COAL: 1996 Toyota Tacoma – The First Of Many

It was not long after I bought my Altima (summer 2015) and go figure – I missed having a truck (see a trend here?!) See, to me a truck exemplifies having options – freedom to go camping, make a stupid Craigslist purchase, the ability to move your belongings, tow a trailer, help friends in need and more.

After having two excellent Nissan Hardbodies, this time I was intrigued to try the Toyota side of things. I wanted to see what the hype (and premium pricing) was all about.

I started to scour the ads locally and in surrounding cities but what I found was their higher prices forced me into looking at older models with lots of miles on the odometer and more rust than I felt comfortable with. Occasionally a nicer one would come up with a good price due to an unknowledgeable seller but of course, that would be sold in a matter of hours, and good luck getting there first. This went on for a few months then one Saturday morning I happened to hit refresh on a saved search while out running errands with my girlfriend. I immediately emailed the seller (no phone number was listed) despite the ad being up for a few hours at that point. I knew how desirable these trucks were and I was likely not first in his queue to reply back to so I did not hold my breath – this is a pattern that had played over and over before with other trucks.

But, much to my surprise, the seller called me almost immediately! He mentioned he had about 47 emails on it but he liked my well-written email and since I had sent the email from my work phone, it also had my position title signature on it, too – he thought I was a straight shooter and a safe bet. I felt a little icky about that thinking of others that might actually NEED the truck more than I did but was elated to be able to get the chance to see/buy the truck. We made plans later that evening to meet up at his house and see the truck.

We arrived at the seller’s house a little before he returned from his prior obligation which gave me some time to look it over and crawl around. The truck looked great (relatively, the front bumper was removed for some reason) but it was quite rust-free and there were no leaks on the pristine driveway in front of his massive and very nice house. This seller was apparently well off, maybe this was why he was essentially giving away a Toyota Tacoma free for the price of the new tires? Anyway, the truck ran and drove extremely well and I was beside myself having this opportunity to buy it. In Iowa fashion, the deal was sealed over Busch Lights in the driveway as he told me some history on the truck and his ownership with it. The seller was using it pretty much like a four-wheeler or side-by-side at his property in southern Iowa before actually upgrading to one. This explained the removed bumper/bumper damage. He also mentioned that he had not owned it long, previously a father/son duo had “fixed it up” (it had a rebuilt salvage title) and I could tell they had done a really great job on it! The purchase price was a meager $2100.

Yours truly installing the skid plate and other “bonus parts” the seller included but were un-installed for whatever reason. Eventually I installed the bumper and everything looked pretty good and complete.

The truck was my ideal spec – extended cab to keep more stuff dry and haul the occasional passenger uncomfortably, 5-speed manual transmission, 2.7 liter four-cylinder engine – fuel-efficient and had a timing chain, not belt. 4-wheel drive (if ever needed) and I loved the rare year and a half only front end (1995.5-1997) before they went to the uggo 98s. Despite having about 210,000 miles on it, the truck ran wonderfully and shifting through the gears was both smooth (after I changed the bushings) and a lot of fun. The high vantage point of the 4×4 model with oversized tires was nice from a visibility aspect for city driving.

Overall the truck was really clean and straight. My roommate’s 74 Econoline in the background.


Ah yes, the requisite TRD stickers installed on an older truck, long before a TRD package was ever offered.

The truck never really needed much but as with other vehicles; I did do some preventative maintenance. I did a full tune-up with plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor, fluid changes including transmission with the expensive but correct GL-4 fluid from Redline. I installed new shifter bushings from Marlin Crawler as the old ones were very worn and that improved shifting dramatically. I also had a loose ball joint or some other front-end malady and the shop found some other front end issues while they were at it. A big bill later, the truck was driving smoothly and straight. I thought this would be a long-term ownership truck so I didn’t mind the price to ensure things were aligned and safe out on the highway.

The truck towered over my roommate’s Hilux


The interior was a nice place to be with quality materials. It even had the stock radio still! There’s hardly anything more cringe-worthy to me than a nice interior broken up by some alien-looking faceplate from Walmart…

You could always sense the four-cylinder engine did not appreciate pushing those big tires around but never was that more apparent than one early October day as we returned from a distant camping trip. A strong south wind was pushing one last surge of warm air into the area and I had a few hours of interstate driving right into it, top speed was never over 60 MPH no matter what I did. In my mind, that began to signal the end of my relationship with this truck – it is almost always windy here in central Iowa. Being very green to Toyotas, I was also nervous about the odometer as this was the highest mileage vehicle I had owned by a long shot. I contemplated selling the tires and getting something more reasonable to install but that sounded like a major hassle, so I went ahead and just listed the truck for sale.

It took a bit longer to sell than I would’ve imagined, my ask was simply the purchase price plus all the maintenance I put in and this was all documented with receipts. Apparently, there was a major market segment break between a $2100 pickup and a $3600 pickup, haha! The lowball offers rolled in, for sure, but I stayed strong. I knew it was a decent truck and with winter approaching, the new tires and 4-wheel drive would go appreciated. In the meantime, I found a replacement truck – to be discussed in next week’s COAL. Eventually, the truck found a buyer at my ask, a young 18-20 year old welder who appreciated the truck and likely liked the high-riding, macho looking aspect for compensation? He was maybe 5’4’’ tall… In summary, I enjoyed the truck a lot and agreed it was every bit as good as the Hardbody. I found it ironic that the big tires that almost anyone else would find to be an asset were for me a detriment in what I wanted the truck to be and do for me.