Installing the Roof Rack Crossbars on Our Toyota Highlander

I’ve had a couple of reader questions about crossbars and rooftop cargo boxes so I thought I’d write something up. I’ll mostly be focusing on the crossbar question, though I’ll also touch on cargo boxes below.

As a reminder, we have a 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE, which comes with the integrated side rails. The LE and LE Plus apparently don’t have the side rails, but the installation process appears to be very similar.

Ordering and installation

For starters, you’ll need the crossbars. You can get them from your dealer if you want, but keep a close eye on their pricing. The MSRP is $325 (this does not include installation). For reference, here are the Amazon listings:

Though you can pay to have them installed, it’s really not worth the added cost. Seriously. The installation process takes less than half an hour and pretty much involves popping four little panels off your side rails, lining up the bars, and attaching them with four bolts (total).

A couple of installation tips: Lay a nice, thick blanket across the roof of your Highlander to protect it and have someone help you line up the bars with the installation holes on the other side. It’s definitely possible to do this alone, but it’s a lot easier with a helper.

You can download the installation instructions here:

Note that they recommend a plastic trim tool for removing the covers over the anchor points and a torque wrench for tightening the bolts. That being said, I was able to get by with a small, flathead screwdriver and a standard socket set. I’ll leave the details up to you…

Here is a snapshot of our Highlander with the crossbars installed.

Toyota Highlander Crossbars

Our new Highlander with the OEM crossbars installed… (click image to enlarge)

Crossbar dimensions

As for details, the crossbars are 27.5 inches apart (center to center) and 37 inches wide (between the plastic caps on either side). The bars themselves are just a bit over 2.5 inches front-to-back. Maybe 2-5/8? It’s hard to be precise because there’s a slight curve.

And yes, they’re a little tall. In fact, that seems to be the main (only) complaint that I’ve heard from other owners. I like the look, but some don’t. But that height is for good reason…

The tops of the bars are not quite 4 inches off the top of the roof and the antenna fin to the rear of the roof is just under 2.5 inches tall. The end results is that you have about 1.5 inches of clearance between whatever you put on the bars and the antenna fin.

Just keep in mind that the various aspects of the crossbars are somewhat curved, and so is the roofline. Thus, some of these measurement are approximations — but they should be quite close.

What about a cargo box?

Finally… What about putting your crossbars to use with a nice cargo box? We actually own the largest Yakima SkyBox and have used it a ton with our Honda Odyssey. We love it. It holds 21 cu ft of stuff and has been a lifesaver on past trips, especially when we hit the beach.

Yakima’s official stance on the SkyBox is that it isn’t compatible with the new Highlander. But guess what? I tried it out myself and it seems to work just fine. It clamps on nice and tight and wouldn’t budge when I rocked it.

My success isn’t particularly surprising since the clamps are supposed to work with virtually any bar shape — round, square, factory, or “WhispBar.” And they can adjust down to a bar spread of just 24 inches, which means the that 27.5 inch spread of the OEM crossbars shouldn’t be a problem.

Not only does it clamp on securely, but there is also plenty of clearance vs. the liftgate as well as the antenna fin at the rear edge of the roof.

It’s also worth noting that a reader has reported success mounting the Thule XL on the new Highlander, so that gives you a second option.

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Accessories (OEM & Aftermarket)
40 comments… add one
  • dnl Aug 11, 2014

    Just came across your blog this morning and loving it.

    I ended up buying crossbars on ebay for $295 (was quoted $375 +$150 for installation by a local dealer for xle 2014 highlander). After looking at installation instructions it seems easy.

    Thank you for posting all the information. I think I’ll be a regular visitor to your blog.

  • Keith Aug 15, 2014

    Do you keep these on all the time or do you put on when needed and remove when not needed? Do you notice any wind noise with them on? I ordered them from Amazon and they just came but I’m wondering if I should just wait to install them when I need them. Also, a comment on Amazon said, “Comes with its own torque wrench which is great. Issue: The screws that hold the cross piece to the upright on one side appeared to be loose. Tried to tightened only to find that it was designed that way and stripped the threads.” Shouldn’t the supplied wrench not alloy that to occur? Thanks so much!

    • Michael Aug 15, 2014

      Hi Keith. I don’t recall having received an actual torque wrench. Perhaps something was missing from my kit? Not sure. I just used a regular socket wrench. From the sounds of the comment that you quoted, that person tried to tighten something that shouldn’t have been tightened at all so it wouldn’t surprise me if the provided torque tool didn’t help.

      As for your question re: taking them off vs leaving them on, I leave them on all the time. I haven’t noticed any sound coming from them nor have i noticed a dip in mpg, though they surely do create at least a bit of drag. IMHO, it’s not worth the trouble to pur them on and take them off. Besides, I kinda like the look. 🙂

  • Matt Aug 18, 2014

    Michael-
    I’m considering adding the crossbars as well and noticed that you mentioned that you were going to try your skybox. Have you tried it on the factory rack and does it fit, etc.? I called Yakima today and with the flush integrated side rails on XLE, they have not devloped a Yakima Q tower to attach the Yakima cross bars with. I asked about the factory rack and they said that on the previous Highlander it was not approved because of clearance of the rack which was a lot lower than the 2014 rack. I asked what the clearance and load requirements were for this rack and they said that they don’t know yet. They have yet to test anything and if I do install it, they will not back the Yakima warranty if the product fails.

    • Michael Aug 18, 2014

      Hi Matt. I apologize, but I still haven’t had time to test this out. The good news is that I left the SkyBox sitting in the garage after our last trip (instead of putting it back in the shed) so I should be able to test it out fairly easily sometime soon. I will write a dedicated post with pictures once I have a chance to do so. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Veronica Nov 9, 2014

    Anyone knows if this works for a 2015 Highlander?
    Thank you.

  • Tom Nov 15, 2014

    Does anyone know if the 2015 Highlander is capable of handling two 10ft SUP boards? If not, any after market advice?

  • Matt Dec 8, 2014

    Chiming in on a couple of comments here. The factory racks would work fine for SUP boards, but I would recommend securing the front and rear of the boards if possible since the bar spread is fairly narrow.

    There is currently only one aftermarket option, from Rhino Rack. Check out our installation here: http://www.cascaderack.com/2014/12/06/base-rack-cargo-box-installation-2015-toyota-highlander-rhino-rack-yakima/

    The system above shows a 2014, it is identical to the 2015.

    • Dick May 18, 2015

      the 27 inch spacing of the std design is too close. There are no roof container designs available . Do you think the bars could be installed further apart?

  • Lee Jan 8, 2015

    I have a 2015 Limited Platinum bought in November with dealer installed roof rail cross bars. The cross bars are attached to the roof rail uprights with what looks like a torx head bolt screwing upward. The cross bars rattle at speeds above 40 mph. The rail is noticeably loose in the upright’s socket – I can wiggle it and rattle it by hand. This first happened the first week I had the car so the dealer re-tightened them. Now it is 7 weeks old and rattling again. I have not seen any other complaints like this. I don’t understand this because the rattling is so annoying that no one could tolerate it – it sounds like something is broken.

    It is good to read about the Thule and the Yakima cargo boxes working on the Highlander. REI will not sell me either since the manufacturer has not certified them for the car. I can now consider buying them, but I will have to forego warranty coverage through REI.

    BTW my accessories purchase receipt shows one of each: PT278-48141 “X BAR HGLNDR N GN” and PT278-48140 “XBAR HGLNDR W GNS”.

    Lee

  • Howard Mo Jan 12, 2015

    Hi there,
    Nice site for Highlander owners…I just bought crossbars for my 2014 Limited and having trouble with one of the bolts as they seem to be too tight for the hole and not screwing all the way down to hold the front rack before being too tight to hand turn. I’ve tried to adjust and resit the rack and all 3 other screws turn all the way down but this one seems to have a slight defect and won’t turn. Any advice?
    Thanks
    Howie

    • Mike Feb 27, 2015

      Hi Howie- I have the exact same problem. I just tried to install my crossbars the other night, and the first three bolts went in just fine, but the last one gets stuck after about three turns. I tried to muscle it past that point, but got too nervous that I might mess up the rail or roof, so I stopped and backed the bolt out.

      After that I took the bolt completely out of the bracket and tried to thread it into the hole by itself. I was able to see where it was getting stuck by doing that, and it looks like the hole is at a slight angle, so the bolt ends up rubbing on the metal of the rail, which causes a lot of friction. I have no idea how to fix that, though so it looks like I’m calling the dealer.

      Were you ever able to find a fix for this?
      Thanks,
      Mike

      • Steve Jul 26, 2015

        Hi Mike and Howie,
        I’m having the same issue with 1 bolt, have either of you had any luck resolving the issue?
        Thanks,
        Steve

  • Ron Jan 16, 2015

    the audio system seems to have significantly different sound levels levels for CDs and radio. When I go from a CD to radio it blasts me out until I can turn the volume down. It has happened from all the CDs that I’ve played, so it doesn’t appear to be just the level at which the cd was recorded. Does anybody else have this issue? Do I have something adjusted wrong?
    Tx Ron

  • Damon Jan 24, 2015

    Thanks for the instructions! I bought the set off of ebay for $149 and just installed them. Seem just fine to me. If you are looking for these I would definitely suggest getting the one’s off of ebay. Right now you can’t even get the one’s from Toyota for the LE or LE Plus. Thanks again!

  • wcw Feb 18, 2015

    We’ve a 2014 Highlander Limited Platinum and want to remove those crossbars. We’ve had them “allegedly” tightened up again, but as another poster said they’re moving around again at speed and it’s very annoying. I’d contacted the dealer 2 months ago about getting the roof rail panel covers, but they keep saying they’re waiting for them to come in. Also, the car stereo keeps going back to standard audio settings after every restart (ie. bass/treble etc.).

  • Elvin Mar 14, 2015

    I just received a set of OEM Roof Rack Crossbars for my 2015 XLE and they don’t seem aerodynamically efficient as the thick side of the bar faces the front and it’s thinner on the backside/rear. Did I get some junk or they are installed in that manner as I forgot to look on the dealer and the closes dealer is out Highlander.

  • Saumil May 8, 2015

    We ordered it (Part # PT278-48141) through Amazon and worked just fine for a few months. Then recently we realized the rear left plastic cap is missing. I am trying the parts website and none of them sell it as separate item, they want me to buy the whole crossbar. Do you or anyone know where can I find just the cap? Thanks.

  • C Miller May 8, 2015

    We’re getting a 2015 Highlander and plan to use our Tepui roof top tent on it. I don’t see any issues with weight but will opt for either a Rhino Rack or Thule rack system over the OEM cars.

    Am curious more than anything but has anyone else see a Highlander equipped with an RTT?

  • dave Jun 4, 2015

    Just got a 2015 XLE and noticed that the crossbars are relatively close for having such a long roof. I noticed that there are a set of covers in front of and behind where the rack is attached to. Are those more anchor points that would allow a longer bar spread? I can’t find any info on what they are. I have a long kayak, and moving one of the crossbars to make a longer spread would help stabilize the boat.

    • DK Jun 14, 2015

      I am wondering the same. I would like to spread the cross bars out further but I can’t find any documentation online to support.

      • tiffany May 9, 2016

        Hi there Mike, DK & Dave, did you find an answer to this or were you able to spread the distance between the crossbars to the anchor points that are further out? We are trying to load on a kayak and need them further apart to do so. It looks completely doable.

  • Mike Jul 7, 2015

    Same question from yet another. Is there a way to increase the spread between the cross bars using OEM or aftermarket bars on a 2014 or 2015 Highlander?

  • JS Jul 10, 2015

    Just ordered the crossbars for XLE from ebay for $140. I am planning on installing the Rola Cargo Carrier ($143) + Rola Extension ($65).
    http://www.redtrailers.com/images/accessories/fullsize/59504-5.jpg

    Will post pictures after I am done installing. Hope this works!!!

    • JS Jul 24, 2015

      Here is the finished product. I had to get a different cargo carrier since Rola didn’t fit.

      https://flic.kr/s/aHskgbtwuC

      • Dror Jun 28, 2016

        JS,
        Do you use a rooftop bag with this rack.
        Trying to figure out one that fits best?
        Love the pictures, and considering ordering a similar Rino Rack.

    • tiffany May 9, 2016

      Hi there Mike, did you find an answer to this or were you able to spread the distance between the crossbars to the anchor points that are further out? We are trying to load on a kayak and need them further apart to do so. It looks completely doable.

  • JS Jul 24, 2015

  • Rick joyce Sep 18, 2015

    My front cross bar rattles! Factory installed how can I get it to quite down without going to the dealer

  • Cris Oct 7, 2015

    Will the higher end trim crossbars fit in the le’s? I found a seller who doesnt want the crossbars from his limited and i have an le trim. He is selling it cheap thats why im tempted to buy it.

  • Harry Mar 15, 2016

    Hi,

    I just got my 2016 Highlander Limited. I want to remove the crossbars. Is it possible? Shall i tell the dealer to remove them or can i do it myself?

    Thanks

  • David Mar 26, 2016

    Hi – Trying to install the cheaper version off amazon on my 2014 Highlander Limited and wondering whether the narrower/skinny/more aerodynamic side of the crossbar should be facing the front of the car or the back? Can anyone help??

    Thanks!

    Dave

  • Dan May 26, 2016

    Hi all. Great postings. Several of you have mentioned that you simply remove the plate that covers the hole in the side rail with a body tool or small screwdriver. Are those plates replaceable? I want to haul something one time, and then remove the rack and replace the plugs. Any thoughts? Thx

  • rich Jun 9, 2016

    just bought a 2016 xle want cross bars cant find how to install them
    thanks
    rich

  • Joel Oct 1, 2016

    Found crossbars for my 2016 LE sold privately. I called the dealership to confirm I was buying the right part # before I went ahead and bought them. They told me it was correct so I shelled out the money. Unfortunately, the dealership didn’t know what they were talking about and now I am the proud owner of crossbar kit #pt278-48140 for 2014-2016 highlander WITH side rails. What I needed was the PT278-48414 WITHOUT side rails. Anybody know if I could just find one of those little “J” bolts to make these fit? Are they the same rails except for the hardware?

    • Jay Nov 15, 2017

      same issue here. I have called my dealer and they said that for a “J Hook Bolt” costs $15 CAD? wow.

  • Doug Wilson Nov 17, 2016

    Recently purchased these after-market cross bars for my 2016 Highlander XLE from Amazon.

    They work great and I can’t tell the difference between them and the genuine Toyota cross bars. They look exactly the same and feel very solid after installation (I can shake the whole vehicle and the bars feel solid).

    Paying $140 instead of $240 for the Toyota bars (or even $325 from Toyota dealer) helped me put more money into a Yakima Skybox 16 that holds a full-size 29er mountain bike wheel as well as a giant stroller. It leaves just enough room to spare for a Kuat Trio bike tray as well.

  • JIN Jan 14, 2017

    I just serched from ebay about roof cross bar it just asking $90 usd. see “2014-2016 Toyota Highlander LE Black Aluminum Adjustable Roof Top Rack Cross Bar” sold by k2motor. anybody installed this item for LE modle?

  • Nad Mar 24, 2017

    Okay, so you have the bars mounted, what do you tie off to. The bars do not have cross points or eyes.
    The toyota rack on my old sienna was great. The ones on the highlander seem useless

  • Maribeth Nov 4, 2017

    I have alavente cross bar set for my 2017 Highlander. How do I get the crossbar holders/covers apart? . I’m a little afraid to just pry them apart, but it seems that’s the only way. Can’t find anything referring to this step; the rest looks pretty straightforward.

    Thanks

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