Toyota Tacoma Years to Avoid

Toyota Tacoma Years to Avoid

Latest posts by Jonah Madill (see all)

The Toyota Tacoma is a venerable little truck. Old as a dinosaur, tougher than a Tonka toy, the Tacoma has been the vehicle of choice for Red Cross workers, contractors, offroaders, and everyone in between. Powered by your choice of four-cylinder or V6, manual or automatic, the Tacoma has something for everyone.

Unfortunately, despite Tacoma’s reputation for reliability, it does have some faults. In this article, we’ll be going over the Toyota Tacoma years to avoid. Let’s get started.

2006 Toyota Tacoma

2006 Toyota Tacoma

Key Issues:

  • Frame rot
  • Balance shaft bearing issues (2.7 4cyl)
  • Timing chain tensioner issues (2.7 4cyl)
  • Timing cover leaks (4.0 V6)
  • Starter/solenoid malfunction (2.7 4cyl, 4.0 V6)
  • TPS sensor malfunction (2.7 4cyl, 4.0 V6)
  • Transmission slip/shifting issues (2.7 4cyl, 4.0 V6)
  • Failing lower ball joints
  • Parking lights overheating

The 2006 Toyota Tacoma, while part of the second generation and therefore supposedly reliable, has major issues. Toyota had issues with frame rot on the 2nd gen Tacoma; the 2006 model suffers this the worst. However, Toyota will inspect the frame as part of a recall and replace it or repurchase the truck if they deem it necessary. The frame on the 2006 Tacoma, regardless of drivetrain, is known to rust, crack or simply break completely in rare cases.

This rust problem also dates back to the 1994 Tacoma in varying degrees of severity, but in the case of the 2nd gen Tacoma, it was partly due to production being moved to a joint Toyota/GM plant in California and some production also being outsourced to Mexico.

Next up is a loud rattling or slapping noise from the engine, but only the 2.7 liters 4 cylinders. The 4.0 liter V6 in the 2nd gen Tacoma was both more powerful and reliable, although it suffered from the occasional leaking timing cover. The noise has been diagnosed as either a failed balance shaft bearing or a failed timing chain tensioner.

However, this problem can be mitigated with regular oil changes. If it is the chain tensioner, the complete timing system needs to be inspected but usually replacing the chain and tensioner solves the problem. If the balance shaft bearing is bad, an inspection is still needed but it can be much more expensive to fix.

Another engine issue is the starter, which commonly fails between 100,000-125,000 miles. Occasionally it is just the contact points or starter solenoid, but often the entire starter needs to be replaced, in response to a no-crank situation.

The throttle position sensor can also get out of alignment due to carbon buildup, advancing the idle timing to a level that makes the engine run poorly at idle. The sensors can also wear and reduce timing, reducing power and fuel economy. The TPS can be cleaned and reset in some cases, but severe cases will need replacement. This can be mitigated through proper maintenance, however.

The amber parking lights in the front headlights can also crack the lens, melt the lens or in certain cases damage the rest of the light housing. The fix is to replace the running light bulbs as long as the headlight housing is not damaged.

The transmission, at higher mileages, may not shift correctly. This is down to an out-of-sync TPS, low fluid level, a bad shift solenoid, or in worst-case scenarios, the torque converter. Typically, however, the transmission does not need replacement. Symptoms include slipping under load, going into neutral suddenly, or shift points suddenly rising.

The last major problem on the 2006 Tacoma is failing lower front ball joints. They normally give some warning in the form of humming or stiff steering before they fail, but in this case, the lower ball joints are known for simply breaking off at the shaft due to a production defect. Toyota has a recall on the ball joints and will replace them if need be.

2007 Toyota Tacoma

2007 Toyota Tacoma

Key Issues

  • Frame rot
  • ABS sensors wearing out
  • Bad airflow sensors
  • TPS sensor out of calibration
  • Failing coolant temp sensor at higher mileages
  • Lower ball joints failing
  • Transmission slip/shifting issues
  • Parking lights overheat and crack

The 2007 Tacoma continues the tradition of unreliability that the 2006 Tacoma featured. It is considered by many to be the most unreliable Tacoma you can buy. Your mileage may vary.

The 2007 Tacoma suffers from many of the same issues as 2006, but it has unique issues. For instance, the check engine light can be triggered by a bad air flow sensor. This can be fixed by cleaning or replacing the sensor.

The coolant temperature sensor, at higher mileages, commonly fails. This either triggers the check engine light or results in a stalling problem due to the car not knowing what temperature the coolant is. The sensor must be replaced in these cases.

ABS sensors wear out at higher mileages and throw trouble codes. The sensor must be replaced and runout checked, as the ABS rings on the hubs can be damaged by the broken sensor.

The throttle position sensor can also get out of alignment due to carbon buildup, advancing the idle timing to a level that makes the engine run poorly at idle. The sensors can also wear and reduce timing, reducing power and fuel economy. The TPS can be cleaned and reset in some cases, but severe cases will need replacement. This can be mitigated through proper maintenance, however.

The amber parking lights in the front headlights can also crack the lens, melt the lens or damage the rest of the light housing. The fix is to replace the running light bulbs as long as the headlight housing is not damaged.

The transmission, at higher mileages, may not shift correctly. This is down to an out-of-sync TPS, low fluid level, a bad shift solenoid, or in worst-case scenarios, the torque converter. Typically, however, the transmission does not need replacement. Symptoms include slipping under load, going into neutral suddenly, or shift points suddenly rising.

The last major problem on the 2007 Tacoma is failing lower front ball joints. They give some warning in the form of humming or stiff steering before they fail, but in this case, the lower ball joints are known for simply breaking off at the shaft due to a production defect. Toyota has a recall on the ball joints and will replace them if need be.

2009 Toyota Tacoma

2009 Toyota Tacoma

Key issues

  • Leaking fuel dampener causes power loss
  • Frame rust issues
  • Timing cover leaks on the 4.0 liter V6
  • Head gasket issues on the 2.7 liters 4cyl

By 2008 Toyota began to figure out some of Tacoma’s reliability problems, although it did not eradicate them. However, the 2009 model retained the same problems as the 2006 and 2007 Tacoma, unfortunately.

The one issue with the 2009 Tacoma that was unique was a loss of power on the highway due to a leaking fuel pulsation dampener. A pulsation dampener is a diaphragm unit that absorbs the oscillations in the fuel, to keep a steady flow. If it leaks, fuel flow is disrupted briefly and the engine loses power, which can be very dangerous. The solution is to replace the diaphragm; some aftermarket fuel regulators have the diaphragm built-in, which solves the issue.

Besides that, unfortunately, the 2009 Tacoma suffers from the same issues as the 2005-2009 Tacomas. While it is perfectly possible to find a 2009 Tacoma in perfect shape, there are many out there in subpar conditions. The biggest engine-related problems to watch out for are leaking timing covers on the 4.0 V6 and head gasket issues on the 2.7 liters 4 cylinders. The 2.7 liters 4 cylinder is fine for commuting but simply too small for heavy work.

2011/2012 Toyota Tacoma

2011 toyota

Key Issues

  • Frame rust issues
  • Lower ball joints are still a failure point
  • Transmission slip in lower gears
  • Paint chipping issues
  • 2.7 liter 4cyl suffers from random knocking
  • 4.0 liter V6 suffers from random leaking timing covers
  • Amber parking lights can overheat and crack the housing

The 2011 and 2012 Toyota Tacoma were somewhat more reliable than their predecessors due to Toyota having time to work out a solution. However, they are still prey to frame rot, paint problems, and other issues shared by other 2nd gen Tacomas.

The ball joint failure issue persisted in 2011 and 2012 Tacomas, unfortunately. Transmission problems also plagued these two model years; perceived slip in lower gears, whether warm or cold. There was a Toyota service bulletin for this issue; a solution is a software reflash to prevent slip in 1st and 2nd gear. However, this is a case-by-case basis and your truck may not qualify in certain instances.

The 2011 and 2012 Tacomas, being part of the 2nd generation, still suffered from the infamous engine clattering, mostly on the 2.7 liters 4 cylinders. The 4.0 liter V6 was both more powerful and reliable, although it suffered from the occasional leaking timing cover; the fix for that is a new gasket.

The noise is either a failed balance shaft bearing or a failed timing chain tensioner. However, this problem can be prevented with regular oil changes. If it is the chain tensioner, the complete timing system needs to be inspected. Replacing the chain and tensioner usually solves the problem. If the balance shaft bearing is faulty, it can be much more expensive to fix.

The ball joint issue persists to a degree as well. This is due to the ball joints being defective from the factory; they wear and snap over varying periods, but always on the shaft due to the metal being weaker. The ball joint will warn you as it is wearing out and the steering will feel heavier randomly at low speeds. The car may vibrate at certain speeds; occasionally it will feel like something in the front-end clunks.

The parking light issue is still present as well. The amber parking lights in the front headlights can crack the lens, melt the lens or damage the light housing. The fix is to replace the running light bulbs as long as the headlight housing is not damaged.

2016/2017 Toyota Tacoma

toyota

Key Issues

  • 2016 model has engine issues due to it being a new motor
  • The New 6 speed automatic has safety issues (slipping, lurching, random neutral out)
  • The crank position sensor can fail due to too much anti-seize from the factory
  • Stock motor mounts vibrate and fail
  • Occasional whining from the rear end; the cause is low fluid level from factory
  • Random engine knocking on 2016 4cyl/V6 models

The 2016 and 2017 Tacomas are part of the 3rd generation. While the 3rd gen Tacoma solved nearly all the reliability issues with the 1st and 2nd generation, it has retained some problems.

The biggest problem with the 2016 Tacoma is the engine. It is an updated 3.5 liter V6 that Toyota introduced into the Tacoma, Sienna, and Highlander. As such, it is relatively new and Tacoma has teething problems. Toyota also debuted a new six-speed transmission in Tacoma, which is notorious for safety issues.

Owners complain of the transmission hunting for gears constantly, slipping under load, or lurching. Additionally, the trans has issues when shifting into drive or reverse, especially when cold. Toyota has a technical service bulletin out for this issue; some owners were experiencing this issue within the first 3,000 miles. It involves reflashes to the TCM and ECM, not a physical repair.

As for engine issues, the 2016 Tacoma had excessive vibration on the floor. These are the stock motor mounts; they are oil-filled and subpar from the factory. It is also known for excessive noise from the engine. It is likely a continuation of the timing chain tensioner issue found in the 2nd gen Tacoma. Finally, the crank position sensor is known to fail, caused by too much anti-seize coating on the crank timing rotor. It covers the sensor and throws a check engine code. The solution is to replace the sensor.

The 2017 Tacoma had whining noises from the undercarriage; the cause is low fluid in the rear differential. The 2017 Tacoma also had the same transmission issues as the 2016 model, although less common than previously.

Which Tacomas can I trust?

Tacoma HIghlander

While some generations of the Toyota Tacoma have their mechanical issues, there are still perfectly reliable models. Here is a list of the most reliable Tacomas.

The 1st gen Tacoma is the simplest and one of the most reliable. Model years 1995-2003 were the best; while the 1st gen ran to the 2004 model year, Toyota was having issues with frame rot by then; those issues carried into the 2nd gen Tacoma as is well documented. However, most 1st gen Tacomas are great. Powered by the venerable 2.7 liter 4cyl or 3.0 liter V6 in this case, coupled to a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic as well as 4WD, the 1st gen Tacoma is the perfect stripped-down truck. Just enough cargo capacity and 4WD that lets you rock crawl like a goat, with legendary Toyota reliability

As for the 2nd gen Tacoma, this truck has a checkered history. While it is overall a very reliable truck, most of its life cycle plagued the Tacoma with frame rot, ball joint failure, leaking engine components, and random engine knocking along with transmission issues on some models. Engine choices were a 2.7 liter 4cyl or a 4.0 liter V6, mated to a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic; 2WD was also an option for this generation. The most reliable model years for the 2nd gen are 2005, 2014, and 2015. While it is perfectly possible to find a good quality 2012 or 2011 model, for example, those model years have enough problems that you should probably steer clear.  

The 3rd generation Tacoma was a practically new truck. It had a new body, new frame, new engine, and transmission. The 2.7 liter 4cyl is still available, but the 3rd gen is too big for the little engine now. The best engine is the 3.5 liter V6, that Toyota introduced in Tacoma, Highlander, Sienna, and Avalon. Unfortunately, it had teething problems in the Tacoma for the 2016 and 2017 model years; random knocking, excessive noise, and the occasional leaking timing cover. The 2.7 liter 4cyl is very reliable in this generation, however. As the 3rd gen Tacoma debuted in 2015, your best bet is to get a 2015 model year or anything 2018 and newer. 4WD is still available, as are a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.  

FAQS

Question: I have a 2016 Tacoma, but none of the major issues have appeared yet. Should I be worried?

Answer: If you have not experienced any of the major issues that the 2016 Tacoma has, then do not worry too much. Aside from the issues outlined, the Tacoma is still a very reliable truck and if you have a solid example, do not worry. 

Question: My Tacoma has the frame rust issue. What should I do? Can I rustproof it to stop it from spreading further?

Answer: If your Tacoma has frame rust, what you do should depend on how rusty it is. If it is mild surface rust, get your truck undercoated with Fluid Film or another heavy grease; never use Bedliner. Bedliner will make your truck rust more. If your Tacoma has severe frame rust, Toyota has recalled the frame issue on certain model years. Your dealer can tell you if your truck is eligible, and they will inspect and replace the frame if necessary. Toyota decides if the frame needs replacing; even if your frame is rusty, that does not guarantee replacement.

Question: I am considering a 4 cylinder Tacoma as a work truck. Should I buy it?

Answer: It depends on the type of work you are doing. If you work construction or heavy labor, do not get this truck. The 2.7 liters engine is too small to handle any serious load. Additionally, the random head gasket issues and knocking that this engine can suffer, disqualify it from work-truck duty. 

Verdict

The takeaway from this is that no truck is perfect. The Tacoma does have problems in some model years, but it is still one of the most reliable trucks you can buy for the price. Have a thorough pre-purchase inspection, and you will most likely end up with a great vehicle.

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