Are Used Toyota 4Runners Reliable?

The Toyota 4Runner has been around for almost 40 years, and the public still can’t get enough of them. Toyota made the right decision when creating this sports utility vehicle. As the world changed, the 4Runner kept up with the trends, and now, it is one of the most popular vehicles on the market.

Are Used Toyota 4runners Reliable?

Yes! The 4Runner is built tough. It is designed for on-road and off-road action. The engine and transmission are tested and proven. The suspension has been upgraded over the years, and it has only gotten better.

The Toyota 4Runner has a high resale value for a reason. Enthusiasts are hunting down the original 4Runners to get their groove back, and the newer 4Runners have all the bells and whistles.

In 1984, Toyota came up with the funky idea to cover a truck bed, add some backseats, glue in some upholstery, and the 4Runner was born. At the beginning, the 4Runner wasn’t too appealing, but it was reliable.

Nowadays, consumers can’t wait for the new 4Runner models to leave the factory. People love the 4Runner because it go-anywhere capabilities and reliability. When it comes to off-roading, the 4Runner can handle all terrains, and you can drive it around town as your daily driver.

The newer 4Runners have evolved into a stylish, modernized vehicle that can compete with all the cool cars on the road. The problem with the new 4Runner is that they are in high demand, so the price can get kind of steep. That is why people are looking into buying a used model.

Before we go into the reliability of the 4Runner, let’s talk about its history for some context.

The 4Runner: Generation One

The first generation 4Runner came out in 1884. The reason Toyota created the 4Runner was to compete with the Chevy Blazer and the Ford Bronco. The first 4Runner was based on the Toyota Hilux pickup truck. The design was not that well thought out. With the seats and extra weight on the rear, the first generation 4Runner would sag in the back.

None of the first generation 4Runners had four doors. All 4Runners, at that time, had four-wheel-drive. The 4Runner had a reliable 2.4 liter 22R engine, and in 1988, there was an upgrade to the 3VZ-E V6 engine.

The more powerful V6 engine was great on performance but the original four-cylinder was built to last. As the 4Runner became more popular, Toyota would add some upgrades.

One upgrade was a turbo-charged engine. Another upgrade was the SR5 package, which consisted of a beefed-up suspension, a reinforced body, and some cosmetic upgrades. 

The 4Runner: Generation Two

1990 gave birth to the second generation of the 4Runner. This was the first year the 4Runner had a four-door version. In fact, the two-door version became rare after this point. The second generation still had the Hilux pickup truck foundation, but the new design had a full-steel body instead of a fiberglass cap over the truck bed. 

Toyota also upgraded the rear suspension, but the problem with the back sagging continued. Toyota continues with a trend from the first generation. That trend was a rear retractable window. The 4Runner is the only SUV with this feature.

Safety features were also added to the second generation of the 4Runner. In 1994 side-impact beams were added in the doors, and airbags were added for the driver and the passenger. Before these upgrades, the 4Runner did not score too high on their crash-test rating.

The 4Runner: Generation Three

1996 introduced the third generation of the 4Runner. This era of the 4Runner received a massive upgrade. This was the first time the 4Runner had its own chassis and body. Before this, the 4Runner was just a shell on the Hilux pickup truck chassis. 

Instead of creating a vehicle that was more suited for street and highway comfort, the 4Runner maintained its rugged off-road features, and that is what set it apart from its competition. The original 2.4 liter 22R-E engine was upgraded to the 2.7 3RZ-FE engine, and the 3.0 liter 3VZ-E V6 engine was upgraded to the 3.4 liter 5VZ-FE V6 engine.

Other upgrades were a longer wheelbase, a larger body, ABS brakes, and coil-spring suspension for all four wheels. Toyota also added more cargo space, a lift-up tailgate, and rack and pinion steering.

The 4Runner: Generation Four

2003 brought in the fourth generation of the 4Runner. This was the first time the 4Runner had a V8 engine model. The 4.7 liter 2UZ-FE V8 engine model of the 4Runner could tow 7,300 pounds, and it had 235 horsepower.

The fourth generation 4Runner had 3 trim levels: SR5, Sports Edition, and the limited. All 4Runners at this point had skid plates for the fuel tank, transfer case, and the engine. This was for protection when off-roading. 

At this point, Toyota put a lot of emphasis on safety for the 4Runner. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the NHTSA, the 4Runner had an average of 4.5 stars out of five on their crash test rating.

Unfortunately, the 4Runner saw a drop in sales during this generation. Around 2006 sales went down. This was not because of the quality of the 4Runner. This was because the price of gas skyrocketed, and all SUVs across the board took a backseat to more fuel-efficient cars.

The 4Runner: Generation Five

2010 was the year for the fifth generation Toyota 4Runner. This generation did not include the V8 engine model. The fifth generation is what we are currently in today. Toyota has not announced when a sixth generation will be coming.

The fifth generation includes all the modern comforts and conveniences we are used to. The 2014 model added a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The trim on the door received a soft-touch upgrade.

The 2015 model added a rear back-up camera as a standard feature, and it also has a 6.1 inch infotainment touchscreen display.

The 2020 model has backseat USB ports, 4G LTE internet, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. It also has radar sensors in the front grill to prevent accidents. All models also come with GPS navigation as a standard feature.

4Runner Generations From Good To Best


The first generation is my least favorite one. I know this generation made the classic, but the design has seen too many upgrades.


The fourth generation was cool, but I have to make a decision. The fourth generation saw sales go down, and some models had problems.


The second generation is next in line. This era made a reliable vehicle but the 4Runner hasn’t seen its best days yet.


The fifth generation is the runner up. This generation got a lot of things right, and all the modern touches bring a lot of comfort.


And the winner goes to the third generation. This is the era that gave the 4Runner its identity. The chassis and the body was made specifically for the 4Runner, and this is when we fell in love.

Which Year 4Runner Had The Most Problems

Since the inception of the 4Runner, they have been known as solid, reliable vehicles. There hasn’t been a year where the quality of the engine or transmission has been in question. The 4Runner is built rugged and tough because it is designed to handle rough terrain. 

But, as we all Know, perfection cannot be reached; it is something we strive for. So, here is the answer for the 4Runner year with the most problems. The 2003 model has received the most complaints.

The main issue with the 2003 4Runner is rust. For some reason, the 2003 4Runner builds more rust than other vehicles that drive in the same conditions. The rust can get so bad that it causes holes in the frame.

There were stories where welds and mounts rusted away. Fixing damage from rust can become costly. Repairs can reach thousands of dollars. 

The next issue with the 2003 4Runner was with the brakes. The problem was with the calipers locking up. In some instances, after replacement of the part, the problem continued. 

Another issue with the 2003 4Runner was with the dashboard. In hot and humid temperatures, the dashboard would melt and crack. It gets to the point where the dashboard gets sticky to the touch, and the cracks are definitely not pleasant to the eye.

The last complaint about the 2003 4Runner are rodents. Yes, I said rodents. These critters get into the guts of the vehicle and chew on the wires, which can cause major electrical problems. The wire casing in the 2003 4Runner is made with a soybean base, and the taste is attracting rodents.

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