10 Ways To Improve Your Toyota Highlanders Gas Mileage

The Toyota Highlander isn’t exactly known for having spectacular gas mileage.

If you own a Highlander or are considering buying one, then you might be wondering how you can get more bang for your buck when it comes to fuel economy.

In this article, we look at 10 ways you can improve the gas mileage on your Toyota Highlander.

1. Turn Off Your AC

Toyota Highlander Air Conditioning

According to the EPA, running the air conditioning in your Highlander can reduce your fuel economy by up to 25%, and if you have a Hybrid then you can expect an even larger reduction in fuel economy.

Here are some tips that will allow you to use your air conditioning less:

  • Park in the shade or use sun shades whenever possible so that your air con doesn’t have to work so hard to cool the car down when you first get in.
  • Additionally, tinted windows are great at reducing the heat inside your car, but please check that tinted windows are legal in your state before considering this.
  • Give your cabin a short blast of air by opening the windows at slow speeds. However, close them when you speed up (such as when you’re on Highways), as the extra drag the open windows create at higher speeds can actually be worse than the AC being on.
  • Don’t leave your Highlander running with the AC on. Your car will cool down faster when you’re driving.
  • Turn on Eco mode, which claims to reduce the power of your air conditioning.

2. Don’t Use Climate Control For Short Trips

Although the Toyota Highlander comes with climate control, many owners advise turning it off for short trips (under 2 miles) because the car won’t heat up significantly within that time and (if you have a Hybrid) your car will switch to EV mode sooner.

3. Avoid Carrying Things On The Roof

Remove roof boxes for better fuel economy
Remove roof boxes for better fuel economy

If possible, avoid carrying things on your roof when you don’t need to. Highlanders don’t have the best aerodynamics at the best of times, so adding things to the roof is only going to add to your vehicle’s drag. Consumer Reports tested a RAV4 with a roof box on top of it and found that it lost a whopping 13% of its normal MPG. Therefore, if you don’t absolutely need the roof rack for your trip, leave it at home.

4. Keep Your RPMs Low

Keep RPMs low for better fuel economy
Keep RPMs low for better fuel economy

The more you rev your Highlanders engine, the more work it has to do. Keeping RPMs low reduces friction in your engine and leads to better MPG. Ideally, you want to keep your RPMs between 1500 and 3000 RPM. To do this, keep an eye on your RPM gauge and always try to change gear before the dial reaches the 3,000 RPM mark. Also, try to maintain a consistent speed whether you are in the city or on the highway.

This video does an excellent job of explaining when you should shift gears:

5. Proper Tire Inflation

Underinflated tires increase the friction that your Highlander has with the road, meaning your engine has to work harder as a result. Always keep your Highlanders tires inflated at the recommended 36 PSI (front and back). If you are carrying a heavy load, then you should increase the tire pressure up to 40 PSI.

6. Remove Excess Weight

Remove excess weight for better fuel economy
Remove excess weight for better fuel economy

It’s probably not a big surprise to you that the more weight your Highlander holds, the more energy the engine needs to expend to get it moving. A study by the EPA reports that for every 100 pounds of weight your car carries, it will lose up to 1% of its MPG. It’s therefore good practice to regularly remove anything from your car that doesn’t need to be there.

7. Drive Slower

Driving faster means that that your Highlanders engine has to work harder to overcome the additional friction caused by the air outside. According to the EPA, gas mileage suffers considerably when you go faster than 50mph.

8. Clean The Throttle Body

If you notice that your Highlanders MPG is dropping sharply or your car is shaking slightly when idling, you might have a clogged-up throttle body. The throttle body collects carbon residue over time and prevents proper airflow to your engine, leading to a reduction in MPG. Your Highlanders throttle body should be cleaned after about 60,000 miles to maintain optimum fuel economy.

Here is an excellent video showing how you can clean the throttle body of your Highlander:

9. Change Your Oil

Changing your Toyota Highlanders oil regularly helps keep your engine lubricated properly and everything running efficiently. Most newer Highlanders use synthetic oil that should be replaced every 10,000 miles. However, if you own an older Highlander model, you may be using conventional oil that needs to be replaced every 5,000 miles. Check your manual to see which oil is recommended for your model.

10. Eco Mode (Maybe…)

The Toyota Highlanders eco mode supposedly improves MPG by optimizing power-hungry devices such as the air conditioning, throttle, and heated seats. This all sounds great, but a study by Consumer Reports found that eco mode made no real difference to the gas mileage of they tested cars in the city or on the motorway. That said, it won’t do any harm keeping it turned on.

Does Coasting Improve A Toyota Highlanders MPG?

Many Highlander owners swear by coasting to improve gas mileage. Coasting is when you hold the clutch down or shift to neutral while driving therefore disengaging the engine and allowing the roll on its own without using any power. There have been numerous studies done on this technique (check out the video below) and there is not a definitive answer. However, we don’t recommend using this technique as it reduces the control you have over your vehicle and can potentially cause damage to the breaks and clutch.


The amount of gas mileage that your Highlander achieves will ultimately vary a lot depending on the model year. Most people believe that older cars get worse over time, but the truth is that only poorly maintained cars get worse gas mileage over time. As long as you maintain your Highlander well, drive carefully, and use the tips in this article tips, you should be able to maximize the fuel economy of your Highlander.

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