Toyotas Tacoma pickup truck is the top-selling import brand compact pickup

Toyota has built up an enviable reputation for building solid vehicles that will last a long time. This is particularly true of its compact pickup truck, which has long been one of the most popular trucks since it first arrived on these shores in 1969.

Of course a modern Toyota pickup is way more refined than trucks of even a decade ago. Toyota, like all other truck manufacturers, offers a vast assortment for options to tailor a truck to meet the needs of anyone from a contractor hauling building materials to a family hauling children. Off-roaders are not forgotten either. Nearly half of all Toyota pickups sold in the last few years have been outfitted with a four-wheel-drive system that will allow you to go anywhere you want on or off the highway.

One word of caution though. If you're looking for the lowest cost pickup trucks you're unlikely to find one among Toyota models on the market. A new Toyota Tacoma truck costs quite a bit more than an equivalent model from its competitors and, undoubtedly because of Toyotas reputation for reliability and durability, Tacoma's seem to retain their value as well. Because of this, expect to pay one or two thousand dollars more for a pre-owned Toyota Tacoma than you might for other compact pickup trucks.

What You Need To Know:

1. Review of a 1997 Toyota Tacoma

2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners

3. History of Tacoma

4. Review of Current Model

5. Basic Facts

6. Changes Year-to-Year

7. Safety Information

8. Value Guide

9. Option Installment Rate

10. Sales History

11. Awards and Commendations Earned

12. Other Reviews

13. Recall Information

14. Price of Spare Parts

1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Evaluation - 1997 Toyota Tacoma SR5 XtraCab 4WD

Likes: durability, zippy with V-6 engine
Dislikes: so-so ride, bad wet weather traction
Competitors: Chevrolet S-10, Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Nissan Pickup/Frontier, Mazda B-Series

Miles: 72,900
Condition: A
Price when new: $24,000 (est.)
Posted Price: $18,895 (Feb. 2000)

This Toyota truck might be a compact pickup but with its big off-road tires and 4WD it seemed to be almost as big as a full size truck as I climbed into the cockpit for a test drive. The first thing I noticed was how well it drove it was relatively quiet and smooth riding. Okay it was no match for a sedan but then again it is a truck.

Although this particular Tacoma was only three years old it had done an astounding 73,000 miles. One has to presume that most of those miles were accumulated on highways at a decent speed. It was the sort of mileage you'd expect on a small commuter car not on a truck tricked out for off-roading. But judging by the lack of any dings or bad scratches I doubt whether this truck had seen much, if any, off road use.

Despite the extra weight of the 4WD system and the giant tires the performance was quite good thanks to the strong 3.4-liter engine. Having said that it is still not as powerful as many of the V-6 powered compact pickups trucks from the domestic manufacturers. Also considering the size of the tires the ride was not too choppy nor was the engine noise too bad, though much of it was drowned out by the tire noise.

Inside the Tacoma had a pleasant appearance that would not be out of place in an economy sedan. The instrument panel contains a large speedometer with a matching tachometer and fuel gauge along with a temperature gauge. The climate controls are placed high up while the sound system is below. The cupholders are located in such a position that the buttons on the radio cannot be adjusted with drinks in place. Overall this Tacoma was in very good condition despite its high mileage.

This particular pre-owned truck had an extended cab (Xtracab), which provides two fold down bench seats in the back, suitable only for kids due to a lack of legroom. More important though, the extended cab provides considerably more room for tall drivers who can move their seats back further. In addition, an extended cab provides room behind the front seats for storing goods and things such as bags in a secure, though not hidden, location. This particular example of the Tacoma was fitted with an aftermarket camper shell, which provided increased security for any cargo in the bed as well as preventing stuff from blowing away when traveling at any speed.

You can expect to pay more for a pre-owned Tacoma than for a similar Ford Ranger or Chevy S10. You must also be careful to check out what options are installed. Believe it or not power steering is not standard, even on the latest Tacomas. So few vehicles have a lack of power steering as standard that industry resources do not even list how many vehicles have it installed any more. The assumption is that all vehicles have power steering but that is not be necessarily the case with a Tacoma. Also although anti-lock brakes are available as an option very few original buyers ordered the system so it is difficult to find pre-owned Tacomas with ABS installed.

2. Summing It Up - Owners' Views

Good:
Functional
Good for hauling stuff
No problems (owner of '95 pickup)

Bad:
Poor handling
Uncomfortable on highway
Bad traction in wet weather

3. History of Tacoma

Although Toyota was among the very first auto companies to offer a mini pickup when it introduced the Stout in 1964 it didn't get serious about the segment until 1969 when the Hilux started to be imported. It quickly became a favorite pickup in the US, especially in the 1970s when mini pickups were all the rage. The Hilux name disappeared from US bound models in 1975 and it became know just as the Toyota Pickup. In 1991 Toyota began to manufacture the Pickup in its factory in California instead of importing it from Japan.

The sixth generation pickup was introduced in 1995 and it got a name again Tacoma. Even though all of Toyotas major competitors had introduced four door extended cab compact trucks by 1999, Toyota did not announce its version of this popular option until February 2000. The Tacoma Double Cab will go on sale in October 2000 as a 2001 model year vehicle.

4. Review of Current Tacoma

Although the Tacoma has been on the market for five years there have not been many changes in that time. Driving a new vehicle was not that different an experience from a three or four year old model. The new model I tested was a PreRunner Xtracab V6, which is a two-wheel-drive vehicle tricked up to resemble a real off-road equipped 4WD model with its higher ride height and larger tires. This proved fine for those who want to go for the look, but otherwise it s a bit of a waste of money. I spent a lot of time driving the vehicle in the rain and I found the rear wheel traction to be dismal. Just about every time I drove into the street from a parking lot or even accelerating at slow speeds on city streets the rear wheels would spin. Sadly even a 4WD system would not alleviate this serious problem as the trucks system does not work on pavement being only for off-road use. It s a shame Toyota does not offer traction control. Of course if one were carrying cargo in the back the problem would disappear as the added weight would improve grip. It was slightly embarrassing to be spinning rear wheels all the time in a $23,000 vehicle!

5. Basic Facts: 1995 - 2000 Tacoma

Vehicle Type: Compact Pickup

No. Passengers: up to five

Origin of assembly: Fremont, CA and Japan

Engine: (standard): 2.4-liter 144 hp DOHC I-4
(optional): 2.7-liter 150 hp DOHC I-4; 3.4-liter 190 hp V-6

Transmission: 5-spd manual, 4-spd automatic; rear-drive or 4WD

Length: 185, 203 inches

Wheelbase: 103, 122 inches

Width: 67 inches

Height: 62 inches

Curb weight: 2600 lbs. (approx.)

Cargo volume: N/A

Fuel tank capacity: 15 gals.

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway): 23/28 (2.4-liter, manual); 19/22 (3.4-liter, auto)

6. Changes in the Toyota Tacoma Line 1995 - 2000

1995 Model Year
All new pickup model introduced, named Tacoma
Redesigned chassis
Improved rack and pinion steering
New range of engines

1996 Model Year
Off-road package offered

1997 Model Year
Small changes to the grille and headlights on 2WD models
Base 2.4-liter engine gets an upgrade

1998 Model Year
Redesigned front end on 4WD model
Passenger side airbag with cutoff switch added

1999 Model Year
No major changes

2000 Model Year
A few minor changes

7. Safety Notes

NHTSA Crash rating (96 model year): Driver 2; Passenger 3 (5 is best)
ABS optional on all Tacoma models
Driver side air bag standard from 1995, dual air bags standard from 1998

8. Value Guide

Prices listed are for base models. Options can add considerably to the lowest price listed as these are usually stripped models. In many cases, very few vehicles are ever sold at the lowest price listed! Source: Kelley Blue Book

1995 Model Year
New: $12,245 to $18,105

1996 Model Year
New: $12,448 to $24,898

1997 Model Year
New: $12,618 to $22,868

1998 Model Year
New: $12,958 to $25,348

1999 Model Year
New: $13,118 to $26,018

9. Option Installment Rate

Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a pre-owned vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a pre-owned vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1995 Model Year (first year of new model)
Installment Rate
Engine:
2.4-liter I-4: 76%
2.7-liter I-4: 0%
3.4-liter V-6: 24%

Transmission:
Auto 18%
Manual 82%

4WD: 45%

Air Conditioning: 10%
Power Steering: 59%
Cruise Control: 13%
ABS Brakes: 9%
Power Windows: 11%

1996 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine:
2.4-liter I-4: 35%
2.7-liter I-4: 35%
3.4-liter V-6: 30%

Transmission:
Auto 22%
Manual 78%

4WD: 47%

Air Conditioning: 22%
Power Steering: 63%
Cruise Control: 15%
ABS Brakes: 12%
Power Windows: 12%

1997 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine:
2.4-liter I-4: 33%
2.7-liter I-4: 36%
3.4-liter V-6: 31%

Transmission:
Auto 25%
Manual 75%

4WD: 49%

Body Style:
2-door Std. Cab shortbed: 52%
2-door Ext. Cab shortbed: 48%

Air Conditioning: 85%
Cruise Control: 16%
ABS Brakes: 14%
Power Windows: 13%

1998 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine:
2.4-liter I-4: n/a%
2.7-liter I-4: 76%
3.4-liter V-6: 24%

Transmission:
Auto 43%
Manual 57%

4WD: 47%

Body Style:
2-door Std. Cab shortbed: 35%
2-door Ext. Cab shortbed: 65%

Air Conditioning: 97%
Cruise Control: 38%
ABS Brakes: 5%
Power Windows: 24%

1999 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine:
2.4-liter I-4: 35%
2.7-liter I-4: 30%
3.4-liter V-6: 35%

Transmission:
Auto 44%
Manual 56%

4WD: 47%

Body Style:
2-door Std. Cab shortbed: N/A
2-door Ext. Cab shortbed: N/A

Air Conditioning: 99%
Cruise Control: 54%
ABS Brakes: 5%
Power Windows: 38%

10. Production/Sales Volume History

Normally a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, often include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers/Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1995 Model Year (first year of new model)
Production run: Oct. 1994 through Sept. 1995
Total number produced: NA
Total no. sold in U.S.: 108,742 (includes 53,488 94 models)

1996 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 1995 through Sept. 1996
Total number produced: 136,969
Total no. sold in U.S.: 143,395

1997 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 1996 through June 1997
Total number produced: 108,371
Total no. sold in U.S.: 139,914

1998 Model Year
Production run: Jul. 1997 through Sept. 1998
Total number produced: NA
Total no. sold in U.S.: 153,871

1999 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998
Total number produced: NA
Total no. sold in U.S.: 160,288

11. Awards and Commendations

1993
"Best Compact Pickup in Initial Quality - J.D. Power and Associates

1994
"Best Compact Pickup in Initial Quality - J.D. Power and Associates

1995
"Best Compact Pickup in Initial Quality - J.D. Power and Associates

1996
"Pickup Truck of the Year" - Four Wheeler(Xtracab)
"Best Compact Pickup in Initial Quality - J.D. Power and Associates
"Best Overall Truck Model in Vehicle Dependability at Five Years of Ownership - J.D. Power and Associates

1997
"Best Compact Pickup in Initial Quality - J.D. Power and Associates

1998
"Pickup Truck of the Year" - Four Wheeler (Xtracab TRD)

12. Quotes

"The ride quality, though, is mysteriously unsatisfying. Small, sharp-edged bumps like pavement seams and dirt washboard jiggle the Tacoma around like a Handi-Cam on the set of TV's "Baywatch." The cargo box wags its tail in a resonant ripple that follows most longer ruts. Day in and day out, the Tacoma's ride is too busy. It tended to exacerbate squeaks, rattles, and steering-wheel shake in the interior-not typically a Toyota problem." - Car and Driver, Aug. 1995

"Inside the Tacoma gives up some space to the S-10. Particularly in low-trim models, some of the materials seem to have been selected to trim costs. Yet even in its most spartan trim level, the Tacoma is as solid as cast iron, and built tight to the core." - Autoweek 1997 Buyer's Guide

"The Toyotas frame lacks stiffness compared with Detroit s small pickups. The Tacoma is relatively pricey, too. Still, it is the best selling compact pickup from Japanese makers." - Car and Driver 1998 Truck Buyers Guide

13. Recalls (Only major recalls listed)

ID Number: 96V129000
Component: suspension: independent front
Potential Number of Units Affected: 90,000
Year: 1995-1996
Year of Recall: '96
Summary: Under certain driving conditions, the front suspension support can crack leading to failure of the support. This condition can result in loss of vehicle control.

ID Number: 98V188000
Component: interior systems: passive restraint: air bag on-off switch assembly
Potential Number of Units Affected: 84,323
Year: 1998
Manufactured From: Jan. 1998 To: Aug. 1998
Year of Recall: '98
Summary: The statement required in the owner's manual that "...the on-off switch should only be used when a member of a passenger risk group identified in the request form in Appendix B......is occupying the right front passenger seating position..." is mis-stated. This does not comply with the requirements of FMVSS 208, "Occupant Crash Protection." If the air bag switch is "Off," the seat occupant who is not a member of the passenger risk group would be subject to increased injury in the event of a vehicle crash.

14. Cost of Parts (relative to other vehicles)

Headlight unit: $60 (below average)
Side marker lamp: $57 (average)
Door (left front): $474 (average)
Fender (left front): $123 (below average)

Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1995 model. Prices are current as of Feb. 2000 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision Repair Services

The Rettie Report and Pre-Owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

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