The Toyota 4Runner is historically considered a reliable SUV. It has, in large part, scored above-average dependability ratings and holds an excellent resale value. In addition, each generation delivers enough performance to cater to off-road enthusiasts while remaining stylish enough to attract drivers looking for an SUV suited for daily driving.
However, even though most Toyota 4Runner releases were among the best in its class, a few generations had their pitfalls. When a vehicle has a bad year, rarely is it a case of the model year being a dud overall. The vehicle is typically well-received – until a faulty component or issue begins to manifest. Normally, there’s one particular system or part of the vehicle to blame, as is the case with Toyota 4Runner problems.
In the following sections, we’ll dive into the trouble spots of the Toyota 4Runner, giving you a general idea of which years you might want to turn down when looking for one.
4Runner Problems: Common Trouble Spots
Only a handful of unsatisfactory model years exist throughout the history of 4Runner. The issues that plague them vary, and there are a few worrying issues that can make it unsafe to be traveling inside them.
Model Years Affected: 2010-2017
The fifth generation experienced the worst Toyota 4Runner problems in the vehicle’s history. From 2010 to 2017, several models experienced significant issues with the airbag systems.
Recalls began with the 2010 models, but the problems didn’t stop there. Additional recalls ended up plaguing the 2013 and 2015 models, with the most recent recalls taking place in 2021 for the 2016 and 2017 variants.
When the smoke cleared, over 4,000,000 Toyota and Lexus models were recalled, leading to one of the biggest recalls in automotive history.
Takata-made airbags installed during those years had faults. They can inflate with excessive force, injuring drivers and passengers not only with the impact but also with potential shrapnel. Should this happen during a drive, the results could be disastrous.
The airbags used during those years used two types of propellants for the airbags: 2004 and 2004L. 2004 was more sensitive to hot and humid temperatures, causing it to degrade after exposure to particularly hot conditions and burn off faster.
The subsequent reaction is airbag deployment that sends metal fragments into the face of the driver and passenger, leading to potentially deadly injuries. Any potential collateral damage could be just as horrifying, considering when this happens, the driver is sure to lose control, causing an accident.
Models were recalled, but unfortunately, problems continued with these models and the airbag systems into 2021. Additional problems with the airbag system included the year 2010 and 2012, which had airbag faults that led to the failure of the occupancy sensor. This issue might cause the airbag to stay in its compartment after a collision.
Model Years Affected: 2005
In 2005, rust was a significant problem in the popular Toyota SUV. This 4Runner model had significant problems with rust and corrosion on the underside of the frame.
The underpinning area rusted many times for no apparent reason. Normally, the only things that lead to vehicle rust are neglect and exposure to salt.
It’s not uncommon for vehicles located directly near the ocean or in areas with heavy snow to experience rust issues. Many states began using alternative chemicals, moving away from salt in bad weather because of the damage it does to vehicles.
However, the 2005 4Runner model developed significant corrosion without exposure to these conditions. Toyota recalled and replaced the affected components – but for some owners, the damage was still done.
Owners who had previously repaired the problem themselves before the recall spent upwards of $1,800 in parts and labor costs to get rid of the issue.
3. 4.0L V6 Head Gasket
Model Years Affected: 2003-2005
Fourth-generation Toyota 4Runners experienced another significant issue, although not as dangerous as the airbag problems. In addition, this particular problem was limited to only two model years and not spread out over an entire decade.
The 2003-2005 models experienced blown head gaskets prematurely – reportedly in nearly 5% of these models sold. No explanation was ever provided for the problem, and it cost many owners money out of pocket to correct the issue.
Luckily, if the issue is caught before the head gaskets completely blow, a replacement gasket that costs about $200 solves the problem. The cylinder heads must be removed, but the repair is easily accomplished by anyone with a minor amount of vehicle know-how.
However, if the problem isn’t caught, the head gasket blows completely. When this happens, the vehicle will emit white smoke, and the engine loses power, eventually leading to complete engine failure.
The full price to repair a full-blown head gasket totals into the thousands. Many 4Runner owners were stuck footing the bill.
4. Electrical Components
Model Years Affected: Scattered throughout third and fourth generation models (1999-2009)
Third and fourth-generation 4Runner models had scattered issues with the starter and solenoid. This issue leads to the affected vehicles shutting off without warning, which is a potentially dangerous situation.
The contacts on the solenoid become corroded, preventing contact with the starter. The result is either the 4Runner failing to start or a shutdown in the middle of operation.
A common symptom of a failing starter is a clicking noise when the engine is cranked. Instead of turning over, you’d only hear a ticking noise.
This clicking sound is a common characteristic of a failing starter. Depending on where you source the replacement, the solution to this issue ranges anywhere between $40 and $200 for parts and installation costs.
5. Problematic Transmission
Model Years Affected: 1990-2011
One of the worst Toyota 4Runner problems affects a substantially large window, starting in 1990 and lasting all the way until the 2011 model. However, in 2016, the issue would surface again, costing more owners a significant amount of money.
The most common problems reported were:
- The transmission reverting back to manual mode without warning
- Failing to shift into overdrive
- Won’t shift into drive after initially starting the vehicle
- General loss of power and rough shifting
It’s normal for a vehicle to experience transmission problems due to normal wear and tear, especially when they get up in mileage. However, these problems normally don’t happen until around the 200,000-mile mark. In the case of the affected 4Runner models, transmissions were going bad as early as 25,000 miles.
The culprit of these problems is normally a shift solenoid that needs replacement or a faulty throttle position sensor. Unfortunately, both of these issues require major transmission work, which can end up totaling several thousand dollars.
6. Brake Issues
Model Years Affected: 2003-2005, 2017
This is another potentially life-threatening issue that must be repaired immediately.
The 2017 Toyota 4Runer model has reports of issues with the braking system. Owners report brakes seizing temporarily on one side of the vehicle. A few vehicles from the 2014 and 2015 models were also reported to experience similar issues, but the cases weren’t enough to tag those model years.
In addition, brake issues plague many fourth-generation 4Runners. Not surprisingly, the years with these issues are 2003-2005 – the same years that experienced problems with the head gasket.
This makes these model years one of the most problematic Toyota 4Runner releases, considering the brake challenges were more severe than locking on one side like the 2017 model. The problem with the 2003-2005 models is that the calipers and brakes warped, causing complete failure.
This warping also caused premature wear in the rotors and the master cylinder. The master cylinder holds the brake fluid that runs through the lines, so issues with this component can affect the entire system.
Depending on what portion is damaged specifically, repairs potentially run anywhere between $100 to $1,000.
7. Dashboard Cracking
Model Years Affected: 2004
Finally, the 2004 4Runner model had some serious problems with the dashboard. It’s typical for vehicles located in extremely hot climates to experience drying and sometimes slight cracking of the dashboard.
However, using covers to block the sun while the vehicle is parked easily avoids this situation. Using these sun visors even in moderate sunlight is mandatory in the case of the 2004 4Runner.
Drivers reported direct sunlight melted large portions of their dashboards. The result was a sticky material left in place of the dashboard, leaving behind a particularly nasty mess.
You might think this is a simple cosmetic issue without any safety hazards. However, this isn’t simply the case.
Because of the location of the problem, the hardened melted plastic can essentially glue airbags in place. This prevents the airbags from deploying during an accident.
In addition, drivers reported a dangerous glare because of the shiny substance left behind. This glare has been reported to impair driver’s vision in some cases, leading to several accidents as a result.
Fortunately, for owners of these model years, Toyota issued a massive recall and reimbursed owners who had already spent money out of pocket to repair their dashboards.
Resolving the Issues
In most cases, problems like these are caught by the manufacturer before the issue is widespread. However, this isn’t always the case. If you experience a vehicle with any parts or components recalled, the manufacturer puts out a statement regarding the nature of the problem.
Dates are set up, allowing you to visit your local dealer, where usually the problem is fixed free of charge. Any money you’ve already invested is typically reimbursed as well. If you’ve experienced any of these Toyota 4Runner problems or notice issues that aren’t on the list, we suggest contacting the dealership of purchase or getting in touch with Toyota directly.