COAL: 2001 Toyota 4Runner – Oh What a Feeling!

To this day, there are probably few automakers that rival Toyota for long life and reliability, or at least a reputation for such. With young children and a budget, I wanted what Toyota was selling: a long lived, reliable family SUV. The legendary 4Runner.

This is a brief COAL, since our time with the 4Runner was too short. About a year, give or take, as you will see. But it was a great vehicle. The body had been in production for several years at this point, but for 2001 there was a new, more pronounced front bumper and grille that gave the vehicle more curb appeal, in my eyes.

Ours was an optioned-up SR5, and something of step backwards from the Jimmy at the same time. It had leather, that silky Toyota V6, pleasant fake wood trim on the dash, and a glass sunroof. But, the small stereo had poor sound and was hard to see and use. The part time four wheel drive was operated with a stubby and stiff lever instead of the convenient pushbutton of the GMC.

The rear glass could be lowered into the hatch body by power control. The glass simply flipped up on the Jimmy, which seemed quicker and easier in daily use.

I had bit the bullet and spent a lot of dough…..but here was a car we could trust for years to come. I pictured the kids driving it as their first car in 15 years, for sure! And no more worries about stalling or near death experiences. Toyota quality, all the way.

We moved into the new house with the 4 Runner, right around the time of 9/11. Winter came and went, and we enjoyed the safety and sure footed nature of the 4Runner in the snow. As the spring of 2002 dawned, we were greeted with the wonderful though unexpected news that we were pregnant. Number three, on the way! Wow, we hadn’t ruled out more kids, but we weren’t planning on it right then, either.

My home office in our new three bedroom house was short lived……we set out turning it into a fourth bedroom, and I moved my office up to a guest room/bonus space over the garage.

Spring turned to summer, and we started inventorying all our baby stuff….we would need a lot with three kids aged 4 and under! We already had a couple of infant car carriers that had been outgrown. So we wouldn’t need new car seats for the new arrival.

Shortly before the birth of our youngest (now a rising sophomore in high school), I went to test the triple car seat installation out. This was before the days of the LATCH anchors, you just used the seat belt in locking mode to cinch everything down tight.

The three seats looked good in there together! I was proud….wow, three kids. It was tiring, but I liked being a dad. I went to close the door……and it wouldn’t shut. I tried again. Hmmmmm, that car seat is keeping the door from shutting. Must not have it in straight or something. I double checked everything, but the door still wouldn’t shut. I opened the rear door on the other side, then went back to the original offending door. It shut fine, problem solved. I went to close the second door and IT wouldn’t shut. Forcing the door didn’t help….it was not going to shut.

Three car seats were not going to fit in the 4Runner. This can’t be……my new family car……the car I didn’t want to have to buy to start with. I placed a somewhat panicked call to my brother in law. They had two kids, a little older than ours. I needed to try out all their old car carriers and seats, and find something that worked.

It was all for naught. The 4Runner was simply too narrow for three car seats across, for kids that small. If the two kids we had were older and just needed a little booster under their bottom, it would work. But we were years away from that age and weight.

It had always felt kind of narrow anyway, given the overall size. And there was no third row to use….not that it would have helped anyway, they would be too young to get back there and buckled up on their own. And a rear facing infant car carrier/seat can never be used in the front seat, where there is an airbag.

So, though we had a one year old 4Runner with less than 10,000 miles, we needed a family vehicle. Again. This was kind of unbelievable. So, for the next vehicle, we will make sure three seats fit and, once again, buy a quality vehicle that will last us for the long haul. Not going trade again in year or two! No way, no how. That’s not for us.

Yeah, right. As you will see!

What the shortest time you owned a vehicle?