As I covered a couple of weeks ago, I hastily gave up on my AMC Eagle and bought a brand new vehicle to serve my requirements as a Rural Mail Carrier. I have always loved beaters, and thought I would never own a new vehicle. I’ve had this truck for 6 1/2 years and 142 000 kms now, and I’ve probably done less work on it in that time than any of my beaters in their short lifespans. It was a drastic change of thinking for me and one I plan to ride out until the end. The versatility of this truck beautifully matches my needs, so I plan on driving this truck till the wheels fall off, hopefully a couple of decades from now.
My decision to buy this truck was unusually impulsive. I tend to research heavily any major purchase, but a Tacoma was the only vehicle I test drove. My requirements at the time were 4wd, 4 cyl, and manual transmission. The Tacoma was the only one that met these requirements. This was the first year the 4 cyl was available with 4wd and it was difficult to find one for sale. While having the four banger only added 3 mpg at the cost of 77 hp I felt the savings were worth it, both on the sticker price and at the pump.
Originally I wanted the absolute cheapest bare bones Tacoma around; the stubby little regular cab. Sadly (or not) they aren’t sold in Canada but I even looked into buying one in the US and importing it. I crunched the numbers and it wasn’t worth it. I test drove a base model Access Cab 4×4 but really disliked that they were saddled with flat black fender flares and bumpers. The base model also meant you didn’t get a sliding rear window, keyless entry and other small conveniences so I splurged on the SR5 package. Since they only had the cheapo base model on the lot, one had to be ordered so I made sure it was in the colour I wanted; Speedway Blue. Yeah, that name makes no sense.The call from the dealer saying that my truck was in came late on a Friday, a week earlier than it was due to arrive. Since the dealer was 125 kms away, I had just enough time to hop on my Kawasaki Ninja 500R and make it there on time. Once there, I signed all the forms, got it registered and got three salesmen to help me lift the motorcycle into the back of my new truck. Since it was the weekend, I figured my wife and I might as well go for a long drive and do some camping. The above pic is from that camping trip, which would be the first of many.
The truck was pressed into immediate service, not only at work on my 100 km/day mail route, but also fueling my lust for adventure in the back-country. It was very nice to never have any nagging doubt about the reliability or safety of my vehicle. The 4wd system proved very capable off-road with one notable exception; the tires. The Dunlop GrandTreks that came with the truck were wholly unsuited to the truck. I got my first flat on a regular gravel road at the 5000 km mark and it couldn’t be repaired. I bought a set of Goodyear Wrangler Territorys that served me well in all conditions and made it to 100 000 kms.
The back-country is where I’ve made the best memories with this truck. It allowed me to get off the ground and out of tent and into the relative security of a camper. It’s a lot harder for a bear to rip through a camper wall than a tent wall. Campers for small trucks are hard to find as most are built for wider and longer full size trucks. As well, most old small truck campers were built for old Datsuns and Toyotas that had shorter quarter panels, so the camper has to have some height added below the floor. I came across this heap on Kijiji one day and decided the 7 hour drive was worth it for the $500 asking price.
Not only did I spend most summer weekends in the wilderness camping, this camper also allowed the opportunity to camp in the winter due to it being (mostly) insulated and having a strong propane heater. As an avid back-country skier, it allowed me to drive to a remote trail head at night and get a good nights sleep before a long ski trip the following day. Also, it served as a stealthy mobile hotel room on a few visits to the city. Just park on a side street like any other vehicle and no one (hopefully) knows you’re urban camping. It served us well on a trip to see the Grey Cup in Vancouver when hotel rooms were stupid expensive.
The downside was that the camper really pushed the 1400 lb payload capacity of the truck. With my wife and basically no gear we were at the limit. Add a canoe, food, beer and other necessities and it was quite overweight. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk and sold it, buying a fiberglass Bigfoot trailer camper to replace it. I spent much of my spare time this summer fully renovating it and hope to get much use out of it next summer.
For me, versatility is the greatest attribute for a pickup truck. It has to be able to do anything asked of it. This has certainly been true of my Tacoma. It has no problems driving in any kind of adverse weather, the traction control pipes up and straightens things out when it gets slippery. My recently added studded winter tires also help out in that regard. Off road capability is great even in stock form, I’ve tackled some pretty crazy mountain roads. The box has been used to haul many cords of firewood, oversized loads of building supplies, snowmobiles, ATVs and many other things. You can see the dent in the tailgate from loading my snowmobile up a ramp, it’s now permanently banana-shaped. Not the strongest metal in that tailgate.
It’s also versatile enough to accommodate 4 people, provided 2 of them are small or disliked. I’ve had 4 big guys inside and not only do the jump seats make it uncomfortable for the guys in the back, but the front passengers have to move their seats forward so the guys in the back aren’t scratching their ears with their knees. For the most part though, the rear seats are only used a couple of times a year.
Towing capacity is only 3500 lbs but I haven’t yet needed to haul anything bigger. I’ve hauled small trailers and towed a couple of vehicles up to the limit. At 3500 lbs the 4 banger is struggling mighty hard on hills and in the wind. Compared to most other modern vehicles, this truck’s 159 hp is anemic for its 3800 lb weight, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m used to driving slow vehicles, and the transmission is geared to take full advantage of the meager output, especially in 4-WD Low. If I want to drive a fast vehicle, I just hop on my motorcycle or my snowmobile, depending on the season.
Reliability had been great too. You could say I set the bar pretty low with my past beaters, but very little has gone wrong with this truck. My beaters also taught me what goes wrong after a lifetime of neglect and deferred maintenance so I’ve maintained this truck religiously. I also clean it regularly and polish it once a year; I know that Toyotas have a tendency to dissolve. Only three things have broken so far and two were covered by warranty. Squeaky rear leaf springs and a defective wheel bearing were covered, with the bearing getting replaced 500 kms before the warranty was up. The other repair was the A/C compressor clutch which was the only time I had to bring it into a shop and pay someone, even then it was $400 after I found the part cheap online.
I’ve planned on many, but the only real modification I’ve performed is adding the FJ Cruiser TRD black rims for my summer tires. The stereo could use some attention. I’d like to add some fog lights and rear suspension airbags would be nice too.
If there’s one minor issue that bothers me, it’s that the seating position is just slightly off. It’s never an issue for short drives, but I’ve noticed on my many long distance trips that my elbows get slightly sore from the too-hard console and door panel armrests. I’ve noticed this on my wife’s 2007 Matrix as well. Nothing worth getting worked up about but not everything’s perfect.
After 15 agonizing months of going without my driver’s license due to a recent epilepsy diagnosis, I regained my driving privileges almost 2 months ago. It’s been an absolute joy to be re-united with my truck that has taunted me from the driveway for a long time now. The freedom of being able to do things for myself instead of having friends and family help out has been re-invigorating. A grin spreads across my face anytime I get behind the wheel now, I will never again take my Driver’s License for granted. The truck hasn’t missed a beat either; I changed the oil and coolant and was good to go.
This truck might be the anti-beater but that doesn’t mean I’m done with beaters. I’ve still got one in the driveway that I’ll cover in a couple of weeks. Having a dependable daily driver has just meant it’s been easier to mess around with other projects. If all goes well, I’ll still be driving my Tacoma when it’s the same age as most of the beaters I’ve owned in the past.