Has any mid-size pickup established itself as completely and thoroughly as a segment winner more than the Toyota Tacoma? Sure, it has its haters, but every champion does. There are shortcomings in its design and execution. Toyota rarely updates the platform. The 2024 model is the first full redesign in many, many years, and even the newest Tacoma still has major engineering holdovers from the previous generation. The interior’s ergonomics have left a lot to be desired, and it’s never been the most technologically advanced truck on the road. It had drum brakes on the rear axle all the way until 2023.
The Tacoma has absolutely lapped every midsize truck in sales and resale value since its introduction in 1995. No Frontier, Colorado, Ranger, or any other possible competitor has even come close - and for good reasons. The Tacoma’s reliability, capability, and straightforward, yet modern, design make it the most successful pickup possibly of all time (save for maybe Toyota’s own Hilux). Owners have driven around the world in them and turned them into rock-crawlers, rolling homes, and everyday work trucks that get the job done. The aftermarket support for the platform is unrivaled.
Where are the chinks in the armor for this beloved truck? In one word: rust. Let’s look at why.
A Brief History of the Toyota Pickup
The Tacoma wasn’t the first small Toyota truck to hit American shores. That honor goes to the Stout compact pickup that first rolled out in North America in 1964, followed up with the Hilux in 1969. Because Toyota in the 1960s wasn’t the automotive behemoth it is today, and also due to the “Chicken Tax”, which placed huge tariffs on trucks imported to the US, these little utility vehicles sold only in tiny numbers all the way through two redesigns in the 1970s. In fact, Toyota had even confusingly dropped the Hilux nameplate in 1976 in favor of… nothing. It was simply known as the Toyota Pickup - no distinct branding needed.
However, when the 1980s rolled around, so did the fourth and fifth generation Pickup. Introduced in the North American market in the 1984 model year, the fourth gen also ditched the third generation’s solid front axle for independent front suspension, and the legendary 22RE four-cylinder engine powered most examples. Thanks to Hollywood, the Toyota Pickup achieved legend status when it starred as Marty McFly’s dream truck in one of the decade’s most successful movie franchises: Back to the Future. You could get a turbocharged version, as well as a diesel.
However, by the end of the 1980s, Toyota had grown large enough that it looked to make a huge change in the way it built, marketed, and sold its truck lineup. Seeing a gap in the market for a mid-size 4WD that was modern, refined, and fuel efficient, yet also capable off-road, Toyota chose to make the investment in dedicated American factories where it could build its pickups and avoid the high import tariffs that still dogged foreign trucks. The last gasp of the Pickup was the fifth generation, which offered a V6 for the first time. But the writing was on the wall for a design that dated back to the early 1970s. Thus was the Tacoma born, and Toyota took the wraps off the all-new design for sale in 1995.
An instant hit, the Tacoma took off as an America-exclusive model - the Hilux nameplate continued (and continues) in all markets outside North America. Bolstered by Toyota reliability and surprising customer loyalty that was the envy of every OEM, the Tacoma quickly dominated the midsize pickup market, and it still does.
Despite its reputation for impeccable build quality, there was a period during the production of the first generation Tacoma where things went sideways for the Big T. As we’ve hinted at in previous articles, the frames of 1995-2004 model year Tacos were prone to big-time rust. According to Wikipedia:
In 2008, Toyota proactively announced a 15-year, unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty for 1995–2000 model years due to inadequate rustproofing and frame corrosion issues affecting over 800,000 Tacomas. Toyota will either repair the frame or buy back the truck for 1.5 times its KBB retail value. This was later extended to include 2001–2004 model years, but in these cases when a frame was found to be rusty to the point of perforation, the frame is replaced with a new one instead of a buy back. It is suspected that inadequate drainage in the fully-boxed frame may have trapped moisture, leading to corrosion. The second-generation Tacoma moved to a frame with open C-section rails instead.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger recall for a manufacturer than literally replacing the frames on its pickups, but when this kind of thing happens, there’s not much choice:
While many first generation Tacomas have had their frames either repaired or fully replaced under warranty, there are still many out there (mostly outside the Rust Belt states) that have their original frames. Just because they seem sturdy on the outside, doesn’t mean they’re not harboring potential truck-killing rust within those fully-boxed frames. And, Toyota’s warranty replacement period has long expired for the early Tacoma.
Repair It! Tacomas Hold Their Value
Why bother repairing the frame on a first-gen Tacoma? While your truck may have some sentimental value, or you rely on it for your day-to-day transportation or weekend adventures, the main reason to look at repairing or reinforcing your frame is resale value. Even despite the well-known issues with frame rust on early Tacomas, these trucks - like all Tacomas currently on the road - hold their value well above the curve.
With engines and other drivetrain components that seemingly last forever, it pays to keep the structure of the truck intact. Fortunately, Rust Buster has the comprehensive frame repair panels you need to save your beloved Toyota.
Including all the common rust-prone areas, Rust Buster goes even further to offer replacement sections for the Tacoma frame along its entire length and width. In addition, we build truck-saving frame sections for the second generation 2005-2015 Crew Cab Tacoma that are also susceptible to corrosion from without and from within.
Our frame sections are precision manufactured and guaranteed to weld in right the first time. The resources in Rust Buster’s YouTube library will guide your repair, and our customer service is second to none.
Images: Rust Buster, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Silodrome
Author: Stephan Edwards