The Toyota 4Runner is a popular SUV that has won people’s hearts since the 80s. It is one of the best-selling SUVs in the Toyotas lineup. It is proven to be well capable of tackling the beaten path throughout the past few decades. Before buying a 4Runner, you should know which years to avoid and which is the best year 4Runner.
The Toyota 4Runner falls into the category of a sports utility vehicle. Unlike many other SUVs manufactured to have a bit of everything, and be an allrounder, this is primarily built for those who love to drive where there are no roads. It can handle any rugged terrain with ease.
The 4Runner, like any other Toyota, is built to last. This SUV is stylish and good looking some might even say luxurious, but on the inside, it is tough and dependable as well. With these SUVs seemingly lasting forever, you do not have to search for long until you find a well-used 4Runner.
Before buying any vehicle, especially a used one, you should do the research behind it. You should know exactly what you are getting for the price you pay. It is no different for the 4Runner. While most of its models are good and dependable, there are some model years to cross off your list, and then there are some which are just amazing.
History Of The Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner first came out in 1984. The Toyota 4Runner was first produced as an updated Toyota Hilux pickup. It was more of a modified pickup than an SUV. After almost 40 years and 5 generations today the Toyota 4Runner is one of the biggest sellers for the automotive giant, Toyota.
Initially, the Toyota 4Runner was known as the Toyota Trekker. The ride was made by Toyota by collaborating with Winnebago. When Toyota started to branch out from their partners, that resulted in the Toyota 4Runner.
The first generation of the SUV started in May 1984. It was introduced as a 2 door 4WD SUV, with a fiberglass shell over the back. This fiberglass shell was made to be removable. The SUV was fitted with an inline 4-cylinder 2.4L engine. It was basically the Toyota pickup with a fiberglass camper shell over the back. An optional upgrade for the SUV provided a couple of back seats.
They started dropping a lot of upgrades as the years progressed. In 1985, the original engine was removed and replaced with a fuel-injected version. Later in 1986, the transmission was replaced. The rear had the same leaf spring, while the front had an independent suspension. While other SUVs offered bigger engines, the 4Runner kept on upgrading the existing engine until 1988. In 1988, the 4Runner introduced its first 3L V6.
If you are planning on buying a 4Runner, and you think the first generation is too old, you could go for a 2nd generation SUV. The 2nd generation started in 1989 and lasted up to 1995. For someone who is looking for an SUV to go off-road, but doesn’t want to damage a new one, this might be a good time period for you.
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The 4 cylinder engine from the first generation continued, but this time with a 6 cylinder option from the start. The SUV was available in both manual and automatic. During this time period, 4 door SUVs were common. 2 door SUVs were still in production, but not a lot was produced. Today finding a 4 door is much easier than finding a 2 door 4Runner.
This time around the removable fiberglass shell was not included in the SUV. This was the generation in which power steering became a standard option. Leather trim was also available. By 1994 Toyota gave the interior of the 4Runner a bit more flair with high-end technology available at that time.
The 3rd generation saw some major upgrades, that totally changed the 4Runner. In the previous years, the SUV shared a chassis with a pickup. In the 3rd generation, it got its own chassis along with a completely new body style. This time, the 4Runner was much more comfortable and safe, to cater to the needs of the customer base at the time.
Toyota went back to the RWD for the 4Runner. The standard engine was replaced with a much more powerful 2.7L 4 cylinder engine. The 3.4L 6 cylinder engine option was also offered. Like the previous generation, you had the ability to choose between an automatic and manual transmission. Now, only the 4 door option was available. The 2 door option was completely taken out.
By this time, Toyota was leading the pack with its reliability. The 4Runner had to step up and it did. Even today the 3rd gen motor is sought after for its toughness. Other than the timing belt, there weren’t a lot of problems with the engine.
The 3rd gen started out in 1995 and lasted until 2002.
As the 3rd gen concluded in 2002, we saw the 4th generation of 4Runners immerging. This was the first leap that the SUV took into the 21st century. A lot of updates happened compared to the previous generation. They totally rebuilt the chassis along with the body.
If you want an SUV that has the capability to go off-road and still have a touch of class, this is it. With time people wanted more power. The 4Runner gave exactly what they asked for. The 4 cylinder engine was deleted from the SUV. Now the base engine was a powerful 4L V6. If you wanted more power, you had the chance to choose a 4.8L V8.
The manual 4Runner was also decommissioned. Now you only had the choice to get an automatic. This was definitely a move that the fans of the 4Runner didn’t want. The generation lasted for 7 years.
As of now, this is the latest generation of 4Runners. If you want an SUV that is brand new or slightly used but still wants it to be able to go off-road, you might want to look at the 5th generation.
With the new generation, the 4.8L V8 was lost and only the 4L V6 remained. A 2.7L 4 cylinder automatic was also available. The 2.7l engine was later decommissioned due to unpopularity.
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Toyota 4Runner Problems
The Toyota 4Runner has earned top-of-the-line reliability ratings in the past few years. Even the newer ones have phenomenal predicted reliability scores. No doubt the 4Runner is one of the most reliable vehicles in the market right now. It is great for off-roading and a newer one can very well be your daily driver well.
RepairPal has given the 4Runner a score of 4 out of 5, this ranks the SUV at 9th out of the 26 in the list. Even JD power gave it a good score. According to them, the SUV scored 82 out of 100. It is ranked 4th in its list of mid-sized SUVs. Even though the Toyota is considered very reliable, that doesn’t mean that there are no problems associated with the vehicle. Just like any other vehicle, the 4Runner has a few common problems associated with it.
1. Faulty Brakes
Brakes are just as important for a vehicle as any other component. Stopping a vehicle is just as important as driving it. Therefore whenever there is an issue with the brakes, it could be serious.
The Toyota 4Runner has a problem where the brakes are known to lock up on one side, temporarily. The most recent year to succumb to this issue was the 2017 model. The same problem was also reported in previous years like 2015 and 2014.
Brake problems were also seen in some models from the 4th generation. Complaints were more abundant in 2003 to 2005 models. Most of these complaints were regarding the front and rear brake caliper warping and premature wear in the brake master cylinder and the front brake rotor.
2. Automatic Transmission Failure
The transmission is one of the main components of the car. When it fails, it could end up costing thousands upon thousands of dollars.
The issue with the transmission of the 4Runner prevailed for quite a long time. Ever since the automatic transmissions were introduced back in 1990 this was a problem in the Toyota SUV. This is a problem is seen even in the 2016 model.
According to reviews from the owners, the automatic transmission won’t shift into overdrive or during start-up, when the transmission is faulty. This results in rough shifting and occasionally loss of power.
The problem could start anywhere between 25,000 to 150,000 miles. On most occasions, the cause was the shift solenoid. Thankfully, unlike many transmission problems, this is not gonna cost you a fortune. Shift solenoid replacements often cost between $100 – $350.
3. Airbag Failure
The Toyota 4Runner takes a lot of pride in being one of the safest SUVs on the streets. It has a long way from being a pickup and the safety features that came with the upgrades are considered second to none. So whenever there is a fault regarding safety, Toyota takes it seriously.
This was the case seen in the 2015 4Runner. The airbag in the front dash was known to malfunction. The inflators did not work during an impact, so the airbags did not get inflated. Sometimes, these inflators cause the airbag to explode.
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Due to this issue, Toyota recalled 900,000 vehicles. During the recall, this issue was taken care of, so there is not a lot to worry about the safety of the SUV if the issue has been taken care of. If you are searching for a 2015 4Runner, make sure the problem has been sorted out.
4. Body Problems
Body and paint issues are commonly seen in 4th generation 4Runners. The issue is more common as time progresses. They originate after about 150,000 miles. According to many uses, was present in the body, frame, and suspension when inspected properly. The 2003 4Runner suffered a lot due to this issue.
Something worse was seen in the 2005 model. In this mode, the underside of the SUV was more prone to corrosion. This made it unsafe to drive according to most users. Due to the sheer number of complaints, Toyota issued a recall and solved the problem. If you were to pay to repair these out of your own purse, it could easily cost more than $2000.
5. Melted Dashboard
The 2004 4Runner, had a lot of complaints due to a melting dashboard. The 4Runner is often criticized for its cheap-looking plastic interior. Here it really caused a scene. The dashboard was known to melt, especially if it is parked under the direct rays of the sun. It initially melts and forms a sticky substance. Later it forms a shiny layer over the dash.
Apart from it being a sore sight, melted dashboards prove to cause a few more issues. When the dashboard melts, it could affect the airbag. It might not inflate during a collision. Some drivers also complained that the melting plastic sends an intense glare, that temporarily blinds them. Again due to the number of complaints, Toyota recalled the model and reimbursed the owners who had already paid for repairs.
6. Solenoid Corrosion
Another issue that the 4Runner suffered due to corrosion comes in the form of the solenoid. This was a common problem seen in 3rd and 4th generation 4Runners. A corroded solenoid could cause the SUV to suddenly stop if it comes in contact. It could also be the reason why the SUV doesn’t start at all.
According to the reports, owners had an issue while starting the vehicle due to this corroded solenoid. While they turned the key in the ignition, it emitted ticking sounds but did not start. A starter solenoid replacement is the only solution and it could cost $50 to $200.
7. Faulty Mass Airflow Sensor
This was a problem that started out in the 3rd generation. SUVs from 1996 to 2002 have had these problems. Recently the 2012 model also had complaints due to this exact issue.
When a mass airflow sensor fails, the engine does not work efficiently, it causes random cylinder misfires, hesitation, poor acceleration, buckling, stalling, and overall poor engine performance. When these symptoms are seen in 4Runner, they could be tracked down to the mass airflow sensor.
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Replacing or repairing the sensor was among the possible solutions for this issue. When it comes down to labor costs, you could be looking at a bill of up to $250 in the end.
While there are more than half a dozen problems regarding the 4Runner, it is to be expected from an SUV that has a history of almost 40 years. Unlike many other vehicles, these issues do not cost a lot to fix. Toyota took responsibility and solved a few of these issues as well.
Other than the above-mentioned, there are not a lot of problems regarding this vehicle. As long as you are educated in the potential problems of the Toyota 4Runner, buying one comes with little risk.
Best Year 4Runner
When looking at an SUV that has been for around 40 years, there are a lot of years to consider as best year 4Runner. This is especially true with this particular SUV. If you look at the past 10 or even 20 years, the reliability scores for the 4Runner have been exceptional.
When you are looking to buy a 4Runner, it is a good idea to go for something from the 21st century. It is not that the older generations have flaws in them, it is just they do not have specific features the new generations have. This includes safety systems, technology, and even performance. But buying an old 4Runner and modifying it is also a great option. If you are planning on owning a stock 4Runner, you should choose a newer one.
Even if we narrow the search for the best 4Runner down to the last 20 years, there are still a lot of good options out there. When you take a good look at the data gathered in the past 2 decades, there are a few models that stand out from the rest. That leads us to,
Best 4Runner Models
If you are looking to buy a 4Runner which is cheap and customizable to take over the great outdoors, a 3rd generation 4Runner might be made for you. Other than the corroding body, there aren’t many issues to complain about the 3rd gen. They are very reliable. For the price of buying a newer version, for the same amount of money you can buy a 3rd gen Runner and repair the body if needed, and beef up the engine as you require.
On the other hand, if you want a newer 4Runner that has a touch of class, and can be used as a daily driver there are a few options for you. 2009 to 2013 models have very good reviews. In general, almost all models have really good reviews, but the SUVs that came out of the above years stand out.
if you are looking to buy a brand new 4Runner, and have a big budget, you may as well go for one of the latest 4Runners. 2017 and newer 4Runners are among the best. If you have enough money to spend you might as well buy one of the brand new ones.
Due to their reliability, 4Runners are well sought after even when they are used. This is one of the reasons that even used 4Runners don’t come cheap. And if you buy one brand new, unlike many other vehicles, you won’t lose a huge chunk of its value in a few years. So in this case, buying a brand new 4Runner is not a bad idea.
4Runner Years To Avoid
While all most all the model years of the 4Runner are considered good, there are some years of the Runner that you might want to stay away from.
2003 to 2005 Runners had one particular problem that they could never outrun. This was the body corroding. Rust is never a good thing for a vehicle. Whenever rust is associated, it makes a drive much dangerous. This was the exact issue that makes the above models one of the worst 4Runners ever. This is one of the costliest repairs associated with this SUV as well. Repairing a rusted body can cost over $2000.
In the last decade, the model that had a lot of backlashes was the 2015 4Runner. Here the problem was the infotainment system. The infotainment was known to crash, freeze, and occasionally restart out of nowhere. Even though this might not sound like a substantial issue, given the record that the Toyota 4Runner has this is one of the biggest problems they have ever faced.
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Buying a first-generation Runner is also not the best idea. This is because they are not exactly SUVs. It might have the skin of an SUV but the skeleton is a pickup. Another reason to avoid the first generation is that they lack power. The 2nd generation is when the 4Runner got some real power, so buying a first-gen might not be the best idea. After all, the 1st gen is just too old to use as a daily driver.
Other than these few years that are mentioned, there are not a lot of complaints about this vehicle.
Verdict – Best Year 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner has been in the market for a really long time. If you want an SUV that is capable of going through the harshest terrains and still be capable of being your daily driver, look no further, the 4Runner was built just for you.
It is hard to find the best year for the 4Runner, as almost every single model they ever build seems to excel in reliability. And even when a problem pops up in a model, Toyota issues a recall and solves it.
If you want to pick the best the year 2009 to 2013 would be the best years and would be best for your wallet. If you are in the market searching for a 4Runner and have a bigger budget, you might as well buy a 2017 or newer Toyota 4Runner.
When it comes years you need to avoid, they are 2003, 2004, and 2005. First-generation 4Runners are also considered obsolete at this time period. Overall, when a specific model like 2015 is considered the worst because the infotainment system freezes, you know that the reliability of the rest is second to none.