Toyota 4Runner Bad Fuel Mileage: Causes

Poor fuel mileage

If you’re filling your vehicle up regularly and still getting crummy mileage, there are a few things that could be to blame. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common reasons your Toyota 4Runner is getting bad gas mileage.

Before diving in, it’s important to note whether or not your 4Runner’s check engine light is on. If it is on, there are likely diagnostic trouble codes stored in your vehicle’s PCM that will shed light on why it’s not running smoothly.

Toyota 4Runner Bad Fuel Mileage Causes

The most common reason a vehicle gets bad MPG is it needs a tune up.

A good place to start is figuring out what your 4Runner’s fuel mileage is supposed to be. You can use this chart from to get a baseline.

Table of Contents

Bad MPG CausesDTC Codes?Symptoms
Misfiring EngineP0300, P030X (where X = the misfiring cylinder)Sputtering engine, rough idle
Air FilterNoLack of power, sometimes a hissing or whining sound.
Low Tire PressureTPMS LightThe vehicle will roll more in corners, the ride is bouncier.
Brakes StickingNoHot wheel or brake, vehicle pulls left or right, slows down when letting off the gas.

Misfiring Engine

Bad MPG Causes

Typical Causes: Bad coil packs, spark plugs, or fuel injectors

If your Toyota 4Runner’s engine is misfiring, it should throw the check engine light. The plugs may not be burning the fuel quite as effectively as when they were new, which can decrease your vehicle’s gas mileage.

You may notice the RPM fluctuating on the tachometer when your cartortruck is not in gear. Your 4Runner’s RPM may go up and down when in Park.

Your 4Runner’s engine in your car relies on a precise combination of fuel, air, and spark to properly ignite.

Toyota 4Runner Poor fuel economy reasons
This plug was pulled with no check engine light on but was causing a noticeable drop in MPG.

A misfiring engine should throw a code, but even if it doesn’t, you should still look at your 4Runner’s spark plugs. If they stop burning fuel efficiently, it’ll decrease your vehicle’s fuel mileage, and are the most common reason for a misfire.

Clogged Air Filter

If your air filter looks like the one on the right, it’s time to replace it.

Usually, there is no code associated with a bad air filter. You may hear a hissing sound as air tries to bypass it.

The air filter’s primary purpose is to filter the incoming air before it enters the intake manifold. If you drive your Toyota 4Runner on a dirt road regularly or have been off-roading, the air filter can clog up well before the manufacturer’s recommended intervals.

Rodents are known to find their way into a vehicle’s air inlet. A day’s worth of nesting work is enough for them to completely block an air filter. It happens more than you’d think.

If left unchecked, a clogged air filter can restrict airflow and lower your 4Runner’s fuel economy, as well as cause potentially expensive repair bills due to particulate build-up in sensitive engine components.

Looking at the air filter only takes a moment, and replacing it is inexpensive.

Low Tire Pressure

Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2% for every 1 psi drop in the average pressure of all tires


Low tire pressure will reduce the fuel efficiency of your Toyota 4Runner as more energy is needed for acceleration.

As you can see above there is a .2% reduction in fuel economy for every PSI the tires are down. Even if you have a vehicle with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, the TPMS light (pictured above) typically won’t come on until the tires are 25% below the recommended pressure level.


Let’s say your 4Runner needs 40 PSI per tire, which means 30 PSI is when the tire light comes on. This leaves 9 lbs of pressure you can miss without the tire pressure light.

9 PSI X .2% = a 1.8% reduction in fuel economy.

Where to Find How Much Air to Put in Your Toyota 4Runner’s Tires

There is a sticker inside your vehicle’s driver-side door that shows exactly how much air pressure goes into each tire, as well as what size tires go on each wheel.

Low Tire Pressure is Dangerous

Low tire pressure can cause a number of issues if it is not corrected. A tire with low pressure will have increased wear and tear on the sides, resulting in the treads wearing out quicker and shortening the life of your 4Runner’s tires.

In extreme cases, it could even lead to a tire blowout due to uneven pressure across the face of the tire from contact with the road.

For safety reasons, it is advised that you regularly check your tire 4Runner’s tire pressure with a gauge from time to time. Don’t rely on the tire pressure light.

Brakes Sticking

Sticking brakes usually smell. They also produce a lot of heat.

Brake sticking can be a very dangerous driving experience, your 4Runner may pull to the left or right. The engine has to work harder to move your car or truck. It can even lead to a fire if they get hot enough.

Sticking brakes usually occur due to a build-up of dust or rust inside the brakes, a failure in the rubber brake lines, a stuck caliper or wheel cylinder, or a crimped hard brake line.

Sticking brakes do not fix themselves. It is dangerous to drive if your 4Runner has sticking brakes.

How to Tell if Your Brakes are Sticking

It’s relatively easy to tell if your vehicle’s brakes are sticking. Obviously, if the vehicle pulls in one direction, that indicates the brakes are sticking. You could also just really need an alignment. There’s more you can do to verify they’re stuck.

  • Is there a strong smell coming from a wheel?
  • Wave your hand in front of all four wheels without touching them. If you can feel heat radiating from one wheel, that indicates a brake is stuck.
  • Use an infrared temperature gauge to verify what you felt.
  • Look at the brake pads. A pad that’s wearing unevenly usually means there’s a stuck caliper.

If your Toyota 4Runner’s brakes ever begin to feel sticky or unresponsive, getting your vehicle into an auto shop as soon as possible is essential for maintaining safety and reliability on the road.


Idling can cause diminished MPG if you’ve been in a lot of traffic recently.

Idling is letting an engine run without going anywhere for a long period of time, even when it’s not in use. It doesn’t burn gas fast, but it does burn gas. So if you’ve been waiting to pick the kids up from school with your Toyota 4Runner running, idling is likely to blame for your decrease in MPG.

Other Causes

Here’s a quick list of other potential causes of a fuel mileage drop. They aren’t as common as the ones listed above or are super obvious.

  • Excess Weight– Leaving a vehicle full can weigh it down and decrease the average fuel economy.
  • Transmission issues– If your transmission isn’t shifting into overdrive, is slipping, or the torque converter isn’t locking, fuel mileage will suffer.
  • Vacuum Leak– A vacuum leak can lean out the air-fuel mixture by allowing unmetered air into the engine. You’ll likely get the check engine light and P0174/P0171 too.
  • Oxygen Sensor– O2 sensors check the exhaust gasses and help the powertrain control module (PCM) control the air fuel mixture. There’s a myriad of codes that come with a faulty O2 sensor, and they rarely fail without one turning the check engine light on.
  • MAF Sensor- The mass airflow (MAF) sensor is responsible for telling the PCM how much air is entering the intake manifold. Like the O2 sensors, it would almost certainly throw a code.
  • Clogged Catalytic Converter– If your Toyota 4Runner’s catalytic converter gets clogged, it’ll cause the engine to choke on its own exhaust. It’ll also increase the backpressure to the point that combustion is suffering.