Toyota Highlander Towing Capacity For Campers (2021)

Just because you don’t have a truck doesn’t mean you can’t get a trailer to tow along on your adventures. The truth is there are a variety of SUVs out there that can get the job done.

And whether you’re considering an SUV or already have one, the Toyota Highlander is an excellent choice for towing. But what is the Toyota Highlander towing capacity, and is it a good choice for towing trailers and/or toy haulers?

More importantly, what specific travel trailers can you tow with the Toyota Highlander, and how does it stack up against the competition? We’ll break down all that and more here.

Can a Toyota Highlander Tow 5,000 Pounds?

Every non-hybrid Toyota Highlander has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. While this means that yes, the Highlander can tow 5,000 pounds, this is only under ideal conditions.

When you introduce higher altitudes, weight variances, and less than ideal road conditions, you shouldn’t hook up a full 5,000 pounds to a Toyota Highlander.

So, yes, the Toyota Highlander can tow 5,000 pounds but you shouldn’t tow 5,000 pounds.

How Much Will a Toyota Highlander Tow?

While every non-hybrid 2021 Toyota Highlander has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, every hybrid Toyota Highlander has a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

Make sure you account for different variances in your specific area and that you double-check your specific models towing capacity before towing anything.

Furthermore, you’ll need a Toyota Highlander with the equipped towing package to tow on the go. Otherwise, you’ll need to make several upgrades to reach this towing capacity.

Finding Your Vehicle’s Towing Capacity

If you’re trying to find your specific vehicle’s towing capacity, there are a few different ways you can track it down.

The easiest way is to look in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Make sure that when you’re looking through the owner’s manual you’re using your specific models’ information. Many manufacturers combine all of the same trim packages into a single owner’s manual, so you’ll need to find your particular package to get accurate information.

If you can’t find your owner’s manual, you can try to track it down online, or you can track down the sticker on the door jamb of your vehicle. This is the same sticker that has your vehicle’s VIN, and it usually will have your vehicle’s towing capacity too.

Toyota Highlander Towing Capacity – Is Toyota Highlander Good for Towing?

While the Toyota Highlander isn’t a phenomenal option for towing compared to full-sized trucks, it is an excellent option for a midsize SUV.

Even compared to the smaller base model trucks from Toyota, the Toyota Highlander’s towing capacity of 5,000 pounds stands out. It’s not a great choice if you’re looking to move or haul heavier equipment or trailers, but it’s not a bad choice either.

Which Toyota Highlander Has the Highest Towing Capacity?

If you’re looking to maximize your towing capacity with a Toyota Highlander, there is only one thing you need to look at – whether or not it has a hybrid engine. The hybrid engines might increase your fuel economy, but the tradeoff is a less powerful engine with a lower towing capacity.

All non-hybrid Toyota Highlanders with the equipped towing package have a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

From there, hybrid Toyota Highlanders equipped with towing packages have a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

Toyota Highlander Models

The Toyota Highlander offers six different models to choose from. While we’re not going to cover all of them here, we’ll break down a few of the critical differences that you should keep an eye out for when picking your Toyota Highlander.

The Engine

The most important thing you need to look into when purchasing the Toyota Highlander is the engine. The Toyota Highlander comes with two different engine options, a 3.5L V6 gasoline engine and a 2.5L hybrid engine.

While the hybrid engine costs a little more and is technically considered an upgrade, it might not be an upgrade that you want.

For starters, the towing capacity is 1,500 pounds less, but the performance drawbacks go further than that. The V6 engine produces 295 horsepower, while the hybrid engine only produces 243 horsepower. Finally, the hybrid produces far less torque.

The V6 gasoline gets 263 lb-ft of torque compared to the 175 lb-ft of torque that the hybrid engine produces.

Of course, if you’re getting the hybrid engine, power isn’t your primary concern; fuel economy is. That’s an area in which the Toyota Highlander excels.

While the gas engines only get a combined 24/23 miles per gallon, the hybrid engine ups that number to an impressive 35/36 miles per gallon. In the end, the choice is yours – more power or more fuel efficiency?

The Drivetrain

There are two different drivetrains you can choose from with the Toyota Highlander, and both options are available for the hybrid and gasoline engine.

They offer both a front-wheel-drive system and an all-wheel-drive system. While the all-wheel-drive system will give you far more traction in less-than-ideal conditions, the tradeoff is that it costs a little more, and you get slightly worse fuel efficiency (a whopping 1 mile per gallon difference).

If you’re looking at towing with your Toyota Highlander, the drivetrain technically won’t affect your overall towing capacity, but it will make it a lot easier to get things moving if you head off the pavement.

Drive Modes

The Toyota Highlander offers four different drive mode models. First, they have an option for “Snow Mode + Drive Mode Select (ECO, Normal, Sport).” This gives you the ability to shift power delivery around a bit for different driving conditions.

From there, they offer an option for “Snow Mode + Drive Mode Select (ECO, Normal, Sport) + Multi-Terrain Select (Mud/Sand, Rock/Dirt, Normal).” This model comes with everything the previous mode offers, plus the ability to select road conditions that can become useful if you’re driving off-road.

Another option they offer is “Trail Mode.” This mode gives their all-wheel-drive options a bit better traction for less-than-ideal conditions.

Finally, they have an option that doesn’t include any of these features. You get in and drive without the ability to adapt the power delivery to road conditions.

What Travel Trailers Can You Tow With a Toyota Highlander?

If you have a Hybrid Toyota Highlander, we don’t recommend towing a travel trailer. Once you account for the necessary variances and gear weight, there simply aren’t any good options for you to tow.

However, if you have the non-hybrid Highlander with the equipped tow packages, there are some great travel trailers that weigh in under 4,000 pounds that you can haul.

Just make sure that the final GVWR is under 5,000 pounds and that you take local conditions into account before you hook anything up!

How Do I Increase the Towing Capacity of My Toyota Highlander?

Simply put, you don’t. While there are tons of backyard mechanics out there that will tell you how to do it, the truth is it’s just not possible to beef up every area that you need to tow safely.

If you don’t believe us, we’ll break down everything you need to know about what goes into your vehicle’s towing capacity.

The Engine/Transmission

The first thing you need to take into consideration is your engine’s power output. The Toyota Highlander’s engine only produces so much horsepower, which means you’ll need to produce more to tow more.

While there are ways to do this, keep reading before you bolt on a new turbo to juice up your ride.

From there, you need to consider your transmission gear ratios. This is going to be your biggest hiccup. You can’t simply “upgrade” the gear ratios. In fact, even if you replace the entire transmission with a new one with higher gear ratios, you still won’t be able to run it.

That’s because Toyota tunes the Highlander’s Engine Control Module (ECM) and Transmission Control Module (TCM) to the current gear ratios. As soon as you start adjusting those, everything else gets thrown out of whack.

Unless you have access to their proprietary technology and an engineering background to redesign the engine, it simply isn’t going to happen.

The Brakes

The ability to speed up is important, but so is the ability to slow down. Your Toyota Highlander comes with brakes that can slow down your vehicle up to the total towing capacity. If you’re going to be increasing the towing capacity, you need to increase the size of the brakes too.

This usually means new hubs, rotors, and pads. It’s possible, but it’s not cheap.

The Tires

Your Toyota Highlander comes with tires that can handle a specific amount of weight. If you start adding more weight to your vehicle, you need to make sure the tires can handle it. If they can’t, you need to upgrade them.

Furthermore, if you’re significantly upping your towing capacity, you should probably increase the size too, so you get more traction.

The Hitch

Even if you get the tow package for your Toyota Highlander, the hitch only comes rated to a specific weight. If you’re looking to upgrade your tow capacity, you’ll need to get a hitch that can handle the extra weight.

You should also consider a weight distributing hitch, so you’re not putting too much weight on the back of your Highlander.

What Happens If You Overload Your Vehicle?

While it might be tempting to overload your vehicle – especially if it’s not that much of a weight difference and you’re only heading a short distance down the road – it simply isn’t worth it.

You might be able to get away with it the first time, or even the second, but eventually, it’s going to catch up with you.

There are multiple things that can happen if you overload your vehicle. For starters, it’s going to take longer for you to speed up and stop while you’re driving. Furthermore, your vehicle’s top speed is going to be reduced.

Even if you’re alright with the performance limitations, and you shouldn’t be, you’re putting a lot of extra stress on your vehicle that can lead to damage. The engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, driveline, and various other components are going to have excess wear on them as you drive.

This might be fine the first time you drive, or they might fail as soon as you hit the road.

But truthfully, your vehicle should be the least of your concerns if you’re overloading your vehicle. That’s because if you get into an accident, you can be charged with negligence, even if you weren’t at fault in the accident.

Furthermore, if you get into an accident and somebody gets injured or killed, you’re open to both civil and criminal charges. Someone could sue you for millions of dollars, and you could face prison time. Driving with an overloaded vehicle simply isn’t worth the risk.

Comparing the Toyota Highlander

While the Toyota Highlander does have its limitations, how does it stack up against its competition regarding its towing capacity? We’ll break down some of the top competitors here.

Make/Model (2021 Model Year) Maximum Towing Capacity
Toyota Highlander 5,000-pounds
Ford Explorer 5,600-pounds
Ford Edge 3,500-pounds
Ford Bronco 2,205-pounds
Chevrolet Traverse 5,000-pounds
Chevrolet Equinox 1,500-pounds
Dodge Journey 1,000-pounds
Dodge Durango 8,700-pounds
Jeep Cherokee 2,000-pounds
Jeep Grand Cherokee 7,200-pounds
Mazda CX9 3,500-pounds
Nissan Rogue 1,350-pounds
Nissan Pathfinder 6,000-pounds

When you look at the numbers, you find that the Toyota Highlander is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to towing capacity. It’s not the most powerful midsize SUV out there, but it’s far from the weakest either.

Factors That Affect Your Towing Capacity

There are a variety of different factors that can limit your vehicle’s towing capacity. Before you hook up any trailers, make sure to consider the following conditions, so you don’t accidentally overload your vehicle.

Altitude

Altitude has a significant impact on gasoline engines, and therefore significantly reduces your overall towing capacity.

For every 1,000 feet of elevation, a gasoline engine loses 4% of its power. Because of this, you should reduce your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity by 2% for every 1,000 feet of elevation.

So, for a non-hybrid Toyota Highlander at 10,000 feet, the actual towing capacity should be 4,000 pounds instead of the rated 5,000 pounds.

Two percent might not sound like much, but it certainly adds up if you’re traveling to higher elevations.

Tires

While your Toyota Highlander comes with adequate tires from the factory, when you go to replace them, you need to make sure the new load capacity matches. Otherwise, you might have a blowout while you’re driving.

Brakes

Like your tires, the brakes on your Toyota Highlander come from the factory capable of handling everything you throw at it. But when you replace your brake pads or rotors, you need to make sure that you’re replacing them with high-quality parts.

Just as importantly, you need to make sure you’re doing upgrades correctly. This means resurfacing the rotors if you aren’t replacing them and properly mating the pads to the rotors.

While these things might not make a huge difference, those small differences get magnified when you’re towing heavy trailers.

The Final Pull

Just because you don’t have a truck doesn’t mean you can’t tow things. If you have the non-hybrid Toyota Highlander, that’s especially true since the Toyota Highlander towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

While this isn’t large enough to tow anything out there, it’s more than enough for a smaller travel trailer or a toy hauler.

Don’t let an SUV keep you from the camping life. Instead, find a top-notch option that works for your vehicle and start your next adventure!

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