Buyer’s Guide: First-Generation (1995-2004) Toyota Tacoma

by Gabrielle DeSantis

If you’re looking for a basic, compact pickup truck, then the first-generation Toyota Tacoma could be what you need. Toyota’s famous cargo-hauling, modification-loving truck started out small, but it still packed a huge punch when it came to capability and value. For anyone that happens to be in the market for one, here is a short buyer’s guide to help you out.

First-generation Toyota Tacomas hold their value really well

Toyota Tacoma Pre-Runner | Toyota

If you take a gander at your local classifieds or do a nationwide search for a first-generation Tacoma (1995-2004), you will most likely notice that their prices are sky-high. That’s because Tacomas hold their value really well and due to their superb reliability, Tacoma sellers can charge a premium for them.

After a quick search on CarGurus, we saw some base-model Toyota Tacomas with over 100,000 miles on the clock selling for around $15,000. That’s a pretty penny to pay for a small truck, but if it’s worth it to you, then go for it. However, if you’re unsure, then keep holding out and you’ll find the one that you’re looking for at the right price.

MotorTrend recommends finding a first-gen Tacoma with fewer than 150,000 miles on it, if possible. There is also the option of buying a truck with a salvaged title, however, you may want to be wary of those ones considering you’re talking about a 20-year-old truck.

The 95-04 Tacoma was offered in a few different configurations

When shopping for a 95-04 Tacoma, you’ll have a few different configurations to choose from. Autotrader notes that this vintage of the Tacoma came as a standard, extended Xtracab, and a shortened crew cab also known as the “double cab.” There is also a two-wheel-drive PreRunner model that had a lifted ride height.

As far as engine choices, you’ll have a few to choose from. The list of engines included a 142-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder, a 150-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder, and a 190-hp 3.4-liter V6 engine. There’s even a TRD supercharger available for the V6 engine, which gave it around 50 more horsepower. However, that V6 engine is the one to get, if you can find one. If not, then the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine will do you just fine.

Look out for excessive rust

Now that you’re familiar with the different kinds of first-gen Tacomas on the market, it’s time to address the bad things about it. Autotrader recommends checking for excessive rust in the undercarriage and leaf springs. This generation of the Tacoma was so well-known for having rust that Toyota extended the rust warranty to 15 years and unlimited miles. There was also a recall for the rusted frames and Toyota replaced them in many cases.

That being said, be sure to crawl under the Tacoma that you’re interested in and check for any glaring rust spots or issues. If it’s really bad, then be prepared to find another Tacoma.

Get a pre-purchase inspection done

1995 Toyota Tacoma
1998 Toyota Tacoma | Toyota

If you’re planning to buy a first-generation Toyota Tacoma, then be ready to do a lot of digging for the right one. The prices for them can sometimes be outrageous, even for the rusted ones, so it’s important to take your time. Also, if you find one that you like, but aren’t sure if it’s a good buy, then have a pre-purchase inspection done by a third-party mechanic.

It might cost you around $100 to $200, but it could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. The first-gen Tacoma is quickly becoming a classic and still proves to be the right-sized truck for many buyers. If you can find a good one to buy, then you’ll have a truck that will last you for many years and miles and will hold its value while doing so.

RELATED: How Reliable Is the 2021 Toyota Tacoma?

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