When Should I Change the Oil in My Toyota Highlander?

Got a new Toyota Highlander? Awesome. Have you made it through the engine break-in period? Great. In that case, you may be starting to wonder about when you should change your oil. As it turns out, the timing of oil changes — especially the first one — can be a bit of a hot button issue.

On the one hand, some will say that you should change the oil soon after the break-in period. This will remove any debris, metal shavings, etc. that might have lingered from the assembly process or accumulated during those early miles, reducing the likelihood of engine damage.

Related: Want to change your own oil? Details here.

Others will argue that the factory oil has special properties, or at least lubricants left over from the manufacturing process, and that you shouldn’t change it out too soon. Indeed, if you pull the trigger too quickly, you may forego the benefit of this “special” oil. So who’s right?

Going by the book

Well, when it comes to automotive maintenance, I’ve always been a “by the book” kind of guy. Said another way, I tend to follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule rather than trying to outsmart the guys who built the car. So what does Toyota recommend?

Note: Some service departments tack extra services onto the “recommended” maintenance schedule. It’s always best to check your owner’s manual to be sure they’re not ripping you off.

Well, as it turns out, Toyota says that you should take your Highlander in for “scheduled maintenance” every 5,000 miles (or 6 months). But “scheduled maintenance” doesn’t necessarily involve an oil and filter change.

Indeed, if you review the maintenance schedule, you will see that the initial 5k (or 6 month) service includes mundane tasks such as checking the installation of the driver’s side floor mat, inspection of fluid levels and wiper blades, and visual inspection of the brakes. Oh, and a tire rotation.

The 10,000 mile (or 12 month) service, on the other hand, includes all of the above plus an oil and filter change. And so it goes. Under normal operating conditions, you’re supposed to have it serviced every 5k miles/6 months, but you’re only supposed to change the oil/filter every 10k miles/12 months.

Note: This assumes that you’re using synthetic (0W-20) oil. If you didn’t use 0W-20 at a particular change, then you’re supposed to swap out both the oil and filter at the next 5k interval.

Keep in mind that your initial 2 years/25k miles of ToyotaCare maintenance follows this schedule. Thus, you’ll get up to five free visits but only two oil/filter changes (at 10k & 20k miles or 1 & 2 years). You are, of course, free to have your oil changed more often, but you’ll have to pay for it.

Special operating conditions

It’s also worth noting that I used the word “normal” above when referring to operating conditions. The maintenance guide has alternate instructions if you’ve subjected your Highlander to “special” operating conditions.

These conditions include:

  • driving on dirt or dusty roads,
  • towing, using a car top carrier, or driving with a heavy vehicle load,
  • making repeated trips of < 5 miles in below-freezing weather, and/or
  • extensive idling and/or low speed driving for long distances (e.g., police cars, taxis, or delivery vehicles)

In those cases, you should accelerate your oil/filter change schedule to be every 5k miles or 6 months, whichever comes first. There are some other (additional) maintenance items to be dealt with under these conditions, but that’s a topic for another day.

My plan of action

As for me, I’ll likely split the difference and do an extra (initial) change at 5k just to be on the safe side. And from that point forward, I’ll probably fall back to the normal maintenance schedule with oil changes at 10k, 20k, etc.

What about you? Do you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations? If not, do you err on the safe side and change your oil more frequently than recommended? Or do you live on the edge and change it less often?

I wouldn’t recommend the latter, but if changing it more frequently helps you sleep better at night then you should feel free to do so. I won’t judge you. I promise. 🙂

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4 comments… add one
  • Dante Aug 27, 2014

    In addition to a 2014 Highlander, we have a 2008 BMW 535. BMW’s scheduled oil change is every 15k miles due to the capacity (7 qts) and the additives in the oil they specify. However, independent BMW mechanics have seen significant wear in engines that have followed this schedule and are now well out of the manufactures warranty. They suggest changing the oil every 5k to properly protect against wear and I plan to do the same with our Toyota. It is relatively cheap insurance to protect a significant investment.

  • George Dec 2, 2015

    I have been told that even synthetic oil becomes acidic after 6 months of use. So perhaps mileage should not be the only criteria.

  • Bruce May 22, 2016

    I have a 2012 Highlander Hybrid 60,000 miles and change myself at 7000 miles. No problems. Also have 2006 Prius with 150,000 and change it at the same 7,000 . again no problems. Use only the best full synthetic oil and fram filters. Neither vehicle has ever needed oil added between changes nor have ever leaked a drop on the garage floor.

  • Jim Jul 31, 2016

    I would not use the 10k frequency change interval unless I had an oil analysis performed at 7500 miles. Then you would know how your engine was being protected up to that point and if you could have continued to run it to the 10k mark. The synthetic oil Toyota dealers use and those purchased at local outlets will always be Group 3 base oil products which are still manufactured from crude oil that has been highly refined without using solvents in the de-waxing process. Convential oils are made with Group 2 base oils using the solvent de-waxing process. I would be very comfortable going 10k intervals with premium synthetics made with Group 4 base oils (PAO’s) since they are truly synthetic oils. Extended drain Group 3 oils like Mobil 1 boost the additive package to help keep the oil in grade during extended drain intervals. Group 4 oils have a well balanced additive package since they don’t degrade at the same rate. A multi-viscosity oil must remain in grade and not become acidic for the duration it is in an engine. When the viscosity does change the result is the oil becomes thicker when cold and thinner when hot thus not providing the desired engine protection.

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