The Toyota 4Runner is a hit-or-miss vehicle depending on the model year. When it’s a hit, it’s really a hit.
But when it’s a miss, it’s downright miserable.
This capable off-roader has been on the market for over 35 years, and its purpose is to take the road less traveled.
But is it really worth traveling in? Which model years are best to avoid?
Toyota 4Runner Years to Avoid
Steer clear of the 2013-2015 model years, with 2015 being the absolute worst. The infotainment system freezes and restarts by itself as well as many other electrical issues. Worst of all is the steering, which would cause the vehicle to violently shake when going 55 to 65 miles per hour.
In this buyer’s guide, we are going to talk about why these three model years – all from the same generation – are the ones you most need to avoid.
Toyota 4Runners tend to be great vehicles, but 2013-2015 saw some major ball-droppings from Toyota.
Read on to learn more about these problems.
A Few Dishonorable Mentions
First, we will start with a few honorable – or, in this case, dishonorable – mentions.
We have to talk about the 2003-2009 4Runners, which despite their beefed-up power were generally disliked for their style.
This fourth generation of 4Runners is plagued with rust issues on the framework, more so than other vehicles its age.
A lot of buyers have also reported cracked or melted dashes.
On the 2003 Toyota 4Runner, there have been multiple reports of the transmission failing to shift correctly when the vehicle is at high mileage (as most of them are).
The brake master cylinder often needs to be replaced right at 125,000 miles.
On the 2009 4Runner, there have been issues with the transmission shifting slowly at 15 miles per hour or just straight-up slipping.
It also has some issues with clunking coming from the drive shaft.
Also, take note that these model years are notorious for head gasket problems.
This can lead to the engine overheating, coolant missing without any signs of a coolant leak, gurgling noises, and white smoke pouring from the tailpipe.
The 2013 and 2014 Models
Let’s move on now and talk about the 2013 and 2014 model years.
Anyone wondering what are the worst years for Toyota 4Runner, here are two of them.
These model years experienced a lot of electrical issues, in particular with the radio freezing up and shutting itself down after the vehicle was running for just 10 minutes.
When this would occur, the doors would fail to lock, especially that all-important rear child safety lock.
This is certainly not what parents of small children are looking for in a vehicle since safety is absolutely paramount.
Another issue reported on the 2014 model year was that the running boards would get stuck mid-deployment when these electrical issues occurred.
If the driver was fortunate enough, these problems would all fix themselves just by restarting the vehicle.
Of course, that was not always the case, and many drivers were left wondering just what was going wrong.
The 2015 4Runner
Here we are at last with the worst of the worst: the 2015 Toyota 4Runner.
We’ll get into it and what problems Toyota 4Runners have from this model year.
If you pay any mind to reliable sources like CarComplaints.com and National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA), then you will recognize this vehicle as a total lemon and steer clear of it.
NHTSA’s complaints mean that there is serious potential for road hazards, and a lot of consumer complaints from CarComplaints.com reflect this.
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner is well known for having a lot of interior accessory problems (like the infotainment system freezing up) which carry over from the two previous model years.
Sometimes, the issue would happen just ten minutes after the vehicle had been running and while there was moisture outside.
Bluetooth would struggle to work properly, and it often would fail to play music or bring up navigation instructions from the user’s cell phone.
The power locks would fail for some drivers.
Each door would suddenly have to be manually locked and unlocked.
This would result in a $260-ish repair per power lock actuator… so multiply that number by four, and you have the total cost for parts.
Some engine complaints have been lodged by the owners of the 2015 4Runner.
There is a particularly dangerous one that involves the vehicle lurching forward and suddenly gaining speed while driving around at slower speeds.
Some drivers dealt with having no ability to accelerate at all, which made pulling out into traffic extremely dangerous.
Even stomping the pedal would not help in all cases.
Some drivers would suddenly lose acceleration too, as the engine would either slow down from driving at highway speeds or just shut off altogether.
In a few cases, drivers lost their traction control, which would send the 4Runner into limp mode.
Brake problems have also been reported by those who have owned the 2015 4Runner.
For some drivers, the vehicle would shake each time they applied the brakes.
Replacing the brake pads would not fix that issue.
Brakes tended to warp way too early on too.
Also, a few people had the brakes totally release twice when they applied their foot to the brake pedal.
They would lose all of their braking abilities until the pedals were completely released, and the pressure would then have to be reapplied to the brakes.
Another problem would be that electronic stability control would randomly stop working for no apparent reason.
To top it all off, people report a lot of problems with the vehicle’s build quality.
The weather stripping and seals tend to come off pretty easily, and the windshield causes rattles and squeaks to occur, especially while driving on rough road surfaces.
There is also more wind noise coming into the cabin than what you should expect of a vehicle in this segment of just a few years old.
The paint is also prone to fading more quickly than it should.
The rear lift bolts rust out rapidly – a problem that comes with no real fix.
For such a young vehicle, it gets a lot of rust, from the bolts to the tailgate.
Toyota knows about this problem and hasn’t said a word about actually fixing it, which is frustrating to owners who are already seeing rust spots on their 4Runners.
Now that your questions of “What are the worst years for Toyota 4Runner?” and “What problems do Toyota 4Runners have?” have been answered, we can tell you that other model years for this vehicle have been standouts.
The 2007-2008 model years are known for being reliable enough, and the 2017 is a strong option if you want something a little newer.
You get a lot of off-roading capabilities from the 4Runner, so don’t write it off altogether after reading this review.
Just steer clear of the 2013-2015 models, and you should be okay.
Just remember to look for rust and transmission issues with any used 4Runner you test out.