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Project $400Runner

Welcome to Project $400Runner. I’ll be cataloging the ups and downs of my $400 1998 4Runner Limited. First let’s get into the back story, how I got her home and of course where we stand now.

During the start of the pandemic, I was asked to work from home for the foreseeable future. This meant I was spending days at home with no commute and the empty spot in my driveway was starting to gnaw at me. I’m no stranger to projects, I’ve owned over 30 some cars in my lifetime and I already have one that may be sold soon (NA Miata). The need to wrench, sweat, swear and cover my pavement in fluids was eating at me every day.

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I decided to find an offroad vehicle. The wife has a Renegade Trailhawk that we love, but is too new for us to take offroad and beat. We need a rig that can handle rubbing up against rocks, taking mud and being rolled over. We also bought a canoe and have been looking at boats. So a good tow rig that can also carry stuff on top was a must. I set my eyes on the vehicle I could trust, a Toyota. Specifically, I wanted a Land Cruiser. But, I only had $1500 to spend so an LC was out of the budget. Enter, the $400 4runner.

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Only Facebook Photo that I could find
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This is what I saw on Facebook, a cheap and pretty clean example of the famous 3rd gen 4Runner. These are the ones you still see driving around and being great SUV’s. Sadly the hood scoop was not factory, but this example was a Limited so that meant factory lockers and leather interior among other things.

I shot the guy a message, found it was a former Arizona truck and that it had over 300,000 miles on the chassis. Engine and tranny were swapped but had over 100k according to the seller. Mileage, to me, is just a number. So no fear there. I agree to come out and take a look. He tells me it has a snapped rear control arm, so I won’t be able to drive it far or fast. Remember that for later...

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First time laying eyes on her

I drove almost 2 hours to look at it. I was in love. Yes there was some holes in the doors, the thing barely started and it had a slight misfire. The interior was dirty and of course the leather has seen better days, but it’s been through 300k miles. But the frame was solid and it was up for a decent price.

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After some haggling, and finding out the rear diff cover was leaking, we got it down to $600. You’re probably wondering, how is this a $400 4Runner? I found $200 under the rear cargo tray when I got it home. So it’s a $400 car in my eyes. The seller did note that the rear hatch window didn’t work and was more than likely a motor or wiring failure, no biggie. I might replace that with a new hatch door all together due to some rust.

I was now the proud owner of a 98 4Runner that I had to drive from Madison back home:

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This was not fun. The previous owner replaced one lower control arm but not the other as he could only get his hands on one. The whole truck would move sideways, almost crab like, when on the throttle and would require some good countersteering. Left off the gas and it would go back straight. Constantly sawing the wheel on back roads for over 2 hours shot my nerves to hell and back.

Going up hills, it misfired as if half the plugs weren’t working. I couldn’t accelerate in OD, I would manually have to kick it down to get it up hills. Well that or go up in Reverse, but I hadn’t gotten that desperate. On the drive home, I did confirm the cruise control worked and there was some life in the A/C. The sunroof was not so happy, it only rolled back half way and sounded as if it was dying on the way back. We’re just gonna keep it closed.

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After getting it home, I did my Pre Purchase inspection.

What we need:

  • Rear control arms, upper and lower
  • Spark plugs and wires
  • Tires (currently balder than Constanza)
  • Battery
  • Door rust holes patched
  • Headlight bulbs
  • Rear diff cover fixed
  • Exhaust leak fixed (at header and muffler)
  • A/C recharge
  • Front suspension bushings
  • Rear Hatch Motor/Hatch Replacement
  • Remove the tacky Autozone “Sport” badge from the passenger side.
  • Remove the un-photographed giant “Oakley” logo that I can’t stand to look at.

Eventually I’d like to do a lift on it, but just getting her 100% road worthy is the goal now. Here’s how she sits in the driveway:

Illustration for article titled Project $400Runner
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Illustration for article titled Project $400Runner
Needs a good cleaning, as you can see
Needs a good cleaning, as you can see
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My sweat and blood will be worth more than this thing when I’m done with it...

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