'90 4Runner: Fix or Abandon?

Hey gang: I’m new to this forum, and am looking for advice re: my '90 4Runner (manual, 3.0L V6).

First things first: I love my truck. I bought it 10 years ago and have since put about 200k on it up here in the mountains of Colorado. We’ve created lots of great memories together.

Unfortunately, about a year ago, I lost compression in a cylinder. The truck is very sluggish now, and getting up some of these hills is a painful experience, because I have to downshift to second gear and crank the RPMs to about 4.5k for extended periods of time (5-10 minutes) just to keep power.

In addition, there are all the other problems associated with a car with just under 300k on in (broken stereo, clutch is going, etc…)

I’m looking for a ballpark figure on how much I could expect to pay on replacing the engine and clutch, along with all the other minor things I’m sure the mechanic will find along the way (I don’t have near the mechanical skill necessary to do this job myself).

I really need an SUV up here, and I’m betting that I could fix the Runner for less money than I could purchase a comparable truck for (hopefully less than $4k). I think I could sell my truck for around $1k.

Does anyone have any insight into this problem? I’m open to all suggestions…



You could probably find a used engine in a junk yard. This would be less expensive than a new or rebuilt engine. Google “rebuilt engines” to find prices for your truck.

Before putting more money into a vehicle with nearly 300K miles I’d want to know about rust, especially considering your location.

Thanks Paradise. Her body’s in great shape - no rust at all. All she needs is more power (and a new clutch, I think. Getting into third gear is tricky sometimes, and doing so causes an occational grind. All other gears seem fine).

It looks like rebuilt engines range around $2,500 with a 70k-100k warranty. How much does it cost in labor to put one in? How about a clutch replacement at the same time?


Do you know the engine is trash? If you’ve completely lost compression in one cylinder and all the others are fine, it’s probably a valve or a head gasket issue (this engine is known for head gasket problems-- it was even the subject of a recall and should have had an improved head gasket installed by Toyota). Even if you had to replace both head gaskets and do a valve job, it’d be a heckuva lot cheaper than a new engine let alone a new truck.

Anyone who drives a truck with nearly 300K should already have established a relationship with a good mechanic. If, for some reason, you haven’t done so, now would be a very good time.

Your local independent mechanic can give you an estimate on installing a rebuilt engine. The clutch disc and pressure plate attach to the flywheel at the rear of the engine, so the mechanic can just install new ones before installing the rebuilt engine in the truck.

Again, a mechanic can give you a cost estimate on this job. I also suggest you allow a mechanic to thoroughly inspect this vehicle to make sure it’s structurally sound before you go ahead with this.

Your mention of trouble shifting into third gear makes me think more things are worn out than you care to admit.

“Your mention of trouble shifting into third gear makes me think more things are worn out than you care to admit.”

Ha! No doubt true. I’m just reluctant to give up on the truck because (1) I’m fond of her (sentamental, but true), and (2) I’m not convinced I can get anything as good for the cost it will be to fix her (less the price of selling her).

I do have a good relationship with my mechanic, I just don’t want to waste his time. I’ll go and see him, though, and get his opinion on things.

Jack: A mechanic (not mine, but my parents’ in NM) told me that my cylinder was “low” and that fixing it would require a rebuild. I didn’t go into the details with him, because I didn’t have the money either way, and he said it would get me around (which it has), just with a lot less power (also true). It was a gradual process, though. I never woke up one day to a totally different engine, it just sort of leaked power.

If you run the numbers it’s time to let the truck go. Sometimes numbers aren’t the answer. These 4 Runners hold up and if the body and frame are rust free then fixing the motor, new clutch, and even some new syncro’s for 3rd gear are all worth it - IF you keep the truck for another 100 to 200K miles. If you like the truck that much then get it fixed.

Perhaps as someone posted the motor may not have low compression due to worn rings. Is it burning more than 2 quarts of oil every 3,000 miles? If is not burning oil, then perhaps the compression problem is due to a bad valve or head gasket. If you do need a new engine or rebuild, then the new clutch is labor free since it easy to change when you pull the engine.

People go into debt to buy new cars. Consider taking some sort of loan if needed to finance a “refurbishing” of your truck. In the process upgrade the stereo, or make some cosmetic repairs, get it completely detailed. In the end try to make it run an look like new and enjoy it for many more years.

If you use it like a car, all is fine, but otherwise; It’s time to replace your old friend with a newer one…If you have used your 4Runner for what was intended and if you did much off roading then from here on out it’s a great commercial for Toyota, but I feel an unsafe one. Regardless of the rust free appearance, frame and body flex on vehicles with that mileage, when used as intended could result in an unforeseen structural failure. She doesn’t love you back and could strand you in a heart beat or worse. Keep it for a trip to Sunday church going trips if you wish, but I’d retire her from very rough treatment. You’ll appreciate a newer 4Runner just as much.
Caveat would be to have a good trusted body shop go over it before you put $$$$ into running mechanics.

I’d check out the engine first, and if it’s really toast go for a good used engine. Your vehicle has served you well, but at this time I would stay away from spending large amounts of money on it.