The 4Runner is the quintessential old-school, rugged SUV.
Despite its ruggedness, it is not immune to problems.
This article covers the most common 4Runner problems and their solutions.
Table of Contents
1. Sunroof Exploded
A number of owners have reported that the sunroof on their 4Runner exploded for no apparent reason. Complaints for this issue have been reported on 2013-2022 models.
Owners report hearing a loud bang, like a gunshot, and then realizing the glass of the sunroof has completely shattered.
“I was driving down the road and heard a loud bang. When I got home I was looking for the source and there was a big hole in the sunroof from the sunroof shattering. There was no contact from anything the sunroof just shattered on its own.” – NHTSA.gov
“Last week my sunroof exploded for no reason, there were no rocks or debri that caused this. This is clearly a manufacturers defect of the glass used. I am thankful I wasn’t covered in shattered glass or worse, cause an accident.” – NHTSA.gov
As this usually occurs on sunny days when the weather is hot, some have speculated that it is caused by a design defect that hasn’t allowed for heat expansion.
The manufacturer will need to adjust clearances to prevent this from happening.
If your sunroof shatters there’s no legal requirement to have it replaced however it is probably best to do so, and you should contact your insurance if the dealership won’t replace it under warranty.
You could ask your Toyota dealer to reimburse the insurance deductible.
2. Frame Rusting
For model years ranging from 1996 – 2010, frame rusting has been one of the most common 4Runner problems. The excessive frame rust significantly hinders the safety, crash-worthiness, and stability of the vehicle.
In many cases, the suspension are brakes are negatively impacted too.
The issue was so widespread that a class action lawsuit was filed.
Here is what some owners have reported on the NHTA.gov website.
“During a state inspection of the vehicle I was made aware that the vehicle was not safe to be on the road. The entire frame rusted out front to back. You can even stick your hand inside the hollowed out frame.”
“Frame of vehicle has severe rust damage throughout, told by state safety inspector that it is beyond repair. Appears to have occurred slowly over the course of many years.”
“My frame has rotted through, causing the rear bump stops to fall off, putting excessive wear on both frame and suspension components. In parts of the frame, it has rotted all the way around and caused a loss in structural integrity.”
If you have been affected by frame rust, run a VIN check to ensure that there isn’t a recall on your vehicle.
If you have suffered injuries due to frame rusting then you should seek legal advice.
Rust issues will be far more of an issue depending on your location.
For those living in the salt belt or regions prone to snow and inclement weather – you may want to consider some form of rust protection such as Fluid Film, WoolWax or Surface Shield by Blaster.
3. Steering Wheel Shakes
A common problem of the 4Runner is that the steering wheel shakes – this typically happens when owners reach speeds of around 60mph. This problem has been reported on 4th and 5th Gen models.
“It’s a widespread issue. I have it, even after the ECGS bushing, Road force balance, etc. all the “fixes”. I just started going a few mph faster and it goes away. Even some brand new ones do it.” – Reddit.com/r/4Runner
“Anytime you go above 60mph the car and steering wheel shake pretty violently. If you take your foot off the gas it goes away temporarily. The same happens at times when braking, the car and steering wheel will shake. Tires have been balanced, rotated, and replaced with no improvement. This seems to be a well-known and widespread problem with Toyota offering no real solution.” – NHTSA.gov
Some owners on Reddit.com/r/4Runner have reported having the tires balanced and/or replaced has fixed the issue. Although this hasn’t worked for every owner it should be the first thing you should try.
“It’s a balancing issue. Go to a reputable tire shop and get all four tires done. I got the shake when I put on my 285’s. Went back the next day and had the front tires balanced, it went away. Year later I get them rotated and the shake is back. Had them balance all four tires this time, and now the shake is 100% gone, so there is still hope.”
“Overall, the wobbling was due to unbalanced tires. Have them rebalanced. If they won’t rebalance, have them replaced under warranty.” –
“I bought a used 5th gen 6 months ago or so. Dealership gave me two new tires for free on the back axle. I had the same problem with the steering wheel shake 60-65 mph but it went away once I got to 70ish. I finally got around to replacing the front two to match (in make and approx age) and now I don’t have that shake at all. I’m no expert my guess is the old tires weren’t balanced properly or something.”
4. Dashboard Cracks
A commonly reported problem of the 4th Gen 4Runner is dashboard cracking. This problem is not associated with 5th Gen 4Runners.
Here are some complaints from owners from the NHTSA website.
“I began to notice that my dash has started to crack and it is in the area of the airbag. I did some research and found out that many 2004 Toyota 4runner owners are having the same problem.”
“Approx 3 years ago, I noticed a small crack in the dash on the passanger side, I thought maybe someone did something and did not tell me. Since that time, my dash has increased in the amount and length of the cracks.”
“Dashboard is cracking from side to side; a few cracks are right over the passenger airbag. I worry about the integrity of the airbag. If anything malfunctions, at least I’ll have this complaint on record.”
The problem was so widespread that a recall was issued, however, the dash recall only applies for 10 years from the initial sale date of your vehicle (original owner).
If you have a cracked dash the best thing to do is to purchase a dash cover replacement which can be found online, such as here.
5. Rodents Chewed Wiring
There are a number of complaints online from 4Runner owners due to rats and rodents chewing through the electrical wiring of their vehicle.
The wiring is attractive to these little critters because it is soy-based.
“Hey guys my wife the other day hopped in the Runner, and as she started driving all the lights on the dash came on. She said the Runner also stared shaking. We live 2 blocks away from a Toyota so I told her to drive there, and tell them what’s going on. Diagnostic showed cylinder 3 and 4 were miss firing. After further inspection they noticed some wires were chewed. They determined a rodent chewed the wires. Cost to fix $3600.” – 4Runners.com
“My 2019 Toyota 4runner was inhabited by a rat that chewed the wiring harness in at least 3 different areas.” – NHTSA.org
“Rats at it again. I had two flashing lights and a noisemaker – that didn’t stop them. I’m trapping rats daily and they still come in for dinner. Mostly during the winter when it’s cold.” – CarComplaints.com
Some of the advice from owners is to keep your 4Runner parked in the garage, use rat traps, and rodent tape.
If you have damaged electrical wiring then this will need to be fixed by your dealer or auto electrician.
“It’s not a warranty problem unfortunately. The wires have soy base that rodents like to eat. Call your insurance. That’s the most you can do. This is a common problem.” – 4runners.com
“That is a pretty common problem and I have fought them for years with mothballs, bear spray, work lights, lights on timers, rat traps for pack rats, mouse traps, cussing, finally have had fair success with peppermint oil spray. Good luck!” – 4Runners.com
6. Takata Airbag Recall
The Takata airbag recall is one of the most notorious in automotive history – millions of vehicles were affected including 1.7 million Toyota vehicles. 4Runners that were affected include the 2010 – 2016 models.
The Takata airbag inflators were suceptible to exploding, firing metal shards and bits of shrapnel into the cabin with potentially lethal consequences.
Due to the shortage of parts, many owners were left waiting for unreasonable amounts of time for repairs and were left with the choice of either driving a dangerous vehicle or not driving at all.
“Takata recall no action from the manufacturer. Continued delays in correcting the problem is putting my families life in jeopardy.” – NHTSA.gov
“Takata recall recall date of may 23, 2016. One year later, still no remedy from Toyota, other than to recommend that we not allow passengers ride in the front seat, which obviously is not practical.” – NHTSA.gov
If you have the faulty Takata airbags fitted then they will need to be replaced by your dealer.
Run a VIN check on your vehicle and see if it was included in the airbag recall and have any repairs addressed immediately.
It is possible that your vehicle may have the Takata airbags installed and was not covered by the recall, in which case you should speak to your dealer for further guidance.
7. Smell of Sulphur
A large number of 4th Gen 4Runner owners have reported the smell of sulphur which is also described as a rotten egg smell. This was mostly reported on the 2003 and 2004 model years.
“Excessive sulfur smell when accelerating. Occupants of the car can smell the sulfur, and all windows must be rolled up in warmer weather to block out smell. I have taken the vehicle to the Toyota dealership, but they will not fix the problem because there is no TSB for the v8 (but there is for the v6) Toyota 4runner.”
“There is an awful rotten egg sulfur smell being emitted from my 2005 Toyota 4 Runner when driving with back window open. After doing much research, I see there have been many TSB’s issued for 4 runners dating back to 2003 and up to the 2006 models. I brought my car into the dealer, but they tell me my engine is not covered under the TSB’s issued. I feel this is a problem that should be covered.”
Toyota has released a TSB to address this issue, below is an extract from the TSB.
Some customers may complain of excessive sulfur dioxide odor on 2003–2004 model year 4Runner (1GR–FE) vehicles under the following conditions:
- Stop and go driving.
- Heavy acceleration.
In order to reduce the sulfur dioxide odor, the Electronic Control Module (ECM) (SAE term: Powertrain Control Module/PCM) fuel cut control logic has been modified and a new catalyst is provided. Follow the repair procedure to reflash the ECM and replace the catalytic converter assembly.
8. Door Lock Actuator Failure
A common problem with 5th Gen 4Runners owners is failure of the door lock actuator. This is a commonly reported issue with a number of Toyota vehicles.
“My only issues are the drivers seat leather splitting and the door lock motor on the ‘16 giving out.” – Reddit.com/r/4Runner
“Driver side door lock actuator has gone out (right after warranty ended too). Apparently this is very common among all toyota models though.” – Reddit.com/r/4Runner
“Door lock actuator failures are a common problem in our 4Runners.” – toyota-4runner.org
The only fix for this is to replace actuator. Its not a huge job but will require removing the door panel which can be a bit tricky.
You can find DIY guides for this on various owners’ forums.
Alternatively, speak with your local Toyota dealership and have them replace it for you.
9. Uncomfortable Seats
A number of 4Runner owners have aired complaints about the discomfort of the seats. It’s not an issue for all owners, but it something to be aware of.
Owners on 4runner.com shared the following:
“I completed a 5 hour road trip this weekend and my lower back pretty sore. I tried adjusting the positions, but couldn’t make it any better.” –
“They’re just not very comfortable seats IMO. It’s my only complaint. I’m 6’1” 230 and find the seats to be overly hard and too narrow. Manageable on short trips, painful on longer ones. Might push me to get 2022 GX460 tbh”
“Something about the lower support in the seat that has been causing me back problems. Never had this issue until I started driving this vehicle.”
“I have a 2019 SR5 and the seats are pretty much the only complaint I have about this otherwise awesome vehicle. uncomfortable as hell on long trips. thought it was just me (and my back and bony ass) sliding into my mid 50’s but my sons gripe about them too.”
Some owners have reported a big improvement in seat comfort after installing seat jackers.
- The seat jackers will lift the front of your driver or passenger seat to provide that much-needed leg support without significantly impacting headroom.
- This is designed to alleviate lower back stress felt during longer drives.
- By helping you find a reclined seating position that just isn’t available on stock models.
“I’m 6’4″ and big and old and I’ve always had problems with 4runner seats – been driving one since 2004. I could never get enough support under my right leg and would have to stop a lot on longer trips because my right leg and lower back would start barking at me. I bought a set of these seat jackers – the 5th gen version – and it made a world of difference. Amazing what 1 inch adjustment does. Took about 20 minutes to install. Hardest part was getting the plastic covers off to get to the bolts. Well worth the investment.” – 4runner.com
10. Poor Fuel Economy & Slow
The 4Runner is a big SUV with an aging engine, and one of the big drawbacks of this is sub-par fuel economy. But these vehicles aren’t typically bought for their fuel economy or speed.
The standard 4.0-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic make for a fuel-guzzling pairing that does no greater than 17 mpg combined (16 city/19 highway).
On average this equates to 4 mpg worse than competitor crossover SUVs with all-wheel drive.
For comparison, the automatic, V6 Wrangler fares much better with estimates of up to 19 mpg city and 24 highway.
It’s not hard to imagine why the vehicle isn’t very fast either:
- Naturally aspirated
- 5 Speed
- Bad aerodynamics
Uphill the vehicle may feel a bit sluggish, if this is an issue for you we suggest a thorough test drive in hilly locations to see if is acceptable.
However, many owners accept the poor fuel economy and lack of speed for an awesome vehicle that is generally very reliable.
There’s not a great deal you can do about this unfortunately although you can maximize fuel economy by:
- Minimizing cold engine operation.
- Driving conservatively.
- Ensuring tires are correctly inflated
- Shifting gears efficiently.
- Following speed limits.
- Use cruise control.
- Use a “fast pass” on toll roads.
- Avoiding excessive idling.
For more information about the 4Runner’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
11. Leather Seats Splitting
A number of 4Runner owners have reported that the leather seats have split, typically this is the driver’s seat as it gets the most use and sees the most wear and tear.
“My only issues are the drivers seat leather splitting” – Reddit.com/r/4Runner
“Have an 07 w/165k only issue is the the leather splitting on the driver seat.” – Reddit.com/r/4Runner
“My driver’s seat has some damaged leather on the side. The ‘leather’ has peeled off in a couple small places.” – Toyota-4Runner.org
The best repair for this issue is a new seat cover although you can also try some vinyl paint or gorilla tape.
You can also contact a mobile interior specialist to fix the seats for you, ensure they are reputable though.
Using a leather conditioner every now and then will help prevent cracking as it keeps the leather pliable and smooth.
Toyota 4Runner Pros and Cons
If you’re considering a Toyota 4Runner as your next car you might be wondering what its strengths and weaknesses are…
- Bulletproof reliability
- Capable of serious off-roading
- Good towing capability
- Plenty of standard active-safety features
- Poor fuel economy
- Feels old
- Interior materials are unimpressive
Toyota 4Runner Reliability Compared to Similar Cars
|Make & Model||Consumer Reports|
Source: Consumer Reports
Toyota 4Runner Used Value
We’ve taken a look at Car Gurus to gauge the resale value of a Toyota 4Runner, below are typical asking prices for each model year.
According to Car Edge, a Toyota 4Runner will depreciate 19% after 5 years and have a 5 year resale value of $44,562.
Note: Used model prices will vary depending on trim level.
|Model Year||Mileage (miles)||Resale Price|
Source: Car Gurus
What Do Owners Like and Dislike About the Toyota 4Runner?
Based on owner feedback from the Kelley Blue Book site, here are what real-life owners love and hate about the Honda Pilot.
- High-end variants
- Off-road capabilities
- Resale value
- Fuel economy
- Slight discomfort
- Outdated design
“The Toyota 4Runner is the most solidly built SUV that you can buy today for the price. I keep seeing reports about it being old-school and antiquated but that’s what makes this vehicle so classic, well built, and reliable…”
“The 4runner is very solid, and the suspension and body build quality is far better than any other SUV. If you ride it, you will admit it too…”
“Best vehicle I have ever owned. Will go anywhere. Wish my wife would get one. She has a Hyundai. Don’t get that.”
Source: Kelley Blue Book
How Reliable Are Toyota Cars?
According to a recent report from Consumer Reports, Toyota are ranked the 3rd most reliable car manufacturer out of 28 brands, with a score of 71/100.
Source: Consumer Reports