Piston Slap: 4Runner to A New Life?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC Commentator Ralph Schpoilschport writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Got a quick one for you and only asking because you begged! But. I am preparing to make a 3000 mile one-way trip from beautiful Vermontto, well, not so beautiful southern CA. My rig is a 1997 Toyota 4Runner (V6, 5 speed manual). Known problems: leaking rear diff (rust cracks) and a muffler on its last leg. Spark plugs, starter, timing belt and water pump are recent repairs/maintenance. As I type, an attempt is being made to seal the rear diff. If that is successful I am having the mechanic give the chassis a once-over.

If the inspection is clear or things are easily fixed I am planning on making the trip with this car. I figure the car is worth approx $2500 – 3000 as it sits. Am I nuts?

Other options:

  • Rent a car one way. Haven’t looked but figure this to be well over $1000.
  • Trade the rig in. Nice leases for Rav 4’s going on right now. Not sure how the bank would feel about my plan esp. considering I am leaving my job of 9 years for a new one in SoCA.
  • Buy a newer used vehicle. This doesn’t seem like a good idea. If I were to do this I’d rather do it in CA than here (rust).

Sajeev answers:

You aren’t exactly taking a trip: moving to California, needing something to move your stuff is more of a life-changing moment.

  • Renting is out of the question: sell the 4Runner instead, then take a plane and ship all your stuff instead.
  • You are averse to getting a new car, which is acceptable in your position.
  • Getting another used vehicle is both buying someone else’s problems and asking to lose more money on two trade-ins in the near future instead of one.

Honestly, you need this thing to make one last road trip. Sounds like the motor is fine, and hopefully there’s a decent band-aid fix for the axle. If not, just swap the axle with a junkyard unit to give peace of mind and increase resale value.

My biggest concern is the tires: if they are worn and/or 5+ years old, they might not survive that much highway cruising. And odds are the spare isn’t in better shape! So get new tires for the same reasons you’d replace the axle. Ditto other rubber items you’ve overlooked (belts, hoses, vacuum lines, etc) but could explode on the trip. Because your 4Runner (or any Toyota from that era, for that matter) is a hot commodity in any market, especially California. New rubber and a non-rusty axle speeds up the sale and adds value. You’re not gonna waste your money here.

Best of luck in your new career AND your new digs. Do the basics and the 4Runner will do just fine.

Who knows, you might just keep it!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Scuzimi Scuzimi on Jul 31, 2014

    I owned a 1997 4Runner and ran it to 145k. Never had a problem, ever! Best damned vehicle I ever owned. As far as SoCal goes...stay in Vermont... we don't need you here if you think our state is not so beautiful.

  • Seth1065 Seth1065 on Aug 04, 2014

    Glad you made it out there w no issue and let us know about it, Good luck on the west coast.

  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
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