while they use different valves on the I4 vs. the V-6, they both get gunked up. Dealer offered to replace it for a little over $300. But I managed to clean my existing one, and now it runs better than ever. Starts instantly, cold or hot. The key is to get some Throttle Body Cleaner (TB Cleaner) into the upper port in the throttle body (need to remove intake air hose to get access). On the 4-cylinder, it's impossible to get to it with just the little 4" spray extender on the TB cleaner. Here's how I finally got it right, after 3 unsuccessful tries just using the 4" extender.

    Best done with cold engine. Buy or borrow about 2-3 feet of small vacuum/fuel line - needs to be less than about 1/4" OD to fit. Also buy a can of Throttle Body Cleaner (do not use Choke Cleaner or WD 40 or anything but TB Cleaner) - you won't need much for this. Then remove the air intake hose. (Once you've removed this hose, DO NOT START THE ENGINE again until you replace it - you'll get a Check Engine Light if you get impatient, and the engine won't start anyway).

    Then thread one end of the hose ALL THE WAY INTO the rectangular port that's just above the throttle plate - it goes about 1/2" up, at right angles to the throttle body itself. When it's all the way in, back it out a hair (to allow for the TB cleaner to flow out the end of the hose). Now, with the little spray extender on the TB cleaner in place, shoot some cleaner in to the free end of the hose for about 1/4 second. If you have safety glasses, wear them. Look away from the top end of the hose when you do it, too, so you don't get any into your eyes. (May not be a bad idea to seal off the hose/extender junction with tape). Long blasts fill up the hose, and the stuff shoots back at you and all over the engine compartment, so several short blasts are better than one long one. Give it 3-5 blasts. Then pull out the hose, and follow the TB Cleaner instructions for cleaning the rest of the TB. Then quickly replace all the hoses - this is important because the intake manifolds aren't metal - they're plastic. Once you're all buttoned up, you'll have to push the accelerator about halfway down to start the engine with all the liquid in the intake manifold. Once it starts, rev it a few times to burn off the TB Cleaner, and then you're done.

    Let us know how this works for you. I saved myself $300 doing this. I hope it works for you and everyone with low or erratic idle.
  • khornkhorn Posts: 4
    I own a 2003 Highlander. On Wed. of this week my car began making strange clicking, clanging noises. Happened first thing in the morning on my way to work. Within 2-3 minutes of hearing the noise, my low oil light came on. I stopped immediately and put oil in my car. The oil light went off. I took the car to the dealership that same day. They say my engine is gone. Blame me for dirty oil. Since I don't have service receipts (I know...dumb me), they are voiding my warranty and charging me $6000 for a new engine. I know this has been a problem with other years of Highlander...I've spoken with 3 other mechanics who say NO WAY this should happen to a car with 29,000 miles. I had absolutely no indicator of any kind of problem before Wednesday. Any advice or information would be greatly appreciated. Kim
  • bdymentbdyment Posts: 569
    Do you have a 4 cylinder or a V6? Do you remember approx. when you last changed the oil and where was it changed? The last oil change should be on record in some business computer.

    Toyota did have an engine sludge problem in some 3.0 Litre V6 years, but you are going to have to prove you changed the oil on a regular schedule.

    Best of luck.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706

    The way your post reads your engine failed because it was STARVED for lubricant. Just how much did you have to put in?
  • khornkhorn Posts: 4
    Hi, I have a V6. I cannot prove my service. Does that mean I have no recourse? They said it was not a low oil problem it was a dirty oil problem. It just blows me away this could happen to a new engine. I would not have given it much more thought until I spoke with a few mechanics and conducted a google search under "toyota oil sludge." I am trying to track down records from my last change, but I know I will not be able to produce 5 receipts which is what they are requiring.

  • khornkhorn Posts: 4
    I put in a quart immediately. The light went off. At Toyota dealership, they said it was not a low oil problem but a dirty oil problem.
  • cmunizcmuniz Posts: 604
    Kim - Based on what you have said so far it is time to fight Toyota on this and please keep us inform on this forum of your progress. First try to reonstruct your oil change history if possible. Wherever it was done (unless you did it yourself) should have a computer record of it. Most oil change places keep a history of the cars they service. Tell them about your problem since they have a stake in this, too. If you can get them, go back to the same dealer with your records. If there are no records, then call the national Toyota customer service number and open a case with them. Ask for a regional service rep to look at your vehicle and give you a second opinion. If you can get the vehicle to a second dealer that would be helpful, too. Make copies of as much forum discussion of Toyota sludge problems as you can find and write a letter to Toyota national as a last resort.

    You could also take a sample of your oil to a national oil testing lab to see what they say about it. Tell the dealer to give you some of the oil from your car so you can have it tested before you spend $6,000.

    In my opinion there is no way you should have to pay for this. Toyota has had a big problem with oil sludge on pre 2002 models and I'm sure they don't want to open that discussion again. They have extended the warranty on my 2002 engine to 80,000 miles - not sure about 2003s. Having said all that, yours is the first 2003 model that I know has had that problem. Although Toyota has an excellent reputation for building good cars they are very quick to blame problems on owners instead of accepting responsibility. Fight hard!!

    PS: If you can contact others that have had to fight Toyota on this, ask then how they went about doing it. I'm sure they will be very glad to help.
  • mikefm58mikefm58 Posts: 2,882
    Amazing. Without being able to prove you've had the work done within the allowed time frames and mileage intervals, you're SOL.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    The 2003 models are not included on the sludge policy, even though it is exactly the same engine. There was some minor tweaking of the engine head and PCV system, but that was it. The major redo of the engine didn't take place until 2004, so basically, the engine in the 2003 is the same sludge monster as in the 2002. That said, it is going to be an uphill battle to get Toyota to do anything about it. It is the owners responsibility to maintain the engine and you must be able to prove that you held up your end of the warranty. During the height of the sludge problems, Toyota was allowing proof of one oil change per year to suffice as proof of reasonable maintenance, so if you can prove that much, you may want to do battle. If not, you may as well hang it up and pay to get your engine repaired. That said, I would not pay $6,000!! That sounds like highway robbery. I read of people getting their engines cleaned of sludge for prices more in the $3,000 range. Go to some independent mechanic if Toyota isn't going to do anything for you.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    None of us really know enough to be jumping on Toyota about this yet. I'm personally suspicious that whoever changed the oil last simply didn't put the required level in the engine.

    My 2001 911 only requires an oil change every 15,000 miles and my 2001 Lexus only every 7500 miles. I DIY oil changes and with this level of mileage the oil is NEVER what I would call dirty and in case of the Lexus I am always amazed that it simply doesn't burn any oil between changes.

    So, even with NO changes at 29,000 miles I don't see how the oil could be that dirty or that much burned absent something wrong with the engine.

    Or some gofer at a quick oil change only put three quarts in a five quart refill.

    Given my own experiences at Lexus dealers regarding oil changes I'll vote for the latter problem until proven otherwise.
  • pilot130pilot130 Posts: 319
    I agree with you Wwest. IMO, unless there's a more reasonable explanation, it isn't the engine. This tale has an odd dimension to it,like it's intent is to keep a long dead issue alive? Just too many coincidences at this stage.
    Right or wrong, I've gotta be honest about what I think is going on.

    See you in a month.
    Vacation time.
  • mikefm58mikefm58 Posts: 2,882
    I agree, I too "smelled a rat". I'm always hesitant when I read a story like that from someone who just joined Edmunds fora yesterday.
  • pilot130pilot130 Posts: 319
    I know it's off topic, and I won't belabor the point further, but it seems patented responses with the same theme always occur under the same circumstances.
    More like an advertising campaign than a typical discussion.
    Wish this was wrong, but I don't think it is.

    Next post will be from Australia.
    En route tonite.
  • On my '98 Avalon when I turn on the engine or turn off the engine, my doors lock/unlock automatically. Is there any way to enable this on my 2003 Highlander?
  • bdymentbdyment Posts: 569
    No I don't believe there is a way to program this
    feature in the Highlander. I for one do not like automatic door lock controls. I like to lock my doors and unlock them when I want to.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    I was in no way implying that the poster was being deceptive. I was simply saying that we do not yet have enough information to be saying Toyota, or anyone, is at fault.

    But admittedly the low oil issue bothers me more than anything else.
  • jbolltjbollt Posts: 734
    bdyment, I second the motion, I also don't like the automatic door locks...I like having the control. However, I would also like to be able to unlock all doors with one push of the remote button, but dealer wants $50 to make this change. It says in the manual it is possible: "see your dealer"
  • hmurphyhmurphy Posts: 278
    This definitely sounds like a situation that merits getting a second opinion, either from a different Toyota dealer or from an independent mechanic that you trust.

    I would also try contacting the Toyota corporate office if you haven't done so already.

    When I had problems with my last car, I worked directly with the corporate office after getting the runaround from my local dealer. It was a much smoother process.

    Good luck with whichever route you take.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    If khorn was a regular participant in automotive forums, he may have been more aware of the importance of being able to prove his maintenance, particularly in these engines that have reported sludge problems. I don't think lack of previous participation in this forum is a reason to get negative on the guy.

    That said, I agree, it could be a problem of dirty oil, just as the dealership said, due to lack of oil changes. Or it could be as someone here suggested that the last oil change place did not fill it up to level or even really change the oil. But don't fault anyone with bringing up the sludge problem as another possibility when that has been a known problem with some of these engines.

    Unfortunately for khorn, without proof of maintenance, regardless of the rest of the details, he has what is likely a losing battle with Toyota. There is a chance that Toyota would consider honoring the sludge policy on a 2003 model if he could give the same level of proof that is required of owners of 1997 - 2002 models.
  • khornkhorn Posts: 4
    Wow. You all are tough on a person. My post to this forum was in no way an attempt to perpetuate or revive a "dead" topic. I came to your forum and joined after doing research on the internet about the sludge problem. I had hoped it would be a valuable resource. *This will be my last post* as I don't appreciate being accused of deception or mal intent.

    FYI: For those of you interested, I learned today that my 2003 came off the production line in 2002 and is potentially one of he effected engines, per the Toyota service manager. My dealership is actively working with me to reach an amenable solution. I commend them.

    I thank those of you who offered advice and support.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    I did not mean to be tough on you. As a matter of fact, I was trying to "nicely" be critical of those who were being tough. The "nice" part of it probably distorted my message. I think many people come to this forum for the first time to post a problem. To be critical of someone because this is their first time to post here is ridiculous. This forum is for "problems and solutions". You stated your problem. I would like to help you find a solution. All I am saying is that Toyota has a history with this problem, and if you cannot provide some proof of reasonable maintenance, then they probably will not do anything for you. But who knows. Your engine is only 3 yrs old and it should not be sludging up at such low mileage.

    There was a sludge hotline of sorts set up by Toyota corporate. I am not sure if it is still in operation. You can find more information at (they had a link to the letter Toyota sent to the owners of 1997 - 2002's, but I can't get that link to work right now). I recommend that you call the hotline or a corporate number to report your problem and see if you have any recourse under the sludge policy. You should also post your problem on that site as well as This could be related to an inherent problem with the engine or it could be due to negligence on your or some other parties part -- we don't have enough information right now to figure that out. Absent any further data, and given that these engines have a known problem, I suggest that you proceed with pursuing this through Toyota. It certainly can't hurt to try.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    See if this link works for the Autonews article about the problem. If this doesn't work, go to the Autosafety site (link above) and if you go to their Toyota Oil Sludge page, you will find a link to it that should work.

    Unfortunately for you, it says that the Highlanders covered were built from November 2000 to July 2001; I think a later article came out that extended this into 2002, but it only covered the earlier months and probably doesn't cover those that were assigned the 2003 model year.
  • robert19robert19 Posts: 2
    Finally got our Highlander back today. They said that they replaced the VSC computer part in the steering column. I asked them if this one was going yo go out at 7,000 miles and they assured me that this new part is an upgraded version of the older part. Hopefully it won't happen again.
  • jrfierojrfiero Posts: 123
    Re Message #2419 Update to warped rotors by nimrod99, and replies to it -
    I just had a front hub/wheel bearing replaced by Toyota, under the driveline warranty. The symptom was I could hear it. I don't know how to describe what it sounds like, its just something I've learned over the years. Its like increased road noise over time. It wasn't to the point of feeling it through the steering wheel yet.
    I was surprised the dealer agreed with me that there was a problem, and didn't argue about replacement under warranty.
  • jrfierojrfiero Posts: 123
    While I was at the dealer for post #2519, I also mentioned for the umpteenth time, that my driver's door window made unusual noises going up and down. They agreed, and wanted to charge me ~$500 to replace the regulator and motor (2001, 37000 miles). I pointed out that I'd mentioned it several times (documented) while the HL was under its full warranty, and they changed their mind and fixed it! The whole dealership has had a physical remodel, and I guess they changed their customer service attitude while they were at it.
    Koons Arlington Toyota, Arlington, VA. I kinda recommend them.
  • herzogtum71herzogtum71 Posts: 470
    Another possibility is that the people you paid to change the oil didn't actually do it. This has happened to me twice that I know of -- once 20 years ago at a Chevy dealer in Colorado and once 12 years ago at a lube place in Massachusetts. Now I make a point of checking the oil level and appearance whenever I get home from having the oil changed.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    I agree. I haven't had that happen (oil not really changed), but I do check it after every oil change. Would one lapse in an oil change cause the engine to sludge up though? If he was following the 7500 interval, it could mean 15,000 miles between oil changes which is alot, but I know many years ago I would go that long between changes with no problems whatsoever, at least at low miles. Probably caused the engine to die an early death, but not at less than 30,000 miles.
  • Can anyone recommend the best snow chains or cables for my front, 2 wheel drive, 2003 Highlander? I still have the stock 225-70R-16 tires that came on the vehicle.
  • edhedh Posts: 246
    Would one lapse in an oil change cause the engine to sludge up though? If he was following the 7500 interval, it could mean 15,000 miles between oil changes which is alot, but I know many years ago I would go that long between changes with no problems whatsoever, at least at low miles.
    yes some of the Toy sludge problems were from that people on long intervals (7500 miles) missed one. or they had a "car detailing place' change it and they really did not.
    change your oil every 5k miles/6 months =no problems mon
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