How to Keep the Power On When You Turn Your Highlander’s Engine Off

A reader named Jim recently contacted me with a question about leaving accessory power on when you shut your Highlander off. He asked:

“We enjoy most things on the new Highlander. My only gripe is that you lose the radio and Bluetooth phone connection when you shut off the vehicle. My other cars always kept those functions alive until you opened the door. Do you know any tricks to keep those things powered on when you shut off the vehicle?”

You’re not alone, Jim. This was quite frustrating to me, too, when we first got our Highlander. But then I discovered the solution…

If you have an XLE or Limited, then your Highlander is outfitted with the “Smart Key” system and “Push Button Start.” This is quite convenient, but it did require a bit of getting used for a guy like me, who has always owned vehicles with an old school key.

The main problem that I ran into was exactly what Jim described, above. What if I arrive at my destination and want to keep listening to the radio (or otherwise want to keep the power on)? Do I have to keep the engine running? As it turns out, the answer is “no.”

Note: I actually covered this as tip #7 in the free “Quick Start” guide that I send out to all new e-mail subscribers. If you’d like to receive that, sign up using the form to the right or at the end of this post.

You can actually shut the engine off without shutting down the power to the accessories. To do so, just put the transmission in neutral (instead of park) and hit the Start/Stop button. The engine will turn off, but the radio (and other electronics) should stay one.

At that point, you can put the transmission in park. Then, when you’re ready to walk away, simply hit the Start/Stop button again to shut everything down. Or press the brake while hitting the button to re-start the engine.

Oh, and if you do happen to shut off the car (and power) in the midst of a Bluetooth call, no worries. The call will automatically transfer back to the handset. Just pick up your phone and keep talking. Or at least that’s how it work on my iPhone. I’m not sure if it’s the same on other phones.

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14 comments… add one
  • Pequan Nov 5, 2014

    Excellent tip.
    Be very careful doing this trick, it is easy to forget to put the car in “Park”, and cause roll away disaster.
    Also, the manual says:
    …”If the vehicle is left in ACCESSORY mode for more than 20 minutes or IGNITION
    ON mode (the engine is not running) for more than an hour with the
    shift lever in P, the engine switch will automatically turn off.”…

  • David Nov 28, 2014


    I just purchased a 2015 Limited.

    To turn on the accessories function with the engine off, simply press the start engine button without putting your foot on the brake pedal.

  • Darrell Jun 10, 2015

    I have a 2015 Highlander Limited. I want to have power to my phone, etc. so it will charge when I am not in the vehicle. Not sure why Toyota turns off all the power supplies when the vehicle is turned off. I have a cooler that needs power when I am away from the vehicle so everything stays cool while I am in a restaurant etc. on hot days. There are items you want left on when you are not in the vehicle. Can this be changed to some outlets. If I run the battery down, that would be my problem.

  • Doug Aug 10, 2015

    Just upgrade my ’01 hylander for a 2013 hybrid limited. Thanks

  • Kat Aug 29, 2015

    Accessory mode seems to shit off after 20 minutes to conserve battery – how do you watch drive in movie?

    • Kat Aug 29, 2015

      Shut off !

    • Luis Mar 29, 2017

      Accessory mode turns off after 20 mins .. not good for drive-in movies. Is there a way to keep accessory mode for llonger periods of time? I have a Toyota Corolla 2016

  • Nestor Nov 3, 2016

    When I click the remote to open or close the right door, it does not work. When push the button to lock the doors, the right door does not work.
    I have to manually push the right door lock/unlock button to open/close the door. Also if I open the right door with the key it open/close.
    What could be the problem?

  • Nestor Nov 3, 2016

    The car is a 2007 highlander

  • maddogmolina Sep 3, 2017

    Awesome tip on running power with engine off. It was driving me crazy not being able to figure it out. Thanks!

  • Tavita Oct 9, 2017

    Thank u so much. Your information helped big time

  • Sandy Oct 30, 2017

    Thank you! This was driving me nuts, too. I appreciate the time you took to share this information.

  • Lawrence D Lytle Jan 6, 2019

    We had backed-in to a parking place (2010 Highlander Limited) and I forgot to ship back into Park and Stopped while still in Reverse. When I got out and could not lock the vehicle with the remote, I checked and saw that it was in Reverse… so shifted to Park, locked the doors and went to a restaurant for dinner with friends.

    Came back to find the vehicle completely dead, remote wouldn’t work (had to use emergency key), and the vehicle would not start with a jump (tried twice).

    Nothing worked. But left it connected to another vehicle by jumpers.

    Eventually the remote locked/unlocked the doors again… so I tried the Start Button and IT WORKED.

    Still can’t understand why the car would not Start when being jumped??? Perhaps something to do with the Smart Key requiring some kind of reset time to activate the Starting system.

    Any other thoughts?

    • livinanlearnin Apr 29, 2019

      I thought of the moms and dads with infants stuck in the bitter cold or awful heat waves because they didn’t know to push and hold the brake petal FIRST before shifting to Park.

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