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.