Used Vehicle Review: Toyota Tacoma pickup, 1996 2004  used car reviews toyota
2001 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner DoubleCab. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Toyota’s trucks have always had quite a following, even before the SUV craze began. The 4Runner never sold as well as Jeep’s old Cherokee, but early versions – dating back to before Toyota started stuffing V8s under its hood – earned a cult following that lingers even now that the truck has become part of the SUV mainstream.

Toyota pickup trucks share a similarly small, but loyal, fan base. Real car geeks know Toyota’s history as a builder of small trucks – like the one Marty McFly lusted after in Back to the Future – dates back decades, especially in its home market, where they’ve always been as popular as the Big Three’s pickups are here in North America. Perhaps they never caught on here because of Toyota’s early reputation here as a maker of economy cars; many truck buyers likely couldn’t bring themselves to drive a pickup that belonged to the same family tree as the Tercel and Corolla. There’s also the fact that until the mid-90s, Toyota’s small truck was known simply as “truck.” Creative, eh?

A lot of things changed for Toyota’s compact pickup line in 1996, though, when it was redesigned and christened the Tacoma. The Tacoma got all-new power too, in the form of either a 2.4-litre four-cylinder (142 hp; 160 lb-ft of torque), a 2.7-litre four-cylinder (150 hp; 177 lb-ft of torque) or a 3.4-litre V6 (190 hp; 220 lb-ft of torque) that replaced the comparatively wimpy 2.4- and 3.0-litre units (116 and 150 hp respectively) that powered previous generation models and finally gave Toyota’s compact truck the guts to go head-to-head with competing compacts from the Big Three.

Initially, the Tacoma could accommodate three people comfortably or five people uncomfortably in either regular or “XtraCab” extended cab configurations. In 2000, the Tacoma Prerunner, a rear-wheel-drive Tacoma dressed up to look like a 4×4 model, was introduced and slotted in, price-wise, between the two- and four-wheel-drive models. In 2001, the Tacoma DoubleCab – with a slightly longer cab than XtraCab models, and four doors instead of two and a tiny cargo bed – was introduced.

Used Vehicle Review: Toyota Tacoma pickup, 1996 2004  used car reviews toyota
1996 Toyota Tacoma XtraCab. Click image to enlarge

So what did the Tacoma offer that other smaller pickups didn’t? For the most part, it was similar to other small trucks from Japan (Nissan’s Frontier was the only other true Japanese truck) and North America (Ford’s Ranger and the Mazda B-series that shared much of the Ford’s DNA, Dodge’s Dakota and the GMC S-15/Sonoma and Chevy S-10) in size and in carrying capacity but offered the bulletproof reliability Toyota is known for. The Frontier came close to matching it over the years but couldn’t beat the Tacoma’s near flawless record according to Consumer Reports, who recommend the Tacoma in every model year from 1997 to 2004. A number of recalls have been issued for the Tacoma during its model run; these can be found at the end of this article.

Used Vehicle Review: Toyota Tacoma pickup, 1996 2004  used car reviews toyota
2001 Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab 4X4.Click image to enlarge

The Tacoma’s star doesn’t shine so bright in terms of crash safety, with only certain models earning respectable ratings from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It gave the Tacoma nothing higher than three stars in front impact tests for 1996 and 1997, while 1998 and later trucks earned solid threes and fours for driver and passenger protection in front impacts. Side impacts present a serious problem, with Tacomas scoring only one star for front seat occupant protection for 1999 and 2000 models (the first years the NHTSA did side-impact tests on the truck), and three stars in 2001. Rear seat occupant protection in side impacts wasn’t tested until 2003 when a four-door DoubleCab model scored 5 stars each for front and rear seat occupant protection. The smaller XtraCab was never tested in side impacts as the rear seat was deemed too small by the NHTSA.

Given their purpose, trucks aren’t known for being paragons of fuel efficiency and the Tacoma isn’t much different. According to Natural Resources Canada’s fuel efficiency guide, early models with the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine are rated at 10.8 L/100 km in city driving and 8 L/100 on the highway. The rating for the bigger 2.7-litre four-banger differs greatly between earlier and later models. For example, the 2000 model is rated at 12.5 L/100 km city and 10.2 L/100 km highway, while the 2004 model earns much better ratings of 10.6 L/100 km city and 7.9 L/100 km highway. Numbers for V6 models are more consistent at about 14 L/100 km city and 11 L/100 highway.

Used Vehicle Review: Toyota Tacoma pickup, 1996 2004  used car reviews toyota
2002 Toyota Tacoma XtraCab. Click image to enlarge

These are certainly reliable trucks, but as tends to be the story with any Toyota model, Tacoma resale values are far higher than those of its domestic competitors. According to Canadian Red Book, prices range from $3,875 for a 1996 four-cylinder, two-wheel-drive model in good condition to a high of $27,500 for a 2004 DoubleCab model with a V6 and four-wheel-drive. Somewhere in the middle is a 2000 XtraCab SR5 V6 4×4 model, at $11,900.

Reliable or not, you’ll have a hard time convincing a long-time domestic truck owner that a Tacoma is the way to go for a used pickup when a comparable Ford, GM or Dodge product could be found for far cheaper. And truthfully, if your plans for a pickup involve mainly slogging around construction sites and other places that can cause a lot of wear and tear on a vehicle, a domestic truck at a cheaper price might be a good choice thanks to a (potentially) wider availability of parts and ease of repair. But if your truck will see mostly on-road action – perhaps hauling a dirt bike or ski-doo to and from your favourite out-of-the-way spot and serving as a daily driver – a Tacoma would make a very capable, yet refined mode of all-purpose transportation.


Online Resources

tacomaterritory.com/ – The Tacoma Territory Off-Roaders Association (TTORA) is a great Toyota truck forum with sections dedicated to the Tacoma PreRunner and 4×4 models. Lots of activity in the Tacoma forum (it’s the most popular section) and lots of good info on how to turn your Toyota truck into an awesome off-roader. Registration is free but members who contribute financially to the site are entered into a monthly prize giveaway. Membership is relatively low at just under 5,000.

www.tundrasolutions.com – Despite a URL with the name of Toyota’s full-size truck in it, this Toyota site covers the company’s entire line-up of cars and trucks. The Tacoma section here isn’t as busy as the one at TTORA but more of the info here will be useful to those whose Tacomas spend most of their time on paved roads and there’s lots of general info to peruse in the non-model-specific forums. Registration is free and the site boasts more than 40,000 members.

www.toyotanation.com – This is a Canadian-run site and is among the best Toyota forums on the web. Like Tundra Solutions, Toyota Nation covers all Toyota car and truck models. There’s no specific forum for the first generation Tacoma (there is the for the current one, though) but there’s lots of information to be found in the general truck forum. Registration is free; members number over 37,000.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number 1996110; Units affected: 641

1995-1996 – Note: two wheel drive vehicles only. The front suspension support on these vehicles may crack and fail under severe driving and braking conditions. This could result in the loss of vehicle control and a crash without prior warning. Correction: suspension supports will be strengthened on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number 1995207; Units affected: 3

1995 – Note: these three vehicles have been inspected and corrected. The batteries on these vehicles may have a defect in the weld inside the positive or negative posts. As a result the connection inside the weld may separate, resulting in a no-start condition or, in an extreme case, the battery may explode. Correction: vehicles will be inspected and batteries replaced if required.

Transport Canada Recall Number 1997141; Units affected: 177

1997 – These vehicles do not comply with c.m.v.s.s. 120 – tire selection and rims for vehicles other than passenger cars. Compliance label contains an incorrect rear tire inflation pressure designation. Correction: correct compliance label will be installed on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2001203; Units affected: 900

1999-2000 – Equipment Description: Towing hitch kits and aftermarket trailer towing wire harness converters. Due to inadequate waterproofing performance and improper installation location of the converter, which is mounted on the exterior of the vehicle, an electrical short circuit could occur if water enters the converter housing. The short circuit can cause a failure of the converter, and if a trailer is being towed at the time, can also cause failure of the trailer lights Correction: Dealers will replace the converter.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2005151; Units affected: 15700

2001-2004 – On certain vehicles, a manufacturing issue with the front lower ball joint could result in premature wear. If the vehicle is operated for an extended period of time in this condition, the ball joint may eventually experience excessive wear and looseness, resulting in increased steering effort, reduced vehicle self-centering and noise in the front suspension. In extreme cases, when the driver continues to operate the vehicle in this condition, the lower ball joint may separate from the knuckle causing a loss of vehicle steering control. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the front lower ball joints.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2003130; Units affected: 2281

2001-2003 – On certain Double Cab vehicles submitted to government crash testing, a flange at the rear end of the Double Cab body could deform, and may interfere with the fuel filler inlet hose which connects the fuel filler pipe and fuel tank. This interference could result in damage to the fuel inlet hose, and in the worst case, if the vehicle rolls over after the crash, fuel could leak from the damaged fuel inlet hose, which may result in a fire if in the presence of an ignition source. Correction: Dealer will install a fuel hose protector on the body flange.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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