After selling my E46 wagon, I had an empty space in my heart, and my garage. I really wanted something that could go off road, haul stuff inside, and tow. I went back and forth on Land Cruisers and 4Runners, always loved the 4Runner, but Land Cruisers are legendary. A post I made on here steered me towards LX470s and GX470s, so those were added on to the list. So the search began.
I travel for work, and as luck would have it in the last couple weeks I was up and down the coast, so I had an opportunity to shop down in the Fort Lauderdale FL area, and Raleigh NC area. Much searching on all the usual suspects as well as Facebook Marketplace ensued.
Budget was up to $7000, but really I’d rather be $3500 or less. This is not a daily driver, I have 3 other vehicles. This is a toy, I’m not commuting in it, that’s what my 2018 Outback is for. I’m a decent wrench with a well equipped garage, so projects are fine by me, keeps me from having to just do things for the sake of doing them and keeps me sane.
My purchase rules were fairly simple. I can fix anything. However, if the frame and suspension is rusted all over and has holes, I’m walking away. Yes, I can fix it. I’ve patched a Jeep TJ frame before, and it was fine. I don’t want to though.
First thing I looked at was an LX470. Nice, but NOOOOOPE. First, it’s huge, but mainly, it’s a Lexus. It’s soft, comfy, quiet. This is not fun. Capable, yes, and with the windows down in the woods I’m sure it’d be fun, but on the road I’ll fall asleep guiding the good ship Lexus down the lanes. The dealer had a GX470 as well. I looked at it and sat in it, it was a huge nope as well. Hate the rear door, not a fan of the styling, and just generally feel like Lexus doesn’t fit me at this point.
Next a 2004 Land Cruiser. I really liked this one. Still too large, but it doesn’t feel as isolated as the Lexus. Still not fun to drive on the road, but better. Love the tailgate, and it’s definitely built like a tank. However, at my price range I’m picking at the bottom of the market. The ones I looked at were all in major need of stuff, deferred maintenance, a lot of rust, tires, suspension, a lot of stuff. Quick math put the best of the bunch at $6500 purchase, plus another $3k to get it to where I’d be comfortable driving it and not be worrying. Too much money for something that didn’t really speak to me.
On to the 4Runners
At this point I’d pretty much decided on a 4Runner. I drove around my home area in NH and put about 300mi on my car looking at every one that was promising for $7k and under. What I’ve learned is these things rust like crazy on the frames. Of the 20 or so I looked at, ranging from 1996-2007, 4 had frames that didn’t have any holes rusted through them, 1 of those had previously been patched, 2 were really rusty but not through yet, and only one was clean.
The first one I drove was a 2003 V8. It was a serious project being sold by a flipper for $3300. 191k miles, bumpers hanging off, shocks completely shot, rear door wouldn’t open, torn seats, many dings and scratches, tires bald. What made it interesting besides the price and year, was the completely clean frame. Not a bit of rust. It looked almost new. I considered making a lowball $2000 offer on it with it needing roughly $2500 for repairs, but I wanted to look some more and drive a 3rd generation first since I liked the look of the interior and exterior more, plus it was a bit smaller.
Drove another 4th Gen, this time a V6 with 220k on it, $4800 asking price. Better shape than the first, no rust through on the frame, but definitely getting there. This one didn’t feel tired at least, it had been well maintained. Nice rig, but I dunno, it didn’t speak to me and I could tell that frame was really close to needing some cleanup and patching.
Which brings me to the winner
Every 3rd gen I looked at was in terrible shape in almost every department. Makes sense seeing how the newest one in existence is 17yr old at this point. However, this generation is what a 4Runner is in my eyes. My Brother in Law had one when he and my sister met, and this is the generation from when I was in college (at least the early years). This generation just felt right to me, it’s smaller, and it feels like an old truck. I love that.
I looked at about 15 3rd gens. First thing I do is walk up, lay down and look underneath and feel the frame inside next to the muffler and look at the mounts for the rear suspension link. All of the 3rd gens I looked at except the one I bought I didn’t even get in or start, because they all failed that first examination.
I was ready to give up on Saturday for the day when I got a message from a guy I had contacted the day before who wasn’t very responsive. Said he was in the hospital, but the truck was at a friend’s place and I could go look at it. I got the address and drove right over. I was pretty blown away when I pulled up to see it. First it was my favorite red color, second, it looked completely stock.
Got underneath it, frame was in remarkably good shape. A bit of surface rust here and there, and the section next to the muffler had been patched, but nothing else that really concerned me. Suspension was mostly clean, all brackets looked good. Walked around, decent tires with a few thousand left to go, no rust at all on the body, just a solid looking truck. Getting inside is more of the same. Someone loved this thing. Everything is in great shape, everything works. Even has the tape deck still, and the power antenna goes up and down when turned on. Battery is completely dead from sitting for the last 6 months, but the rest of the engine bay looks great. No sign of damage or accidents, nothing screwed around with.
Fire it up with my jump pack, it starts immediately, settles into a nice idle. Shifts through the gears fine, all the 4wd, AWD, center diff lock work as the should. I’m a happy camper, this is the one.
Shut it off and get under with my inspection camera to get a better look at everything to make sure I know what I’m getting. The inside of the frame rails are clean and solid with no flaking rust or any rust that I can see at all. I’m guessing that the original owner used fluid film or something, and it shows. At this point I realized that I didn’t really check the back of the frame behind the axles yet, and I find a problem. The rear section from the bumper going forwards about a foot has rusted through on the inside section on both sides where just would have been thrown up on it. It’s repairable, but I said I wouldn’t get one with this type of problem, so I walk away.
That night I did a lot of thinking and research. Looked in AZ and CA at 3rd Gens. Talked to my welder buddy who I had repair my old TJ. Looked at transportation costs, and just kinda labored over everything. At the end of it all I decided that with everything else being in the condition it is, I can deal with those 2 rust spots.
Contacted the owner and we agreed on $2k. I got a good deal, he bought it at auction, so he made money as well. Arranged to meet a family member of his to get the title, bill of sale and give him money, and made it all happen later that night. The next morning I went and registered/retitled the truck, and had my dad give me a ride down there with a new battery and some tools so I could get it going.
It’s at home in my garage now, and I am deeply smitten. It’s like jumping in a time machine back to the 90s. What temperature is it outside? No idea, Toyota didn’t think you needed to know at this time. Want to listen to a podcast? Too bad, hope you have some tapes and CDs. Luckily my favorite radio station plays a lot of period appropriate rock for me to listen to while driving it.
So what’s on the to do list? The bumpers need to be replaced. Both of them are rusted through and covered in duct tape. I already have new ones coming. The lower ball joint on the driver side has some play, as does the tie rod, new ones will be here and installed on Thursday. Other than that, I’ve got a couple bulbs in the dash to do, and I’m going to do some tire shopping, the date codes on the ones on it say 2013, and that’s too old for a set of tires, plus they are pretty worn.
Other than that, no immediate plans aside from patching that rear frame section. I’m planning on keeping this one around long term. It really suits me. Thanks for reading my rambling post.