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The Experience of Owning a Toyota 4Runner

Let me start off by saying that I am a car guy. My entire career has been automotive related. I learned from a young age that if I wanted freedom, I needed wheels! In fact, I saved up and bought my first car, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird, when I was 15, before I was even able to drive!

Since then I’ve owned five different Toyota Supras, an ugly Honda Prelude, a couple Toyota Corollas, two Toyota pickups, a Nissan Frontier, a Nissan Pathfinder, a Lexus SUV and most recently a Toyota 4Runner. Up until the 4Runner, I think I changed vehicles once every year or so.

Well, I’ve had this 2006 Toyota 4Runner Sport 4WD with a V6 engine since 2008. I’ve personally put over 140,000 miles on it (odometer is at 165,000 currently) and it has yet to skip a beat. It has never ONCE broken down on me, and has yet to leak fluid of any sort.

I’ve driven it through dirt, snow, to California, Nevada and Mexico. I’ve hauled trailers and a boat (I’ll have to write about owning a boat another time. Spoiler alert, it’s not nearly as low maintenance as a Toyota). I’ve loaded it up with snowboards, mountain bikes and every type of sporting equipment imaginable. I’ve moved furniture, clothing, Home Depot supplies, animals. You name it – this 4Runner has made short work of every task I’ve thrown at it! To describe it in one word – VERSATILE.

So what have I had to do to it? Well, it would be silly to think that any vehicle could last this long without some preventative maintenance. Everything wears out over time, so let me talk a little bit about the items I have encountered over the years and miles.

Oil Changes for Your Toyota 4Runner

Toyota recommends changing your engine oil and filter every 5,000 miles. At 4,500 miles your maintenance light will flash briefly at startup. At 5,000 miles it will stay on constantly until your oil is changed. The light has to be manually reset (email me for reset instructions). I’ve always used a synthetic blend 5W30 engine oil. I don’t believe that synthetic oil is necessary on vehicles like this, AS LONG as you change it on schedule. I have also always used genuine Toyota oil filters. This is just a personal preference of mine, any good quality filter will do. Engine oil that is driven past its expiration date can cause a variety of premature engine failures. Do yourself a favor and spend the money on regular oil changes if you do nothing else.

Breathe Easier in Your Toyota

Here in Mesa, AZ I have found that engine and cabin air filters get pretty dusty after about 12,000 miles. I have swapped these out at regular intervals (roughly once a year for me).

Spark Plugs Put Juice In Your Engine

Most newer vehicles come equipped with iridium spark plugs which do not require replacement until 90,000 miles. The 4Runner is equipped with a 1GR-FE engine that requires copper spark plugs. The great news is that they are much cheaper than iridium, the bad news is that you will need to replace them every 30,000 miles. I did try using a set of iridium plugs for a while, but the engine just seemed to be lacking a bit of power so I swapped back to the standard copper plugs. I do not know why this engine does not like iridium, but I’m sure it’s got something to do with the design of the ignition system.

Change Your Transmission Fluid When Needed

Toyota does not recommend servicing your automatic transmission fluid until 100,000 miles. I personally feel this is a bit excessive. The Arizona heat is particularly hard on transmission fluid; on top of that, I have used the 4Runner to tow on several occasions. The fluid was pretty dark at 75,000 miles so I replaced it early. I had it done again at 155,000 miles. Remember, preventative maintenance can and WILL save you money in the long run.

Replace Your Drive Belt Before it Fails

Believe it or not, the original Toyota drive belt will easily last 80,000-90,000 miles. Serpentine belts on newer vehicles typically don’t crack on the inside grooves like most older design V-belts and multi-groove belts. On my newer style serpentine belt, the backing got really dry, to the point where you could scratch your name on it with a fingernail. It probably wouldn’t have fallen off for another 20,000 miles, but it was dried and was making some noise. I opted to replace it before complete failure.

XREAS is a Very Unique Suspension

My 4Runner Sport has a very unique suspension called XREAS. The left front strut is connected to the right rear strut (and right front connected to left rear) via hydraulic lines. This helps the vehicle to be more stable in cornering and handling. The interesting thing about this system is that if you let your struts leak for too long, you must also replace these four hydraulic lines as they are pressurized. If your struts leak for too long, the lines will lose their pressure and become ineffective. It is MUCH more expensive if the lines need to replace, so I opted to replace my shocks and struts at the first sign of leakage which was at approximately 90,000 miles.

Brakes: They Make Your Car Stop

Believe it or not, the 4Runner brake system is very resilient. In 100,000 miles I never had so much as a squeak or brake pedal pulsation. I am a little OCD though, so I ended up replacing my front and rear brake pads and machining the rotors at approximately 100,000 miles. Upon removing the old pads, it looked like I could have probably driven another 20,000 miles or more before I absolutely needed to replace them.

Are Alternators Important?

The alternator was not a scheduled replacement but in true Toyota spirit, the old 4Runner never left me stranded. I was having the engine oil serviced at approximately 130,000 miles and the alternator decided to start making a horrible screeching noise. What better time to fail, right??

Wes Loves His 4Runner! Really Loves It!

As you can see, I’ve had a pretty good relationship with my 4Runner – 165,000 miles and no breakdowns, leaks, clunks or rattles. I really have no reason to get rid of it. I wouldn’t hesitate to drive to Mexico, New York or anywhere else at the drop of a hat. Even if I were to buy a 2017 4Runner, my current vehicle will do everything the new one would.

But of course, I do get a little envious. I occasionally take a ride in a newer vehicle and that new car smell is intoxicating! It’s hard to really explain, but there have been a few occasions that I was tempted to get one of my own. So here’s what I recently did – I gave her a makeover! I installed a 3” lift kit and new 33” BFG All Terrain tires. The lift kit is comprised of Old Man Emu front and rear lift springs and Bilstein adjustable front struts and rear shocks. I have to admit, the truck looks much tougher now. And perhaps someday, I may be tempted to go play in the dirt a bit.

The 4Runner actually rides a bit smoother now than it did with the XREAS suspension. Bumps aren’t as harsh as they used to be. The only downside I have noticed is that it does sway a bit more on turns and it seems to be struggling just a bit with the factory gearing. I’m thinking new front and rear ring and pinions may be my next project.

All that aside, I’m just astounded that these are the only worries I have on a vehicle with so many miles. I fully expect my 4Runner to be reliable for another 100,000 miles or more.