P0303: Misfire Detected → Cylinder 3
P0303 should not be ignored, and can be a threat to the drivability the Toyota Highlander. The nice thing about P0303 is that it’s a cylinder specific trouble code, which makes diagnosing the problems simpler than P0300, which means that the cylinders are randomly misfiring.
Fixing P0303 should be considered a high priority. Unlike a lot of the OBDII codes, this code has to do directly with engine combustion. Driving with a misfire can damage the vehicles catalytic converter. The engine is also not firing all of the fuel, so raw fuel is also passing through cylinder 3 into the exhaust. Mileage may suffer as well when your Highlander has a P0303.
Toyota Highlander P0303 Definition
P0303 is a cylinder specific misfire code, which means that Cylinder 3 is misfiring and causing the code to appear. An important thing to understand when finding the location of cylinder 3 is that it’s going to be the 3’rd cylinder in the firing order of the vehicle, and not the 3’rd cylinder that you might see when looking at the engine.
Highlander P0303 OBDII Code Symptoms
- The P0303 trouble code will trigger the Highlander’s service engine soon light.
- The vehicle itself may begin to run rough. It depends on how serious the misfire is, and how many cylinder’s the engine has. More cylinders means that the problem won’t feel quite as pronounced.
- The vehicle may produce excess vibration, especially at lower RPM.
- Fuel mileage will suffer (often not drastically).
- You may smell raw gas coming from the tail pipe.
- The Highlander may backfire.
P0303 Trouble Code Diagnosis- Toyota Highlander
There are quite a few things that can cause the P0303 trouble code to trigger the Toyota Highlander . Here are the most common problems that will throw the code. They are presented somewhat in order from most to least likely to be causing the code:
- Bad Spark Plugs– Spark plugs are one of the most common causes of P0303. Take a look at the electrodes and see if they are in good shape. Most vehicles now come with iridium plugs that need changed very infrequently, if at all. That being said, the plugs are a great place to start. Here’s a great video on how to see if a spark plug is bad.
- Spark Plug Wires– On most modern engines, the plug wires are not nearly as long as they once were, but they can still go bad. Here’s how to tell if your plug wires are bad (video).
- Coil Packs– Coil packs rarely go bad, but when they do, they can certainly cause P0303 in your Toyota Highlander. Replacing a set can be very expensive. Here’s how to test them.
- Bad Fuel Injector– If you have a fuel injector that has gone bad, it won’t be able to properly atomize the fuel and you’ll get the P0303. Here’s a good video on how to diagnose an injector, it can be a little tricky. Unless you have some other clue as to what is going on with your engine, this is definitely not the place to start.
- Vacuum leak– If your Highlander has a vacuum leak, it can be very difficult for it to get the right air/fuel mixture. This will cause the cylinders to misfire and it’ll throw the P0303 if the leak is around that specific cylinder on the intake manifold. It’s easy (and kind of fun) to chase one down. Popular Mechanics: How to find a vacuum leak.
- Cam or Crank Sensors– This one is very unlikely, but it does happen. If the ECU is not getting the right signal from these sensors, the vehicles timing is not going to sync up and it’ll misfire.
- Low Compression– If you have a leaking head gasket, bent valve, cracked head, etc.. that would cause compression to not be as high as it should, you’re going to get P0303. You should also feel the vehicle is down on power as well.
Most Common P0303 Fixes
If you follow the items listed above you should be able to fix the P0303. Here’s how to go about it:
Inspect and test the parts of the ignition system around the cylinder to determine whether or not you need to replace the coil packs, plugs, or wires. Most of the time that’ll be it. You can always reset the trouble codes and swap the coil pack, wire, and plug from cylinder 3 to another.
If you get a different P030X code, you’ll know that one of those three components is bad. Go ahead and replace them or have them tested. It’s an easy, and cheap method of determining if your ignition components have gone bad.
After that you would want to test the fuel injection system. There are links above that’ll show you how to do that. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to do a compression test and see if you have a leak in that cylinder.
Is P0303 a Serious Concern?
P0303 is cause for concern and left unfixed can leave you stranded or make the vehicle virtually underivable. Fixing the problem causing the code to fire can save you time and money and keep your Toyota Highlander from breaking down. Quick action may also save your catalytic converter from going bad. Good luck diagnosing the issue. If there is anything that you would like to add please leave a comment below.