What to look for when buying a used FJ Cruiser? (Explained!)


When it launched, the FJ Cruiser was a modern take on the famous Land Cruisers from the ’60s and ’70s. Its boxy design and bright colors matched perfectly with the excellent offroading abilities. But, poor sales followed the initial hype and, by 2014, Toyota pulled the FJ from the US market. So, all that remains is buying a used one. So, this article gives you all the information so that you get the right one.

What to look for when buying a used FJ Cruiser?

If you’re buying a used FJ Cruiser, you should look out for rust, especially if the vehicle spent most of its days in northern regions. This SUV uses the Toyota 1GR-FE engine, which can have head gasket issues. Also, since it’s such a capable off-roader, any modifications indicate heavy use and possible advanced wear.

As with any used car, the FJ Cruiser will show some signs of decay. But, there are also other issues specific to Toyota and this model in particular. This article covers these in detail.

Toyota usually has a reputation for reliability and durability. The FJ is no exception. First of all, its construction translates to a rugged vehicle that can tackle extreme terrains. Second, under the hood is Toyota’s tried and true 4.0L V6, which put out 260 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque in its latest generation. But this powerplant aged rapidly and is quite thirsty.

While the FJ Cruiser is excellent in off-road conditions, it’s not the most comfortable SUV on the highway. Since it’s body-on-frame, the center of gravity can be pretty high, which translates to a wobbly feel at high speeds.

The FJ Cruiser targets adventure seekers, so it’s not unusual to see that some have battle scars from a rough life. If you’re looking for a used one, then there are many signs that you need to look for. We’re going to discuss them all, and we’ll start with the engine.

What to look for in a used 1GR-FE engine?

This is one of the most popular engines Toyota has ever put in its cars. As a result, it has gone through three changes, starting with single Variable Valve Timing (VVT-i) and moving to dual VVTi in 2009. Then, some updates also increased its power.

The earliest models put out 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. This performance increased to 259 hp, but, interestingly, torque decreased to 270 lb-ft.

After emissions regulations forced Toyota to further improve the engine, the final figure was 260 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer recommends using premium fuel.

These engines are very reliable, but they will still have issues. You will see that these occur well after 100,000 miles, and in some cases, even more. These are three common problems with the 1GR-FE engine:

Ignition coils

You can encounter issues with ignition coils and spark plugs, but don’t expect them to happen before 150,000 miles. There have been examples of FJ Cruisers having these problems past 200,000 miles.

So, what do you look for? You should be on the lookout for misfires, a rough idle, stuttering acceleration, and loss of power. So, when you test drive the FJ Cruiser, be on the look for any of these symptoms.

Water pumps

Again, the water pump can start showing problems, but most users have encountered them past 150,000 miles. Keep in mind that these pumps are “wear and tear” items that will fail over time.

In the FJ Cruiser, it’s common to find small coolant leaks near the drain holes. This would indicate that you need to change the coolant, but it may also be a sign that your pump is failing.

While these do not show any issues, it’s essential to keep an eye on them. If your pump is damaged, it could lead to lousy coolant circulation and head gasket problems.

Look for coolant leaks, overheating, and steam or some coming from the engine. If the latter occurs, turn the FJ Cruiser off immediately.

Head gaskets

As with the other issues we’ve mentioned before, this problem usually happens after many miles. Some models have traveled for a quarter of a million miles with no issues. But, the gaskets can fail, and it’s an expensive fix if they do.

Some symptoms might include white smoke coming out of the exhaust, coolant loss, misfires, and milky oil. If any of these symptoms appear, be sure to have your vehicle checked.

Also, keep in mind that you might encounter white smoke in many situations. But, if it smells sweet, then chances are it’s the head gasket.

Look out for modifications in your FJ Cruiser.

The FJ Cruiser is so good in challenging terrain. So, it’s common for people to modify them to drive them into deeper mud and steeper hills. If you’re going to buy one of these and it comes with bigger tires, a winch, or a specialized bumper, it’s probably been through some tough stuff.

That’s not to say that all modified FJ Cruisers aren’t worth it. On the contrary, if you’re looking for a reliable off-roader that you can put through the paces, they might even be ideal.

If the seller says he hasn’t put the car through the paces, and the car looks clean, here’s a simple test. Run your hand on the inside of the rear bumper and fenders. If you find pebbles or mud, then chances are it’s been heavily used.

What to look for when buying a used FJ Cruiser?

Do a CarMax search

There are many databases, like CarMax, that give you information on your vehicle’s history. For example, you can check out whether it’s been in crashes or floods, and it’s best to avoid these.

Along the same lines, always look for a car with one owner: the fewer hands that have driven it, the better.

Oxygen and air-fuel sensors might need a change.

At around 120,000 miles, you might need to replace the oxygen and air-fuel sensors. It’s normal to have them reach the end of their functional life around this time.

Replacing them is expensive but necessary. If you don’t, you will start noticing fuel economy dropping, which isn’t good news. On the other hand, the FJ Cruiser is already very thirsty, and you don’t need more of this.

Be sure to have a record of all oil changes.

The FJ Cruiser’s 1GR-FE engine can generate sludge if you don’t do oil changes at the recommended intervals. The best way to know if these have been done adequately is through a certified service history.

Fixing severe sludging is very expensive and can lead to further damage.

Flush out all the fluids and lubricants

Though the seller promises you that they changed all the fluids, it’s best to flush them all out. This way, you ensure that you’re using the highest quality products at your disposal and that the job’s been done right.

Also, you should replace lubricants in the front and rear differential, transmission, and transfer case. This is critical to ensure the longevity of these components.

Check for rust

If your FJ Cruiser comes from northern regions, you must check for rush in places like the suspension, transmission, and exhaust. Seals, bushings, and springs concentrate some of the rust, but not all of it. Other essential spots to check are the fenders, wheel wells, engine supports, and frame.

Ideally, you should avoid cars from these places, as the frequent snow and salt eventually get to areas that are hard to reach. But, then, before you know it, rust shows up and eats away your car and your wallet.

Closing thoughts

The FJ Cruiser is a great-looking SUV that can take you anywhere you want. But, since its production ended in 2014, it’s gained somewhat of a cult following.

So, many people want to know what to look for in a used FJ Cruiser. This article answers this question and gives you additional information to find the right option for you.

Besides everyday things to check when buying a used car, you should consider that many FJ Cruisers have seen aggressive offroading. Plus, snowy regions can translate to rust in any trouble areas.

While the engine is reliable, it’s not indestructible. This article gives you some of the crucial points to check on when going over the 1GR-FE.

So, perform a detailed inspection, don’t be afraid to take your time, and always ask for service records. The more you know about your FJ Cruiser, the better decision you’ll make.

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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