The Toyota 4Runner is one of the most recognizable models in the entire Toyota truck lineup. Toyota 4Runners have been running around since the late 80s. This popular SUV has experienced several facelifts and upgrades over the years – most of which led to a version that tops the one prior.
Overall, the 4Runner has been efficient, solid, and dependable. Many of its previous iterations are considered to be among the best model years for the 4Runner. However, the sun doesn’t shine on every model year, and the best manufacturers like Toyota experience versions of specific models they wish they could take back. Even this reliable Toyota has encountered some hiccups.
In this article, you’ll learn about the Toyota 4Runner years to avoid. Here’s our list of 4Runner model years to avoid.
2015 Model Year Toyota 4Runner (Fifth Generation)
The Toyota 4Runner had a lot of great releases that won Best-In-Class awards in several categories and is widely considered one of its most popular mainstays. The fifth generation of the 4Runner is considered one of the best, and it certainly has the most modern features and amenities. Rarely would you see any safety issues with Toyota 4Runners.
However, the 2015 5th gen is not one of these models. If you decide to try your hand and gamble on the 2015 used Toyota 4Runner, you might want to bring your mechanic before you pull the trigger.
The 2015 Toyota 4Runer broke the model’s dependability streak when owners began having challenges with the airbag system. For starters, the airbags don’t deploy consistently. This alone makes this a truly worrying safety issue for the 4Runner since it is a life-threatening one.
Most vehicles make it at least 100,000 miles before significant repairs, especially those created after 2010. The 4Runner, on the other hand, is likely to set you back $9,000 in repairs after only 15,000 miles. Ouch.
If you can avoid it, we recommend not buying 2015. Sometimes you have to take what you can get, and this year 4Runner should be a last resort.
2003-2005 Model Year Toyota 4Runner (Fourth Generation)
These years belong to the fourth generation of the Toyota 4Runner – an era that included the 2008-2009 model years, often considered the best of this run. Key problems encountered with these Toyota 4Runners include standard curtain airbags, a reworked head gasket, and the noticeable lack of any rusting.
In the case of 2003-2005, these model years were the reason for the reimagined head gaskets of the 2008-2009 years. These head gasket issues cause this model 4Runner to stop functioning correctly, and eventually, the motor won’t turn over at all. Replacing a blown head gasket often sets you back thousands of dollars, especially when the vehicle has a substantial mileage.
The engine isn’t the only place you’ll experience issues on the 2003-2005 Toyota 4Runner model. Rust buildup and additional undercarriage compromising can potentially lead you straight into a money pit.
Once your vehicle’s frame shows rust, it is only a matter of time before it spreads. Dealing with it, especially on a used Toyota 4Runner can be quite a costly fix. Often, you’d need to have it professionally done to make sure that all traces of corrosion will be gone. Rust, over time, can weaken and affect the safety of any vehicle.
2004 Toyota 4Runners also have a well-known issue with the dashboard, running the risk of some nasty cracking issues because of the sun and other wear and tear. Even if they’re cosmetic issues, no one wants to spend time looking at a cracked and torn dash. Replacing it is more for your preference than the vehicle’s usability.
The NHTSA claims that this range of models received a whopping 400 complaints – a far cry from the modest 54 complaints of 2008-2009.
1988-1989 Toyota 4Runner 3.0L V6 (First Generation)
This one might come as a surprise to many 4Runner enthusiasts, especially when you consider the reliability of the 2.4L I4 Toyota engine from this generation. Unfortunately, the 3.0L V6 didn’t come with the same reliability.
The V6 on this model year Toyota 4Runner is another classic example of Toyota head gasket challenges that became semi-recurrent for a period. Some owners claim the issue stems from a design flaw, while others believe swapping for a 3.4 V6 crate motor fixes the problem.
Whether this solves the issue, it’s still generally a huge hassle to swap the engine out and it’s a “fix” that you want to avoid at all costs.
It’s possible that the issues with these Toyota 4Runner years come from the fact that Toyota hadn’t made many versions of the SUV as of yet. Regardless of the real reason for a bit of shoddy workmanship, this is a Toyota 4Runner year to avoid.
1990-1995 Toyota 4Runner 3.0L V6 (Second Generation)
Light pickup trucks had a set of low safety standards during the early to mid-90s. Ever wonder why there’s not much to them compared to those full-size tanks of the 90s and earlier?
The second generation is one of the only exceptions to the quality safety rating we mentioned earlier. Delivering one of the most lackluster efforts in recent memory, the 1994 mode received a paltry one star for driver safety.
Toyota must be pretty ashamed of this one.
Structurally, this is one of the worst 4Runners ever created. The doors were crafted from two sections of sheet metal. This meant the only thing separating drivers and passengers from the unforgiving road was a thick piece of tin foil.
Another common issue with this model year Toyota 4Runner? You guessed it – the head gasket. You’ll also deal with additional problems that become a never-ending investment because of nagging repairs that never seem to stop.
But They’re Not Really All Bad
Honestly, this small sample of Toyota 4Runner models is minimal compared to the total number of years the vehicle has been in rotation. In addition, a couple of these models aren’t a complete wash – they’ll get you from Point a to Point B if you’re in a jam and need a vehicle.
However, just to review, there are a couple of model years that you absolutely should avoid at all costs. The 2015 Toyota 4Runner and its safety issues aren’t worth the risk it takes to put it on the road. If you had to pick one to avoid, 2015 would have to be it.
2003-2005 4Runner years are probably the second in the “must avoid” category. With the potential frame damage, you end up in a world of financial hurt, not even including the additional challenges you could run into.
With so many fantastic options for purchase scattered across multiple-year models, there’s no reason to risk it on a Toyota 4Runner year to avoid. Check out some of the more popular years, which provide a much clearer picture of what the 4Runner is intended to be!