Toyota 4runner 4-Wheel-Drive Problem - Help PLEASE



Our car is a 2002 Toyota 4runner with 4WD. A couple of days ago, we put it into the 4WD because of snow & slippery conditions. I don’t believe anyone’s put it into 4WD since last winter, but … the issue I’m writing about: The light indicator on the dash for the 4WD system stays on and nothing we do seems to disengage it. There are 3 positions for the 4WD shift: L, N, and H. This shifter has the “engage” button on the driver’s side. We can still shift between the various positions with both the 4WD and the regular gear shift and drive, but … no matter what gear we have any or both of the shifters in, the 4WD light on the dash constantly flashes. After talking with a couple of friends who are mechanics (but don’t know much about this specific problem) and the local dealer, seems like this flashing lite is an indicator that the 4WD isn’t working. The dealer wants to charge $300 to do just a diagnostic (and that doesn’t include any parts that may need replacing). My other question is: Will it do any harm to drive the vehicle with this lite on? No other lites or warnings are indicating any kind of problem. The dealer suggested that we drive it as little as possible and said that something else more serious could go wrong if we drove it like this for long. I don’t get a good feeling at the individual I talked with at this dealer … and wonder if he was trying to use scare tactics to get us to spend money at their place.

Any ideas or suggestions would be very much appreciated.



A mechanic friend’s son (who’s also a mechanic) suggested that I do the following: 1.) disconnect the neg. on the battery; 2.) turn the ignition to on and leave it for about 10 minutes; 3.) turn the ignition back off; and 4.) reconnect the neg. on the battery. He said this may “clear the codes out.” I was really disappointed, because the lite came back on again. After I drove about 50 miles, the lite went out. I didn’t even notice it at first, until my wife started screaming. My 1st thought was “What did I do now,” but … the lite had gone out … and the car continues to run fine, as it has the whole time.



You don’t need to visit a dealer for a vehicle this old. Usually the majority of techs have little experience except the more senior ones anyway.

Find an independent mechanic to check it out.


Our 2003 Toyota 4Runner has a different set-up, but this may apply to your 4Runner. I had the 60,000 mile service performed by my independent shop according to the manual. This winter, I’ve noticed that it shifts more rapidly into 4 wheel drive when we turn the switch. One service that was performed was to change the fluids in the transfer case and in the differentials. This might be a good idea for your 4Runner as well.


Have you verified that it is actually engaging and disengaging power to the front axle?

That will answer a lot of questions and you don’t need a mechanic to figure that one out.

Just pull into some mud and try 2WD and 4WD and tell us what happens.


For some reason, I never saw this response until today, 28 Jan. The local dealer sucks.


We’ve never had that done. I will consider getting that done, but … not at the dealer.


2 independent mechanics I know both said that it appears to working fine now. I’m just afraid to put it back in 4 wheel drive again now.


I’ve had Toyota 4 wheel drives for many years, and without question, the more I use it correctly throughout the year, the fewer problems I have. It’s a mistake not to use all components regularly whether it be the air conditioning or 4wd. Once fixed, use it now and at least once every few weeks for several miles minutes if possible so you know it will work when needed. A correctly but regularly used and maintained 4 wd is designed to give you as much trouble free operation as 2wd. That is if it’s a Toyota. A Ranger is a different story. In this situation, I might take it for a dealer test, get it fixed, and USE IT regularly. If you do, the system will out last the rest of the car/body.

I don’t like mechanics and “appears” comments. I’ve had minor drive train problems that only Toyota could solve very economically with the right tools/knowledge that independents guessed at. NO THANKS !. Toyota’s recommendation of frequent use and maintenance has kept me from ever going back for any 4wd drive train problems. The advice your getting here might cost you expensive drive train problems…we’re guessing with your 4 Runner.

For that and other reasons, I miss manual hubs.


Good advice! The owner’s manual for our 2003 4Runner recommends using the 4 wheel drive for about 10 miles a month in the summer.


“Triedag” While having my 04 4Runner serviced, I checked the 2010 models. You now have to pay $35K plus for a Limited to get features that came standard on our SR5…power lumbar, climate control, multimode drive train atc. Guess we’ll keep ours for a while ?


My wife wouldn’t let me trade our '03 4Runner even if I wanted to. She researched cars back in 2003 and the 4Runner is her baby. She keeps is looking like it just came out of the showroom. We find it very comfortable for long trips. I don’t keep up with car prices–I get sticker shock.


Our son had also done thorough research, before he decided on the '02 4runner. The main thing I’m not too happy about is the mpg (usually about 16). Other than that (and the drive lite having come on for a bit), we’ve been pretty satisfied with it.


Our 2003 runs about 16 mpg around town, but my wife and son get 23-25 on the highway. I can’t do as well. I even sneaked some mid grade (89 octane) in the tank to see if I could get my mileage up. It didn’t make any difference even the the owner’s manual says that while regular is satisfactory, the higher grade should give better performance and mileage.


I highly recommend moving up a year if possible. The 03 is so much an improvement over the 02 in every respect incl. off road, economy power, ride etc… It’s too late for you I know, but they are that different. If you keep it under 60 with cruise on (an experiment) the highway, 26-27 is possible.


That would be great (26 mpg), but … unfortunately we do a lot of around-town driving.