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Ownership Report: A Year and a Half With a 20-Year-Old Toyota Land Cruiser

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author photo by Chris O'Neill October 2017

I've owned my 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser for around 19 months now. I bought it for $7,100, but there have been a number of other costs, financial and otherwise, that have come as a result of owning a 20-year-old vehicle. I've also, somehow, put 14,000 miles on it since I bought it, despite not even using it as a daily driver. Now, that's a sign of a high return on my investment -- I've been over mountains, through rivers and across deserts with this thing -- but there have been a number of ownership "episodes" along the way that have come as a result of a few different factors:

  1. This is a 20-year-old vehicle that was haphazardly maintained by its previous mall-crawling, cost-cutting owners.

  2. I've used it to its fullest potential over my year and a half of ownership.

  3. I strongly believe in the Jeremy Clarkson mantra that "Power and Speed" solves many things.

Allow me to delve into some of these episodes I've experienced over a year and a half of Toyota Land Cruiser ownership.

The First Time I Got It Stuck

I got stuck in the snowy Uinta Mountains on my very first weekend of ownership. This is when I learned that just because you have all-wheel drive doesn't mean you can crash through two feet of snow. A guy with a Suburban and an off-brand ratchet strap came by and helped me out. In my defense though, my Land Cruiser was still wearing the old 'soft-roader' Yokohama Geolander tires that it had come with, and I had set out on that day to test their limits in an effort to figure out what to replace them with. Find their limits, I did.

Blowing Out the Old Shocks on the White Rim Road

On our annual Thanksgiving road trip last year, my girlfriend and I took on the Schafer Trail leg of the famed White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. It was here that my 215,000-mile shocks were finally put out of their misery -- after the trail, even the slightest bump was met with the bone-jarring feeling of metal-on-metal contact. I'm told that two were fully blown when I finally had them replaced a few months later.

The Phantom Horn

Apparently, one of the few design flaws on the 100 Series Land Cruiser is the manner in which the windshield is secured to the body, making it really difficult to properly install a replacement. Naturally, my Land Cruiser had its windshield replaced by its previous owners. I learned this the hard way when my horn started going off anytime there was even the slightest bit of moisture in the air. It was also during this period that seemingly every single rain storm in Utah just happened to come in the middle of the night, which meant my horn going off nonstop, at full force, at rather ... inconvenient hours. Like at 3 a.m., when one night I woke up to an anonymous neighbor pounding mercilessly on my apartment door. Apparently water was leaking in at the base of the glass and pooling on the electronics below, causing all kinds of chaos. The repair job consisted of a full reconditioning and rust-proofing of the windshield frame thanks to the disgusting amount of corrosion that had formed around the rim due to the poor seal. And, of course, another replacement windshield.

The Second Time I Got It Stuck

The second time I got stuck in my Land Cruiser was in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. My famous last words here were, "Let's see what this mud is like!" A man in a diesel Dodge Ram dually flatbed finally came by a couple of hours later and towed me out. And it's a good thing he did -- the mud was up to the rocker panels.

Ripping the CVs From the Front Hubs

One morning last winter, I thought I'd plow through a snowbank that had formed around my street parking spot. What ensued was nothing short of pure terror -- a loud 'THUD,' and then, whiiiirrrrrrrrrrr. I looked down and the transmission was in drive but the tachometer was revving freely as if the vehicle was in neutral. It turned out my CV axles had ripped from the hubs thanks to the previous owner installing the incorrect parts. The vehicle moved if the center diff was locked, but I still had it towed to the Local Land Cruiser shop, where I was known that week as "the owner of the rear-wheel-drive Land Cruiser."

The Time the Brake Exploded

This one was recent, as I can still hear the grinding in my head. Essentially, what I convinced myself was a rock stuck in the caliper turned out to be a brake pad sorely in need of replacement. The pad finally failed at the worst possible time -- the top of a mountain -- and I learned more about automotive repair over the next hour and a half than I had in my previous 28 years on earth.

As for right now, my Land Cruiser has recently sprung some kind of oil leak from around the driver's side CV boot, there's a nasty rust hole in the passenger side rocker panel where the running boards used to hold water against the body, and the cancerous rust caused by the windshield snafu has begun to creep along the roof line. I should add, though, that not one thing has failed that can't be attributed directly to neglect or human error -- further proof that the Toyota Land Cruiser really is as tough as they come.

Chris O'Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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Ownership Report: A Year and a Half With a 20-Year-Old Toyota Land Cruiser - Autotrader