In a market flooded with sports utility vehicles that lean more towards car-based designs and road driving than off-roading capability, the Toyota 4Runner still stands proudly as one of the last remaining truly rugged, mid-size SUVs.
That said, if you’re interested in buying a used 4Runner, it’s useful to know if there are any years where the vehicle didn’t quite meet the high standards it has been setting since the ‘80s so you can avoid any extra headaches.
Keep reading as we take a look at the best years in the Toyota 4Runner lineup and the ones it might be best to sidestep.
Which Toyota 4Runner Years To Avoid: Quick Answer
If I were buying a used 4Runner tomorrow, I would avoid the 2003-2005 and 2014-2016 years.
The biggest issue with the 2003-2005 years is rust – excessive rusting and undercarriage rusting. Therefore, if buying a second-hand 4Runner, it’s important to check the body and undercarriage for any signs of rust, particularly if it’s from 2003-2005.
This advice is based on owner complaints though, and the recalls from this three-year period, of which there were 10 in total, were not related to rust issues.
In terms of the newer models, the 2014-2016 4Runners are also ones to avoid due to numerous airbag-related complaints – some vehicles were recalled after airbags failed to activate or did so improperly. A pretty critical issue, we think you’d agree.
When taken together, the 2014-2016 models have a high number of recalls compared to other recent versions of the 4Runner, with 24 in total. In fact, there is an ongoing investigation into the airbags from these models regarding the chance of them rupturing during deployment.
Consumer Reports also report that the 2014-2016 models make for a pretty uncomfortable ride if used as an everyday runner. This is due to the fact that Toyota brought back the 4Runner’s off-roading capability for this generation.
Which Year’s Toyota 4Runner Is the Best?
After weighing up owner ratings, recall data, and reliability scores, any 4Runner year since 2017 is the best. These versions have suffered from less recalls than the older models and fewer complaints, too.
Models from the fifth generation that were released between 2011-2016 suffered from issues with airbag deployment, but this seems to have been fixed by Toyota following the 2016 4Runner.
Although the fifth generation 4Runners (2010 onwards) get less miles to the gallon than their earlier siblings, the difference (one to two mpg) is small enough that I’d still recommend them over earlier generations. This is because Toyota increased the focus on comfort while maintaining the off-roading chops that the 4Runner family is known for, as well as incorporating some of the latest technology and features.
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Do Toyota 4Runners Have a Lot of Problems?
Toyota 4Runners consistently receive good reliability ratings – J.D. Power gives the various models around 80 out of 100 or higher going back to 2007 (with the exception of the 2009 model, for which there was no data).
According to RepairPal, which estimates repair, service, and maintenance costs for vehicles, the average yearly repair cost of a 4Runner is $514. This is much lower than some of its competitors, such as the Jeep Wrangler and the Dodge Durango, which have an average annual repair cost of $694 and $675 respectively, and only slightly higher than the Ford Bronco at $502 on average.
These ratings figures are all averages, so below we go through each of the Toyota 4Runners from the last decade to give you a more in-depth look into the specific problems associated with each year’s model, as registered on Carcomplaints.com using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.
2021 4Runner Problems
Out of the 23 complaints for the 2021 4Runner, the majority relate to steering (6) and suspension (4) problems.
These both concern vibrations and the car pulling slightly to the right.
2020 4Runner Problems
The 2020 4Runner only has a couple more complaints than the 2021, despite being around for an extra year.
The nature of these reported problems are different though, with airbags not deploying being the main issue (six complaints) and service brakes not functioning correctly (four) a close second.
2019 4Runner Problems
The most common problem with the 2019 4Runner is to do with the fuel system (11 complaints), and there was actually a recall due to fears the fuel pump could fail.
Behind this come the “miscellaneous” problems with six complaints (concerning things like faulty Bluetooth connectivity and issues with the windshield or sunroof), and five complaints regarding engine problems (mainly to do with the vehicle stalling while driving).
2018 4Runner Problems
The lion’s share of the 2018 model’s problems lie in steering (9), miscellaneous (8), and seat belt/airbag (7) complaints.
34 vehicles were recalled for “improperly tightened steering/suspension fasteners”, and the miscellaneous issues were mostly about glass shattering randomly.
2017 4Runner Problems
There were seven reported issues with the 2017 4Runner’s service brakes going soft and right down to the floor when pressed, as well as one problem with the engine’s piston ring wearing out prematurely.
A further 10 miscellaneous complaints ranged from things like phones not pairing with the car’s navigation system properly, to strange paint flaws.
2016 4Runner Problems
The 2016 4Runner currently has 15 complaints detailing electrical problems, including wires chewed by rodents, and a significant number of vehicles have been recalled to correct an issue with the frontal airbag inflators, with six problems reported.
The miscellaneous complaints from this year total 15, and are largely to do with problems concerning the door locking system.
2015 4Runner Problems
Like the 2016 4Runner, the 2015 model was also recalled over concerns regarding the frontal airbag inflators. Seat belt/airbag problems are the highest out of all the reported complaints for this model, with a total of 16.
More vehicles have been recalled due to a problem with the fuel pump though, which is an issue that features on a few different years of the 4Runner from around this period.
There have also been 14 instances of engine problems and 13 electrical problems.
2014 4Runner Problems
The frontal airbag issue was present in the 2014 4Runner too, as was the fuel pump problem.
Far and away the most problematic area reported in this model is electrical issues, in which owners complain about the automatic door locks not working correctly.
2013 4Runner Problems
Defective airbags were the main complaint that 4Runner owners had about the 2013 model, with eight complaints in total: drivers said the side airbags deployed while the frontal ones didn’t.
There were also seven reported issues with the brakes locking up, and three to do with excessive oil consumption by the engine.
2012 4Runner Problems
There are a whopping 70 comments regarding the airbags in the 2012 4Runner, largely to do with the safety recall and manufacturers taking too long to rectify the problems.
Other issues with this year’s model include the door actuators not locking correctly, uncomfortable seats, and rusting problems (all with at least two complaints).
2011 4Runner Problems
The 2011 4Runner also suffered from the issue of airbags not deploying, too, with 112 comments currently registered.
Nine people also highlighted engine issues, from loud engine vibrations to an erratic throttle response, and premature rusting (four complaints).
Do Toyota 4Runners Have More Problems Than Other SUVs?
When you look into it, it can seem like there are lots of complaints and issues with the Toyota 4Runner. However, this is normal of any car, and comparing it against other vehicles in its class can be a good way to gauge its reliability.
Toyota makes famously reliable cars and the 4Runner is no exception. Consumer Reports gives the 2021 4Runner five out of five for reliability, and it gets 81 out of 100 for quality and reliability on J.D. Power.
These stats may sound impressive, but how do they stack up against some of the 4Runner’s rivals?
Consumer Reports didn’t give an overall reliability rating to the 2021 Murano, but the Blazer got five out of five.
Take a look at data comparing the 4Runner to some more similar SUVs below, including the number of problems and recalls reported over a five-year period (using data from Carproblemzoo.com and the NHTSA respectively) as well as an average of the last fice reliability ratings from J.D. Power.
- 4Runner reliability 81.4, recalls 10, problems 163
- Nissan Murano reliability 84.2, recalls 5, problems 699
- Dodge Durango reliability 79.2, recalls 9, problems 914
- Chevrolet Tahoe reliability 82.6, recalls 17, problems 528
- Ford Explorer reliability 80, recalls 21, problems 3,339
- Nissan Pathfinder reliability 80, recalls 8, problems 1,309
- Honda Pilot problems reliability 82.2, recalls 19, problems 577
There was not as much information about the Chevrolet Blazer, but in the years that data was available for, there weren’t many problems reported (roughly the same as the 4Runner), and six recalls from 2019-2022. Over the past four (rather than five) years, it scored an average reliability rating of 84.5 on J.D. Power.
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Which 4Runner Years Have the Worst Gas Mileage?
According to owners’ reports, the 4Runner’s gas mileage has been pretty consistent throughout the past ten years, clocking around 17.4 miles per gallon (mpg) on average.
One year does stand out, however: 2020’s model dips below 17 mpg with an average of 16.7, suggesting that this year’s 4Runner has slightly worse gas mileage than its siblings.
These figures are more or less backed up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s data on fueleconomy.gov, with both 2WD and 4WD 4Runners from the last ten years having a combined mpg of between 17 and 18.
You have to go back to 2010 to find a 4Runner that breaks this mold, but the results aren’t wildly different – the 2010 model has a combined mpg of 19.
So far, we have been looking at the 4.0L version of the 4Runner, but prior to 2010 Toyota made a 4Runner with a 4.7L engine, too. Naturally, this model has a worse gas mileage due to the bigger engine, and these souped up 4Runners got a combined mpg of 15.
In summary, there is very little separating the newer 4Runners in terms of fuel economy, and you have to go back quite a few years to 4Runners with a bit more under the hood to see any real differences.
Which 4Runner Years Are Most & Least Reliable?
Each Toyota 4Runner of the last decade has scored 80 or higher on J.D. Power’s reliability ratings, and the 2011 version is the highest of them all with a score of 85 and five out of five on Consumer Reports’ version of the ratings.
This model does currently have the second-highest number of recalls according to the NHTSA though, so we would suggest that the 2017 model is the most reliable year as it only scores one lower on J.D. Power’s reliability ratings but has half the number of recalls.
|JD Power||Consumer Reports|
|2022 = 82||(predicted) 4|
|2021 = 82||5|
|2020 = 80||4|
|2019 = 82||4|
|2018 = 81||5|
|2017 = 84||4|
|2016 = 81||4|
|2015 = 81||4|
|2014 = 81||5|
|2013 = 83||4|
|2012 = 84||5|
|2011 = 85||5|
4Runner Years With the Most Recalls
4Runners from the last decade have been somewhat plagued by airbag issues, specifically the risk of the frontal airbags exploding.
This problem caused numerous recalls from 2010-2016, but it seems to have been fixed in the 4Runner models that have been released since this period.
According to the NHTSA, the 2010 4Runner has had the most recalls out of the various models from the last twelve years, with a total of 12.
Out of these recalls, the most worrying were concerning airbags exploding (five recalls) and potential burns from touching the exhaust tip (two recalls). Damage to the seat heaters’ wiring and incorrect load carrying capacity labeling made up the rest of the recalls.
Behind the 2010 model is the 2011 4Runner with 10 recalls, which consisted of the same issues as the previous year’s.
The 2017 4Runner had less critical recalls, such as incorrect load information labeling and superficial parts detaching from the car, but as well as the incorrect labeling the 2018 and 2019 4Runners were recalled for loose steering/suspension fasteners and the risk of the fuel pump failing.
At the other end of the scale, the most recent 4Runners are the ones that currently have the least recalls – the 2020 and 2021 models share this prize, with no recalls between them.
Therefore, based on recalls alone, it looks as though a 2017 4Runner or one from the last couple of years is your best bet.
Data obtained from the NHTSA website
Final Thoughts – Worst 4Runner Years
Despite the various problems that the 4Runner range has experienced throughout its lifespan, it’s important to remember that no car is perfect, and all vehicles will start to display signs of wear and tear after having been driven long enough.
Generally speaking, the 4Runner is a reliable ride that suffers from less issues than many other cars no matter the year you choose.
That being said, there are years which seem to have treated drivers better than others, in particular the 2017 version, which was the first model in the newer fifth generation of 4Runners.
So shop with confidence if you’re buying a Toyota 4Runner, but remember that it’s always a good idea to check the car’s recall status by looking up its unique VIN number online to find out about any repairs that it may need.
This way, you can ask the owner or dealership if the car you’re interested in has been fixed or whether it might still suffer from any issues.