Recently, I found myself drooling over photos of the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition, which gives buyers the privilege of paying extra for the removal of features like running boards and third row seats in exchange for some retro badging and smaller-diameter wheels. While most of us can’t afford the $90,000 price for a new Land Cruiser, just about anybody can afford an older example with built-in Heritage — just like I did a year ago. Since these old rigs are built to last forever, as my 354,000-mile example has proven, there’s really no downside to doing this.
My 1999 Lexus LX470 didn’t look nearly as beefy when I bought it a year ago for only $2,100. The shredded front seats and rusty hatch had scared away most buyers, along with the ridiculously high mileage, but I was strangely drawn to it. I bought it sight unseen from a dealer wholesale auction — and despite its shaggy appearance, mechanically it didn’t need anything. The engine and the transmission were fine, and according to the detailed dealer service history on the Carfax, the drivetrain was all original, along with most of the other components. With its last timing belt service performed at 285,000 miles, it didn’t need any maintenance or repairs at all. Of course, that still didn’t stop me from spending triple the purchase price in silly modifications.
The changes to my Land Cruiser only made it slightly more capable off-road, but I did succeed in making it look like it was a serious Pan-American expedition rig. With roughly $2,000 spent to fix the ratty cosmetics and another $5,500 spent on suspension upgrades, bigger tires, a silly giant bumper and an even sillier snorkel, my rig was now the envy of mall crawlers everywhere — except I actually wanted to put my Land Cruiser to work.
The first adventure was really dumb. For some reason, I thought the snorkel meant my Land Cruiser was now the chosen chariot of Aquaman, when all I really did was cut a hole in my fender and put a plastic tube through it. As many wise people have pointed out to me since I nearly drowned my Land Cruiser, the snorkel’s most useful feature is to actually pull fresh air up from a higher area that’s less prone to collecting filter-clogging dust. Thankfully, the only damage to my Lexus from the water was wet carpets and a dead stereo amplifier, which was an easy fix.
My next adventure came after installing a rooftop tent and trekking up the Colorado Rockies for some normal off-roading, which I did really enjoy. The camping part afterwards wasn’t my favorite, though, and the tent has been folded up ever since. Honestly, I think I’ll end up removing the roof tent, or be like other mall crawlers and only unfold it at car shows when I want extra attention.
So while I’ve put myself in plenty of dramatic situations, my Land Cruiser itself has given me very little drama. Other than a very stiff, arthritic transfer case selector, which is very common with old 4×4 vehicles, the only part I had to replace was a $2 radiator cap. For a vehicle that was clearly used hard by the previous owners for over 300,000 miles, and given that I subjected it to pretty harsh use over the past year, that’s really impressive.
Of course, this isn’t the exception the rule when it comes to Land Cruisers in general. They were built with a philosophy that’s almost unheard of with modern cars nowadays, which are often engineered to be disposable — much like computer printers and cell phones. Toyota purposely makes the metal bits on the Land Cruiser thicker, like the exhaust, so it doesn’t rust as easily, and the brake rotors, so they don’t warp when their stupid owners take them swimming.
The way Toyota builds their vehicles has a lot to do with it, as well. Given an island like Japan has limited resources and space for inventory, Toyota uses a just-in-time manufacturing process on a large scale, supplying parts and materials as needed, rather than ordering components in bulk to assemble at a later date. Not only does this cut down on inventory and waste, but it also greatly improves quality, as changes can be made quickly if any defects are discovered — and thus, any defects would affect fewer vehicles. This is one of the main reasons why Toyota quality remains so high throughout their model lineup.
So unlike most used luxury SUVs with their massively depreciated prices, and massive out of warranty repair costs, a used Toyota or Lexus Land Cruiser really is a worry-free, no-brainer purchase. Sure, there are faster, sexier and much better equipped competition out there, but none are engineered like the Land Cruiser that was engineered to last generations. My experience has certainly proven that — along with the stupidity of automotive snorkeling and rooftop tents.