By on July 30, 2014


Driveway Smudge

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 [email protected]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. 

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: 4Runner to A New Life?...”

  • avatar

    I’d worry about getting the car to pass inspection in CA first, then work your way back to the solution.
    CA has very stringent regulations for cars, and you’ll need to undergo a complete inspection since your car is from out of state.

    I’ve had friends who moved out to CA and ended up selling their cars for peanuts in AZ or NV because they would not pass inspection without a LOT of expensive work or alterations. They ended up having to pay a lot more for something in state that was exempt or already certified.

    If you don’t KNOW it will pass inspection, sell local and buy in Cali instead.

    • 0 avatar

      Very good point.

      • 0 avatar

        Yup this is the answer. California is not like my state (NM) in having inspections just in certain cities based on pollution levels and # of smog days, California has inspections state wide.

        Sell where you are at now and buy in California.

    • 0 avatar

      Vermont adopted California’s smog inspection standards, so a recent model would have no problem (unlike other states), but your truck is too old. There’s an OBD test that can be made in Vermont that will give you an idea what to expect in Cali.

      Cali also does a tail pipe emission test, and your truck will have to pass that standard too, for the year the truck was made, I believe. Massachusetts also adopted Cali smog rules and has the tail pipe emissions test, so maybe you could get it checked there.

      I’d worry more about getting the truck in shape to make the trip. I’ve driven from Boston to San Diego and back in three different cars, but none was more than six years old at the time. For a 17 year old truck, listen to Sajeev.

      And DO check online beforehand what standards your ’97 will be held to in Cali. regardless of the registration/inspection situation, it’ll still make more sense to drive your stuff than fly and buy, if the truck is in good enough shape for the trip.

      • 0 avatar

        I moved to SoCal with a ’98 Chevy in 2006. It wasn’t much of a problem. One thing I would recommend is getting a AAA membership. It could come in handy during the drive, and you can get the inspection and new registration handled at a local AAA office, saving the huge headaches of the DMV. I just showed up. They did a visual inspection in the parking lot (looked under the hood, etc.) and started it to look for a check engine light. If rust is getting to be significant, then it could be an issue in the visual inspection, but they won’t be putting it on a lift to check for rust underneath or find your fix on the diff. I had to go elsewhere to get a smog test (as others have mentioned, it just needs to meet its original expectations, not CA new-car levels), and that was it.

        I sold the car here a couple of years later. The first guy got scared off by the idea of rust (nothing significant, but it was starting to appear after 9 Minnesota winters). The second guy didn’t care. Many people here aren’t familiar with rust and what it can do, so if it looks decent cosmetically they may not notice or take it into account.

        Finally, if you do decide to go for the new RAV, I don’t see what business of theirs it is that you’re planning to change jobs or move. When they arrange financing, they check your history, not your future.

      • 0 avatar

        Massachusetts has NOT had a tailpipe test since 2008 or so. It’s either OBD (2000+) or “check for visible smoke” (1999-). Of course, every car has to go through the safety test regardless of age, and all pay the same fee ($35).

    • 0 avatar

      The only inspections we have in CA are emissions (which are pretty strict).

      Bald tires and 1 function brake, but all original emissions controls in place? You’re good to go!

  • avatar

    I’m going to have to differ with Sajeev on this one (although, who knows, maybe Sanjeev would side with me).

    1) Sell the 4Runner as is, where is. It’s going to be worth more in VT where every vehicle of its vintage is somewhat rusty, than in SoCal surrounded by a bazillion pristine 20- and 30-year-old Yo’s.

    2) Buy a plane ticket, stuff as much as you can in your luggage, and UPS your other essentials.

    3) Buy one of the aforementioned pristine vehicles on arrival. You can start your search on the interwebs before you leave.

    Whatever you do, good luck and enjoy the weather!

    • 0 avatar

      Addendum. I don’t know if they still do it but the post office used to have a “media rate” for shipping books. It was very slow but very cheap, and it doesn’t have to be books, just suitably heavy.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        It is supposed to be printed materials, though, and the package is subject to inspection to verify the contents.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, that’s right.

          Media Mail still exists. There’s also Media Mail w/ Delivery Confirmation (i.e. tracking), for a small extra charge, so you can get at least a rough idea of the package’s whereabouts if it gets lost or delayed.

  • avatar

    You’re not crazy! I just took my 1996 4Runner down to the Outer Banks from Indiana and back. I had gone through my truck very thoroughly beforehand, and was carrying a spare ignition coil and fuel injector, as well as all of my tools and extra fluids. Didn’t end up needing any of that. Truck used zero oil and got 20-21 mpg over the course of the trip, even with West Virginia’s mountains. It was oh so worth it to take the 4Runner rather than my Civic once we got to the beach and were four-wheeling all over it!

    Sounds like your 4Runner has some rust, so consider this: sell it where you are now since people are more used to dealing with rust on older cars. In fact sell it on a 4Runner forum, 5spds fetch good money regardless of miles. Come to think of it, people in CA might be willing to pay top dollar for a 5spd 4runner as well! The key here is to not trade it in, you will get thousands more with minimal effort by listing it yourself online on an enthusiast/model-specific forum.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii


      Sell the 4Runner on a forum, haul/ship all your crud and yourself to CA. Once there, get a 30- or 60-day rental to drive around while you get settled in and look for a new/used long-term vehicle.

  • avatar

    sell it and leave it like old baggage. Its not worth as much as you think, especially if you are desperate about selling from a moving situation.

  • avatar

    I know zilch about living in Cali, but isn’t it difficult registering cars from out of state there? If you patch together your 4Runner would you then run into issues from PRK keeping it legal? This to me is the litmus test, because if you can’t then you must buy something Cali legal in any event no matter how you get there.

    • 0 avatar

      This. Just sell it now, save your money, and don’t bother catching up on all the deferred maintenance you’ve [not] done. It’s not worth that much, and fixing that crap won’t give an equivalent level of appealing points on Craigslist.

      • 0 avatar

        Based on later replies, it seems feasible with an OBDII vehicle. I would still suggest OP verify these suggestions either with CalTrans or CARB.

  • avatar

    keep the 4 runner, drive it to Cali, get the tires done a nd maybe the axle, hit the f 4 runner forums and find out how hard it is to regi a car in Calf, if it really hard sell it on ebay or said 4 runner forums or take your time find a car you want in cali and trade it in, Your starting a new job will need a place to stay , cash for other crap, why add one more headache to your life, you know the truck if you feel it will get you there and buy you a few months until your settled , I say go for it. It is not like you need to get it registered and inspected the minute you enter the state. Good luck and let us know what you decide and how the trip went.

  • avatar

    Hi, California resident with experience in used cars here. Heres my 2 cents:

    California will require saftey inspection and a SMOG check for an out of state vehicle.

    The safety stuff should be fine. The SMOG check will require that you have CARB(California Air Resources Board) certified catalytic converters and requires you to pass higher standards of emissions. I think theres a good chance you will pass the smog unless you put in new cats in the past that weren’t CARB. In that case its about $700 to put them in, comes with full exhaust, or like $400 if you cut them out and weld in new ones. Read up on your car to make sure that your 4Runner is built the same way for your home town as they were for CA in those days (I simply dont know this)

    As far as value goes, of course condition, RWD or 4×4, and mileage matter, but since its a 1997, its gonna be worth at least $4000-$5000 here in California if you fix the rust issues and pass SMOG(Required for car sales in CA). 4 Runners are CRAZY in demand around here especially in the latino circles which is half of our state.

    I recently sold a 1997 4×4 4Runner with 160k on it for $9000 in SF so YMWV. Guy drove 4 hours from tahoe to pick it up.

    Good luck!

    • 0 avatar

      No there is no requirement for you to bring a vehicle up to CA standards that you purchased and owned out of state for a minimum period of time before moving to CA. I don’t remember if it is still 6mos or if they bumped it up to a year of ownership in the prior state. It will have to meet the standards that the truck was built to and nothing more. Of course that won’t be purely trouble free because you’ll have to fight with the emissions test facility and prove that it is a “49 state” vehicle every time it needs its emission test.

      On the other hand a “49 state” vehicle that was legally brought into CA could be worth a touch more to someone who knows the drill and that it will be easier and cheaper to keep it passing emissions than a CA spec vehicle.

  • avatar

    Jeez, what’s with 4Runners? Every miled-out, clapped-out, rusted-out 4Runner is still worth at least $2,500? I know they are good trucks, but they still need fixing like everything else.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s what the people want, even if they are all old and needy. Ditto the small body Tacomas.

      • 0 avatar

        They’re going for such ridiculous money, might as well get an LC.

        • 0 avatar

          Double the price and half the fuel economy.

          • 0 avatar

            Oh don’t be dramatic with your fuel economy figures. The LC is also cooler, and you’re more likely to get more money back when ya sell.

            Also 7 seats. And well-equipped.

          • 0 avatar

            4Runner mixed city mpg = 17, 20-21 highway. 80 Series Land cruiser is more like low teens city/mixed, 17ish at best highway. It’s about 1000lb heavier and has full time 4wd, simple physics. Interior is wider but frankly not that much bigger overall. Unless hardcore rock crawling is involved, the lighter duty 4Runner makes a lot of sense for ‘expedition’ type enthusiasts. Having said that, I’d love to have a Land Cruiser of that generation with front and rear lockers, and the JDM turbo diesel while we’re at it.

            As far as getting money back when selling, the 4Runner is right on the heels of the Landcruiser, particularly 5spd models with the rear locker, or ones with multi-mode 4wd (lockable center diff). Which goes hand in hand with the high prices everyone is speaking of.

  • avatar

    People here seem to think you need California Emissions. You don’t. This is why California requires a car to have something like 8000 miles to be considered used.

    Used vehicles from out of state can have Federal Emissions. They will test it to meet federal standards. Just make sure that everything is in good condition ( get you exhaust fixed ). I know Vermont has Vehicle inspections so if it passed that you have nothing to worry about.

    It is easier to travel with a vehicle you already know, and have experience with. Plus, the ability to carry your belongings is huge convenience. You also have the opportunity to site see which you can’t do on a plane quite to the same level.

  • avatar

    if its a 97, its OBD2. If theres no CEL, there shouldnt be a problem passing emissions. its paid for, so keep it, use it, drive it until you know exactly what the new job here is like. if things work out, buy a new car when you feel like it.

  • avatar

    I live in AZ and would say sell it before you move.. unless the undercariage and body is 100% rust free. That is the expectation in the Southwest. Any car with even a spec of rust sticks out like a sore thumb. And once you see California gas prices you probably are going to want something different anyways.

  • avatar

    I would not worry a bit about the truck making the trip. Last year I flew to San Antonio from Maine and bought an ’01 Range Rover with 130K on it sight-unseen (though thoroughly checked out), and drove it home with no issues. Well, other than I should have gotten a Xmas card from Exxon due to the amount of petrol the thing swilled. The Toyota will make it just fine.

    That said, interesting quandary about whether to keep or sell now. Sounds like you are starting a new life. If the new job is reasonably secure I could see selling the $runner and getting that new RAV4. One less thing to worry about during the big move. Please let us know what you decide to do and how it all works out!

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Are you moving across country for a minimum wage job?

    Surely you are smart enough to know if your ride needs a new set of treads..easy solve.

    You are not driving to the moon. 3k miles plus of minus. So, in the last 4k. miles driven or better yet 10k driven, how many times have you been left stranded? If it were me, and the number is greater than one then I don’t need the headaches. If none, then why would your rig suddenly start giving you problems? Only you can truly know if you have forgone necessary maintenance, now would be a good time to be honest with yourself……

    Otherwise what’s to worry about? I used to drive to and from college back in the early 90’s 1800 miles one way in cars/trucks that I had less ‘invested’ in than some folks ‘invest’ per month in car payments. I only spent time on the side of the road once, and the ride I was in could at be described as a sled…

    Plus…you own a cell phone right? Load her up and get on with it. You can get stupid money for a 4runner in any state of the country and in any state of repair/disrepair.

    • 0 avatar

      This, tune it up fix the problems and do the timing belt and reassess your priorities in another 100k miles, just make sure you have a AAA membership that pays for the long distance tows.

  • avatar

    In 2006 and 2007 I made 4 trips between Michigan and Florida in an ’89 Bonneville.

    Granted everyone knows that the LN3-equipped Bonneville is made of sterner stuff than the 4Runner but I bet you’ll be fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Hmm, that’s quite a claim! If I were a betting man I’d put my money on the 5vzfe and Aisin A340F, although ignoring the timing belt interval on the Toyota would probably lead to a non running motor (but non-ruined) at around 170k if it is never changed. I think those older LN3 equipped cars are solid, but not immune from failing engine sensors as they age. Not to mention a GM fwd transaxle outlasting a rwd Aisin tranny that also saw service in a 1000lb heavier LandCruiser is highly unlikely.

      • 0 avatar

        Well the transmission has made it 25 years so far. I think you’ve got me killed in resale value though…

        I was really just joking with my comment. However, my LN3 C/H cars have been really robust.

        • 0 avatar

          Oh for sure, my understanding is that the LN3s did not suffer from the weak plastic upper intake manifolds. Also, the C/Hs of that era are generally regarded as perhaps some of the most reliable sedans GM has ever built, full stop. I’d love one as a daily driver, I can’t get enough of the excellent visibility and low/minimalist dashboards of the late 80s cars. Super roomy to boot!

      • 0 avatar

        “I think those older LN3 equipped cars are solid, but not immune from failing engine sensors as they age.”

        The Church of 3800 takes a dim view of those who bear false witness regarding our deity.

  • avatar
    Ralph ShpoilShport

    Well, the trip has come and gone and…. Thanks for the input. For the record, I made the trip w/ the 4Runner. Just under 3000 miles in four days. We (me and the 4Runner) arrived without incident.   I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed.  Did I mention that I the odo read 223,000 miles when I left?  My mechanic sealed the rear end w/ Permatex Cold Weld and it hasn’t leaked since.  It’s going to need a muffler soon (rust).  I plan on keeping her going in the foreseeable future.  Thanks, Sajeev.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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