Why Toyota Land Cruisers Are The Most Reliable Vehicles Ever

Picture driving a 4×4 300 miles deep into the Sahara desert…alone.  

Just how critically would your life depend on the mechanical soundness and reliability of your rig?

It is as mission-critical as a pilot relying on the soundness of his aircraft to keep him aloft.

What vehicle would you trust to get you out alive?

I’d choose a Toyota Land Cruiser for the task and specifically, a 70 or 200 series diesel Cruiser. 

Still, it’s no use claiming that the Toyota Land Cruiser series is the most reliable vehicle ever built without evidence for that claim.

Thankfully, Land Cruiser’s long legacy provides plenty of evidence to support what I’m saying here.

Firstly, Some Perspective from the Experts

Andrew St. Pierre White is a career overlander- this is a bit of a long video but definitely worth watching to understand why he eventually settled on  Land Cruisers as the most reliable vehicle.

Tyler “Hoovie” brings some American perspective. Tyler is a well-known car reviewer for Autotrader with a viral youtube channel. Here’s why he thinks Land Cruisers last forever:

I’ve witnessed the Land Cruiser’s incredible capabilities during my life of living and working for a non-profit along the fringe of the West African Sahara.

I know non-profit workers, friends of mine, who relied regularly on their vehicles in the exact scenario I gave you at the beginning of this article. 

They worked and traveled with nomadic tribes deep into the Sahara.

They didn’t trust anything but a Land Cruiser to get them there and back alive.  (Correction: I do remember one daring person who used a Land Rover Defender)

I should also clarify that when I say, “Land Cruisers are the “most reliable vehicle in the world,”  I mean as far as stock production civilian passenger vehicles are concerned.

One unique aspect of Land Cruisers is that they are designed from the outset to last at least 25 years.

That’s a cold hard slap in the face to the shady marketing fad of  “planned obsolescence(I have a whole post on that doozy)

Toyota is sticking to their guns in a marketplace of mediocrity and I find that refreshing.  Hopefully, they don’t cave any time soon.

Land Cruisers are considered necessary equipment for the UN and countless relief organizations operating in the most God-forsaken environments on earth.

They are called upon to operate in extreme heat and dust while covering long distances without refueling. Their simplicity makes them easily repaired if necessary.

For instance, the typical dirt road Land Cruisers face in sub-Saharan Africa are hundreds of miles of diabolical red dust, thorns, roaming cattle and demonic washboard corrugations. 

The corrugations alone would literally shake a Ford F150 to pieces in 2 years. 

Thats coming from a guy that holds nothing against F150s.  They’re great trucks, but they just aren’t engineered to same industrial specs as Land Cruisers are.

Now, that doesn’t mean Land Cruisers are invincible, they need maintenance just like any other vehicle.

They are simply harder and over-engineered for levels of service that would be considered very unreasonable for almost any other unmodified 4×4.

In short, the Toyota Land Cruiser is the standard by which all other vehicles are measured.  A gross exaggeration? Not at all. Read on. 

Land Cruiser Facts

  • The Land Cruiser is Toyota’s longest running model.
  • Over 6.5 Million Land Cruisers have been sold(as of 2018). By comparison, the Land Rover Defender(its nearest competitor) ceased production at 2 million units.  The Mercedes G Wagon just only passed 300,000 units in 2017.
  • First Land Cruiser Produced: 1951
  • Price in 1968? $2500 Price today? ~$85,000
  • Land Cruiser got its first off-road stars when the early “Jeep BJ” model made it to the #6 checkpoint on mount Fuji- higher than any vehicle had ever been able to go before.
  • Designed and built for a 25 Year lifespan

Land Cruiser’s Shady Beginnings: A Knock-Off Jeep

Let’s just say this is Toyota’s little “skeleton in the closet.”  Yeah.  Not Toyota’s best hour.

Back when the Japanese occupied the Philippines in 1941 they came across an American-made bantam jeep(Willy’s).  So they stole it, took it back home, and reverse engineered it.

Toyota Jeep BJ(credit: Toytoa Global)
Early Bantam/Willy’s Jeep(credit: Wikipedia

Then, when the Americans occupied Japan after WW2 they brought more Willy’s jeeps with them.

According to Toyota Global, “Since there were many Jeeps being driven in Japan,..the jeep came to be the symbol of the 4×4. For this reason, Toyota called its prototype the Toyota Jeep.”

That certainly is a “tidy” way of excusing trademark infringement, isn’t it?

Anyway, It wasn’t until 1953 that Toyota actually began producing their cheaper knock-off Jeep.

This all reminds me of what the Chinese are up to these days.

Check out the Chinese made BAIC B80.  Mercedes G wagon anyone? LOL!

BAIC B80(credit: Wikipedia)
Mercedes G wagon(credit: Wikipedia)

Understandably, the Willy’s Jeep Company was upset with Toyota and the following year(1954) Willys threatened legal action for copyright infringement.  Toyota coyly dodged the bullet by renaming their “Toyota Jeep” the “Toyota Land Cruiser.”

No one could have ever guessed that the Land Cruiser would eventually become the most reliable vehicle in the world and dwarf Jeep in terms of volume production.  

Who knows! By the same token, the Chinese BAIC B80 might one day dwarf the G wagon.  We live in a mixed-up world!

Fast Forward: During the Korean war, Toyota actually began supplying  Land Cruisers to the US army because Jeep could not fill the demand.

Since then the Toyota Land Cruiser has gon “viral.” The model line has diversified and expanded include a troop carrier, truck and SUVs in medium(Prado) and heavy duty(70 series) versions.

The crying shame is that North Americans are missing out on the best 4×4 in the world.  Except for the LC 200 V8 gasoline version, no other Land Cruiser is available in the US market.

Conspiracy theory?  Not really.  It’s more about emissions rules and poor crash test results for the 70 series. (essentially the other guy is the crumple zone)

credit: http://coolcarsphoto.ru

Why Are Land Cruiser So Well Built?

Toyota thinks completely differently when it comes to their manufacturing process. Here’s an excellent video giving you the full run-down on why Land cruisers are so well built.

Well, let’s take the venerable Land Cruiser 200 series for example:

  • It’s purposefully over-built well beyond even Toyota’s well-respected standards.
  • Rugged Simplicity.  Land Cruisers have historically been ruthlessly utilitarian.
  • A windshield that’s 2mm thicker than standard.
  • Extra thick brake rotors to resist warping and damage in deep water.
  • A double-thick stainless steel exhaust system won’t crack or warp when it comes in contact with deep water.
  • Full underbody armor package,
  • Rated recovery hooks,
  • Beefy ball joints, control arms, bump stops, bushings, and shocks.
  • A reliability record that sends Ford and Chevy into a deep depression.
  • It wasn’t designed for America: It was created for the majority world and thus a much more brutal life on unpaved roads.

What is the Most Reliable Land Cruiser Model?

The most reliable Land Cruiser model is the heavy duty 70 Series powered by the normally aspirated 1HZ diesel engine.

The 70 series was first introduced in 1984.  Currently, several models are available on the international market including the LC76 wagon, LC78 Troopy, and the LC79 double cab and single cab pick-ups .

What’s the secret? Among other things, the 1HZ engine has practically no electronics, sensors and what have you.

1HZ powered 70 series Cruisers are admittedly somewhat underpowered. They certainly aren’t speed-demons, but they are incredibly reliable.

With the 1HZ engine, slow wins the race. In fact, Toyota has been putting them in the 70 Series for over 25 years!

Sadly the 1HZ option is no longer available in some markets like Australia but can still be had in the developing world where emissions standards are not as strict.

The 70 series is based on a very rugged ladder frame and rigid leaf springs.  Its all work no play. Good luck even finding enough cup holders.

Andrew St Pierre White(mentioned earlier) drives a 70 series. He has decades of experience driving the most brutal tracks of Africa as a 4×4 journalist, film maker, and overland enthusiast.

He’s one of the world’s foremost authorities on Land Cruisers and 4x4s in general(Check out his  binge-worthy 4XOverland youtube channel)

Andrew definitely is not what I would call “a brand-loyal Toyota fan boy” neither is he sponsored by Toyota.  In fact, he used to drive Land Rovers and Mercedes G Wagons.

After many years, Andrew’s settled on the Land Cruiser as his platform of choice and has driven them for many satisfied years now.  Why?

I asked Andrew why he believes Land Cruisers are so much more durable than other 4x4s.  This is what he said:

The Toyota Land Cruiser 70-series stands apart from almost any other 4wd made today in that its solid axles, an absence of frills and a design that oozes practicality, appeals to many people who appreciate the feeling of being on a lonely track even when going down the shops for a litre of milk. Its reliability is legendary, and the standard by which all others are based.

That said, as these vehicles conform more and more to emissions regulations, the once impenetrable reliability reputation is being diluted by things like DPF and the V8 diesel engine’s vulnerability to poor quality fuels.

And while the Land Cruiser still stands above the crowd in this regard, do not be fooled into believing that these vehicles are infallible. Abuse, mistreat or neglect maintenance, and they will fail just like all the others. But it might just take a little longer to reach that point.”   -Andrew St Pierre White, 4xOverland.com

Andrew is right.  While the Land Cruiser is still the most reliable vehicle in the world, it is slowly being tamed by the inevitable march of ever-increasing safety and emissions standards.

The Land Cruiser 200 series: America’s Only Hope

I think its actually hilarious how Toyota markets the Land Cruiser in North America. They only offer the top trim level, one price and no options except a DVD player($84,765 MSRP.)

It’s like they know we’re all Land Cruiser beggars or something! Even worse, they only offer the gas guzzling v8 version(no diesel!)

Serves us right for over-regulating.  It’s almost like Toyota’s is saying, “So you want our Land Cruiser do you? Well then, pay up!  You locked the Land Cruiser out of North America with your rules, so you’ll pay out the nose for it”  It’s like Toyota is tariffing North America.  I don’t blame them.

Land Cruiser 200 Specs(US Version)

  • 4WD 5.7L V8 8-Speed Automatic
  • MPG Hwy/City/Comb: 13/18/15
  • Steel 10-member high-tensile steel ladder frame
  • Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS)
  • 18inch tires
  • 8 Passenger
  • Towing package: up to 8100lbs
  • Adaptive Cruise
  • Leather seating
  • Rear Cross-traffic alert

I could go on listing the features of the 200, but you get the idea.  The US spec 200 series is the most luxurious off-road capable vehicle ever made besides the Lexus versions of the same vehicle.

The problem is, no one will want to take it where it belongs for fear of scratching it.

That said the 200 Series is a seriously durable machine that can handle very difficult terrain even in stock configuration.

North Americans are better off buying a well maintained second-hand Land Cruiser

If you want one and live in North America, you’re better off looking for a well maintained second-hand example that won’t make you cry when you scuff up the paint a little.

Keep in mind that Land Cruisers retain their value like crazy.

So, now all us poor folk are left scrounging Craigslist and Auto Trader for 15-year-old Land Cruisers that won’t cost a mortgage.  Soon we’ll be in the world of Mad Max.

Take heart, at least 15-year-old Land Cruisers still have lots of life left in them.

Epic Land Cruiser Stories

credit: weltrekordreise.ch

Emil and Liliana Schmid, earned a Guinness world record for, having spent almost 30 years traveling the world non-stop in the same 60 Series land cruiser.
As of 16 July 2014, the couple had covered 430,130 miles and 150 countries since 18 October 1984 – in the same 60 Series Land Cruiser! Crazy!

In 2013 Paul + Brigitta Böhlen Jüni completed a circumnavigation of the world in their diesel Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ78.  They covered 63 countries over 7 years.  That wasn’t enough for them! They’re still going strong with the same rig and are currently traveling through South America(as of 2017).  When asked why they chose a Land Cruiser they quoted Winston Churchhill who said, “My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best.” 

You can follow their journey here.

Roothy’s Milo: Milo is probably the most famous 45 Series Toyota Land Cruiser in the world and an Aussie legend.  John Rooth “Roothy,” has flogged Milo more than 800,000km over Australias most rugged terrain.  Roothy has a huge youtube following and lovingly maintains his vehicles himself.

Milo is getting tired these days, but she still can do more than most 4x4s out there.

Who uses Land Cruisers?

Jihadists

The Land Cruiser 79 with a machine gun welded onto the bedrails: a fave of Isis in Iraq.

Ever wonder why you see Isis and the Taliban driving Toyota Land Cruisers and Hilux?  It’s because they’re the only stock civilian 4×4’s that meet and exceed military grade quality and durability.

Land Cruisers can absorb abuse and neglect like no other vehicle. Short-sighted, disorganized and idealistic insurgence groups just don’t take care of their equipment.   Not even a Land Cruiser can solve stupidity.

Sadly, extremist groups have managed to get their hands on plenty of Land Cruisers since they are so readily available in the civilian market.

Toyota has partnered with many governments to prevent this from happening, however, it is almost impossible to control since it is a civilian vehicle they can prevent anyone from privately buying and using their Land Cruisers for undisclosed nefarious purposes.

Expedition/Overland/Off Road Adventurers

It is hard to think of a more capable platform for an expedition truck than the 200 and 70 series LCs.  Long range capability and heavy payloads are super-important. Land Cruisers often come stock with two fuel tanks.  Their reliable diesel engines also extend range over their gas-powered options.

The Land Cruiser’s simplicity makes it a relatively blank slate for modifications which is a major plus.

As I mentioned earlier, Andrew St Pierre White has built a beautiful and practical example of an overland rig for his 76 series Troopy. Check it out.

Relief Organizations

The vast majority of international humanitarian organizations rely heavily on Land Cruisers.

Since my background is international nonprofit work, I’m grateful that Toyota is playing an active role in providing world-class vehicles for the most desperate and rugged applications on earth. It’s making a big difference in peoples lives.

In fact, Land Cruisers are in such high demand for relief work that Toyota established an international dealership providing discounted vehicles exclusively for international charities and NGOs(Toyota Gibralter Stockholdings.)

I’ve had some contact with TGS over the years since I was toying with the idea of getting a diesel Hilux shipped to me in Africa when I worked for a non-profit there.  TGS also specializes in equipping, hardening and modifying Land Cruisers and Hilux’s for extreme operating environments.

Mines

A 2007 Land Cruiser beat up in the Canadian mines

In Canada, the only way you’ll ever drive a new 70 series LC is if you are working in the mining industry.  They are not road legal in Canada.

Of all the extreme environments on earth, none can compare to the mining industry.   Heat, salt, humidity, and other corrosive elements absolutely devour underground equipment.  It’s no wonder that mines require the most reliable vehicle in the world.   

According to Toyota, in certain miniting environments“..the useful life is said to be 3 months for the leaf springs, 1 week for the differential oil, and 3 years for the vehicle itself!”

Final Thoughts

While I believe the Land Cruiser is the most reliable vehicle in the world, it is neither perfect nor invincible.  However, it has proven its worth and capabilities for over 60 years.

Admittedly, the greatest contributing factor to making a vehicle last a long time will be whether you actually really love the vehicle and take care of it properly.  

If you’re looking for one vehicle that will last you for a lifetime the Toyota Land Cruiser is probably your best option for beginning that epic journey.  It’s proven itself capable many times over.

For more on making your vehicle last forever, check out 10 Uncommon Tips to Make Your Car Last Forever.

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