Buying my First SUV: 2003 Toyota 4Runner


Looking for a Car

While my wife was out in the East Coast for 2 years, I had driven her 2006 Lexus IS350. The car was a lot of fun and certainly dependable, but with her returning I had to find another car to buy. I wanted something that was reliable so I didn’t have to worry about it, and also something that could carry a lot of stuff. Because I was shopping for a home at that time, I wanted to make sure I had a means of transporting stuff for the home if I needed to.

I had always liked the look for the 4th generation Toyota 4Runner, but wasn’t sure if it was the car for me. In fact, I was settled that I wanted an SUV (it would be my first one ever.) I was looking at Ford Explorers, Nissan Pathfinders and Xterras, Honda CR-V’s and Pilots, and the Infiniti FX series. Honestly, I think I was looking for any one of these SUV’s and I would buy whichever one I found that was at the right price and was well-cared for.

Finding a Toyota 4Runner

This listing came up on Craigslist for a 2003 Toyota 4Runner in Galactic Grey over in Fairfax, California. It would take about an hour to get there, but the Carfax checked out and it looked like a nice deal for about $10k. I drove up there one morning to meet with the seller, and we were to meet at a local market. I got there and waited in the parking lot for the car to show up, scoping out every 4Runner that entered the parking lot.

Finally, I saw a grey 4Runner drive in, but I noticed it had a rear hatch spoiler (which the Craigslist listing did not show). However, this ended up being the seller driving in (with his family in the car too.) I suddenly got suspicious and when talking with him, he informed me that his wife posted the listing and did not have any photos, so she posted photos she found online. Luckily, I really wanted a 4Runner with the trunk spoiler, so it worked out great for me.

I was still suspicious and continued to ask questions while his wife and kids went into the market. After my inquisition and inspection of the vehicle, I test drove it with the seller. My instant reaction was that it drove really quietly and smooth, and was quite powerful (albeit being the v6 version versus the v8.) I decided to buy the car, signed the pink slip in the market, and paid for the vehicle.

Later that day, my buddy Angus drove me back so I could pick up my new purchase. Driving back, I was incredibly happy with the vehicle and ready to get working on the much needed TLC that this car needed.

Photos of my New Purchase

4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6
4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6
4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6
4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6

4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6

4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6

4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v64runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6
4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6  4runner 4th gen sr5 4x4 v6

Overall Impression

After talking with the owner and inspecting the vehicle, I was able to get a general idea of the condition of the vehicle. Although you have to take into account the physical details of the vehicle, you have to take the implicit information into account.

The seller is a middle-aged man with a family. He told me he had the car for a couple of years and basically used it as a vehicle for the family. The general stains and snack stains throughout the vehicle confirms that they transported their kids around quite a bit.

There does not appear to be any modifications on the car, but it looks like it was generally well-maintained. Records of maintenance were provided, and the sign of replacement bulbs in the glove compartment tells me that things are generally replaced or fixed as they went bad on the vehicle. Looking under the hood, there are no signs of modifications. There is a thin layer of dirt (no grease) on the engine covers, which I like to see. This normally means no messing around under the hood typically. You never know what previous owners have done to a car and how to fix it if there are signs of mods.

The body of the vehicle looks to be in good shape and the engine and transmission ran quite smoothly. The main things attention items on the vehicle that I could tell were the stains on the carpets and seats, and a minor funky smell in the vehicle. There was also quite a bit of dog hair in the trunk area of the vehicle.

Car Makeover

In the course of a few weeks of my free time, I took care of the initial cleaning and maintenance of the car. This included the following:

  • car wash and detail
  • wiping down of all windows and interior
  • vacuum of interior
  • lint removing of dog hair in trunk
  • carpet washing and drying of interior carpetry
  • ozone generator to remove smell in vehicle
  • oil and oil filter change
  • check all fluids and refill as needed
  • tune-up involving spark plugs, air filter, etc.

After this initial maintenance, the car was in shape and up to the standards that I like to have in my cars. Obviously, I continue to work on and improve the vehicle, but I definitely had a good base to start with.

Scott enjoys fixing and improving cars, motorcycles, and his home in his spare time. He does his best to transcribe his journey as he navigates across unknown territory, finds himself in peculiar predicaments, and figures out how things work in the process.

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