The Taco is known for being dependable, but during some model years, Toyota dropped the ball.
A used Toyota Tacoma is widely regarded as one of the best second-hand purchases. It's a reliable truck to begin with, and even if things go wrong, you're always within spitting distance of the nearest dealership. Parts are readily available, and consumer complaints are few and far between.
Still, despite relatively few reported complaints, there are certain Tacoma years to avoid. Thankfully, there aren't serious engine problems, but there are known transmission issues. Several Toyota Tacoma years also had issues with peeling paint.
Overall, there are no major problems to report, but it's worth knowing about certain issues like the paint chipping. A respray for a Toyota Tacoma can cost up to $7,000, depending on the body style. That's a big pile of money to spend on top of the cost of a used Taco.
The Toyota Tacoma has a long history dating back to 1995, but we'll give you the abridged version. The Tacoma was introduced to the US market in February 1995 as a more luxurious version of the Toyota Hilux.
The second generation was introduced in 2005, while the third generation only arrived in 2016. It was short-lived, and a replacement has arrived for 2024.
That means the Taco has been around for 29 model years, and they all have a few things in common. Toyota Tacoma models have always been sold as workhorses and family trucks. Owners have always had the option of choosing between rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission. A V6 has always been at the core of all model years as it's one of the most reliable engines ever made, but less powerful naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines were also available.
The fourth generation is the first to break away from the naturally aspirated V6 in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Because of the new hybrid powertrain, the Tacoma is now more powerful than ever before, but the 2024 model hasn't been around long enough for us to know whether there are any engine defects.
The main reason people buy a used Toyota Tacoma is the same reason they buy any other used car. The cost savings can be huge, but it's worth noting that Toyota Tacomas don't depreciate as much as other trucks. According to CarEdge, Tacoma trucks only lose 33% of their value after five years.
Newer models that are only slightly used cost almost the same as a brand-new truck. If you are buying a used model from a Toyota dealer, you'll almost certainly get a certified pre-owned certificate stating that it meets the Japanese manufacturer's high standards. Many Tacoma customers opt for an extended warranty, so that's also worth considering.
But the biggest factors by far are availability and reliability. The Toyota Tacoma has been the best-selling midsize truck for several years because people know they're getting a reliable truck. Even during the Tacoma's worst years, it was more reliable than every other midsize truck.
Because so many people buy Tacomas, there's always a steady supply of model years flooding into the used market. Used customers are willing to pay a significant premium relative to their competitors, knowing that they're getting a highly reliable car that won't let them down.
The Tacoma is one of the best trucks ever produced, but it's not perfect. Therefore, we give you this list of Toyota Tacoma model years to avoid, not including the all-new 2024 Toyota Tacoma.
Generally speaking, the first-generation Toyota Tacoma is nearly flawless. The NHTSA logs all complaints it receives, so we know exactly how many people complained in what year.
The 2002 model was obviously a piece of garbage because it was the first time since the car was introduced in 1995 that 20 people complained - out of 151,960 who bought one that year. To put that in perspective, most cars hit much higher digits than that. The second-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee, which had been on sale since 1999, received 96 complaints that same year.
The top three issues customers complained about were severe rust on the ladder-frame chassis, vibrating front brake discs, and windshield noise.
These rust issues were one of the Tacoma's early problems but would continue to haunt the truck well into the third generation. The first-generation truck's problems started when Toyota outsourced building the chassis, and the subcontractor failed to treat the frames correctly. A recall was issued to buy back Tacomas that were rapidly rusting.
Don't let any of these problems scare you, however. It's ridiculously easy to spot rust underneath a first-gen Tacoma. You can look at the state of the chassis and the leaf spring suspension setup via the rear wheel well. Or, if you're really dedicated, get down on the floor and look underneath. The entire ladder frame is exposed, and you'll spot it immediately.
The other problems are owner-related. Toyota sells around 150k Tacomas yearly, and only six people complained about the front brakes. Is it fair to call it premature wear? A more likely scenario is that these six people were just too hard on the brakes.
Only one person complained about windscreen noise.
The first-generation Tacoma broke its own complaint record in 2004 when it received 24 complaints. All but one were related to the same rust issues mentioned above.
As part of the initial fix, Toyota recalled frames to be inspected. If they found a model with corrosion, an undercoating was applied. Toyota also extended the warranty.
Many years later, owners complained that the undercoating wasn't good enough. Several owners reported that it only lasted five years, and the rust would reappear.
As mentioned above, spotting the rust on a Tacoma is easy. If you see any traces, just walk away. It's not like there's a shortage of models available.
Out of all the Toyota Tacoma years to avoid, this is the big one. The 2005 is the worst of the Toyota Tacoma model years because of the paint peeling problem that was only discovered years later by unsuspecting owners. The hood and the roof were painted badly, and spiderwebs would form in the paint. Shortly after, the clearcoat and paint would chip off, and these unprotected spots would rust. There appears to be a correlation between trucks affected by this problem and people parking their cars in the sun.
Complaints were lodged for this problem for model years 2005 to 2011. The complaints stopped after the Tacoma received a facelift for the 2012 model year.
Toyota never acknowledged this problem, so watch for a car with a decent paint job. Even then, it may be worth paying for a new clearcoat layer.
The far more significant issue was rust. The problem was carried over from the first to the second generation, and this time, it got nasty between Toyota and its customers. The Japanese automaker was dragged to court and eventually settled without admitting guilt. The lawsuit also included owners of the Tundra and Sequoia.
The official recall was for rust on the leaf springs. In a rather high-profile recall, Toyota had to install new leaf spring assemblies on 710,711 Toyota Tacomas from 2005 to 2011.
Toyota made some slight updates to the 2009 Tacoma, including a new radio that came standard with an auxiliary input. Along with that came another spike in complaints.
Out of the several issues we can discuss, this is by far the least annoying. The radio would shut off sporadically, and the tiny display stopped working intermittently. We're sure it was a big problem for people back then, but it's not a good reason to avoid buying a 2009 Toyota Tacoma.
Several modern infotainment systems are available, and they come with a mounting made specifically for the Tacoma. You can buy a flush-fit unit for $200 or a fancier slide-out unit for $300.
Either way, you're getting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two of the best modifications you can make to an older car.
The 2016 Tacoma holds the record for the most complaints ever received, though only four recalls were issued. This was to be expected. If you study complaints and recalls, you'll soon notice that the first year a vehicle goes on sale is almost always the worst. No matter how many miles they put on development cars, owners still find flaws as soon as the car goes on sale.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma was all-new, so complaints were lodged for automatic transmission flaws, engine problems, paint (again), and drivetrain issues.
Customers complained about hard and rough shifts through the gears and a delay when shifting from park to drive. The latter was only for cold-weather states. Toyota quickly issued a software update, and no recall was necessary.
For this particular model year, people also complained about a repetitive clicking sound from the engine. This turned out to be a cleaning cycle that runs soon after startup to prevent carbon buildup.
As the years passed, Toyota quickly ironed out the kinks, and fewer complaints were lodged. Toyota only received one official complaint for the model years 2021 and 2023.
Unfortunately, not all owners respond to recalls, so there are some additional issues you should be aware of. Some are less important than others, but Toyota has an online system that allows you to check whether the Tacoma you're interested in is subject to any recalls. These are the recalls currently still open:
Certain 2018 and 2019 Toyota Tacomas were recalled for a low-pressure fuel pump that may fail. This recall was part of a massive campaign that affected most Toyota and Lexus models. If the fuel pump fails, the risk of the car stalling and causing a crash obviously increases.
If you're looking at one of these models, Toyota will replace the fuel pump assembly free of charge.
Toyota Tacomas built in 2016 and 2017 were equipped with a crank position sensor that may malfunction, causing the engine to stall. Once again, Toyota will replace the faulty part with an improved design for free.
The 2010 Tacoma was recalled for substandard prop shafts that may crack over time and eventually break. Not all prop shafts were provided by the same supplier, but Toyota wanted customers to come in and have the prop shaft inspected. If it was faulty, it was replaced free of charge.
Several customers complained about sticky accelerators, and Toyota traced the source to an incompatible driver's floor mat. Owners fitted floor mats not designed for the car, so Toyota developed a model-specific set.
If you're buying a Tacoma made between 2004 and 2010, make sure it doesn't have aftermarket floor mats. Rather buy a set from Toyota.
Toyota is just one of many automakers involved in the infamous Takata recall, which is still ongoing. This is one recall you absolutely need to check for because the older these airbags get, the more likely they are to fail.
Instead of a small explosion to inflate the airbag, Takata's airbags do a sort of Michael Bay-like eruption. You can see it for yourself below. Various manufacturers and the NHTSA still keep sending out warnings for those who haven't had new airbags fitted.
If you need some motivation, you can check the video below.
We won't list the various model years here, but if your Tacoma was made pre-2019, you need to run its VIN through Toyota's dedicated Takata airbag recall website.