COAL: 2002 Toyota Tacoma – Finally a Winner!

After my last spats with the 1996 Tacoma and 1993 Pickup, I decided to cool my jets on a truck for a while. My Altima provided great and economical transportation but did not allow for many variations in activities and it felt weird not having access to a truck after years of having one.

Around this time (fall 2016) my girlfriend and I bought a house together and I wished we had a truck to move our stuff! Luckily, my dad lent us his Ranger and that worked wonderfully for moving. But once I was settled in the house I was feeling the itch again to have my own truck around for yard work and other household hauling tasks. After the debacles of those older trucks, my girlfriend encouraged me to spring for a nicer, newer truck and be done with it. As I mentioned in the Altima story, I test drove a 2009 Tacoma but did not like what they were looking to give me on trade in for such a newer, low mile (albeit with a rebuilt title) car, especially relative to how much they wanted for their rebuilt title Tacoma. So I switched gears to seeking out an older first-gen Tacoma instead to be more within the price point I wanted. Plus, I’ve always liked the looks and quality of the 2001-2004 first-gen trucks over the 2005-2015 second-gens.

With that in mind, I focused in my search on Craigslist and dealer websites for such a truck but around here these trucks were known to get rusty frames due to road salt and a manufacturing error from the frame supplier so even in 2016, finding a decent one was a challenge.

Luckily it wasn’t long before a decent Tacoma popped up on Craigslist locally. It was a 2wd truck, which I was OK with from all my years driving one. The truck had a sparse 106,000 miles on the odometer and looked to be in good shape for the age because per the ad copy, it was a southern, western truck from new up until 2012. I knew the 3.4 liter V6 would be far more lively than the four-cylinder in my old truck and it just had new stock sized tires installed. It looked to be the perfect truck for my needs.

I called on the truck but I got the seller’s voicemail initially. The name was eerily familiar, I was pretty certain I went to high school with the guy despite us both now living four hours to the southwest. Small world, this turned out to be true and only made me think higher of the truck – more confident in it. Oddly enough, his 2009 Silverado that replaced this was terrible and he often messaged wanting to buy his truck back!

Not long after I got the truck.

This Tacoma treated us very well. It was a nice size for both of us – not too big yet the extended cab gave the option to keep more things dry. The six-cylinder engine was quite responsive and powerful yet conservative driving returned decent economy. I believe we put roughly 20,000 miles on it during our ownership and it never asked for anything outside of the routine maintenance. It was a great experience and I have many fond memories with this truck. We even took it to and from our wedding since we needed to haul party supplies, so that was one memorable trip! We used it to go camping several times, it was handy for yard work and for hauling home supplies. It took me on far away biking adventures with friends and on work trips.

The PreRunner package had most people fooled this was a 4 wheel drive truck. It’s essentially a 4 wheel drive truck without the 4wd parts and that worked perfectly for me. I only got stuck once during my time with it yet weighed less and returned better fuel mileage all the time.


A few months before I sold the truck I was able to source a color-matching topper for it locally. The ability to lock things up and keep dry was great and I’d prefer toppers for all my trucks now, ideally. Unfortunately, they don’t all cost $80 as this one did…

As you can tell, I really, really liked this truck but by the second year, the prospects of another winter with this truck had me thinking of a newer unit. It seemed the frame was getting rustier by the season, 2WD with highway tires certainly have their limitations on snowy/icy roads and finally, we were expecting an addition to our family the following year so something with at least three opening doors or a crew cab would be a major plus. I was able to sell the truck easily, quickly and mostly got my asking price. It provided a few years of affordable and reliable transportation so all in all, it was a great experience! I do miss the size of the first-gen trucks as the second-gen Tacoma was more a move to a mid-size truck, which has its merits and detractors.