Toyota 4Runner 4th Generation 2003-2009 (N210) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used 4Runner 4th Gen

Read in this article:

4th Generation Toyota 4Runner: What Owners Say

  • Both engines are powerful and reliable.
  • The 4Runner is a useful off-roader in the right specification.
  • The N210 Toyota 4Runner is comfortable and compliant despite its old-school underpinnings.
  • An impressive list of standard features considering its age.
  • Both engines have a healthy appetite for fuel.
  • The fourth-generation Toyota 4Runner's cargo capacity is not as much as you'd expect.

Toyota 4Runner Fourth Generation Facelift

The Toyota 4Runner 4th generation received a facelift in 2006. Toyota basically carried everything over and only made some minor design and interior tweaks. The 4Runner's fanbase likes the unfussy nature of this SUV, so it wasn't worth messing with the formula too much.

2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Front Changes CarBuzz
2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Front Changes

Toyota makes the basic facelift upgrades, including a redesigned bumper1, grille, and lower fascia2. The easiest way to recognize a facelifted model is the new headlights with scalloped lower edges3. The grille is also new and loses the two-slat design in favor of a single thick horizontal slat passing through the Toyota logo. The previous elongated horizontal slot in which the squared-off fog lights and turn signals were placed side by side in the lower bumper is now nearly square and contains round fog lights4; the turn signals have migrated to the headlight clusters. The pyramidal styling theme of the grille now continues into the bumper with distinct creases that terminate either side of the lower air intake. Three slots are crisply molded into the chin below the lower air intake to replace the four subtle equivalents on the pre-facelift car.

2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Rear Changes CarBuzz
2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Rear Changes

At the rear, Toyota keeps the shape of the taillights the same but they now contain LED brake lights and lighter-hued turn signals to give it a fresher, more modern look1. The bumper is tidied up and loses the fog lights that used to sit on either side2. The lower bumper is smoothed out and receives the same three-slot styling motive as the front bumper in its lower edge, with the center slot housing the tow-hitch receiver; the old car had a fussy five-slot arrangement and the center bumper molding protruded more3.

2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Side Changes CarBuzz
2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Side Changes

The side profile is neater too and the more flowing front and rear bumpers1 and revised lights at either end can be spotted from the side as well2. More noticeable is the smoothed-out fender flares with their creases now arching over the wheels gracefully instead of the odd horizontal creases that sat uneasily in the upper parts of these moldings on the pre-facelifted car3. They also flow into the lower door moldings more seamlessly, especially the in the rear4. Toyota introduces a new-look 18-inch alloy for the Limited trim5.

2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Interior Changes CarBuzz
2006-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Facelift Interior Changes

Toyota listened to customer feedback before facelifting the 4Runner 4th generation. The most noteworthy updates are things you can't even see. Toyota thickens the front windscreen and front side windows to reduce road noise. Certain models join the modern age and receive auxiliary inputs for media devices. In terms of presentation, it looks pretty similar to before, but Toyota anoraks will spot the subtle tweaks to the gauge cluster, with the speedo's center portion containing the metric km/h speed markings no longer being a contrasting light gray but a darker gray, with the legend "MPH and km/h" lettering moved from the right-hand side to the center of the dial. More noticeable is that the three gun-barrel dial surrounds are now thinner, rounded, and simplified, no longer the previous thick, continuous item with fussy slots in its top for the turn signals and angular outer edges1. Head units are updated too, depending on the trim, with the navigation units, for example, sporting flatter buttons2.

Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain

There are two engine options available for the 4Runner: a 1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6 and a 2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8. The pre-facelift 4.0 V6 is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, but it is upgraded to a five-speed from 2005. The V8 comes standard with the five-speed automatic transmission and gets a healthy power boost for 2005. The 4Runner 4th gen is sold with rear-wheel drive as standard, but an RWD 4Runner makes little to no sense; there are several even more comfortable unibody SUV options out there, which make more sense if you don't need a hardcore off-roader. Why live with a ladder-frame chassis and a solid rear axle if you aren't going to put the benefits to good use? The 4WD system depends on what engine you go for. The 4.0 V6 is paired with a part-time 4WD system with a transfer case and low range, while the V8 uses a full-time 4WD system with low range.

4.0-liter V6 DOHC 1GR-FE
245 hp | 282 lb-ft
245/236 hp
282/266 lb-ft
Four-/five-speed automatic

Toyota's old-school 4.0-liter V6 is one of the most robust engines ever made, and it's still widely used in third-world countries due to its renowned longevity. It's perfectly tuned for an SUV, providing a maximum 282 lb-ft of torque at a reasonable low 3,800 rpm. Even with the pre-facelift four-speed automatic transmission, it feels brisk, but the five-speed that became standard for 2005 makes better use of the V6's powerband. The V6 can tow up to 5,000 lbs in the right configuration. The engine remains unchanged but was re-rated to 236 hp and 266 lb-ft for 2006 according to the latest regulations. The odd head-gasket problem crops up in a select few engines and ignition coils don't last that long, but with proper care, a 1GR-FE can exceed 250,000 miles. The cam chain should be maintenance-free for most of the engine's service life if you replace the oil at regular intervals.

4.7-liter V8 SOHC 2UZ-FE
235/270 hp | 320/330 lb-ft
235/270/260 hp
320/330/306 lb-ft
Five-speed automatic transmission

This V8, a development of the bullet-proof 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE from the original Lexus LS400, is Toyota's response to 4Runner owners asking for a more powerful model for three generations. The 270-hp RWD models could tow up to 7,300 lbs, 2,300 lbs more than either the V6s or the 235-hp V8s, so the 2005+ high-output V8 is by far the best 4Runner for towing. Towing is even easier with access to the maximum torque at just 3,400 rpm. It's also a must-have if you enjoy spirited acceleration. At the time of the 2003 launch, the 4.7 V8 actually produced 10 hp less - 235 hp - than the base 4.0-liter V6, but with significantly more torque - 320 lb-ft as opposed to the V6's 282 lb-ft. For 2005, Toyota added VVT-i variable valve timing to the engine, resulting in a boost of 35 hp and 10 lb-ft, the resultant 270 hp and 330 lb-ft now comfortably surpassing the smaller V6's outputs. Along with its smaller cousin, its outputs were re-rated for 2006 to 260 hp and 306 lb-ft.

The 2UZ-FE engine is an older design and not of the newer UR family from which Toyota's 4.6-liter and 5.7-liter V8s hail. Another notable feature is that the 2UZ-FE runs a cambelt and although it is very reliable, it requires changing every 90,000 miles. We like the V8s' full-time 4WD system, which makes the 4Runner a safer car to live with. Unlike the V6s' part-time system, the V8s' 4WD is always active. It comes standard with a lockable limited-slip center differential that can split the power in a fixed 50/50 ratio between the front and rear wheels.

2003-2009 4Runner 4th Gen Real MPG

There's both good and bad news. The bad is that the EPA-estimated figures for the Toyota 4Runner 4th gen reached 18 mpg at best on the combined cycle. The good news is that owners reported better fuel consumption figures on average than the claimed figures across the board. The addition of a five-speed automatic on the 4.0 V6 does little to improve the EPA-estimated fuel consumption, however. Still, you need to go into this purchase knowing that the 4Runner is going to guzzle gasoline.

EPA MPG (city/highway/combined)Real-World Combined MPG*
4.0 V6 RWD 4-speed (2003-2004)16/20/1816.6-20.3
4.0 V6 4WD 4-speed (2003-2004)15/19/1717.8-19.7
4.0 V6 RWD 5-speed (2005+)16/21/1818.2-19.8
4.0 V6 4WD 5-speed (2005+)16/20/1718.4-20.2
4.7 V8 RWD 5-speed15/19/1716.6-17.9
4.7 V8 4WD 5-speed14/17/1514.7-17.8

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.


The Toyota 4Runner 4th gen is an older model, so don't expect modern driver-assistance features. The 2003 lineup only has the basics covered on all trims with front and rear ventilated disc brakes with ABS and brake assist, hill-start assist, downhill assist (4x4s only), traction and stability control, child-seat anchors, automatic door locks, auto-off headlights, variable intermittent windshield wipers, front sun visors with sliding extensions, and only two airbags; additional side and curtain airbags cost extra, so check whether these have been specified. Limited trims get a HomeLink universal transceiver, auto-on and -off headlights, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror additionally. Take note that only the 2004+ 4Runner Limited fitted with the optional navigation system have a backup camera. When speccing the optional curtain airbags, a rollover sensor ensures they also deploy in a rollover - but only from 2005. Front side airbags and curtain airbags are only standard equipment on 2008 and 2009 4Runners.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result 2003

The Toyota 4th gen 4Runner was sold between 2003 and 2009, which means it was only subjected to the less severe pre-2011 NHTSA crash tests. It did well in the side impact, but the rollover result isn't great.

Front driver:
Front passenger:
Side Crash Rating:
Rollover Rating:

4Runner 4th Generation Trims

Toyota launched the 4th gen 4Runner in three trims: SR5, Sport, and Limited. These trim levels lasted the entire lifespan. During its final year in production, Toyota introduced an optional package for the V5 SR5 called the Trail Edition. This optional package comes with many additional features, so we also include it as a separate trim. It's worth remembering that third-row seats only become an optional extra across the range in 2004.

Higher trims generally contain everything already standard on lower trims - or the trims they're based on - except when otherwise specified. The 2006 facelift and the thicker windshield glass to reduce wind noise applies to all models, as does the auxiliary audio jack in the center console that's newly standard on the facelifted 4Runner. Only from 2008 are front-side and curtain airbags for the first two rows standard on all trims. Keep in mind that 2003 and 2004 V6s still have the old four-speed automatic transmission; this engine received the V8's five-speed automatic from 2005.

4.0-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8
Four-/five-speed automatic
FWD and optional 4WD

It's worth keeping in mind that the 4th-generation 4Runner has been out of production for more than a decade, so don't expect features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2003 SR5 comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, a color-coded grille and door handles, rear privacy glass, skid plates, powered side mirrors, an immobilizer, four cup holders, six bottle holders, cruise control, single-zone climate control with rear-seat vents, two-row seating, cloth upholstery, an eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat (with electric lumbar adjustment), a four-way manually adjustable passenger seat, a 60/40-split and folding rear seat, interior reading lights, dual vanity mirrors, a manually tilting steering column, two 12-volt outlets, and front seatback storage. It also has heated and power-adjustable side mirrors, one-touch power windows, a power rear window that can also be controlled from the key fob and with an intermittent wiper, and remote keyless entry. It even has a trip computer, an external temperature display, and a digital clock. The sound system is a basic CD/AM/FM unit with both cassette and CD slots and six speakers, upgradeable to a ten-speaker JBL system, with or without a six-disc CD changer. For 2004, third-row seating became optionally available and black running boards were made standard. 2005 SR5s have color-coded bumpers and a chrome grille and 2006 models gain an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

4.0-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8
Four-/five-speed automatic
FWD and optional 4WD

The 2003 Sport Edition is based on the SR5 but adds enhanced X-REAS suspension, a hood scoop, a silver grille and door handles, silver roof rails with black crossbars, color-coded side mirrors, front fog lights, a manually tilting/telescoping and leather-trimmed steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise-control buttons, a silver-accented shift knob, and trim-specific Dark Charcoal seat cloth. The Sport was not eligible for the optional third-row seating offered from 2004 on the SR5 and Limited, so if the third row is a requirement, the Sport is not for you. The 2004 Sport does gain the 2004 SR5's black running boards, however. The 2005 Sport feature a color-coded grille and the 2006 Sport has a new roof rack and tube steps, as well as an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

4.0-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8
Four-/five-speed automatic
FWD and optional 4WD

The Limited is the top-spec model and while its basic specification is based on the SR5, it adds 17-inch alloys, full exterior color-coding, heated side mirrors, illuminated running boards and bumper accents in silver, fog lights, automatic headlights, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver's seat, a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, a double-decker cargo system with a cargo net, dual-zone automatic climate control, a manually tilting and telescoping steering column, a HomeLink universal transceiver, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror incorporating a compass, and a 115-volt AC power outlet. There are a few options worth looking out for on this model. We'd normally avoid the DVD-based navigation system, as it's very outdated by now, but it's the only way to get a backup camera on these early 4Runners; it was only offered on the Limited trim. At least it also comes with a ten-speaker JBL audio system, so it's worth it for the audio and backup camera, if not for the navigation. A model with the rear-seat entertainment system is a good find too. The 2006 Limited's alloy wheels go up in size from 17 to 18 inches, its power-adjustable driver's seat gains a memory function, and a six-disc CD changer becomes standard.

Trail Edition
4.0-liter V6
Five-speed automatic

The 2009-only Trail Edition is only available in 4WD. It comes standard with a locking rear differential, Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), five-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels, unique badging, and Bilstein shock absorbers were specifically chosen for off-roading. It also has other model-specific exterior features such as color coding for the grille, door handles, and license-plate garnish, while the seats are covered in a water-resistant material. It gets a unique AM/FM audio system with a CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, iPod integration, and six speakers, as well as a steering wheel trimmed in perforated leather and with integrated audio controls. It's based on the entry-level V6 SR5 and comes with the same general suite of standard features, save for the additional equipment mentioned above. An additional package can be added to this trim that contains a luggage cover, an electric sunroof, a HomeLink universal transceiver, a color-coded rear spoiler, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with an integrated compass, so check whether this has been specified.

Fourth Generation Toyota 4Runner Features

SR5SportLimitedTrail Edition
Back-Up CameraN/AN/AN/AN/A
Bluetooth ConnectionN/AN/AN/AS
Leather SeatsaN/AN/ASN/A
Remote Keyless EntrySSSS
Keyless StartN/AN/AN/AN/A
Alloy WheelsSSSS

Interior, Trim, And Practicality

Toyota 4Runner 4th Gen Interior Overview Toyota
Toyota 4Runner 4th Gen Interior Overview

2003 and 2004 models are only available as five-seaters. In 2005, Toyota gave buyers the option of adding a third row. We wouldn't bother with three-row 4Runners, as the seats are only suitable for small kids. They don't fold into the floor, which means they have a permanent negative effect on the cargo capacity. Also, keep in mind that third-row passengers only get seatbelts and no other safety features; they are not covered by the side airbags either. As for cargo capacity, the five-seater has 42.1 cubic feet, while folding the second-row forward gives you access to 75.1 cubes. It's also enough space for a family of four to go on an extended overland trip. The same can not be said of the seven-seater, even if you fold the seats down. Build quality is typical Toyota. Some of the plastics may look and feel hard, but the inside was built to be durable. Toyota knew that owners were going to be taking these things off-road, so the main aim was to bolt the interior together properly. This strategy definitely paid off, because even the oldest 2003 model still feels solid and is remarkably rattle-free.

TrimSR5SportLimitedTrail Edition
Charcoal/Stone/Taupe clothSN/AN/AN/A
Charcoal/Stone clothN/ASN/AN/A
Charcoal/Stone/Taupe leatherN/AN/ASN/A
Charcoal water-resistant materialN/AN/AN/AS

2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner 4th Gen Maintenance and Cost

Toyota has a massive footprint in the USA, not to mention the thousands of independent specialists you can also use. The 4Runner is a remarkably cheap vehicle to maintain. Over a period of ten years, you can expect to fork out roughly $6,000 on servicing, which is way below the average in this segment. Since most of the models out there are high-mileage examples, you should budget for more than a basic oil change per year. A more accurate figure would be $600 for an annual service if only to ensure that a proper inspection is carried out. It's an absolute must on older cars. 4Runners are known for lasting way beyond 300,000 miles, so if you keep to the regular service intervals, it should keep soldiering on forever. Just remember to replace that cambelt on the V8 at 90,000-mile intervals.

Toyota 4Runner N210 Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter

1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6

Oil capacity: 5.2L (5.5 quarts)

Recommended oil viscosity: 5W-30

How often to change: 7,500 miles

Average Price: Around $72

2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8

Oil capacity: 6.2L (6.6 quarts)

Recommended oil viscosity: 5W-30

How often to change: 7,500 miles

Average Price: Around $82


1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6

Part number: 9091901235

Average Price: $23 for six

2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8

Part number: 9008091180

Average Price: $83 for eight

Air filter

1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6 and 2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8

Part number: 87139YZZ03


All models

Standard 12V

Replacement: Every 3 to 5 years.

Average Price: $110

Toyota 4Runner N210 Tires

SR5 and Trail Edition
Tire Size:
$760 per set.
Sport and 2003-2005 Limited
Tire Size:
$860 for a set.
2006-2009 Limited
Tire Size:
$1,000 for a set.

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

The 4Runner is renowned for being as reliable as the sun, which means there are few 2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner recalls. The most notable recall on the list list was for a stuck throttle pedal due to an incompatible floor mat. This problem was only discovered in 2011, so it's relevant to all models produced between 2003 to 2009. The first-year models were also recalled for an improperly assembled fuel pulsation damper that could result in a fuel leak, as well as incorrect wheel nuts used to mount the optional alloy wheels. The 4Runner was also recalled in 2016 for the infamous Takata airbag problem, which means it's also relevant for all model years. 2009 models were also recalled for an improperly calibrated seat sensor. 2005 to 2009 models with seat heaters were recalled due to the copper strand wires possibly overheating. Finally, all model years were recalled for missing load-carrying labels for tires. Toyota mailed the correct information to owners, but it was also happy to slap a health and safety sticker on the car if owners insisted on going to the dealership.

  • Codes P0136, P0133, P0156, P0430, and P0420 are for an O2 sensor malfunction.
  • Codes P450, P0455, P0441, P0442 P0446 and P0456 indicate a problem with the EVAP system.
  • Code P0118 shows that the engine coolant temperature is high.
  • Code P0051 is an oxygen sensor heater control circuit warning for the 4.7 V8 engine.
  • Code P0327 is for engine knock.
  • Code P0300 is for a misfire. Codes P0301 to P0308 indicate the specific location of the misfire.
  • Code P0712 indicates that there is something wrong with the transmission fluid temperature sensor.
  • Code P0505 is an error code from the idle air control system. This is usually found on older, high-mileage cars and often indicates body throttle problems.
  • Code P0335 is from a crankshaft position sensor. These are known for going haywire if an owner wades through deep water.
  • P0606 is a big one. It means you have to replace the entire ECU.
  • Code P0406 is a warning from the exhaust gas sensor. It's usually a warning that the car has catalytic converter problems.
  • Code P0705 indicates that the ECU is not receiving any information from the gearbox. In other words, the ECU has no idea if the gearbox is in drive, park, reverse, or neutral.
  • Code P0986 is a warning from the shift solenoid and it usually indicates transmission problems.
  • Code P0104 indicates there is a problem with the mass airflow sensor.
  • Code P0016 occurs when the crankshaft and camshaft position sensor are out of alignment.

7th Gen 4Runner Common Problems

Frame Rust

2003 to 2009 Toyota 4Runner problems are few and frame rust is the most common. It mainly affects certain model years of Tacoma, Sequoia, and Tundra - the owners received a $3.4-billion settlement from Toyota following a lawsuit - but the 2003-2009 4Runner also suffers from the problem. The Japanese manufacturer settled and offered to fix or buy back these cars. We mention it, because there may be a few stray offenders out there. Thankfully, the frame rot is a massive problem you can't miss. The 4Runner was recalled in other countries like Canada, but never in the USA. In extreme cases, the rust moved up to the liftgate, potentially causing liftgate problems. In these situations, the liftgate would be tough to open, or it would refuse to shut properly. Check a 4Runner carefully for frame and body rust and be wary of vehicles registered in rust-belt states.

Mileage: Around 150,000 to 225,000 miles.

Cost: N/A.

How to spot: The rust is usually limited to the ladder-frame chassis. It's as simple as lying down and checking for excessive rust. If it's there, walk away.

Melting/Cracking Dashboard

Given enough heat and humidity, some Toyota dashboards have been melting since 2003, oozing a gooey substance and turning sticky and shiny, leading to distracting reflections in the windshield. Toyota acknowledged this problem in a 2011 service bulletin and the problem led to a 2014 lawsuit. The upper dash will then start cracking around the air vents and the large piece behind which the airbag is mounted also cracks. Naturally, many owners are worried about airbag problems due to these issues. Thankfully, the melted and cracked dashes on all early cars were replaced under an extended warranty that covered 2003-2005 4Runners and various other Toyota and Lexus models - 3.5 million vehicles in total - even though a recall was never issued. We only mention it here for the same reason as the rust. There may be a few cars that slipped through the cracks, so to speak. If your car exhibits such a problem and it's not within these model years, it won't be covered by the warranty.

Mileage: Around 100,000 miles.

Cost: N/A.

How to spot: You can easily spot the cracks around the air conditioning vents. The dashboard may also be sticky and shiny.

1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6 Problems

Even though this engine is tough as nails, head-gasket problems and issues are not unheard of. It's not a design flaw, but rather an age problem. Toyota designed this engine with a life expectancy of over 250,000 miles if maintained properly. Unfortunately, things do wear down over time. The head gasket tends to fail around piston six. While a head gasket is a cheap part, the labor involved in replacing it is not. Here's a top tip for you. If the head gasket needs to be replaced, have the service center do a bunch of other hard-to-reach fixes while they're at it, and save yourself a bundle via preventative maintenance. The ignition coils on this engine last around 100,000 miles, though this should not be a cause for concern. The parts are not expensive, and you can easily do the work at home.

Mileage: Around 100,000 miles.

Cost: Budget between $850 to $2,000 for a head gasket replacement, plus labor. A six-pack of ignition coils can be purchased for between $90 to $150, and you can fit them in less than an hour at home. We reckon most 4Runner owners are savvy enough to install ignition coils.

How to spot: Sure signs of a blown head gasket are coolant leaks, white smoke, and milky oil on the inside of the oil cap. Faulty ignition coils are easier to notice. The car will idle roughly, and will likely have acceleration problems. There will also be a power loss, but if you're a first-time 4Runner owner, you might not notice it. Drive at least three different models and see how they feel compared to each other.

2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8 Problems

The 4.7-liter engine is regarded as very robust, and if you have V8 problems, it will likely be one of three things. Like the V6, the V8 is not immune to age. The exhaust manifold may crack with age, though this problem is normally not detrimental to the engine's health. The exhaust gasses might leak into the cabin and the ticking noise will be annoying, however. The second problem is more of a cautionary tale. Toyota tends to use timing chains instead of belts because they're more durable. On this engine, they use a belt, which needs to be replaced every 90,000 miles. If you do this little piece of preventative maintenance, this engine will continue to run for hundreds of thousands of miles. Changing the belt is a must because the water pump is also driven off the timing belt. If it snaps, you lose the cooling system and the entire engine shortly after.

Mileage: Around 90,000 miles.

Cost: Replacing the exhaust manifold costs between $500 to $670. Doing both the timing belt and water pump at the same time will cost roughly $400 in parts, and between $200 to $400 in labor.

How to spot: A cracked exhaust manifold will make an audible ticking sound, and exhaust gasses will leak into the cabin.

Transmission Problems

The 4Runner is an old-school 4x4 and it should be treated as such. A few owners complained about transmission and transfer case problems because they weren't used often enough. In one case, the owner had not used the 4H setting in more than a year, and the car refused to engage 4WD mode. That's why we urge you to go for a unibody SUV with AWD if you won't be using the 4Runner's off-road talents often. Some issues are a symptom of time. The valves and valve body can wear down faster. The valve body is made of aluminum, and it wears down faster if the transmission oil isn't changed at the correct intervals. We recommend a transmission fluid change every 60,000 miles to prevent this problem.

Mileage: Around 100,000 miles.

Cost: Around $3,500 to replace the transfer case.

How to spot: This is an easy problem to spot. While test driving a 4x4 4Runner, make sure it engages all the driving modes. With the V8, you need to make sure it engages 4L, and with the V6, you need to check 4H and 4L. You'll also want to check the service history to ensure the transmission oil was changed at the recommended intervals to ensure you don't end up with valve body problems.


We don't think this is a Toyota-specific 4Runner brake issue, but rather an ownership problem. A few owners reported brake and brake caliper problems and issues. Thanks to the large engines, the 4Runner is quite spirited, but it doesn't have performance brakes. This means some owners abused the brakes in the city, not to mention the strain on the brakes during an off-road trip.

A few owners also complained about seizing brake calipers in the front, which wear the rotors and pads prematurely.

Mileage: Around 50,000 miles.

Cost: $900 to replace the front brake calipers

How to spot: During the test drive, listen for a squeaking or squealing sound. The steering wheel will also vibrate.

Less Common Problems and Problem-Free Areas

For the most part, the 4Runner seems to offer a positive ownership experience and there aren't too many problems. Yes, there were big problems, but you need to look at the big picture. Toyota sold so many that even the serious issues only represent a small percentage of all 4Runners. The issues we mention here are mostly anomalies. The less common problems are mostly related to age and 2003-2009 Toyota Tundra oil-leak problems, for example, can occur at the valve cover gaskets, just like in virtually any old car. If you have a look at the used examples out there, you'll see that there are many with 200,000+ miles on the clock. The first-generation models have been around for two decades.

The starter solenoid can also corrode over time, which can lead to starter problems. Thankfully, a replacement starter solenoid is just $50. The charcoal canister purge control solenoid valve is also known for failing, and it will trigger various EVAP warning codes. It's worth checking whether this $60 part is the cause of an EVAP leap before you spend hundreds of dollars more fixing a different problem.

Some owners reported melted door handles, though there doesn't seem to be a cause. The door handles aren't located near a known heat source, but perhaps these owners live in extreme heat conditions? And even less common are singular reported cases of Toyota 4Runner heating and air-conditioning - or AC - problems. Older 4Runners simply run out of freon and need a top-up. It's rarely anything more serious than that, although the odd compressor relay can also sometimes fail.

The areas for which the least problems are reported in general are the following:

  • 2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner battery-draining, alternator, ignition switch, and related electrical problems are rare.
  • In terms of the basic driver-assistance features and running gear, 2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner ABS, VSC, traction-control, master-cylinder, and power-steering problems are rarely reported.
  • Other accessories and powered systems are generally tough and reliable and fuel-gauge, turn-signal, electric-rear-window, sunroof/moonroof, door-lock, and headlights problems aren't Toyota 4Runner weak spots.

Which One To Avoid

The 4Runner is generally robust, but we'd avoid 2003 to 2005 models, as they received the most customer complaints. Rust is generally not something you want to deal with, especially when found on something as important as the ladder-frame chassis. The rest of the car is literally bolted to said chassis, so any structural weakness is a hard pass.

Which One To Buy

We'd try to get our hands on the final year Trail Edition. It comes standard with all the basic equipment you need for proper off-roading. These models are hard to find, however. If you can't find a Trail Edition, aim for a later year model with 4x4 and a V8. There's little difference as far as fuel consumption goes, and we like the fact that the V8 comes with a permanent AWD system. Ideally, you should get a high-spec Limited with the least mileage. In terms of problems, the 4Runner got better with age, and the 2008 and 2009 model years are the most problem-free.

4th Gen Toyota 4Runner Verdict

The 2003-2009 Toyota 4Runner will likely outlast your grandchildren's grandchildren. There are plenty of high-mileage examples out there that prove it was built to last. Yes, there are a few issues, but they only represent a small number of cars sold. Keep in mind that older cars come with general wear and tear problems, like air-conditioning problems, and other age-related issues. With the 4Runner, you're going to want to know that it's been well taken care of. If you can find a high-mileage model with a full service history, you should be able to get at least another 200,000 miles out of it.

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