In general, the Toyota Highlander is a very good SUV. One of its main selling points is that Toyota is considered a reliable brand, and the Highlander is typically a prime example of this reliability. However, like many manufacturers, Toyota did struggle with the transmission for the past decade. Here´s a quick summary:
Toyota Highlander, made in 2017, had problems with the 8-speed UA80E automatic failing completely, whereas 2020 owners had rough 2-3 upshifts. Furthermore, 2008 – 2013 Highlanders with a 5-speed U151E transmission had problems with slipping or binding 2-3 and 3-4 upshifts.
However, that certainly doesn´t tell the whole story. Below, we´ve outlined all transmissions used in the Highlander since 2001. Furthermore, we go through each of them and explain the technical service bulletins, recalls, and complaints we´ve found about them. Read on!
Common Toyota Highlander Problems
Now, let us see some common problems with transmissions that are used in the first, second, third, and fourth generations of the Toyota Highlander.
Fourth Generation (2019 – Present)
The fourth generation of the Highlander was introduced in 2019 and makes use of two types of transmissions:
- 8-speed UA80F Direct Shift ECT automatic (same transmission found in the RAV4 and Camry)
- eCVT with sequential shift mode (hybrid only)
8-Speed Automatic (UA80E/UA80F)
The 2020 model year of the Toyota Highlander with a UA80F transmission did receive a technical service bulletin in which Toyota stated the following:
These cars may exhibit a shift flare condition during wide open throttle (WOT) acceleration from 40 – 60 mph and during the upshift from 2nd to 3rd. The Engine Control Module (ECM) logic has been modified to reduce the possibility of this condition.Source
This problem was covered under warranty if the vehicle was less than 96 months old or had driven less than 80,000 miles.
The UA80E transmission is shared by several other Toyota vehicles including the Camry and other brands like Lexus’ RX350 so there can be similar transmission issues between all these vehicles.
When we went through the NHTSA complaints and recalls for the fourth-generation Highlander Hybrid (the only generation that uses this eCVT), we didn´t find any complaints regarding the transmission. However, that doesn’t mean the Highlander hybrid isn’t without its own set of problems.
Technical service bulletins have also not been issued; therefore, we don´t have any reason to believe this would be an unreliable transmission.
Third Generation (2014 – 2019)
The third generation of the Highlander used the following transmissions:
- 6-speed U660F/760E automatic
- 8-speed UA80E/UA80F automatic
The 6-speed transmission was quite a good unit, whereas the 8-speed unit did cause some problems when it was first introduced.
6-Speed Automatic (U660F/U760E)
The U660F was used in the AWD Highlander made in 2016, whereas the U760E was used in the 2010 – 2019 FWD Highlander, according to Wikipedia. Overall, both these transmissions were reliable and aren´t much complained about. The issues we mention below are rare, and it´s essential to consider this.
Also, the video we linked here is regarding the U660E, which is almost the same as the U660F, apart from minor differences.
Other rare issues or points with the U660F that are worth mentioning are:
- The common issue with the transmission is the worn valve body. Contaminated automatic transmission fluid and vitiated torque converter lockup cause slagging or wear-out of plunger valves and channels of the valve body.
- In the electrical part, the selector position plate with temperature is the most commonly replaced element. The overheating sensor is the reason for the malfunctioning of the valve body.
For the U760E, we could find very little information about problems this transmission has had, which is always a good thing. This transmission did have some problems with transmission shudder in the Camry, but this does not apply to the Highlander because these models use different software, according to Toyota.
8-Speed Automatic (UA80E/UA80F)
Both the UA80E and UA80F were introduced in the 2017 Highlander and are still used today. However, it´s important to note that these transmissions were complained about when they were first introduced in the 2017 Highlander.
Often, complete transmission failure is what the owners have to deal with. This either meant the transmission would fail while driving down the highway or the transmission wouldn´t go into gear anymore after a full stop and the car being in neutral:
29.000 miles on the car and the fourth time at the dealership for transmission problems. This time, they replaced the transmission.Source
What exactly is causing these problems is still unknown. However, Toyota has to deal with a class-action lawsuit started in 2020 regarding the faulty transmission of the 2017 model year.
Second Generation (2008 – 2013)
The second generation wasn´t a reliable vehicle overall, but the transmissions within this generation were as close to bulletproof as you can get. The 5-speed and 6-speed didn´t have any TSBs or recalls and were rarely complained about.
5-Speed Automatic (U151E)
Overall, this 5-speed automatic hasn´t caused many problems at all. Sometimes, these transmissions cause flares, slipping 2-3 shifts or binding on the 3-4 shift. These problems are typically resolved by performing a transmission memory reset. If this is not the solution, there´re ways to check if the solenoids are causing the problems.
This transmission causes similar issues in other Toyota vehicles like the Sienna and the RAV4.
6-Speed Automatic (U760E)
This is the same 6-speed transmission used in the 2014 – 2019 model years described earlier. For this reason, we´re confident in saying that it´s a reliable transmission that didn´t cause much trouble.
First Generation (2001 – 2007)
The first generation wasn´t problematic overall, but the 4-speed automatic in the 2004 – 2005 models did cause some serious issues. However, the complaints dropped after these model years indicating Toyota resolved the issues.
4-Speed Automatic (U140E/140F/241E)
it may cause problems when incorporated inside heavy Highlanders with 3.0 or 3.3L engines. As a consequence, its components have to operate under heavy loads. Hence, it may require the first overhaul even before a vehicle hits 150.000 miles.
It´s especially important to avoid 2004 – 2005 models since these models did have quite some early transmission failures before the 90.000 miles mark. Toyota did issue a recall for the RAV4 with the same transmission, stating the ECM needed to be updated, but they didn´t for the Highlander.
Common symptoms included long, drawn-out, flare 2-3 shifts, or even long, drawn-out, slipping 1-2 shifts. Besides the ECM update, the symptoms are usually resolved by performing a transmission memory reset or checking the solenoids.
If this doesn´t fix it, other parts could be a bit problematic.
It might have issues regarding the damage of pinion satellites caused by heavy loads. With satellites of the planetary gear, the sun gear also gets damaged.
Another problematic place for the transmission is the back cover. Nonetheless, the problem is prevalent among cars with high-power engines. Statistics indicate that the change in steel disks and frictions in the direct package is three to four times more than in other packages.
The rubber-covered piston remains another frequently replaced component in the direct clutch package. The dry functioning and higher temperature often cause rapid damage to the rubber.
5-Speed Automatic (U151E/F)
This is the same transmission as the one used in the 2008 – 2013 model years, so refer back to that subheading for the problems.
How Long Does A Toyota Highlander Transmission Last?
In an earlier post, we already established that the Highlander will last between 250.000 – 290.000 miles in general. After doing our research, it becomes clear that we would expect the transmission of the Highlander to last the complete lifespan of the car. That makes the Highlander’s transmission even more durable than other Toyota vehicles like the Camry and pretty comparable to something like the Sienna or the Tundra.
However, a transmission such as the 2004 – 2005 U140E wasn´t expected to last as long. Furthermore, the 8-speed automatic UA80E used from 2017 onwards proved slightly unreliable in the 2017 and 2020 model years. Still, these days it seems to be holding up fine.
Of course, these are all ranges and things like driving habits, fluid upkeep and even the choice of fuel can all impact the lifespan of your Highlander’s transmission.
Do you want your transmission to get replaced? If it is the case, it becomes essential to know the prices of different transmissions. Below, we provide you with an overview of the costs of some of the transmissions for your ease.
- 4-speed U140E automatic: $2,395.00 (SPPrecision)
- 5-speed U151E automatic: $2,708.00 (Reman-transmission)
- 6-speed U760E automatic: $3,432.40 (GoPowerTrain)
- 6-speed U660F automatic: $1,299.00 (Jdmnewyork)
- 8-speed UA80E automatic: $4,600.00 (parts.lexus.com)
The Toyota Highlander’s reputation for reliability extends to its transmissions, although certain models have had notable issues.
The 2017 Highlander’s 8-speed UA80E automatic has had instances of complete failure and is subject to a class-action lawsuit. Nevertheless, most transmissions in the Highlander, especially in the second generation and beyond, have proven to be dependable with minimal complaints. The 4-speed automatic in the 2004-2005 models had some significant issues, but Toyota seems to have rectified these problems in subsequent years.
Overall, the Highlander’s transmissions mirror the SUV’s overall durability and reliability, with certain exceptions that potential buyers should be aware of. From the 5-lug wheels to the transmission, the Highlander is a workhorse.
But as with any used vehicle, prospective Highlander owners should thoroughly research and inspect the specific model year they’re considering to avoid potential transmission problems.
- go4trans.com: U140E
- go4trans.com: U660
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
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