Toyota 5VZ-FE Engine Problems

3 Common Toyota 5VZ-FE 3.4 V6 Engine Problems

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Toyota released the 3.4L V6 5VZ-FE engine in 1993 and it remained in production through 2004. Many consider it to be among the most reliable engines of all time. However, no engine lasts forever and that’s also true for this aging engine. While it was mostly bulletproof in its early days, age has exposed a few problems including the timing belt, oil leaks, and head gasket failure. In this article, I discuss these Toyota 5VZ-FE engine problems and reliability.

Toyota 5VZ-FE Engine Problems & Reliability

Toyota 5VZ-FE Engine Problems

  • Timing belt
  • Oil leaks
  • Head gaskets

I discuss the above problems in-depth throughout the rest of this article. At the end, I also circle back to 5VZ-FE reliability. However, we have a few quick notes to add beforehand. 10 or 15 years ago it would have been nearly impossible to write about any problems on this engine. It’s right up there with some of the most reliable gasoline engines in the world.

However, we’re talking about a 20 plus year old engine here. All engines with that kind of age are prone to occasional failures. Point is – the 5VZ-FE is a highly reliable engine, but its age is a big point to consider.

1) Timing Belt Issues

Timing chains are common on many newer engines, however timing belts were the norm during the era of the 5VZ-FE. It’s really a standard maintenance item, so maybe it’s not fair to call a problem. However, the recommended service interval for the 3.4 V6 timing belt is 90,000 miles. Most belts will actually last longer than this, but 90k miles is a good time to start looking for cracks.

Fortunately, the 5VZ-FE is a non-interference engine. This means the valves never overlap the area the piston is travelling. As such, a timing belt failure isn’t likely to cause any further damage. It’s still a good idea to replace the timing belt before any actual failures occur. Hence visually inspecting to check the health every so often after the 90,000 mile mark.

One other area worth mentioning. Some opt to replace the water pump while replacing the 3.4 V6 timing belt. Water pumps are another part that usually have a service life of about 100,000 to 150,000 miles. It’s not necessary to replace if it’s in working order, but you might consider replacing the 5VZ-FE water pump while you’re in there for the belt.

Timing Belt Symptoms

  • Ticking sounds
  • Check engine light
  • Misfires
  • Rough running / idle

Ticking probably isn’t the right way to describe the sound, but when the belt is on its way out you may notice some odd sounds. If the belt fails and throws timing off you’ll notice a check engine light. When timing jumps the 5VZ-FE 3.4 engine will run very poorly all together. Misfires, rough idle, power loss, etc are all common symptoms of a timing belt failure.

5VZ-FE Timing Belt Replacement

Replacement costs for the Toyota 5VZ-FE timing belt aren’t too bad. However, it can add up a bit if you knock out some other preventative repairs. The timing belt and idlers will come in around $50-120. It’s easy to access some hoses, the water pump, and thermostat when in there for the timing belt replacement. Depending on how much you want to replace the parts can add up to $200-400.

That may save you time or repair shop labor bills down the road. However, the labor costs to access and replace the Toyota 3.4 V6 timing belt are reasonable. It’s a few hours of labor so look to spend about $200-300 in labor.

2) Oil Leak Problems

Oil leaks on the 5VZ-FE engine aren’t due to any actual flaws or design issues. However, engines use many rubber-like gaskets that are prone to degrading and cracking with age. Mileage also takes a toll, but age can be just as hard on gaskets. Oil leaks are part of the nature in owning an older car and engine.

The valve cover gaskets on the Toyota 3.4L are one of the more common areas to experience leaks. These gaskets are subject to lots of stress and heat cycles during their lives. Over time, the 5VZ-FE valve cover gaskets begin slowly cracking and leaking small amounts of oil. As those cracks expand the leak becomes worse and worse.

Oil pan gaskets and main seals are a few other areas that leaks may develop. None of this stuff is truly common. However, if you plan to own this engine for the long-haul then you may run into an oil leak or two.

Valve Cover Gasket Oil Leak Symptoms

  • Visible leak
  • Burning oil smell
  • Oil loss

It’s pretty basic stuff that could point to an oil leak anywhere. The valve covers lie on top of the engine, so small leaks may not make it to the ground. Instead the oil can drip onto hot parts and burn off before hitting the ground. In this case you’ll probably notice the 5VZ-FE smells like burning oil. If the leak is bad enough you’ll probably see it on the ground before a low oil light.

Valve Cover Gasket Replacement

Valve cover gaskets (VCG) for the 5VZ-FE are dirt cheap. You’ll likely be out the door with both gaskets for less than $40. However, labor is a slightly different story. It does take some time and effort to access the VCG. Moderately experienced DIY’ers shouldn’t have a problem replacing the gaskets with a little patience. Otherwise, Toyota 3.4L V6 valve cover gaskets can run about $250-500 for labor costs.

3) Head Gasket Failure

First of all, this is an extremely rare problem on the 3.4 Toyota 5VZ-FE. There was a recall for a small batch of head gaskets back in the day. However, most head gasket failures occur north of 200,000 miles. It’s hardly fair to call that a problem since that’s beyond the useful life of many engines. Nonetheless, with the age of these engines a head gasket failure could be the end.

Head gasket problems aren’t cheap to fix on any engine including the Toyota 5VZ-FE. In essence, it’s not a common problem or a design flaw. However, head gasket issues aren’t unheard of with higher mileage. Considering the cost of repairs some decide it’s time to move on.

There’s not much else to say here. We’ll discuss symptoms and replacement quickly below. Head gasket problems really only make the 5VZ-FE list since there isn’t much else to discuss. We could go on and on talking about other basic maintenance and age related stuff. Although, it’s a highly reliable engine so there just aren’t many truly common issues or flaws to discuss.

Blown Head Gasket Symptoms

  • Coolant & oil mixing
  • Fluid loss
  • White smoke
  • Overheating

When the head gasket fails coolant and oil are allowed to mix together. This might also allow coolant and/or oil into the combustion chamber where it burns off. You’ll notice white smoke from the exhaust alongside some fluid loss. Finally, a head gasket failure affects the engines cooling ability so the 5VZ-FE may begin overheating.

Head Gasket Replacement

We’ll be pretty quick on this. The gaskets themselves are pretty cheap as with valve cover gasket oil leaks. However, it’s a very labor intensive job to replace the 3.4 V6 Toyota head gasket(s). Repair costs can easily exceed $1,000. The 5VZ-FE offers excellent reliability so some may decide it’s worth the price. However, if you’re at 200,000+ miles it sometimes makes sense to move on.

Toyota 5VZ-FE Reliability

Well, hopefully there are no surprises here. We’ve done our best to make it very clear, if not a bit repetitive throughout this article. Toyota 5VZ-FE engines are highly reliable and some consider it among the most reliable of all time. Some engines may survive longer than the 3.4L Toyota engine. However, very few engines can last as long and experience so few failures.

10 or 15 years ago it would have been nearly impossible to write about any Toyota 5VZ-FE engine problems. However, age takes a toll on all engines and even the most reliable don’t survive forever. Gaskets, hoses, wires, etc. wear down with age and mileage. If you’re planning to own the 3.4 V6 for the longer-term then it’s likely you’ll run into at least 1 or 2 minor problems.

Otherwise, maintain the engine well and it will likely reward you with excellent reliability. Change the fluids on time, use quality oils, and fix problems when they pop up. Do all of this and the Toyota 5VZ-FE very well may live on to see 300,000 to 400,000+ miles. It’s not hard to find examples of this on engines that ran into very few problems during that long lifespan.

What’s your experience with the 5VZ-FE? Are you considering one?

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  1. Retired military/airlines A/P mechanic bought 1991 Nissan D-21 4 cylinder 4×4 truck new and ran it for 29 years with very few issues. In 2020 I finally retired and went Toyota, searching for a 2wd compact truck. Found a 2003 Tacoma, V-6 (283K), auto., crew cab, SR5, decent condition at Carmax in Arlington,Tx., (Truck was in Houston). They shipped it up here and upon inspection, I decided it was worth investing 8K, …. even with the non lethal issues it had. Overall it had not been abused, ….. extremely clean, no body damage, no rust, no funny noises, etc. Just slight neglect repairing common things that go bad. Ex: Tires, alignment, a/c bearing, some bushings, windshield chipped, a/c door actuator, and horn. That was about it. With my upgrades using Redline & Mobil 1 fluids, NGK plugs/wires, tires, Piaa leds, Apex bumper, custom front sport seats, real horns, toolbox, suspension corrections, …. to name a few, this truck is just awesome ! …. I can’t believe Toyota put such a fantastic,compact, fun to drive, easy to own, just smile every time I think about it, useful truck out to pasture. I get compliment after compliment everywhere I go. And even after test driving newer model Tacomas …. a 2003-2004 is the one I’d choose over again if I had to. The engine, after my tuneup procedures, has been perfect. It purrs like a kitten, no leaks, surprised the daylights outta me when it downshifted once while punching it (wow!), …I don’t foresee it ever going away as long as I continue to care for it as I do. Someday, now with 310K miles, I may get into replacing the head gaskets if these are really expected to fail. But for now, … it just wants to run and be happy ! I didn’t think anything would ever replace all the good memories my Nissan gave me during those 29 years …… but this Toyota is doing a good job of it.

    1. The Nissan Hardbody is a better more unique truck dude! PS, everybody & their mother has a boring repetitive Taco which causes me to yawn- when you see the same vehicle hundreds of times a day + the D21 is just as reliable if not more so. I love it when the taco boys stare at my D21 wishing they had one🤣

      1. I respect your comment and am all about unique. However, I disagree. I bought a 1986 Hardbody “Z24” with a blown motor and put a new one in it. Most gutless truck in the world. My friend had a 22r Toyota (1991) that would run circles around it on and off road. Both were regular cab short bed with 5 speed manuals and 4×4. Equally equipped. On top of that, it was a 4 cylinder that had 8 spark plugs (yes, one fired on ignition and one fired on exhaust). So when you did a tune up you were paying for V8 prices and 4cyl performance. Dumb.

      2. You see alot of them driving around because there great vehicles.
        Sounds like someone’s butt hurt they don’t have a taco

  2. I have a 2001 4runner with the 3.4 liter engine this vehicle had about 57,000 miles when I purchased it in 2006 it now have 260,000 miles it runs as good or better since I got it l had the timing belt, water pump rockers and rollers replaced twice, the starter replaced, alternator rebuilt,, universal joints, brake booster , brakes pads,shoes and calipers replaced ,replaced plugs, wires and valve cover gaskets, l also change oil every 5000 miles. I was blessed to be able to do all of this work with some help. I plan to maintain and keep it as long as possible.

  3. I own a 1998 4Runner Limited with the 3.4L, 338,000 miles, still running great. It has had to have the valve cover gaskets replaced a couple of weeks ago (first time since new, so they were 23 year old gaskets) and of course the timing belt and water pump was replaced 20k miles ago.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Awesome to hear about these high mileage examples still running well. Excellent engine! Definitely can’t fault an engine for valve cover gaskets at that mileage. Amazing they even made it that long, so it’s a testament to the 5VZ if anything.

      Best Regards,

  4. so i have a 1997 toyota 4 runner and it has 356,228 miles on it and i have replaced ever gasket ans seal on the engine and i have put 33 inch on 16 rims by 8 wide and a 3 inch lift with a light bar and a front bumper delete and fog lights and i put a supercharger on it and it has lasted me about 200,000 miles and its still pushing but the only downfall to my rig is that i dont fit in my 48 foot car hauler enclosed sundown trailer and that when im under load it makes a weird noise and the problem is the spark plugs and wires and im gonna throw in the coil pack so yeah

  5. Have a1999 4Runner with the 5vzfe engine.
    Went to have the timing belt replaced (236mi) the mechanic said that someone had used a 1/4” bolt for the key on the damper pulley to the crankshaft, he will not go any further with the belt replacement because of liability. Has anyone else experienced this, and is there a fix?

  6. I bought my v6 1997 with 340 on the clock around 8 years ago it’s nearly clocking 500000 now I’ve only had to do some oil leaks to tappet gasket timing belt rebuilt starter and alternator. I’ve run 98 and used Penrite synthetic at intervals of around 8000 ks champion car

  7. I had my radiator start leaking in my 03 at or around 150k. It came up on the forums as being common place. I replaced it with a denso radiator (as apposed to OEM which was manufactured by GM if I remember correctly) and have been promised a long life. Even if I only see another 150k its worth the $150 to keep it cool in the years to come.

  8. 2000 Toyota 4-Runner SR5 with 121,000 miles. (No Problems) We had the oil and filter replaced last April. I’ve been planning to inspect the undercarriage for some time and two days ago I crawled under to take a quick look. Oil on the torsion bar under the back of the engine! I don’t have a lift or anything and I can’t see where the oil is coming from but, the oil filter is right up there somewhere. Putting two gaskets on a new oil filter is a fairly common new guy screw-up. I am not too happy with my highly rated repair shop. Bad gasket or bad mechanic?

  9. Have a 2002 Toyota HiLux with the 5VZ-FE engine, with close to 300,000 km. The only thing I’ve had to do is replace the valve cover gasket, as it was leaking oil. Oil loss was low, but enough to make a burning smell each time it ran. Timing belt, of course, has been replaced as a regular maintenance, and never had any issues with it. Also, it hasn’t had any head gasket issues. Therefore, I agree with this article about the reliability of the engine.

    1. Hi Justin,

      Awesome to hear your HiLux and 5VZ-FE are holding up well with very few problems. That’s honestly about the norm for the 5VZ; very impressive engine for its reliability and longevity. With most engines it’s easy to come up with 3-4+ “common” problems to discuss, but that’s not quite the case with the 5VZ-FE. Apart from random fluky issues or age related items there really isn’t much to talk about. Great engine.


  10. Very useful information. I bought a 96 hilux surf and I friggen ❤️ love it!! It only had 23,000 miles on it and I plan to make it last. This thing is beautiful and runs great. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge.

  11. I have a 2001 Tacoma Prerunner that I bought brand new. I love it.
    But, it threw a rod threw a rod through the side of the block in 2012 with about 45,000 miles on it. I changed the oil/filter every 5,000 miles. You could see where one of the bolts was missing on the con rod caps and the other bolt was bent trying to hold together. Got a long block and had it installed (not cheap). Drove it until 2019 (at about 81,000 miles) and blew a head gasket. Apparently the pass side head had been improperly milled when it was rebuilt and that, with the dissimmilar metals (iron block, aluminum heads) correded the gasket till it blew. heads milled properly now and new gaskets. I hope it will now last 200,000 or 300,000 miles like everybody else. I still love it though. Good truck.

  12. Came across this article as my head gasket just failed recently. I bought my 2002 Tacoma 3.4 brand new and she now has 308,000 miles. Been trying to decide if I should have it fixed or move on. One of the mechanics I called for an estimate is interested in buying it. I have been told $1800 – $2400 for the repair.
    I’m so torn! I love my truck and have had so many great adventures in it. This truck has never left me stranded, although I did have to replace the alternator in an AutoZone parking lot in Idaho on a road trip.

    1. Always a tough decision to let a good one go! 308k miles is pretty impressive, especially for the factory head gasket to make it that long. I can’t really provide you with any advice here, it’s really up to you and how you feel about letting something you’ve owned for 20+ years go + putting $2k+ into something that likely isn’t worth too much more than that. It is probably accurate to say though that you can expect the maintenance costs for the truck to get a bit higher over the next couple years just considering the mileage and age that it’s at.

      1. too much more than that?
        come’on lol
        to the person that wants this style they are possibly worth 5x and up than that

        reports of a 2oo2 700k mile taco that was tboned suffering over $7k of damages. The insurance company did NOT total it but fixed it
        700k miles onit and NOT totaled
        but it was an interWeb tacoma report so believe it or believe it not

        1. Tacoma’s have been hot lately, just like a $2k miata is now an $8k miata. Just wait until the market returns to normal.

    2. i would consider that 2400$ repair to be equivalent to 4,5, or 6 months of NEW truck payments and that new tacoma can be close to $50k for the top model

  13. LOL forgot to mention!
    my ’97 5VZ-FE just turnt 345k miles and i think the VC, especially in the rear, is starting to weep (again or perhaps for the 1st time IDK).
    the VCG was replaced at the Yota dealer about 5 years ago and many many miles of trouble-free + weep-free wheelin’…. except for the original clutch pilot bearing and R150F transmission 8^(

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