What’s the Worst Year for the Mitsubishi Montero?

If you prefer your off-road classic SUVs with a touch more modernity, it’s tough to get more capable than a Mitsubishi Montero (aka Pajero). These 90s Mitsubishi SUVs are rising in popularity, and if you can’t find one in the US, there are a bunch waiting to be imported at reasonable prices. Although the homologation racer Pajero Evolution is still a few years away from that. But even the most reliable and stalwart SUVs, like the Toyota 4Runner, have their problems. And there is one Mitsubishi Montero model year that you should go right past.

Why the 2002 Mitsubishi Montero should be avoided

CarComplaints.com rated the 2002 Montero as the worst model year. The ’02 Montero actually has the worst problem noted by the site, rattling from the V6 engine that came from a dropped rod. According to the owner, the fix required an entirely new engine.

Another problem is due to the SUV’s brakes. CarComplaints reported that one owner had their brakes become stiff, with ABS being triggered, but the SUV failing to come to a stop. The owner had to use their hand brake to slow the Montero down. Mitsubishi did issue a recall of 2001 and 2002 Monteros due to failing hydraulic brake boosters. However, this was a voluntary recall: the NHTSA found no noticeable safety defect, though the agency did receive numerous complaints.

The only other noticeable problem was with the transmission, with one owner reporting the SUV didn’t want to go into gear. According to It Still Runs, the transmission was known to leak due to excessive heat, potentially explaining the shifting problem.

However, that same report also mentioned another issue that, while CarComplaints didn’t report, also plagued 2002 Monteros: engine issues.

The trouble with the V6s

In 2002, Mitsubishi offered the Montero with two different V6s, a 3.0-liter, and 3.5-liter. According to It Still Runs, both engines had problems with their oxygen sensors. Their heater circuits would malfunction, reducing fuel efficiency and raising emissions.

In addition, the Mitsubishi Montero enthusiast forum users claim the 3.5-liter V6 would often leak oil from the cylinder heads. Although, the repair is relatively simple and inexpensive: install new O-rings.

The forum users also claim that the 3.0-liter V6 had its own issue. Earlier models often suffered valve stem leaks. If the valve seals crack, oil can get into the combustion chamber, It Still Runs explains, causing the engine to burn oil and produce bluish smoke. However, this issue only applies to 12-valve 3.0-liters, not the 24-valve versions. Expedition Portal forum users claim the two engines are fairly easy to distinguish, however, based on spark plug location.

Other model years to ignore

CarComplaints also recommends avoiding 2001 Monteros. In addition to the previously-mentioned transmission, braking, and engine problems, 2001 Mitsubishi Montero owners also reported fluctuating temperature gauges. There was also one complaint of a leaking fuel pump.

It Still Runs also reports that 1997-1999 Monteros had their own common problems. Although CarComplaints has no reports of any issues for these model years, Mitsubishi apparently recalled 1997-1999 Monteros for loose crankshaft pulley bolts. If this pulley fails, the driver would experience a loss of power steering.

However, while these can be expensive issues, CarComplaints notes the Montero is a fairly trouble-free SUV. The Mitsubishi Montero owner forum users note that, apart from the valve stem issue, the biggest concern is making sure to replace the engine’s timing belt ever 60,000 miles. If that belt fails, it could lead to “major engine repair.”

The best Mitsubishi Montero model years

1993 Mitsubishi Montero
1993 Mitsubishi Montero | Mitsubishi

According to Jalopnik, in terms of best array of off-road features, the 2nd-gen Mitsubishi Montero, model years 1992-2000, are the most desirable. Expedition Portal forum users further claim the 1995-1999 models are the most desirable of the 2nd-gen SUVs.

1989 Mitsubishi Pajero
1989 Mitsubishi Pajero | Mitsubishi

But with the previous reports, the best Mitsubishi Montero to purchase from the 90s would be 1992-1996 models. If you can’t find one, however, Mitsubishi Pajeros are essentially mechanically identical, with models from 1995 and earlier eligible to import.

In addition, CarComplaints has no reports of any issues with 2004 and later Monteros. Although Autotrader notes 2004 was the last year for the Montero Sport, other Monteros were sold in the US until 2006. And according to Expedition Portal forum users, the 2004-2006 3rd-gen Monteros were in some ways better suited for daily-driving than the 2nd gen, with more rear cargo space, a quieter and comfier ride, independent rear suspension, and even traction control on some models.

2005 Mitsubishi Montero Limited
2005 Mitsubishi Montero Limited | Rides Unlimited Chicago

So, if off-roading simplicity is the name of the game, the 1992-1996 Mitsubishi Montero is the one to buy. But if you want some more refinement, 2004-2006 Monteros should also be reliable rides.

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