Best Year For Toyota Tacoma – Which Years Should You Avoid Buying

by Conner Mckay

The Japanese car manufacturer, Toyota has earned its name for being a reliable machine again and again. Almost all the cars that come out of the Toyota factory seem to be reliable and budget-friendly. There might be some odd years, for these models, but overall they all succeed in today’s market. Can the same be said about the Toyota Tacoma? What is the best year for Toyota Tacoma?

The Toyota Tacoma is one of the greatest designs for a workhouse. And the offroading ability is often underestimated. The Tacoma is a phenomenal boulder climber. Ever since its introduction in 1995, it has been a sought-after pick-up. The fact that it has been in the Toyota arsenal for more than 25 years proves that it is a commercial success.

Purchasing a brand-new Toyota Tacoma is a nice option. But buying a brand new Tacoma rarely fits the budget. The good news, this is a highly reliable pick-up, so buying a used pick-up is not a bad option. The Toyota Tacoma is famous for lasting a really long time. This offers a ton of used car options to choose from. If you are looking for a used pickup, what is the best year for Toyota Tacoma?

Toyota Tacoma

Best Year For Toyota Tacoma

Over 60 years ago, Toyota sold its first car in the US. What started as a small foreign car company, is now one of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world.  Toyota is best known for its compact and midsize cars such as the Corolla and Camry. But the truck line of Toyota is also filled with a rich history.

The Toyota Hilux has been the best Toyota pickup for years, since its first appearance in 1968. It immediately became a huge success. It is still one of the most popular pick-ups globally. They are still sold in most countries around the world, though you do not see a lot of those in the US. The Hilux earned its reputation due to its reliability and durability.

But it wasn’t the most comfortable to drive, as it lacked comfort features. It was evident for Toyota to recapture the Western pick-up market, they needed something different. This led to the creation of the Toyota Tacoma.

Preserving the reliability and durability of the Hilux, the Tacoma evolved to be more comfortable and safe. The handling also saw considerable improvement. Though the Tacoma has never seen the success of the Ford F150 or the Chevrolet Silverado, it is still a durable and reliable, mid-size pick-up.

The  Tacoma was introduced in 1995. Since then there have been 2 more generations. They have seen modifications and upgrades as the years progressed.

First Generation

The Toyota Tacoma was meant to be the revamp of the Hilux. The idea was to build with the foundation of the Hilux. This meant retaining the reliability and improving the overall quality. The Hilux was a complete utilitarian truck, but the modified Tacoma was utilitarian comfortable,e and safe. This design turned out to be the first generation Tacoma and continued production from 1995 to 2004.

The suspension and the seat quality came a long way from the first Hilux. In the safety department, the Tacoma had airbags and anti-lock brakes, that the Hilux lacked.

The design of the 1st generation is definitely outdated. But at that time it was a trend. Today the look is considered a bit aged. Even though the 1st generation saw an ample amount of performance and safety upgrades, design upgrades were few and in between.

All the designs came with either a 4 speed or 5-speed manual transmission. In terms of beds, it was available with either a 6’ or a 5 ’5” bed. The engines ranged from 2.4L to 3.4L. They were capable of producing between 140 to 190 hp.

Second Generation

The second generation of the Toyota Tacoma was unveiled in 2005. The internal aspects did not see any major changes from the previous generation. But the visuals took a major leap. The trapezoidal front grille was continued. The headlights were updated. The modern headlights offered the truck a modern look.

The truck bed was shortened by 5”. They were available in 5’5” and 5-foot options. There were three cab options for the second-gen Tacoma, a regular cab, an access cab, and a double cab.

In 2009 the Tacoma saw quite a few updates in style. The front grill saw some new design features. The installation of LED taillights kept the truck relevant for the new decade.

This generation saw the first automatic Tacoma. There were 4 speed and 5-speed automatic transmission options. If you drive a stick then you had the option of choosing between a 5-speed and a 6-speed manual transmission.

The engine saw a major upgrade. It was available in 2 options. The smaller 2.7 L engine was capable of producing 160 hp. Meanwhile, the 4L variation produced 236 hp. This allowed the 2nd gen Toyota Tacoma to tow up to  6500 lbs.

The second generation went on until 2015.

Third Generation

Starting from 2016, this is the newest generation for Tacoma. The third-gen Tacoma has taken big leaps in terms of design and looks like a thoroughly modern truck. While most pickup trucks tend to be designed to look tough and brutish this was different. It has more of a sleek design. The narrow headlights and tight contours launch it into the modern era with class.

The interior also saw some major upgrades. Still sticking to the comfortable approach, they revamped the interior. From the cheap-feeling interior to a softer non-plastic update. Additionally, the option to choose a leather interior was also provided.

The size of the engine decreased slightly from 4L to 3.5L. Even though the engine is smaller, there is still a rise in power. It is bumped up from 236 hp to 278 hp.

A 5-speed manual transmission was offered on the 2016 and 2017 Tacomas. Later models came with an option of either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. It is also capable of towing a 6800 lbs load.

The TRD off-road trims come equipped with the crawl control function. This saw popularity online for its off-road capabilities.

Toyota Tacoma Problems

The Toyota Tacoma has been in production for over 25 years. It spans over 3 generations. Each generation becomes more efficient than the last. Tacoma has great handling and commendable reliability. The Tacoma has also stood out as one of the safest trucks in the market.

But with 25 years on the streets, it is sure to come up with problems. Here are a few common problems that Toyota Tacoma has come up with over the years.

Common Problems #1: Transmission Woes

This is the most common problem with the Toyota Tacoma. The transmission has been haunting this car for years. And Toyota is yet to completely solve the issue. The problem is more common with automatic transmission.

After a few miles under the hood, there are a few complaints about the transmission shifting incorrectly. Most times, drivers have to readjust the lever before it shifts correctly. The problem is severe and can cause accidents.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the issue. But often the cause is the displaced throttle position sensor. Another possible reason for the issue is the shift solenoid which can wear out after thousands of miles.

Best Year For Toyota Tacoma

The problem rarely occurs before you get at least 100,000 miles from your Tacoma. On average the problem occurs only after 150,000 miles. And it is seen more in the 1st and 2nd generation pickups. The 2016 model has its own share of transmission problems. However, the newer models are yet to come up with a concern regarding the transmission.

Since the most common culprit is the shift solenoid, replacing that is the best option if your transmission fails.  Your auto mechanic can identify the solenoid that needs to be replaced. Depending on the wear, you might have to replace 1 or more solenoids.

The replacement cost might range from $150 to over $370. The price could change with the model and the place you reside. A routine transmission service should give your selenoids a long life. If you leave the problem for a long period you might further risk your transmission. And transmission rebuilds aren’t cheap.

Common Problems #2: Ball Joint Problems

Another common problem for the Toyota Tacoma comes in the form of ball joints. This is due to the ton of reports, of premature ball joint wear complaints. This is due to improper finishing in production. 13 models were affected by this. And the problem spanned from the first year of production up until 2007.

Over time ball joints do wear. And this is normal and a lot of cars face this issue. In Tacoma, this happens much faster than any other car.

The models between 2001 to 2004 were recalled on this issue.

The improper finish in the ball joints causes premature wear. This can lead to the lower ball joint separating.

The replacement of the ball joints costs between $230 to $440. Again the model of your pick-up and the place where do the repair can affect the repair cost. You should know that your wheels need to be realigned after you have replaced the ball joints. This would further add $140 to$170 to your cost.

Some drivers made complaints that dealerships charged them an excess of $1000 for the repair. So shop for cheaper options before settling on that offer. Just for some added context, check out our guide on the cost to replace alternator at dealership.

Common Problems #3: Parking Light Lens Damage

The amber front parking lights of the Toyota Tacoma are known to crack and even melt in some cases. The problem is easy enough to fix, but still a concern. Most complaints say that the amber lights cause the lens to melt due to the heat. And some even mentioned the lens melted into the light itself. If that were the case it would result in extra expenses.

The reported problems fall mainly in the 2nd generation, To be more precise, models between 2005 and 2013.

According to some the problem starts as early as 25,000 to 30,000 miles. But on average it seems to occur at around 60,000 miles. Fewer situations had the lens cracking at 80,000 miles. But actually, there is no exact point for the problem to start. It could start as early as 6000 miles or your lens might survive until 142,000 miles.

The average repair cost for the problem according to the data acquired by Repairpal puts it at $88 to $111.

But if the damage is extensive and you decide to replace the entire headlight assembly the cost could be higher. Some drivers got quotes of up to $900 to $1,100 to replace the headlight assembly. If the lens is the only thing that is damaged you are better off replacing the lens only. Make sure to replace it with a lens that can withstand heat better.

Common Problems #4: Airflow Sensor Failure

The mass airflow is a vital component in the combustion process of the engine. It is in charge of measuring the amount of air to enters at any given time into the engine. The engine uses this information to burn the right amount of fuel.

In the Toyota Tacoma, drivers complained that the check engine light is often illuminated. The cause of the check engine alert was the airflow sensor. When this happens a fuel imbalance is caused. Since the engine doesn’t know exactly how much fuel is needed, the ideal amount of fuel is not burnt.

The problem was common in the first and 2nd generations. To be more specific years from 1996 to 2013 were affected. If there is a problem with the airflow sensor, the engine will not be able to give out its maximum output. And the constant misfires will cause the car to jerk. If excess fuel is sent to the engine, that will reduce the fuel economy of the vehicle.

Thick black fumes from the exhausts are the easiest way to identify the problem. When too much is fuel is burnt, or incomplete combustion occurs, you will find black fumes from the exhaust. This is the common symptom that will allow you to identify a faulty air flow sensor.

Best Year For Toyota Tacoma

You could try to clean the airflow sensor. Even if you did hire a mechanic for the process it will not cost much. Cleaning the airflow sensor isn’t a complicated process. But this will not always solve the problem. Sometimes replacing the airflow sensor is the only option.

Replacing the airflow will cost quite a sum. The total process should cost between $287 to $409.

Common Problems #5: Excessive Rust Under the Frame

Toyota Tacomas, especially those produced between 1995 and 2000, have faced complaints about excessive rust under the truck’s frame. This rust, if left unchecked, can deteriorate the integrity of the frame and lead to safety issues. Toyota addressed this issue by initiating a massive recall in 2008. Still, if you’re looking at a used Tacoma, it’s crucial to inspect the frame for any signs of rust.

If the rust is minor, it can be treated with rust prevention measures. However, if it has extensively spread, the entire frame may need replacement, which can be quite expensive. Annual inspections and protective coatings can help prolong the frame’s life and prevent corrosion.

Common Problems #6: Faulty Leaf Springs

Leaf springs are a fundamental component in the suspension system of the Toyota Tacoma. Unfortunately, some models between 2005 and 2011 have experienced issues with the leaf springs either breaking or cracking. Such a malfunction can affect ride quality, and in severe cases, broken leaf springs can puncture the fuel tank.

If you notice a sagging rear end or hear unusual clunking noises when going over bumps, it might be time to inspect the leaf springs. Replacements can range from $250 to $600, depending on the location and model.

Common Problems #7: Brake Master Cylinder Leaks

The Toyota Tacoma, especially in models from 2005 to 2013, occasionally faces issues related to the brake master cylinder. Leaks from the master cylinder can lead to reduced brake performance, posing potential safety hazards. The most telling sign of this issue is the brake light illuminating on the dashboard, along with a spongy feeling when pressing the brake pedal.

Addressing the issue promptly is crucial. Depending on the severity of the leak, the master cylinder might need to be either repaired or replaced. The cost for replacement typically ranges between $250 to $500.

Common Problems #8: Differential Leaks

The differential plays a vital role in providing torque to the vehicle’s wheels. Some Tacomas, especially those from the years 2016 and 2017, have reported differential leaks. These leaks can lead to loud whirring noises or even cause the differential to seize up, affecting the truck’s performance.

Regular inspections and timely oil changes can prevent differential problems. If a leak is detected, the differential seal might need replacement, which can range from $150 to $300.

Common Problems #9: Slipping Clutch in Manual Transmission

While automatic transmission woes are more highlighted, some Tacoma owners with manual transmission have complained about the clutch slipping. This usually results in poor acceleration and reduced power output. Most of these complaints come from the 2005 to 2009 model years.

A slipping clutch can typically be rectified by adjusting the clutch or, in more severe cases, replacing it. A full clutch replacement can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500.

Common Problems #10: Faulty Oxygen Sensors

Oxygen sensors in the Toyota Tacoma help regulate the air-fuel mixture for optimal combustion. Faulty oxygen sensors can lead to reduced fuel economy, subpar performance, and increased emissions. Symptoms include the check engine light coming on or the vehicle failing an emissions test.

Replacing an oxygen sensor is relatively straightforward and typically costs between $200 to $300, including labor.

In conclusion, while the Toyota Tacoma is known for its reliability and ruggedness, like any vehicle, it has its share of issues. Regular maintenance and timely checks can prevent many of these problems, ensuring that your Tacoma remains a reliable companion for many years to come.

Best Toyota Tacoma Year

A Toyota Tacoma can give you an unforgettable off-road experience. If you can pick the right year your Toyota Tacoma will be by your side for quite a while. That is how reliable Tacoma is. Pick the wrong year and you will be stuck with one of the above-mentioned problems. Nobody wants to have a car that is constantly a thorn in their side. So you need to make the right choice.

That leads to the question of what’s the best year for Toyota Tacoma?

The first-generation Toyota Tacoma has the least number of reported complaints. Other than the usual problems that you face after 100,000 miles or 150,000 you don’t have many other issues. And the issues that start with mileage are quite inevitable. Most of these issues are caused by wear. Just like Tacoma, almost all other cars start to suffer due to this problem with age.

So you might think the best option is to buy a Tacoma from the time between 1995 to 2004. Here is the problem with that idea. Finding a car with low mileage from that era is hard. Almost every car from that period has over 100,000 miles under the hood by now. And even if you did find one that was locked up for a few years, the design is outdated. And you will lack many of the new features.

So, is there another best year for your Toyota Tacoma? If you want a reliable and modern Toyota Tacoma, you should try to pick one from either 2013, 2014, or 2015. Especially the 2015 model. This has proven to be the year with the least number of problems.

Toyota Tacoma Years To Avoid

You might believe that since the 3rd generation is the newest, that would consist of the least problems. But the 3rd generation is not off to a good start. 2016 has been the year with the most complaints. Here is where it gets worse. More than 65% of the reported problems are either transmission, engine, or body-related. Therefore all the problems are significant.

And These problems aren’t cheap to fix. Another factor that makes the problem worse is that in these categories, the longer the problem lingers in your car the more damage it does. After the extent of damage, you will not be able to repair these components. The only option you will have is a complete rebuild.

Rebuilding a transmission or an engine is not cheap. It often costs just as much as replacing that part. And if you suffer from a lot of damage in your Tacoma’s engine or transmission, it will end up costing you over $5000.

And finally, we have the 2016 body and paint problems. The complaints regarding the paint vary. From the clear coat peeling off to excess paint chipping. These will eventually require a new paint job. A paint job especially for a pick-up truck is costly. There are also complaints regarding the framework rusting.

The same type of problem is seen in the 2017 model. It too suffers a ton of transmission problems. And the average repair cost of this problem is high as well.

Best Years For Toyota Tacoma

For a used Toyota Tacoma, the best year is the 2015 model. This was the last year for the 2nd generation of the Toyota pickup. With the latter part of the 2nd generation, the problems started to decrease. This makes 2015 the best year for Toyota Tacoma.

It is the most reliable and sturdiest and it has the lowest amount of body and paint complaints. It didn’t suffer a lot due to the reputable transmission of this Toyota release. If you can find a Tacoma well under 100,000 miles you can use it without a lot of issues for a while.

If you can’t find a 2015 model the next best things are the 2014 and 2013 models. Though they aren’t as clean as the 2015 model, they are still one of the best years for the Toyota Tacoma.

You can try buying a 2018 or newer Tacoma. But the 3rd generation is not up to a flying start. Both 2016 and 2017 models are highly critiqued. Though the 2018 or newer models haven’t piled up as many complaints, they haven’t been on the road for long. Most of these newer Tacomas haven’t been on the road for 100,000+ miles. So it is hard to get a proper assessment of the problems. And more problems will surface as time progresses.

If you do decide to buy a newer Tacoma, whether you buy it used or new it won’t have a lot of miles driven. So it should be problem-free for a while at least. There is always a risk of problems in the long run, but you won’t find a ton of problems at these early stages.

Toyota Tacoma Facts: What Is the Best Year for a Toyota Tacoma?

  1. The Toyota Tacoma is a well-liked, durable, and rugged truck, with a strong fanbase among heavy utility drivers.
  2. The Tacoma pickup was first launched in 1995 and evolved into a midsize pickup in its second and third generation.
  3. The first generation Tacoma was produced from 1995 to 2004, and the design had a manual transmission with either four or five speeds.
  4. The second-generation Tacoma was launched in 2005, offering three different cab configurations and significant upgrades to the engine.
  5. The third-generation Tacoma, released in 2016, has undergone significant design changes and is more contemporary and streamlined.
  6. The 2005 Tacoma has the best Consumer Reports satisfaction rating of any generation, making it the best year for a Toyota Tacoma.
  7. The 2019 Tacoma is the most popularly driven vehicle in the current generation, with a near-perfect score for owner satisfaction and reliability.
  8. The 2020 Tacoma model is considered the safest overall with almost zero complaints and packed with new features.
  9. The Toyota Tacoma comes in five versions: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro, with prices varying by model and trim.
  10. The Tacoma has a good resale value and a 17% chance of serious repair issues, with an average annual repair cost of $478.

Best Year For Toyota Tacoma: In Conclusion…

Tacoma has been around since 1995 and spans through three different generations. With over 25 years on the road, problems are to be expected. And the Toyota Tacoma has its fair share of problems.

This model of Toyota has been plagued with transmission problems. And ball joints are also known to fail prematurely. Other than those two the other problems are few and rarely ever occur. Overall Toyota Tacoma is a reliable pick-up that is well worth the money.

To make sure to increase your chances of buying a pick-up that lasts a lifetime you need to pick the right year. Numbers do not lie. According to the frequency of the complaints and repair costs, 2015 is the stand-out year for this pickup.

Indeed you can buy a newer pick-up, preferably in 2018 or newer. But they do cost more and more as they get newer. While they would be fine for a while, there is not enough data to know the problems that you’ll face down the road. So it is a gamble buying a new model.

But the cheaper and proven year is the 2015 model, which makes it the best year for Toyota Tacoma.

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