The Tacoma has been around for some 25 years and Toyota has been in the small truck business for more than 40, so it’s no surprise the Toyota Tacoma is one of the most popular midsize pickups on the road. The Tacoma is at the core of a fiercely loyal and passionate enthusiast community that has many repeat owners.
With selection to spare, numerous options and packages, and several body styles to choose from, finding a used Tacoma that’s perfect for you and yours should be an easy task. From a fuel-efficient work truck model with four-cylinder power to a fully loaded off-road ready TRD model with V6 power, Tacoma has shoppers from all walks of life covered.
There are plenty of options for the second-generation model: Two or four-door models, two or four-wheel drive, four or six-cylinder power, and manual or automatic transmissions. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine makes 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, while the common 4.0-liter V6 makes 236 hp.
A TRD Off-Road package was available for weekend adventure seekers hitting the road less traveled, and premium feature content from this generation may include Bluetooth, a premium JBL stereo, USB connectivity, a household power outlet, leather seating, and more. Towing capacity was rated as high as 6,500 lbs.
The Tacoma appeals largely by way of its sturdy construction, solid reliability, and reputation for owner satisfaction and residual values. You’ll pay a premium for a Tacoma in the used marketplace, but it’ll likely be worth more than average when it comes time to trade it in or sell it down the line.
The Tacoma is a top pick for maximum peace of mind in a mid-sized pickup, though owners may wish to consider a comparable Nissan Frontier, or depending on priorities, a Honda Ridgeline. The Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon from this era were amongst Tacoma’s competitors, though I don’t recommend them as a used buy. Just be sure you can get comfortable in your potential used Tacoma candidate, as many owners report an awkward driving position caused by the shape of the seats and a high floor.
#1: Check The Electronics
Start inside, checking that anything within the Tacoma that runs on electricity is functioning properly. Confirm the proper operation of the stereo head unit, all power windows and locks, any steering wheel-mounted controls, the cruise control, and the full breadth of climate control system functionality. Check the stereo display for burned-out LED pixels, and confirm that the volume knob responds as expected, noting that some issues have been reported by owners, particularly around wonky volume knobs that fail to respond, or stereos that don’t power on. Test the Bluetooth system if equipped, as well.
#2: Pay Attention to the Underside
While driving your potential Tacoma candidate over a variety of surfaces and at a variety of speeds, be sure to focus your attention and ears to the goings-on beneath the vehicle. Listen for any unwelcomed noises from down under, noting that a rubbing or whining sound or a binding sensation may indicate problems with the rear differential. Another way to coax unwelcomed sounds from a worn-out differential is to travel slowly in a tight circle and have a good listen. While focusing on the underside of the vehicle with your ears, note that popping, clunking or slamming sounds typically indicate some issue with a suspension component(s) or the vehicle’s driveshaft. If you note any, be sure to have the unit checked over by a technician before agreeing to buy anything.
#3: Beware the mud tires and lift kit
The average shopper is advised to avoid a Tacoma that’s been modified with non-factory parts for maximum peace of mind. Lift kits, oversized wheels and tires, and other suspension modifications can cause problems, especially if the quality of the parts or their installation is sub-par. Note that lifted Tacoma models may be more prone to accelerated axle and differential wear, leaky axle seals and other issues.
#4: Check the Transmission
If the model you’re considering has an automatic transmission, be aware that hard shifting, slipping, or other clumsiness, particularly at light to moderate throttle, could be a sign of a problem. Common causes include low transmission fluid, the need for a transmission computer reprogramming procedure, or transmission damage. The latter is less likely but pricier to remedy. Transmission issues reported by the owner’s community seem more likely on earlier models from this generation, and are reported rarely, but are worth being aware of.
#5: Get it on a Hoist
A rule of thumb before purchasing any used pickup truck is to have a technician inspect the vehicle fully on a hoist. In short order, said technician can effectively look for signs of suspension damage, leaks, indications that the vehicle has been poorly repaired after an accident, signs that the vehicle has been abused in an off-road setting, and much more. If a past owner has high-fived a boulder with their oil pan, now’s the time to find out. Further, some earlier-generation Tacoma models were prone to a well-documented problem with frame rust and rot — and though this seems to have been addressed for this generation, a full check for structural integrity is a great idea nonetheless.
#6: Remember the Fluids
If the service history of the used Tacoma you’re considering is unclear, budget for a full fluid change and tune-up for maximum peace of mind. Changing all fluids, including engine oil, coolant, differential fluid, transmission fluid, and brake fluid, can go a long way towards maximum long-haul durability. Running fresh fluids in your ride is a great idea and can give you warm and fuzzies.
Your Best Bet?: Any Tacoma from this generation with a clean bill of health after a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) at a Toyota dealer, or the mechanic of your choosing, can be bought with confidence — even moreso if all service records are available, and all maintenance is up to date.
Good To Know
NHTSA 4/5 Stars (2011+)
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2009)
A few recalls to be aware of.
I get my recall information from here: https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls#vehicle
And can get safety information from either IIHS (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/dodge/journey-4-door-suv) or NHTSA (https://www.nhtsa.gov/ratings)