Discover Toyota 4Runner Years to Avoid and Worst Reliability Problems

Patrick Oziegbe
Updated On:

Are you ready to hit the off-road trails with a used Midsize SUV and you desire a pre owned Toyota 4Runner?

Before you rev up that engine, it’s important to know which model years might leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t let a faulty SUV ruin your adventure. In this guide, we’ll reveal the Toyota 4Runner years you need to avoid like a muddy pit and provide you with better alternatives (the best years for Toyota 4Runner)

to ensure your daily commutes and off-road escapades are nothing but smooth sailing.

So buckle up and let’s hit the road!

Toyota 4Runner Years to Avoid

Years to Avoid for Toyota 4Runner

First Generation (1988-1995)

When considering a first-generation Toyota 4Runner, you should avoid the 1988-1989 models with a 3.0-liter V6 engine. These engines are known to have multiple problems and may not give you the best value for your money.

Second Generation (1990-1995)

For the second-generation 4Runners, avoid the 1990-1995 models that come equipped with a 3.0-liter V6 engine. Similar to the first generation, these engines are prone to issues.

Third Generation (1996-2002)

In the third-generation, it’s advised to steer clear of the 2001-2002 4Runner models. While some better years for this generation include 1996-1998, the best years you should consider are the 1999-2000 models.

Fourth Generation (2003-2009)

For fourth-generation Toyota 4Runners, be cautious of the 2003-2005 models as they might have more issues than the 2008-2009 models, which are considered more reliable.

Fifth Generation (2010-2021)

As for the fifth-generation 4Runners, you should avoid the 2015 model as it has been reported to have more problems, such as with steering and fuel systems. Additionally, be cautious of the 2019 4Runner as it has also been reported to have recurring issues with costly repairs.

When searching for a Toyota 4Runner, keep these years to avoid in mind to ensure you make an informed and reliable purchase.

Common Issues and Problems

  • Engine and Transmission Issues

In some Toyota 4Runner model years, you might encounter engine and transmission-related issues. One well-known issue is the head gasket failure in the 2003-2005 model years.

Additionally, the 3.0-liter V6 engine available in the first generation (1988-1989) often caused more harm than good, with a higher likelihood of developing problems.

It is essential to keep up with regular maintenance and promptly address any concerns to maintain the reliability of your Toyota 4Runner’s engine and transmission.

  • Frame Rust and Suspension Problems

Toyota 4Runners, especially older models, are susceptible to frame rust and suspension problems. This is particularly common in the first generation (1988-1989), where you might experience issues like suspension sagging, leaks, and rust on the vehicle’s undercarriage.

Addressing rust issues early is crucial to prevent excessive rust from developing, ensuring your vehicle remains safe and reliable for off-roading adventures.

  • Dashboard Cracking and Electronic Issues

Dashboard cracking is another concern in certain 4Runner models. Specifically, the 2004 model year has been known for sticky, melted, and cracked dashboards when exposed to direct sunlight.

Not only is this unsightly, but it could also potentially affect airbag deployment. Electronic issues, such as power steering leaks, might arise in some models.

  • Braking System Concerns

Your Toyota 4Runner’s brakes are vital to safety, particularly during off-road excursions.

Some 4Runner models might have ABS-related problems, so it’s essential to review any recalls or safety reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and ensure your vehicle is up to date on necessary repairs.

Remember to regularly check your 4Runner’s braking system for wear, and replace components as needed to maintain optimal braking performance.

Selecting the Best Years for Toyota 4Runner

Reliability and Value

The Toyota 4Runner consistently garners high ratings in reliability ratings.

In fact, most model years have earned a reliability score of 5 out of 5 from Consumer Reports, with the exception of the 2014 and 2020 models, which still performed well at a score of 4 out of 5.

The best model years for a Toyota 4Runner are usually rated as the 2017, followed closely by the 2009 and 2000 models.

Off-Roading Capabilities

If you love off-roading adventures, you’ll appreciate Toyota 4Runners in the third-gen era (1996-2002) equipped with manual transmission.

These models deliver impressive off-roading capabilities and reliable performance.

Towing Capacity and Cargo Space (2003-2009)

The fourth-generation Toyota 4Runner – 2003-2009 offers a significant upgrade in towing capacity with the introduction of the V8 engine.

With a V8 engine, the 4Runner’s towing capacity increased to 7,300 pounds, making it an excellent choice for those who need higher towing capabilities.

Additionally, these models feature improvements in cargo space and a comfortable, midsize SUV design.

Tips for Buying a Used Toyota 4Runner

Research and Understanding Common Issues

Before purchasing a used Toyota 4Runner, it’s important to research and understand the common issues associated with the different generations.

Some older models, such as the first and second-generation 4Runners with the 3.0-liter V6 engine, are known for head gasket failure.

On the other hand, the third and fourth generations don’t have major mechanical problems but can have rust issues. Make a note of these issues and pay close attention to them during your inspection.

Inspect the Vehicle Thoroughly

After identifying the common problems, you should inspect the used SUV thoroughly. Look out for signs of rust, especially in the undercarriage and suspension components.

Keep an eye on the vehicle’s mileage as well, since lower mileage typically indicates better long-term reliability. Also, check the service records, ensuring that the 4Runner has received proper maintenance throughout its life.

Seek a Professional Mechanic’s Opinion

Before finalizing your purchase, we advice you to seek a professional mechanic’s opinion. A mechanic will be able to spot any potential issues that you may have missed during your inspection.

Additionally, the mechanic can confirm if the vehicle has been well-maintained or if it requires any major repairs in the near future.

By following these tips, you can confidently purchase a used Toyota 4Runner that suits your style and meets your demands, while keeping in mind the quality and common problems associated with different generations. Happy SUV hunting!

Maintaining Your 4Runner for Longevity

Regular Maintenance and Inspections

To ensure the longevity of your Toyota 4Runner, it is essential to follow regular maintenance schedules and perform thorough inspections.

Toyota suggests scheduling a service visit every six months or 5,000 miles. Be sure to change the oil every 3,000-5,000 miles, as this is one of your car’s most critical routines.

Also, check the other fluids and filters, such as the air filter and brake fluid, as needed. Tire rotation should be performed every other oil change, and a detailed inspection of the suspension system should be conducted regularly.

This is especially important for first and second-generation 4Runners, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Association has noted suspension issues in these older models.

Addressing Rust and Potential Issues Early

Another essential aspect of maintaining your 4Runner for longevity involves addressing rust and corrosion issues early.

Toyota 4Runners are known to be susceptible to rust issues, with owners reporting noticeable signs after only a few years on the road.

This can be especially problematic for various models, including the 1988-1989 first-generation and the 1990-1995 second-generation 4Runners.

To address these issues, regularly inspect your vehicle for any signs of rust or corrosion, and take prompt action to fix any problems.

For newer models, like the 2016 4Runner, it is crucial to address potential issues like vibrations and locking rear differentials that have been reported by owners.

Staying updated on recalls and ongoing issues by monitoring our online resource here at Auto Renting Tutors as our fresh news can help you be proactive in addressing potential issues before they result in costly repairs or reduced vehicle longevity.

Toyota 4Runner Close Rivals

Here is a comparison of the 4Runner to its closest rivals: the Jeep Wrangler, Kia Telluride, Ford Bronco, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Lexus GX 460.


Vehicle Toyota 4Runner Jeep Wrangler Kia Telluride Ford Bronco Jeep Grand Cherokee Lexus GX 460
Off-road Capabilities Good Excellent Fair Excellent Good Excellent
On-road Comfort Good Fair Good Good Excellent Excellent
Price Range $37,515 – $50,725 $28,900 – $51,000 $32,190 – $44,090 $28,500 – $63,500 $36,995 – $87,845 $54,475 – $64,365
Engine Options 4.0L V6 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder, 3.6L V6 3.8L V6 2.3L turbo 4-cylinder, 2.7L and 2.0L EcoBoost engines 3.6L V6, 5.7L V8 4.6L V8
Transmission 5-speed automatic 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 7-speed manual, 10-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Seating Capacity 5-7 4-5 7-8 4-5 5-7 7
Cargo Capacity (cu. ft.) 47.2 – 89.7 12.9 – 72.4 21.0 – 87.0 29.0 – 77.6 36.3 – 68.3 11.6 – 64.7
Advanced Off-Road Features Available Standard Not Available Available Available Available
Luxury Features Available Not Available Available Available Available Standard


  • All of these vehicles are SUVs designed for a range of on-road and off-road use, with varying degrees of emphasis on off-road capabilities.
  • Most of them have a similar range of engine options, with V6 and V8 engines being the most common.
  • All of these vehicles come with 4-wheel drive as an option or standard feature, which is necessary for off-road use.
  • They all have spacious interiors with seating for five to seven passengers.
  • Many of them have advanced safety features such as blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning.


  • The Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco are the most focused on off-road capabilities, with features such as removable doors and roofs, high ground clearance, and specialized off-road suspension. Learn details about pros and cons of pre-owned Bronco car!
  • The Lexus GX 460 is the most luxurious and expensive of the group, with a high-end interior and advanced off-road features such as crawl control and hill descent control.
  • The Toyota 4Runner falls somewhere in the middle, with a good balance of off-road capabilities and on-road comfort. It has a reputation for reliability and longevity, making it a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts and families alike.


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