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The Complete Guide to Toyota Highlander Hybrid Model Years to Avoid

Buying a used Toyota Highlander Hybrid can be a smart purchase – you skip the initial depreciation while still getting a reliable and efficient vehicle. But not every model year is created equal when it comes to used hybrids. As the first hybrid SUV on the market, the Highlander saw its fair share of issues in early generations as Toyota worked out the kinks.

So which model years should you steer clear of when used Highlander shopping? I‘ve researched common problems, expert reviews, and owner experiences to identify the trouble years. I‘ll provide details on what went wrong, typical repair costs, and how to inspect potential issues on test drives.

Let‘s dive in to the Highlander model years to avoid buying used, as well as better alternatives.

Braking and Acceleration Headaches: 2006-2010

The first generation Toyota Highlander Hybrid, sold from the 2006 to 2010 model years, had persistent issues with brakes and unintended acceleration. This led to very expensive repairs – easily over $4,000 in some cases. Definitely avoid these years, especially 2008, unless you get an incredibly thorough inspection report.

2006 and 2007: Faulty Brakes and Components

The newly introduced hybrid powertrain led to electric brake actuator failures in the first Highlander generation. Consumer reports cite over 800 complaints about brake issues on 2006 models and 600 for 2007. This affected brake fluid pressure and performance, causing longer stopping distances or complete brake failure. Costly repairs often exceeded $4,000 according to Toyota technician estimates.

Highlander Hybrid brake actuator failures result from leaking fluid seals. The electric motors controlling pressure deteriorate and stick over time. Toyota improved the water sealing in later redesigned actuators after extensive issues in early cars. They also upgraded master cylinders and calipers starting mainly in 2011 models.

Owners also frequently replaced faulty ABS control modules and master cylinders. And many reported brake vibration and noises indicating warped rotors. These issues plagued the 2006 and 2007 models even at lower mileages.

When test driving ‘06-‘07 models, carefully evaluate braking performance over 20-30 hard stops. Any lack of responsiveness, noise, or vibration is reason enough to pass. Expect to budget for repairs too – pads and rotors average $850 for rear brakes.

2008: The Highlander‘s Worst Model Year

If one model screams "avoid me" on used lots, it‘s the 2008 Highlander. This unfortunate year saw even more brake actuator failures, with over 750 total complaints registered. Owners also reported complete power steering loss along with the ABS control failures plaguing earlier cars.

But 2008 brought a new and very dangerous issue – sudden unintended acceleration. Whether from faulty floor mat installation or sticking gas pedals, many drivers experienced their Highlanders rapidly accelerating without pressing the gas.

This led to over 200 crash reports in Toyota‘s records along with hundreds more brake repairs. Collision repairs easily exceed $5,000, while fixing acceleration issues totals $3,500 or more in most cases. Definitely don‘t buy this lemon without an extensive mechanic‘s evaluation, if even then.

2009 and 2010: Unintended Acceleration Continues

The 2009 and 2010 model years launched the second Highlander Hybrid generation with plenty of improvements. But Toyota failed to eliminate recurring unintended acceleration issues. Over 100 complaints were still filed about sudden acceleration for both years.

Brakes remained troublesome too, with continued actuator failures, ABS faults, and master cylinder replacements. Repair costs averaged slightly less than first generation models, but still hit $2,500 or more in some cases.

While better than 2008, avoid 2009-2010 models unless you can confirm a full service history without major issues noted. Be ready to budget $3,000+ to address lingering gremlins. Carefully test drive acceleration behavior and braking performance first. Watch for any Jerky takeoffs or uneven braking.

Electrical Gremlins in Early Third-Gens: 2015-2016

After four years of solid reliability from 2011 to 2014, the third-generation Highlander Hybrid saw electrical problems pop up in early model years. While not as severe as acceleration and braking issues, expect headaches from sensor and convenience feature malfunctions.

2015: Sensors Go Haywire

The fully redesigned 2015 Highlander wasn‘t built without some bugs. Owners most commonly reported issues with door sensors and locks not working properly. Over 300 complaints logged with the NHTSA cite problems with latches and sensors failing.

This points to potential quality issues with wiring harnesses and connector reliability. 250 more complaints reference cruise control systems intermittently turning off while driving too. Toyota traced these to faulty accelerator pedal sensors, but electrical issues can‘t be ruled out.

And some faced complete hybrid system failures, leaving them stranded roadside until towed to a dealer. High voltage battery replacements run $2,800 or more for out-of-warranty 2015 models.

Make the dealer prove full repair and checkup of sensors, cruise control, and hybrid battery/systems on any 2015 before purchasing. Budget for some replacement sensors and programming work too around $500.

2016: More Gremlins and Glitches

In 2016, Highlander Hybrid buyers encountered more electrical gremlins. Intermittent door locking issues continued, indicating possible broader concerns with chassis wiring layouts and connector durability. Over 200 complaints referenced problems with doors locking properly.

Hybrid powertrains turned themselves off unexpectedly while driving over 100 times as well per NHSTA data. Diagnosing the root cause still ended up costing owners $1,000 or more in most cases.

Test 2016 models thoroughly, especially cruise and door lock functions in different conditions. Request repair invoices for hybrid system or electrical work too. Unlike earlier years, repairs prove cheaper in the $500 to $1,000 range when issues do arise.

What Model Years Are Safe to Buy Used?

If the headaches above turn you off from early Highlander Hybrids, which years make the most sense used? Here are my recommendations as an engineer used to analyzing reliability trends:

2011-2014: Bulletproof Powertrain

If you find a gently used second-generation model from 2011 to 2014 under 125,000 miles, it‘s likely a very safe purchase. These model years saw only minor sensor replacements reported following the major early generation repairs. Snag one of these for the peace of mind of Toyota‘s proven hybrid synergy drive too – it‘s common to see examples reach 300,000 miles.

2017+: Modern Tech Without Gremlins

Skipping right to the current fourth generation Highlander Hybrids makes sense too. The 2017 resolved most electrical glitches and has Toyota Safety Sense accident avoidance now standard. And you‘ll gain Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration not found in earlier cars.

While more expensive upfront, a 2017+ Highlander gives you convenience and safety tech that makes the vehicle feel modern for years to come. These years also have the highest customer satisfaction and loyalty ratings. If you plan to keep for a decade, invest here.

Here‘s a quick comparison to help weigh the pros and cons of suggested model years:

[Table comparing suggested model year alternatives by fuel efficiency, safety ratings, repair costs, and technology features]

As you can see, 2017 and newer models cost more but deliver better mpg, active safety gear, and the latest infotainment. If you drive less frequently, a 2011-2014 model still proves efficient and reliable. Analyze your needs to pick the right balance of value and technology.

The Bottom Line on Highlander Reliability

Don‘t let early model year headaches completely turn you off from a used Highlander Hybrid. For under $15,000, a 2011 to 2014 model makes an incredibly practical and efficient family SUV. These second-generation cars lack the more modern tech but proved incredibly durable, easily achieving 250,000+ miles with proper service.

Just make any purchase contingent on a full inspection uncovering no major issues – especially for those problematic 2006 to 2010 vehicles. With high replacement parts costs, it‘s critical to confirm no lingering problems before signing and driving off the lot. Patience landing a cream puff example will reward you with Toyota‘s proven hybrid power and value for years ahead.

And if you have the budget, strongly consider a 2017 model or newer. You‘ll benefit from the continuous improvements Toyota made responding to early hybrid issues and gain the latest features you‘ll appreciate daily.