One Year of Owning My 3rd Gen Tacoma: Lessons Learned & Tips To Know

Tacoma Ownership - First Day of Purchase

An Overview On Lessons Learned, Tips & Advice Every Tacoma Owner Should Know

Looking to buy a Tacoma? Read this first. This should be your “what to consider before buying a Tacoma” guide.

It has been almost a year since I bought my 2019 Off-Road 4X4 Tacoma and it has been quite the journey.

I bought the truck intending to leave it stock, but boy did that change quickly. In less than a year, I have spent at least $5k on modifications (and that is not much compared to other guys) and I did not include the cost of installation for the various products.

In my short journey of owning a Tacoma, I have learned a lot of valuable information. That being said, I will walk you through some of my experiences—the good and the bad. 

The Internet

Tacoma Ownership - Browsing the Internet

Surfing the internet can be your best friend and worst enemy. To this day, I believe, that if I would have stayed away from the internet, my truck would still be stock. You can make several arguments for that being a positive or a negative thing…

Driving and modifying my truck has rapidly become one of my passions and hobbies. You will find a lot of helpful information online about installations, new products, group buys and anything that is Toyota/Tacoma related news. You will soon realize that the Tacoma has a large and interactive community built around it.

You will also begin to discover that there is a lot of aftermarket support and modifications available for Tacoma. That is where your wallet and bank account will start feeling a little lighter. You will find yourself casually browsing through the online forums and next thing you know, you find that mod, deal, group buy and/or accessory that you cannot resist. You pull out your credit card and boom, the rest is history.

Plan on Off-Roading? Expect Damage

GOAT Truck Armor on Double Cab 3rd Gen Tacoma

You gotta pay to play, that is the name of the game.

If you are going to go off-road, expect to get scratches (sometimes known as pinstripes) and dents. The part about the dents and scratches, makes my biggest regret, buying a black truck.

I did not buy the truck with the intention of off-roading, but after a few weeks of looking at all the people on social media having fun, I decided to join in myself. I thought I was only going to be doing light trails on my way to campsites, but next thing you know, I found myself driving down a rough, icy and muddy trail.

The path was narrow and tight, and there were brushes and branches on both sides. I got tons of pinstripes on the truck. As most can imagine, that was a tough pill to swallow. Some scratches buffed out, some did not. I tried everything I could to get rid of the scratches because after all, my baby was still less than a year old.

If you do plan on hitting the trails, you may want to look at installing the GOAT armor on your Tacoma. The cost vs the benefit is huge. This armor can you save you hundreds, if not thousands in damages.

Opt For a Lighter Color To Reduce Visibility of Scratches

Since my truck is black, it made everything much more noticeable. It took me about 2 weeks before I decided to move on and accept the scratches as badges of honor. Lesson learned. If you cannot stand to see damage or scratches, do not buy a black truck. Instead, look into a color like silver or white. If darker color Tacoma is a must for you, alternatively, you can invest in some sort of electric polisher and get good at buffing the paint.

It is no secret that driving off-road is harder on your vehicle than a paved road. The more you use your truck, the more time/money you should expect to put into it. You will need to pay more attention to things like alignments and greasing the driveline. This is something you will not hear many people talking about. This information is not meant to scare anyone off, it is a simple fact you quickly understand when you own an off-road vehicle.

Do Not Expect Speed or Fuel Efficiency

Fuel Economy Display on 3rd Gen Tacoma

The Tacoma, as far as I have gathered, has three main mechanical complaints. Power, fuel efficiency and the transmission. I do not have any problem with the power in this truck; this might be because I started off with driving a 4-cylinder Corolla for 6 years.

My Tacoma has the 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine option and I have never been in a situation where I have wished I had more power. With that being said, I have heard complaints from guys that come from having sports cars or sedans. And that is understandable considering that you are getting into a mid-size truck.

Depending on which engine option and model you have, fuel efficiency can vary.

I have the double cab long bed 4X4 Off-Road model, which burns the most gas out of all the models, due to its size. I lifted my truck and added bigger tires which only makes matters worse.

As far as fuel economy goes, most days I get 15/16 MPG, the best I have ever seen it was 22 MPG. Would I recommend a Tacoma as your daily driver? Well, it depends on your driving habits and where you drive. If I drive in traffic, my MPG can drop down to 10-13 MPG. If you drive on open or empty roads and highways, then your MPG will be a lot better.

Keep in mind that if you go with larger tires, you may also see even lower MPGs. Just understand that the more weight you add to your truck, typically the lower your MPGs will be.

It comes down to how much you want to drive a Tacoma, and if it is the right car for your situation. I will add, that although good MPG is a plus, it is not always the most important factor to think about when choosing a new vehicle.

Yes, Transmission Can be a Bit Funky

Pedal Commander Solution for Transmission Shifting Issues and Pedal Response on 3rd Gen Tacoma

I have heard about several people experiencing some funky transmission issues, and I can personally attest to those. I have the 6-speed automatic transmission option on mine; the way it shifts leaves a lot to be desired. The transmission feels like it jumps around and does not accelerate as it should.

Certain Tacoma owners have said the ECU flash upgrades have fixed the issue, while most will agree that regearing their truck with 4.8s or 5.29s will fix the issue, and some say that the newer trucks do not have this problem. From my research, you will not run into any transmission issues if you opt for the manual option. If you find yourself unhappy with the transmission, there is no need to worry, there are solutions out there.

Some people have used products such as Pedal Commander, OV Tune, and of course regearing the truck to fix the problem. I am in the market for one of these solutions myself.

Reliability Comes With a Premium…

That may sound like a lot of negatives about the truck, but I trust Toyota engineers and I would still pick the Tacoma over all the other trucks in the mid-size truck market. No truck is perfect, and with the Tacoma, the good heavily outweighs the bad. Tacomas are a bit more expensive than the competition, and that is because reliability comes with a premium. As history has shown, the Tacoma and Toyota as a whole, have been very reliable and I am betting on the 3rd Gen Tacomas continuing the tradition.

Buy Once, Cry Once

Tacoma Ownerhship

Now, this is a tricky one. Everybody has different budgets, goals and purposes for their trucks. Buying cheap modifications and accessories can end up being more expensive in the long run. Tacomas are not inexpensive, and you do not want to add low-quality mods to it.

It is better to save up and buy a quality product as opposed to impulsively buying an inferior one. Cheap products can break quickly and can even put you, and your truck, in danger. Eventually, you will end up buying the better product in the long-term. Buying quality may be more expensive, but it will end up saving you money throughout your ownership.

Timing Your Purchases: My recommendation would be to wait and make big purchases during the holidays, during times like Black Friday, since most companies will have a discount of some sort. Another great time of the year to invest in your truck could also be around tax time. Take advantage of the group buys and sales codes that can be found online.

Plan Ahead, Buy Only What You Need

When you buy, think about your long-term goals, such as:

  • What exactly are you trying to do with your truck?
  • Is it your daily driver?
  • Will it be bashing into dunes in the desert?
  • Will it be a rock crawler?
  • Or will you be cruising down forest/fire roads?

As nice as it looks, not everybody needs $4k+ suspension; there are plenty of solid options under $1500. The same can be applied to other products such as camping tents. Not everybody needs a rooftop tent, a ground tent can be more than enough to fulfill your needs. This is where the temptation from online forums and social media can most influence your decisions. Remember, be realistic with purchases, but do not assume cheap products are good products.

Some mods are irreversible, such as high clearance bumpers and cab mount chops. Once it is on, going back to stock will require quite a bit of custom work. There might also come a time where you will want to upgrade modifications you already have on the truck.

Tire Talk

If we are talking tires, there is a lot of debate with which size you should run on your Tacoma. Looking back, I wish I went with 33-inch tires. I got talked out of larger tire size because I was worried about modifying my frame and doing the cab mount chop.

For now, I will stick with my 32-inch tires for a while, unless I decide to sell them at a loss to upgrade. The 32-inch tires do get the job done though. They offer more clearance over the stock configuration and the whole situation was another opportunity to learn more about the process of modifying a truck.

Support Your Local Shops

Tacoma Ownership - Support Local Shops

If you are going to start buying big, bulky items like armor, wheels and tires online, you are soon going to realize that shipping can get expensive. One way to save on shipping is to buy from a local company. Like I mentioned before, there is plenty of aftermarket support for Tacomas and you can find reputable companies throughout the nation. It is also a great way to support your local small businesses!

Once you start adding aftermarket parts, you are going to find out that national car shop chains, dealerships and even certain private shops will not know how to work on your truck. You will better off going to a shop that specializes in off-road vehicles.

When looking for a qualified installer, make sure you call in advance to make sure the shop feels comfortable working with your aftermarket parts. Supporting your local shops will also help you connect with the local off-road/overland community.

If you are mechanically inclined, have a lot of time, or just like a challenge, then I recommend doing some of the mods yourself. I do not trust myself installing crucial components on my truck. I try to learn and observe whoever is installing so that I know what to do if an emergency occurs. Letting the professionals install an essential component, such as my suspension, gives me peace of mind.

Final Thoughts

Tacoma Ownership

I would recommend that anyone looking for a mid-size truck consider the Tacoma. Although it has its quirks, I love my Tacoma. It has been an amazing experience thus far and I will continue to support the brand. 4th Gen Tacoma, I am ready for you!

I have several future modifications, odds and ends planned for the Tacoma. It might never end, but I am okay with that! I hope to continue sharing everything I learn. Keep in mind, we can so easily get so caught up in building the perfect truck, that we forget what its true purpose is, which is to have fun and explore new terrains!

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