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!
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.
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.
This generation of Tacoma seems to have a sizable fanbase, and people are willing to spend remarkable sums on ones in very good condition. Frame condition is always *the* question. Toyota replaced a lot of them at heavy cost to preserve brand reputation, but I think the timeline has expired for trucks of this age.
My best friend had a 4cyl shortcab 4×4 of this generation with the 2.7L four. Great truck, and the engine was peppy around town but lost the battle with wind resistance at highway speeds. I had a chance to drive one like yours quite awhile ago, a 2WD but with the standard low supension instead of the raised PreRunner, and was surprised at the pop from the V6. Upshift into second after completing the left-hander, give the gas, and it scooted right up to speed. A bit of a hot rod for an unassuming little low-slung pickup.
The 5VZFE 3.4 is one of the best all around engines ever made if you ask me, up there with the Buick 3800, and Toyota’s other iron block truck engine, the 4.7L UZ. Loved it in my ’96 4Runner, not setting the world on fire with 183hp, but that low-midrange torque made downshifts up most highway grades unnecessary, it just smoothly churned away in a very reassuring and satisfying fashion. Easy to work on, fantastically robust (more than a few have gone 500-600k miles, 300k is really nothing). Palatable mpg (20ish in mixed driving, 21ish highway). Not the greatest towing motor, especially if you were fighting wind, but it would do it.
These things are still very sought after. I really wanted a crew cab from this generation but they are worth too much.
The frames are an issue and were an issue for Toyota much longer than they should have been. My neighbor has a 2005 tacoma (the next gen) and had the frame replaced about 2 years ago (paid for by Toyota).
I know someone who sold an ’02 of this generation, 4WD 4door can with over 200k miles, cosmetic issues, front end alignment problems, and a hammered interior. Someone paid 8 grand.
Hard to argue he didn’t get his money’s worth out of it. The second owner… I’m not so sure.
Very sought after and good ones are already appreciating:
Great find. That’s exactly the truck I would get if I was in the market for one. +1 on landing that color matching topper for only $80. In my mind nothing screams cheapskate more than a mismatched color topper.
…2 wheel drive with highway tires certainly has its limitations…., You don’t hike wearing bowling shoes. Studded snow tires with, and this is a must, 500 lbs of weight in the bed would make this truck into a beast.