2008 Toyota 4Runner
2008 Toyota 4Runner. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

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The original Toyota 4Runner was actually little more than a Toyota pickup, modified to turn it into a rudimentary SUV to compete with trucks like the Ford Bronco II, Chevy S-10 Blazer (and GMC S-15 Jimmy) and Nissan Pathfinder of the early-to-mid-1980s. The second-generation model that arrived in 1990 was the first to be designed as an SUV from the ground up, with most having four doors (though a two-door was produced) and a fully integrated roof. From there, apparently, the only way to go was up, in size, weight and refinement, so that the fourth-generation that arrived in 2003 was practically a near-luxury vehicle compared to the original.

Where all of the first three generations of 4Runner were offered with four-cylinder engines (the first-gen got nothing else and the third-gen’s four-cylinder was dropped after 1999), the fourth-generation model’s base engine was a 4.0-litre V6 (245 hp; 283 lb.-ft.). For the first time, too, a V8 was offered; it was a 4.7-litre unit good for 235 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque. No manual transmission was offered; V6 models got a four-speed automatic and V8s used a five-speed automatic, but all 2005-and-newer models got the five-speed auto as the only transmission choice.

2005 Toyota 4Runner
2005 Toyota 4Runner. Click image to enlarge

In 2005, the V8 got a horsepower boost to 270, and torque increased slightly to 330 lb.-ft.; the 2006 4Runner got a mild restyling, including new head- and taillights. Note that engine power and torque ratings dropped for 2006 due to updated SAE power measurement standards. The new figures were 236 hp/266 lb.-ft. for the V6 and 260 hp/306 lb.-ft. for the V8; the changes didn’t affect the engines’ performance. For 2008, the V8 engine’s availability was dropped from all but the top-end Limited model.

Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption numbers for the 2003 4Runner are 13.7/10.7 L/100 km (all figures city/highway) with the V6 engine and 15.5/11.5 with the V8. Both models’ numbers improved in 2005, to 13.5/10.2 (V6) and 14.6/11.3 (V8), and by 2009, the 4Runner’s ratings were 13.4/9.9 for the six-cylinder and 15.0/11.5 with the V8.

2005 Toyota 4Runner
2005 Toyota 4Runner
2003 Toyota 4Runner
2005 Toyota 4Runner (top two photos) and 2003 4Runner (bottom photo by Laurance Yap). Click image to enlarge

Like many Toyota models, the 4Runner earns Consumer Reports’ “good bet” used vehicle designation, but like any car or truck, it has not proven immune to reliability troubles.

If the traction/stability control lights (VSC TRAC/ VSC OFF) in the dash come on and won’t go off after the car has been connected to a diagnostic code reader, read this thread at Toyota-4runner.org to find out why, and how to fix it.

A leaking transfer case (the secondary set of gears that allows the truck to be shifted into four-wheel drive and high and low gear ranges) is caused by a bad seal where the electronic actuator bolts into the transfer case; read about it here, here and over here. The seal is integral with the actuator so that the common fix is to replace a perfectly good (and expensive!) part to stop the leak, instead of replacing a simple rubber seal. There’s a lot of labour involved in the fix, too (the transmission and transfer cases have to be pulled apart), so the part and shop costs add up to a very pricey repair. Consumer Reports makes no mention of this problem, but search the web for “4runner transfer case actuator” and the widespread scope of it becomes clear.

Additionally, it appears that the problem only affects the V8 drivetrain; the V6 model uses a different part-time four-wheel drive system than the V8’s full-time, two-speed transfer case four-wheel system.

A clunk from the rear end that occurs mostly when stopping is a common issue with the 4Runner and the closely-related Lexus GX 470 from the same model years. According to this post at Toyota-4Runner.org, owners began complaining of the noise in 2003, and that thread has been going strong since. Scroll down to the third post on this page for a Technical Service Bulletin issued by Lexus in 2006.

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