Towing Capacity of the New Toyota Highlander

In response to my previous post about installing a trailer hitch on the Toyota Highlander, a reader named Jorge asked about the Highlander’s max towing capacity. This is a great question. The answer is: it depends.

Max towing capacity

The towing capacity of your Highlander depends on the trim level. At the lowest level (LE), the max towing capacity is listed as being 1,500 lbs. This is limited by the 2.7 liter 4-cylinder engine that comes standard at that level.

Note: The vehicle occupants, cargo, and any added equipment count against the max towing capacity, so be careful. And if you’re hauling a trailer full of stuff, don’t forget to account for the trailer itself.

Stepping up the the LE Plus, which has a 3.5 liter 6-cylinder engine, the max towing capacity is listed at 2,000 lbs. That’s a little better, but still pretty limited. Beyond that, however, things improve dramatically…

Note: As of model year 2016, all 6-cylinder Highlanders have the tow prep package and a 5,000 lb towing capacity. See below for details.

For the XLE and Limited/Platinum trim levels, the max towing capacity is listed as being 5,000 lbs. While these vehicles have the same basic engine as the LE Plus, they have a number of other enhancements.

Highlander tow prep package

According to Toyota, the XLE and above have a heavy-duty radiator and an engine oil cooler. They also have a 200W fan coupling (i.e., powerful cooling fans), a supplemental transmission cooler, and a 150A alternator.

In other words, the so-called “towing package” comes standard on the XLE and above, and is not available on lower trim levels, so… Be sure to factor this in when deciding which model to buy in the first place.

Of course, the lack of an official Toyota solution doesn’t stop you from making aftermarket modifications to increase your towing capacity, but there isn’t an OEM tow package at the lowest trim levels.

Max tongue weight rating

Another (somewhat minor) consideration is the max tongue weight rating. The LE has a max tongue weight of 150 lbs, the LE Plus has a max tongue weight of 200 lbs, and the XLE/Limited have a max rating of 500 lbs.

As for why these differ, I’m not sure. They’re exactly 10% of the max towing capacity at each level, so I would imagine that they’re based on a standard calculation that reflects safe loading practices. Said another way…

Even if the LE can handle 500 lbs (it’s the same hitch, after all), you’d have to seriously front-load your trailer to get that much weight on the tongue without exceeding the stated 1,500 lb max towing limit.

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24 comments… add one
  • Jorge Sanchez May 14, 2015

    Great article! Thanks for the information. I had heard about the tow package, but I didn’t know it was included on higher trims, which is good!

    For those that are not familiar with Tongue Weight, like me, here’s a good article that explains it: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-parts/towing/towing-capacity/information/tongue-weight.htm

  • Ed Jul 24, 2015

    I have a 2015 Highlander XLE. The 5000 towing capacity only available on all wheel drive vehicles I think.

  • Matt Aug 7, 2015

    I have the LE PLUS AWD and the manual says 5000lbs. I think the difference isn’t the trim, but the AWD option.

  • Joe Sep 3, 2015

    We’re buying a 2015 HL XLE for the 5000# tow capacity, but were disappointed that Toyota (nor anyone else) has a plug and play harness for a 7-pin connector to pull a travel trailer and use electric brake controller, only the std 4-pin. Found a solution on etrailer.com with a universal harness that will work. Will let you know how it works.

  • Charlie Gibson Dec 20, 2015

    My wife and I purchased a new 2015 Highlander XLE and were planning on traveling across the USA. Having the standard towing features, heavy duty radiator, oil cooler, trans cooler, heavy duty battery, etc, we did all the research to find that we could tow 500 lbs hitch, 5,000 lbs total. We ordered a new Forest River travel trailer with specs showing 468 hitch, 4200 total. After having the best Curt hitch installed professionally, I found that Toyota had made no pre wires for electric brakes. In addition to having to completely wire the car for a 7 pin round connector, the trailer dealer had to spend hours wiring for electric brakes. My electrical bill not including the hitch was $650!!!
    Everything turned out to be a disaster! When I picked up the special ordered trailer a month later, driving home dropped my gas mileage from 28 mpg down to 8 mpg, without even any cargo! In addition, even having the BlueOx distribution hitch, my front tires were coming off the pavement while driving down the road. We tried to sell the brand new trailer back to the dealer but the answer was no, we shopped buying a larger tow vehicle (a Tahoe) but the trade difference was $22,000. We tried to trade it to another dealer for a smaller travel trailer but was told that the only trailer that our front wheel drive Highlander should pull should be a pop-up camper being very light weight. We were told by an expert that our 4,200 lb travel trailer would burn up the Highlanders transmission and engine as the rpms were very high when driving the rig 60 mph.
    Long story short, we sold the brand new trailer, never plugged in at a $1,200 loss and are still very upset with Toyota for advertising 500/5000. This is deceit on behalf of Toyota. To prove my point even further, the law states that if you pull a trailer over 2,000 lbs, you must have electric brakes. However, Toyota makes NO pre-wire at all for electric brakes. Also, a trailer with electric brakes will nee a 7 pin round plug and Toyota provides the pre-wire for only a 4 pin. In my opinion, Toyota Motor Co. Should reimburse me the $1,200 that I lost.
    DO NOT buy a Highlander to pull a trailer over 2,000 lbs or you will be sorry.
    Thanks,
    Charlie, in Georgia

    • David V. Feb 19, 2016

      The XLE is rated for 5000 pounds towing, whether it is FWD or AWD. I suspect your low mileage and difficulty driving was due to problems with the 7-way connector and brake controller that you had installed.

    • devilsadvocate Jun 2, 2016

      @Charlie Gibson This doesn’t pass the smell test.

      Nearly every travel trailer manufacturer lists a gigantic asterisk next to their Hitch Weight and UVW could be in some cases significantly higher than the stated amount depending on accessories/options fitted when ordered.

      Be that as it may, the trailer specs you list are already nearly at the maximum ratings for the Highlander when the trailer was unloaded yet most 20-25ft TTs have a 1250-2000lbs carrying capacity that would make you way over weight when you put you gear in there. If you had filled the water tanks and put some gear in there you could have very easily been at or even over a 700lbs tongue weight.

      I went out in the garage with a buddy of mine (we both weight 215-230ish) and we stood on the hitch of my wife’s 2016 Highlander, and we could barely get the suspension to sag unless we jumped, your claim that the ~450lbs hitch weight made the wheels physically come off the ground like some cartoon car popping wheelies is patently bullsh**. Some embellishment to add emphasis is ok, but fabricating to Hollywood levels is not.

      Your trailer on the road was likely significantly heavier than you thought it was, hence the poor mileage and light front-end. That and your gross usage of hyperbole and stretching the facts is probably why you haven’t gotten any information from Toyota. Given that you have conveniently sold you trailer and (at least from the above) have no other actual evidence beyond a far fetched story, there is no way they are going to answer you and encourage any more nonsense.

  • Greg Dec 21, 2015

    The manufacturer’s stated UVW for a forest river is unloaded vehicle weight. This is not a good ending point for making a tow vehicle purchase decision. Even the most liberal of sources will recommend adding the stated cargo capacity of the trailer to the unloaded weight for towing planning. That would put your example at 6000+lbs easily with the above example and I am not surprise it was too much for the Highlander. Bummer.

  • Charlie Dec 30, 2015

    Could someone please tell me where I can find the results of the SAEJ2807 towing test for my 2015 Highlander XLE FWD?
    Thank you!

  • Tom Apr 16, 2016

    anyone pull a enclosed trailer with their highlander I am looking at getting a 7 x 12 x 78″ tall one.

  • Annie Jun 12, 2016

    A friend of mine is selling her 1967 vintage trailer. It weighs 3500 lbs. I have a 2015 Highlander Limited awd. Can I pull this trailer?

  • Paul Jul 12, 2016

    I have a 2015 highlander xle awd that pulled a Forest River TT Surveyer from Byron,Ga. to Cape Cod, Ma. with no problems. This includes going to Birmingham,Al. and then to So.Palm Beach,Fla. before heading home. We’re planning to go to Yellowstone Park next spring/summer. Not worried bout gas mileage(12per gal@60mph). Any questions or concerns E-mail me

  • Paul Jul 12, 2016

    I have a 2015 highlander xle awd that pulled a Forest River TT Surveyer from Byron,Ga. to Cape Cod, Ma. with no problems. This includes going to Birmingham,Al. and then to So.Palm Beach,Fla. before heading home. We’re planning to go to Yellowstone Park next spring/summer. Not worried bout gas mileage(12per gal@60mph). Any questions or concerns E-mail me. 21ft.TT

    • Chuck Jul 17, 2016

      Can you tell me net weight of your trailor.

  • Stephen Riedberger Jul 15, 2016

    I also get 12 MPG when towing a 3500 lbs Lance trailer @ 55 in Oregon with my 2015 limited. Was hoping for more but will live with the 12 , when I get 24 when not towing. With plenty of power to get over those hills and Mountains.

  • Josh G Jul 28, 2016

    I have a 15′ Highlander Limited (FWD) with a Curt Hitch (easily installed myself) and I towed an enclosed 5’x8′ U-haul trailer from TX to VA just fine. The trailer weight and loaded weight was about 3,500lbs plus about 800lbs of passengers and luggage. I wouldn’t use my Highlander to tow like this a lot, but it seemed capable. The engine was capable at this weight, but i’d be concerned to push it to the max at 5,000 lbs towing. Now with that said, i’m currently moving again and have a Stowaway2 hitch mounted cargo box. Between that and luggage weighing the Highlander down around the rear axel, it definitely sags, a lot. I’m actually quite surprised at how much the suspension gives with just the luggage and the hitch box. The engine has more than enough power though, just concerned about the rear suspension and the vehicle carrying that load for a few weeks during the move.

  • Sandra Aug 13, 2016

    Can a V6 Highlander Limited can a human weight of 1200 lbs on mountain roads?

    • Gene D Apr 9, 2017

      I have a 2006 AWD Hybrid with a rated tow capacity of of 3500#. It can effortlessly tow a 2500# (dry weight) 19′ Starcraft AR-ONE. I’ve got a standard brake controller and a medium duty anti-sway weight distribution hitch. Aside from the gas mileage hit (and quick unexpected stops) I easily forget that I am towing the trailer.

  • Dennis J Aug 17, 2016

    We have a new 2016 XLE, V6. My trailer sales person says I need a 7 pin connector for trailer brakes and battery charge line. The trailer (Lance 1575, 20 ft) is well within my limits and comes with elect brakes which the RV dealer says I want for safety. Experience anyone?

  • Lazarus Matova Oct 5, 2016

    I had a 2012 Hybrid Limited and presently own a 2015 Limited. The 2012 was rated for 3500 pounds and the 2015 for 5000 pounds. The Toyota owners manual for both cars state that the tow limit is 1000 pounds un-braked (this is one line written under one of the charts) … and NO, neither have wiring for a brake controller (I installed my own.) If you carefully read the weight limit charts in the owners manual you will find that in order to tow 5000 you may only have a driver and maybe a shaving kit on board so you don’t exceed the overall weight limits. Just to be on the safe side I won’t tow more than about 3000. Needless to say Toyota is 100% un-helpfull; too bad if the dealer doesn’t know or hides the necessary information at sales time, they just quote the tow number on the window sticker. You need to carefully read the owners manual before buying.

  • Jacob Murphree Oct 13, 2016

    I have a 2013 Toyota Highlander 2013 SE. The owner manual says that it can tow 5000 lbs but the vehicle did not come with the tow package. I just want to haul one motorcycle on a small trailer. Probably 1400 lbs. Will the vehicle be able to pull that weight without issue?

  • Carolyn Trimble Apr 18, 2017

    We bought a 2015 Highlander LE with no intention of pulling anything heavier than hauling bicycles in our 500 lb utility trailer. Got out of the horse biz many years ago, then recently acquired a 250 lb horse, and a 5 X 10′ Sundowner aluminum dual axle bumper pull stock trailer, 1200 lbs. I don’t drive over 55 mph since I don’t have a trailer package installed. Should I add an aftermarket transmission or oil cooler?

  • Kelly Jul 17, 2017

    I purchased a new 15 le plus fwd with hitch already installed. Does that mean it already has the towing package? I’m towing a 5×9 closed trailer with a few things from SCA to NAZ and my husband is stressed out about it. I think that’s mostly because he’s not here with me to check things out first, lol, but nonetheless, he’s worried.

  • Sharon Jul 27, 2017

    This excellent article addresses most of the concerns I am seeing in this thread, as well as addresses the inconsistent tow weight standards and claims used across the industry. Worth reading!

    https://rvingwithmarkpolk.com/2016/03/26/toyota-highlander-tow-rating-questioned/

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