COAL: 2004 Toyota Highlander – My First Car


(First posted 8/20/2013)   I’ve always been a car guy. From naming everything on the road, going to auto shows, collecting car models and brochures, and retaining every bit of information I read about them, I’m into anything and everything cars. So naturally, the day I finally obtained my driver’s license (and I’m over-stressing the finally, as I went to get it within days of the earliest date the state of Massachusetts would allow me to do so) was one of the greatest days of my life. Although technically carless for the first several months following that proud day in November 2009, my mom promised me a car of my own soon, and I was already referring to her Toyota Highlander as mine.


In March of 2010, that day finally came. Having come to the conclusion that it would be best to pass on the well-running and reliable Highlander to me, my mom made her dream of owning a BMW a reality, and purchased a CPO ’07 BMW X3. Although I would have liked to pick out my own first car, I was more than content with the Highlander. It was the car I had learned to drive in, and it was as familiar to me as the track at my high school.


And what a familiar car it was. My mom purchased her Millennium Silver 2004 Toyota Highlander Limited on December 27, 2003, her birthday, coincidently. Fed up with her problematic ’99 Jeep Grand Cherokee, she returned to the trusted arms of Toyota (she previously owned 2 Camrys). At that point, it was the most expensive car she ever bought. At the time she wouldn’t tell me how much (Mom didn’t like to talk about money when I was a kid), but when I was cleaning it out last fall, I came across the window sticker. Close to $40K (or $50K in today’s money) – that’s a pretty expensive Toyota.


Needless to say, it was “loaded”. Heated leather seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, premium JBL sound system, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, automatic climate control, rear DVD entertainment system, abundance of brushed aluminum and fake (but quite attractive) wood trim, moonroof, rear spoiler, all-wheel drive, and alloy wheels that looked like they came off a Lexus LS.


The Highlander was given a mild facelift for ’04, but the biggest improvements were under the hood. The 3.0L V6 in Limited models was replaced with a larger 3.3L, marginally increasing horsepower and upping torque by a more substantial amount. A new 5-speed automatic was paired with this engine, making fairly quick off the starting line for an SUV. I can attest that I never had a problem beating the car next to me to cruising speed.


Despite being a “mom car”, the Highlander’s styling was tough enough that I never felt like I was driving a hand-me-down minivan. Its family-car image was an appreciated attribute when it came to speeding. Additionally, it was better than most of my friends’ cars and with three rows, could carry many of them. This feature often made me the “designated driver”, in every sense.


The Highlander was also excellent in the snow. So excellent that my mom would still drive it over her Bimmer whenever there were more than a few inches on the ground. As much as BMW would like you to think, their cars aren’t designed for non-Autobahn conditions. Performance tires and a lack of low gears just don’t work in the snow. Having the Highlander was especially comforting in the winter of 2010-2011, when Boston received some 81 inches of powder.


My Toyota Highlander was the definition of “Car of a Lifetime”. I can’t even imagine how many hours of my life were spent riding in and then behind the wheel of this vehicle. I grew up around this car, and it was one of the most stable things in my life for the 9 years it was in my family. It was really like an old friend, always there for me. For a number of reasons, 2011 proved to be the rockiest year of my life. Through it all, my Toyota was there for me, offering up a relieving drive whenever I needed.


But all good things must come to an end. By the summer of 2012, the Highlander was approaching 9 years old, had passed the 100,000 mile mark, and was really showing its wear. There’s no doubt I could’ve kept it for longer, but I was ready for something different, something that I picked out myself. When that opportunity presented itself, I ran with it. In September of 2012, I traded my dependable 1st car in for my current car, a 2010 Acura TSX. The story of my Acura, and the reasons I chose it, is for another day though.