The Best & Worst Toyota 4Runner Years [Models]

A Toyota 4Runner has demonstrated its ability to handle off-road terrain. In reality, there are some model years that are better than others, and some that should be avoided at all costs.

A Toyota 4Runner has been around for over 35 years and has stayed true to its roots, which is rare in the auto industry. Despite this, the 4Runner’s legacy really began in 1981 with the Trekker, a truck essentially with a bed cap. In contrast, Winnebago would assist with the assembly of the Trekker, while it would not assist with the assembly of the 4Runner.

The Best & Worst Toyota 4Runner Years [Models]

Its purpose has remained static, unlike other vehicles in its category that have adopted trends. While its car-based competitors cannot make the same claim, this vehicle is capable of taking the road less traveled.

Despite their initial purpose of being capable off-roaders, rugged vehicles have evolved into supple, road-going machines. There are still some problems with the 4Runner, despite its excellent off-road capabilities.

In any case, you can avoid purchasing a dud by following the guide below, or using the cheat-sheet at the end.

Toyota 4Runner Generations

In 1984, Toyota launched the compact SUV market with the first-generation 4Runner. In addition to its simple design and off-road capabilities, it laid the foundation for future models.

We do not consider this generation due to the limited available data and its relative age.

We’ll take a quick look at all the generations of Toyota 4Runner:

5th Generation (N280)2010-Present
4th Generation (N210)2003-2009
3rd Generation (N180)1996-2002
2nd Generation (N120)1990-1995

This table provides a better understanding of the evolution of the 4Runner. In your purchase decision, you should consider significant changes between generations.

Toyota 4Runner Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

Prior to discussing our rankings, it is important to note that they take into account various factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Reliability reports (surveys) from owners
  • Maintenance costs on an annual basis
  • Rating for safety
  • The reliability score of Consumer Reports
  • Owner satisfaction score according to Consumer Reports
  • Recalls, investigations, and complaints filed with the NHTSA
  • Owner ratings on Edmunds
  • Owner ratings from JD Power
  • Owner ratings from Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB)
  • Owner ratings on VehicleHistory
  • Owner ratings on

Now let’s look at which generation had the best year, neutral year, and worst year:

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
5th Generation (N280)2012 2013 2015 2019 2020 202120142017201820102011201620202023
4th Generation (N210)2006200720082003200420092005
3rd Generation (N180)2001199719981999199620002002
2nd Generation (N120)199319901992199419911995

Besides “Best Years” and “Worst Years,” we also differentiate between “Neutral Years,” when the 4Runner failed to stand out from the competition but remained a solid choice.

It is important to note that certain factors can negatively impact the ratings, such as NHTSA recalls. An automobile that has more recalls is regarded as less reliable, resulting in a lower overall rating.

We’ll now take a closer look at each model year.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 5th Generation [2010 to Present]

As of the 2010 model year, the current 5th-generation 4Runner is available. The new 4Runner returns to its roots as our favorite square 4Runner.

There is a new 4.0L V6 engine in the redesigned ute, as well as a dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-I). It is important to note that dual VVT-I increases both performance and mileage.

In addition, there is a very limited-production version of the 2010 4Runner that featured a 4-speed automatic transmission mated to a 2.7L I4 engine.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 5th Generation [2010 to Present]

It is important to note, however, that nearly all are equipped with the V6 engine and automatic transmission. It’s interesting to note that both the FJ Cruiser and the 4Runner are based on the same platform.

Years to Avoid & Better Alternatives

  • Years to Avoid: 2014-2016
  • Better Years: 2010-2013
  • Best Years: 2017-Present

The new 4Runner follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by continuing to be the safest yet. The roof strength was the only category it scored poorly in between 2010 and 2012.

As a result of the roofing strengthening, Toyota received the Top Safety Pick award for the 2013 model year. According to the 2014-Present model year results, the 4Runner scored marginally in driver-side small overlap tests and poorly in headlight tests.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that all Toyota trims now come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P.

There seems to be no end in sight to Toyota’s quest for reliability when it comes to off-roading SUVs. Approximately 50 complaints were filed against the 4Runner by the NHTSA on average per model year. From 2010 to 2013, the most common complaint was about the airbags.

Since Takata has recalled them, there is little reason to worry about them. Failure of the door lock actuator is the most common problem for 2014-2016 model years.

The report of common problems thus far has not been reported from 2017 onwards.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 4th Generation [2003 to 2009]

In 2003, the fourth-generation 4Runner hit showrooms barely recognizable from its predecessor. This version’s exterior was more rounded and car-like than the previous generation, which was more truck-like.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 4th Generation [2003 to 2009]

Additionally, the 4Runner features a power rear tailgate, lumbar support for the driver, remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

It’s important not to let these updates fool you, the 4Runner still maintains a solid off-roading reputation. The 4Runner is distinguished from other on-road-oriented vehicles by its standard skid plates, body-on-frame construction, and solid rear axles.

It was powered by a 245-horsepower 4.0L V6 engine. This was the first and last time the 4Runner was offered with a V8, a 265 hp V8. The 4Runner was marketed as another mid-size SUV capable of going off-road.

Years to Avoid & Better Alternatives

  • Years to Avoid: 2003-2005
  • Better Years: 2006-2007
  • Best Years: 2008-2009

It further improved the safety of the 4Runner in its fourth generation. A good rating was awarded by the IIHS for all categories, except for head restraints and seats. It is possible for the dummy to suffer a concussion if the head restraints and seats are not adequately designed.

Standard torso and side curtain airbags, which were added in 2008 also made the new 4Runner much safer in a crash.

For the Toyota 4Runner, however, it was the Star Safety System that was the true safety rockstar, as it helped drivers avoid crashes. A number of safety features were included in this suite, such as ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, and vehicle stability control.

After a rocky start, Toyota 4Runner reliability improved over time. According to the NHTSA, over 400 complaints were received per model year during the 2003-2007 period.

In comparison, only 54 were received for the 4Runner from 2008-2009. Rust is once again the most common complaint.

It appears, however, that this issue is not affecting the 2008-2009 model years. In light of that, it is very important to check for rust on any 4Runner before purchasing it.

Because of standard curtain airbags, improved head gaskets, and a lack of rust, 2008-2009 are the best years for the fourth-generation Toyota 4Runner. In 2003-2005, there has been a problem with head gasket failures.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 3rd Generation [1996 to 2002]

In 1996, the third-generation 4Runner arrived in showrooms, bringing with it some exciting changes. A 4Runner finally had a body and chassis all of its own, even though some parts were shared with the new Tacoma.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 3rd Generation [1996 to 2002]

It was, however, the four-wheel drive 4Runner that shared the same engines as the Toyota Tacoma. There was a new 150 hp 2.7L I4 standard instead of the old 2.4L I4.

Additionally, the untrustworthy 3.0L V6 was replaced with a more reliable 183 hp 3.4L V6. In addition, there was a larger interior, double airbags, optional ABS, a lift gate, coil-spring suspension, rack and pinion steering, and a more aerodynamic design.

Third generation models focused on off-road performance instead of highway comforts like their competitors, separating the wheat from the chaff. In plain and simple terms, this was where the 4Runner made its name.

Years to Avoid & Better Alternatives

  • Years to Avoid: 2001-2002
  • Better Years: 1996-1998
  • Best Years: 1999-2000

This is the first time the IIHS has tested a three-generation Toyota 4Runner. For the third generation, safety was not an issue as it was for the previous two. As a result, it received an overall grade of satisfactory, which fell just short of a good score.

Safety tests showed that the bumpers of the 4Runner crumpled too easily, making them the vehicle’s Achilles heel. On the other hand, the 4Runner did not fare as well when it came to reliability.

The NHTSA said over 250 complaints were received per model year on average. Most of the complaints about the 4Runner were related to rust.

There was excessive rusting on all model years.

Ultimately, the third-generation 4Runner took two steps forward in terms of safety, but took a step backward in terms of reliability.

There is no better model year than 1999-2000 because it has been extensively redesigned and it has full-time 4WD. A manual transmission and locking rear differential were removed from the Toyota 4Runner in 2001-2002, reducing the vehicle’s off-road abilities.

However, Toyota did not solve the rusting problem with the third-generation 4Runner, despite the improved V6.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 2nd Generation [1990 to 1995]

1990 was the first year for the release of the second-generation Toyota 4Runner. A new generation of 4Runner seemed to be very similar to the old one despite the fact that it was a new generation. There was almost no difference between the 4Runner and Pickup from the B-pillars forward.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 2nd Generation [1990 to 1995]

Although the rear suspension had been upgraded to coil springs, the second generation still suffered from the same “saggy bottom syndrome.” Both the 2.4L I4 gear-driven engine and 3.0L V6 chain-driven engine were offered as options. In the same manner as the previous generation, even though the I4 had less power, it was considered more reliable.

First-generation 4Runners were the first to feature a full-steel integrated frame mounted to a full-steel body. A fiberglass bed cap was all that could be found on the old 4Runner.

Due to this, it is no longer possible to remove the top of the 4Runner. In addition, the turbocharged engine from the previous generation has been eliminated. It was, however, possible to get the second generation in a four-door model, making it a better choice for families.

Years to Avoid & Better Alternatives

  • Years to Avoid: 1990-1995 w/3.0L V6
  • Better Years: 1990-1993 w/2.4L I4
  • Best Years: 1994-1995 w/2.4L I4

The second generation’s lack of safety is not surprising given the low standards in the U.S. for light trucks. A score of one star was given for driver safety by the NHTSA, and a rating of four stars was given for passenger safety.

Two pieces of sheet metal were used to construct the doors. As a result, when in a crash, there was only a window and sheet metal to protect the front occupants. These materials are relatively delicate in a crash. The 1994 model year was therefore the first to feature side-impact beams.

Reliability was affected by failing head gaskets in the V6 engine. In addition to that, you should watch out for rust, leaks, and sagging suspension in older vehicles.

It is recommended to avoid the V6 due to its unreliability. Furthermore, the 4Runner is the best option due to its side-impact beams, which were added to the 1994-1995 models.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 1st generation [1984 to 1989]

During the 1984 model year, Toyota released the first generation of the 4Runner.

While it may have been new to Toyota’s lineup, it is hard to call it a new model. Due to the pickup truck’s influence (yes, that’s its name), this model was heavily influenced.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 1st generation [1984 to 1989]

The word heavily influenced, however, is a bit conservative. A Toyota pickup truck was essentially a 4Runner with a camper shell attached and rear seats tucked inside.

A retractable rear windshield lowered into the tailgate distinguishes the 4Runner from pickup trucks with caps.

The Toyota 4Runner is built on the same two-door, short-bed platform as the Toyota Pickup. In addition to the removable top, the vehicles featured a 2.4L I4 engine that was capable of generating less than 100 horsepower.

In addition to the 2.4L I4 turbo, a 3.0L V6 was also offered, producing 135 and 150 horsepower, respectively. Automatic transmissions or manual transmissions were standard on these engines.

Years to Avoid & Better Alternatives

  • Years to Avoid: 1988-1989 w/3.0L V6
  • Better Years: 1986-1987 w/2.4L I4
  • Best Years: 1984-1985 w/2.4L I4

In the case of the original 4Runner, there are not many complaints on the NHTSA website. Sagging suspensions were among the most common problems. The rear springs of the Highlander were not upgraded by Toyota when the Pickup was converted.

In addition, the 2.4L I4 engine was very reliable; however, the 3.0L V6 had a notorious history of head gasket leaks, with online forums flooded with complaints. There are many posters who suggest the 3.0 V6 should be swapped out for a 3.4 V6 due to design flaws in the heads.

There are also several common problems, such as rust, worn-out parts, and leaks. The first-generation is also in high demand due to its excellent off-road capabilities.

The original 4Runner can be expensive, however, since there were few of them made.

In addition, if you intend to use the 4Runner to go off-road, you must consider some problems. Off-roading scenarios require more horsepower than the 2.4L I4 engine, which only produces about 100 horsepower. In light of the fact that the turbo edition is ultra-rare and the V6 has had more reliability concerns, this is not good news.

As an additional feature, both optional engines came with upgraded, heavy-duty rear differentials. Even so, these vehicles feature “upgraded” transmissions and chain-driven transfer cases.

Despite being quieter on the road, a chain-driven transfer case is bad off-road compared to a gear-driven one.

When it comes to off-roading, the best years would be 1984-1985. However, it only had about 100 horsepower, so you might not have enough power. Those years have the best transmission, solid axles, and most reliable engines due to a gear-driven transfer case.

In the event that the 1984-1985 model years are too rich for your blood, any other year should be able to meet your needs. That is, as long as it isn’t the V6, since it has some serious reliability problems.

Common Toyota 4Runner Problems

There is no doubt that the Toyota 4Runner will be reliable in the long run. While the Toyota SUV is renowned for its reliability, it does have some issues that are worth looking into:

Common Toyota 4Runner Problems

Braking system problems

In 2014 to 2017 models, there were brake system problems in the 4Runner. There have been reports of brake failures and lockups by many owners. In other reports, brake master cylinders and brake rotors were reported to be warped and prematurely worn.

Rust/body/paint problems

The 4th-generation 4Runner was particularly prone to rust and corrosion damage, which typically appeared around 150k miles. The frame and suspension of owners’ 4Runners were severely rusted or corroded after a shop visit revealed they were running fine.

Damaged/cracked dashboard

The dashboard of 2004 4Runners was often found to be sticky, melted, or cracked. According to reports, dashboards exposed to direct sunlight have either melted or been damaged in some way. Airbag deployment may be prevented by the issue, not only because it looks unsightly.

Transmission issues

During the 1990s to 2016, there was a problem with the transmission systems on Toyota 4Runner models, resulting in rough shifting and a loss of power. One or both of the shift solenoids or throttle position sensors is faulty, and both need to be replaced.

Is Purchasing a Used Toyota 4Runner Worth It?

It’s worth it to buy a Toyota if you’re looking for liability; they’re notorious for staying on the road. The first-generation 4Runner with a 3.0-liter V6 and the 1990-1995 second-generation 4Runner with a 3.0-liter V6 are Toyota 4Runner years to avoid. No matter how much money you spend, you won’t get anything out of the engine.

Whether it has rust or not, the Toyota 4Runner can take a beating as long as it is properly maintained mechanically. The mechanical condition of a used 4Runner is important to consider when shopping. Whenever possible, the 4Runner should have fewer miles and proof of regular maintenance is beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the Toyota 4Runner years to avoid if you’re not mechanically inclined?

There are a number of 4Runners with a 3.0 liter V6 that are best avoided if you are not a mechanic or don’t want to deal with extensive repairs. This includes the 2003-2005 fourth-generation 4Runner, 2001-2002 third-generation 4Runner, 1990-1995 second-generation 4Runners, and 1988-1989 first-generation 4Runners.

Which Toyota 4Runner model years have fewer problems?

Fourth-generation 4Runners from 2006-2007, fifth-generation 4Runners from 2010-2016, third-generation 4Runners from 1996-1998, second-generation 4Runners with 2.4-liter engines, and first-generation 4Runners with 2.4-liter engines from 1986-1987 may still have some problems, but there have been fewer reported issues.

Why should you avoid the 2003-2005 fourth-generation Toyota 4Runner?

In 2003-2005, Toyota 4Runner models suffer from the most rust buildup on their bodies and undercarriages. In addition, there is a significant issue with dashboard cracks on 2004 models. It is, however, the failure of the head gaskets that plagues these model years that is the most severe problem, which is extremely expensive to repair.

Why are the 1990-1995 second-generation Toyota 4Runners with a 3.0-liter V6 engine problematic?

In the 1990-1995 second-generation Toyota 4Runner, the 3.0-liter V6 engine frequently fails its head gasket after repairs, even after being overhauled. Additionally, the suspension and power steering leak after many miles on these models.

Are Toyota 4Runners typically reliable?

In general, Toyota 4Runners are known for their dependability. There aren’t any perfect model years, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Some of the issues may be related to age (the 4Runner is 40 years old), while others are related to the time period in which the vehicle was manufactured.

How much does a used Toyota 4Runner typically cost?

There is high demand for Toyota 4Runner SUVs, which raises the price even more. Even old examples will cost more due to a tight market and rising prices.The CoPilot Price Pulse shows an average 2008 4Runner going for $14,064, or 39% more than normal. The price of a 2020 edition (including a market premium of 8%) is $42,028 on average.

Is the Toyota 4Runner a good car to purchase?

If you know what you’re looking for, the Toyota 4Runner can be an excellent vehicle. Find out which years of used Toyota 4Runners have the best reliability. Choosing the wrong Toyota 4Runner can result in headaches and expensive repairs.


There is no doubt that the Toyota 4Runner is a high-quality vehicle. Used options on the market are less than ideal, but there are still some reliable years available. Although there are some issues with 4Runners, they are known to last a long time and have an excellent reputation.

Thanks for reading! We hope you found it useful! When choosing a 4Runner, it can be difficult to choose the best year for reliability, but these are some of the best. The reliability of a used vehicle should be taken into account when purchasing it. The cost of your car and the amount of time you can spend on the road will dramatically change as a result. In terms of reliability, the Toyota 4Runner is a good choice.

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