Toyota Highlander 2006 - repair or sell?

I’m faced with the age-old question about whether to continue repairing a car or sell it and buy something else. I would greatly appreciate you thoughts and opinions!

In April 2019 I purchased a used 2006 Toyota Highlander with 150k miles for $5500 and spent $800 in initial repairs. That summer I took a trip to the Sierras and, despite driving <2k miles since an oil change, the car ran out of oil and the engine was toast! My mechanic replaced the engine with a used one that appears to be running well ($2400, not burning oil, good compression). However, in December I had to replace the radiator ($350) and in June 2020, error codes popped up associated with the Catalytic Converter. My mechanic recommended starting with the air fuel sensor ($370) but that didn’t fix the problem.

Now, it looks like I need to replace the CC (~$1300) in order to pass smog in CA and renew my registration. If I fix the CC, I would have spent as much on repairs as I paid for the car 18 months ago…

What do you think? Should I repair the car and keep it in hopes that no more expensive parts break? Should I repair it and sell the car? Or should I just cut my losses and sell it, noting that it will need some work?

I’m currently a graduate student so I’m not eager to spend a lot of money on a new car. I don’t use my car to commute but I would like a vehicle that can be taken on trips (currently apprehensive to take my car out of the city). I’m worried that if I sell this and spend ~$10,000 on a different used car I could be just as likely to end up paying for expensive repairs.

Thanks in advance for your advice :slight_smile:

Your post tells me a few things. You don’t regularly check your oil, you didn’t have your used car inspected by a mechanic prior to purchasing. I would have the mechanic thoroughly inspect the car as if you were going to purchase it before I make any decision on repairing it anymore or cutting your losses. Something to consider, how many trips do you actually take? It might be worth selling the car and renting one when you need/want to take a trip


My recommendation is to get rid of it and get a new( not used) vehicle and simply budget for a monthly payment. Most dealers are currently offering low (or no) interest finance deals.

$1300 for a catalytic converter sounds like a dealer price. Go to a local muffler shop and get another quote. I’d expect something more in the $200-300 range. On a 2006 model anything, there’s no need to go to the dealer for anything except recalls.

As far as keeping vs. selling the vehicle…the question I always ask is does this vehicle meet your current (and anticipated future) needs? If it’s otherwise reliable, and especially if it’s paid for, you’re better off keeping the one you have. Sure you might could get something “new to you” for $10K…but that’s going to be another used vehicle. With a whole list of potentially expensive unknown problems. At least you know the history of your current vehicle.

Thanks for your prompt response! To address your concerns:

  1. I do regularly check my oil. When I purchased the vehicle I had an oil change done (synthetic) and had driven less than 2000 miles since when the engine completely ran oil. There was no leak, so the engine must have been burning considerably. Obviously I should have checked it but I didn’t expect to burn through 4+ quarts in so short a time.

  2. Before purchasing I had the vehicle inspected by a highly reviewed mechanic I found via this website. He mentioned that there appeared to be some “blow by” but that the car seemed to be a good deal. I spent $800 on all of the repairs he suggested after purchasing the car.

Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll definitely have him do an inspection before the CC repair! My mechanic has also suggested that I could rent for trips. However, I worry that the upfront cost of a rental will curb my willingness to take some trips (esp. impromptu trips).

I should mention that the estimated $1300 covers labor. I’m a little apprehensive about putting in a used part–in case it fails or isn’t sufficient to pass smog–but I will consider this.

Yes, my car is the devil I know as opposed to some other devil…

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I respectfully disagree that you checked the oil enough. Checking every 2,000 miles is asking for trouble. You should check at least every other gas fill up, 400 to 600 miles. In 2,000 miles you should have checked 3 or 4 times.


The estimate of $250-300 I mentioned for a non-dealer cat converter would be a brand new unit, including labor. Not a used part.

Either way, I think you can do far better than $1300.

Remember, this is for a California-compliant cat, they’re quite a bit more just for the part.

Before replacing the cat the mechanic should test the signal from the O2 sensor to make sure it’s not the O2 sensor causing the CEL. If he didn’t think of this, you should find a better mechanic.

5500.00 plus 800.00 is 6300.00 . Add in the 2400.00 used engine cost ,That would cover a lot of rental fees. Also it would let you lease a low priced new vehicle for most of a lease period .

Check the local dealers for new left over vehicles with listed prices. You will not get a Highlander cheap but do you really need something that size.

I am not all that fond of leasing but with all the stories about used vehicles having problems for people who have limited funds I view a lease as less mental strain.

Beat a dead horse.
You drove less then 2000 miles after oil change and motor died
Did you check oil level the day of Sierra trip?

I was a graduate student once. I was also in the same boat with a vehicle that needed transmission work. Let’s prioritize the situation:

  1. You need to finish your graduate work as soon as possible.

  2. If you really need to make trips, rent a vehicle.

  3. If you need a car, make the repair on your present vehicle and drive it conservatively. Otherwise, sell the vehicle and concentrate on finishing your degree.


This post enforces my belief that all cars should have an oil level gauge, plus a dipstick. Imagine how many engines would be saved!


I agree, but unless there was also a very large, very bright flashing light–and perhaps also an audible warning–the folks who never bother to look at either their instrument panel or the dipstick would still be… in the dark… so to speak. But, even that might not be sufficient.

When somebody believes that he checks his oil “regularly”, but also reveals that he hadn’t checked it for 2,000 miles, I have to wonder whether anything could save some people from destroying their engine.


Thanks for the input, however I’d appreciate if criticisms on this thread at least remained constructive.

The low oil light on my vehicle only came on in conjunction with a loss of power and horrible knocking. This could have been due to the fact that I was climbing a steep hill (Tioga Pass into Yosemite). Had there been an audible warning–it still would have been too late.

Perhaps it was ignorant of me to not check my oil every other trip to the gas station. (I obviously check the oil more frequently now). However, I don’t think you should continue pondering how more people don’t destroy their engines–plenty of vehicles don’t burn through 4 quarts of oil in <2000 miles. Or so I’m told.

It does not matter if they do or don’t . Even the owners manual will state to check oil level at each fill up.

Consider this, though, most companies consider “normal” consumption to be 1 quart per 1,000 miles (some luxury brands 1 quart per 800!), so in 2,000 miles that would still be 2 quarts down. I’m glad to see you say you’re checking it more often. When on a long trip, I always check all fluids and tire pressures before we leave and check the oil the first time I stop for gas too

@joshuaborin_170466 Let’s address your immediate concern. The original engine is past history. As I understand things, you have an engine in the car that runs satisfactorily. Your car needs a catalytic converter. You are a graduate student with limited funds. If you are like I was as a graduate student, you have limited time.
Now it takes time to shop for an acceptable used car. It takes money to buy a new or late model car. You want to minimize your car expense and minimize the time spent on your car situation.
You need to spend your money and time wisely. At this point, if you need a car, it seems to me your best bet is to have the catalytic converter replaced on your present car.
The situation would be different if you were in a full time job. Then shopping for and buying a newer car makes sense. I was in your situation once. I elected to have the transmission fixed on the Rambler I owned as opposed to spending my time and getting involved in payments for a newer car.

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The light that came on was not a low oil light, which some newer cars actually have. It was a low oil pressure light that comes on when the oil level is so low that there is not enough oil in the engine to keep the oil pump primed. On a fairly new to you car you should always check the oil on a long trio or in the mountains because high speeds and steep hills put more strain on the engine and the vacuum created when descending steep hills can suck a lot of oil past worn rings.

I am sorry you had a bad experience, but it is in the past and can’t be fixed. Learn from it and it won’t happen again.

I would be inclined to keep the car. The money you have spent on the car is already lost. This car will likely cost you less than replacing it and no grad student is flush with money unless it is someone else’s’ money. I would shop at muffler shops for a cheaper cat that is CARB compliant.

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How long till your next emissions test? ors are every 3 years, and the light went on after the last test, so I got almost 3 years. Small evap leak for me, bu it was an $1800 repair as they had to pull the tank etc. I was thinking time for a new vehicle, and 4 months before decision time got rear ended. Are you having driveability issues? we have seen many times on this board there is not a code for a catalytic converter, could be an o2 sensor or something. Maybe it will self heal with the new engine. Get a 2nd opinion and good luck to ou!