How to Use Hill-Start Assist on Your New Highlander

A reader named Andy recently wrote in with a tip about the “hill-start assist control” on the new Highlander. According to the owner’s manual:

Hill-start assist control: Prevents the vehicle from rolling backward when starting on an incline or slippery slope.

Great, but how does it actually work? The manually says that it operates “automatically,” similar to the anti-lock brake system (ABS), but that’s not what Andy experienced when he needed the HSA system to kick in.

In his e-mail, he described his experience:

“I was on a steep grade coming out of a parking garage and had to wait on the hill for the car in front of me to exit the parking garage. As happens with every car, it started to roll back when I took my foot off the brake. It was a race to engage the accelerator since the car in back of me was only a few feet behind me! I was surprised, because I knew the car had hill start assist – but it didn’t work for me!”

When he had a spare moment, he checked the manual and found what I stated above — it’s supposed to operate automatically. But it didn’t. The solution?

“You may already know this, but the way you use it is to press on the brake way firmer than you currently are. A little display comes up on the screen in front of you, telling you that HSA is engaged. Now you can take your foot off the brake and the car won’t roll back. It is only disengaged when you press on the accelerator pedal.”

No, I actually didn’t know that. And I’d be willing to bet that many readers didn’t, either. Thanks to Andy for taking the time to share!

If you have any similar tips, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m always looking for new and better ways to make the most of our Highlander. 🙂

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6 comments… add one
  • Vince Sep 18, 2015

    When I back out of my garage I’m already on a steep hill, so I guess I’m already pushing the brake pedal fairly firmly and I get a 2-3 second “hold” so I can shift into Drive and go up the hill.

  • Raymond Apr 9, 2016

    Up to this point, I have not been able to make the ‘Hill Start Assist’ work on my ’15 Highlander Limited.

  • Milt Apr 29, 2016

    I recently took delivery of a 2016 Highlander Ltd with Driver Tech. Pkg.; has almost all of the special features offered in the current HL model. This is news to me so thank you for the heads-up. The owners manual clearly indicates that the “HSA” is an “automatic” function but adds that approx. 2 sec. after the brake pedal is released, the HSA function is cancelled (not much of a help but probably enough to move foot from brake to accelerator).

  • Craig Addy Dec 30, 2016

    Why do you need a HSA on a vehicle with auto transmission ?
    Doesn’t anyone know how to drive anymore :0 ??

  • Stacey May 18, 2018

    I love this feature! I live in Seattle and we’ve got super steep hills.
    I didn’t even know this feature existed until I was on a hill, pressing firmly on the brake as usual, and then when I took my foot off to step on the gas, the car just stayed there. It’s awesome!!

  • peter dg Jun 22, 2018

    On my 2018 it kicks in automatically without my touching the brake. When the car slows to a stop going up hill it kicks in. No indicator message on the dash. Goes off when I touch the gas pedal.

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