A common upgrade for for 1996 through 1998 Toyota 4Runners is replacing the headlights with the new, more modern looking headlights found on the 1999 through 2002 model years. This modification is simple and can be completed in less than an hour. The major difference between the modern headlights and the old style is the clearer glass lens. Fitment is unchanged, so swapping the headlights is an easy job. I purchased a new pair of headlights for my 1997 4Runner from Ebay and paid just under $80 (including shipping). You can probably find them at any online auto parts retailer, just search for 1999 – 2002 Toyota 4Runner headlights. All trims use the same headlights (e.i. SR5, Limited, 2WD, 4WD). This is a quick and easy way to give your older third generation 4Runner an updated look.
How to Upgrade Toyota 4Runner Headlights
The following tools are used for this project:
- Phillips head screwdriver
- ratchet with deep 10 millimeter socket (small 10 millimeter wrench will work too)
- small flat head screwdriver
Pop the hood. For added safety, disconnect the battery. Located on the top of the headlight (close to the fender) is the screw that fastens the turn signal light. Unscrew it to loosen the piece.
Gently wiggle the side light while pulling forward to remove the light. Once the light is out, twist the lamp connector counter-clockwise to remove the lamp and completely detach this component.
There are two 10 millimeter nuts behind the turn signal indicator, remove them.
Next, remove the grill. In order to remove the grill, release the six fasteners that hold it in place. Each fastener needs to be compressed on the top and bottom, then the grill will pull straight out. To compress the fasteners, use the small flat head screwdriver. First, push straight down on the small black piece that is visible (shown in blue rectangle below). Underneath, do the same thing. As you release each fastener, slightly pull the grill forward.
Once the grill is removed, you will have access to the remaining screw/bolts. Remove the screw first that fastens the body trim piece (bottom screw pictured). Underneath the body trim piece is another 10 millimeter bolt, remove it. It may be easier to access this bolt from underneath the vehicle. Remove the top bolt shown. This is the last bolt that holds the headlight assembly in place, so support the headlight with your other hand.
Pull the headlight assembly forward to disconnect the lamp. Press the tabs and pull the socket out. Mine was dirty and a little rusty, so it required a bit of tugging to free the connector.
The new headlight assembly will simply fit into the exact same position as the old one. Connect the lamp. Align the bolt studs and holes with the new headlight and begin to reassemble in the reverse order that you removed the headlight. It took a fraction of the time for me to install the second headlight unit. After installing the second light, snap the grill back into place and you are finished.
BEFORE: 1996 – 1998 Headlight
AFTER: 1999 – 2002 Headlight
- Once you have installed the first headlight, reconnect the battery and test to make sure the light works before you tighten down all your bolts or install the second headlight.
- While the grill is off the truck, clean debris out of the radiator since it is easy to access.
- You can sell your old headlights on Craigslist! I sold mine for $25 (in less than 3 hours after placing the ad). I probably could have asked for double that amount, but I helped out a fellow 4Runner owner. That made the net cost of this project under $55.
If you have any question about this project post them below. Also, online enthusiast forums are a great resource for additional help.