The Pragmatic Off-Roader
You May Want a Vintage Defender, But Get This Used Toyota Tacoma
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When it comes to off-roading and overlanding, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-romanticizing old Land Rover Defenders, Ford Broncos and G-Wagens. But in reality, trucks like early Defenders are horrible to live with. The idea of a bare-minimum interior is nice at first, but after you try to have a conversation with your buddy riding shotgun for the first time but can’t hear him over the transmission whine and old-school engine and keep belting your elbow on the naked metal door, it quickly loses its appeal. Oh, and that’s before it starts leaking oil on to the hot manifold, sending fumes into the cabin, causing your eyes to constantly tear up. There’s a reason all the old Defenders you see online are refurbished, rebuilt or completely rest-modded — just sayin’.
If you’re really looking to get into the overland or off-road lifestyle, an already modified, affordable, slightly banged up Toyota Tacoma is what you want. There’s nothing on it so fragile or expensive to fix that you’ll constantly worry about scratches — if something does break, modern parts are cheap and easy to find. A used truck like this 2002 Toyota Tacoma TRD is the pragmatic man’s overland rig.
What We Like: This Tacoma has been banged up over its lifetime and seen its fair share of miles, but that just proves how tough these trucks are. At least the truck has been looked after maintenance-wise, having recently received new belts, brake rotors, filters and axle shafts. As far as modification and upgrades go, it has all the basics you’d want for an simple off-roader, like a three-inch suspension lift, transmission coolers, a bed-liner, rear rack and all-terrain tires. This Taco sure won’t win any Concours awards anytime soon, but it’s most certainly ready to play in the dirt as soon as you are.
From the Seller: “The seller is a Mercedes-Benz master mechanic who has personally maintained and modified the truck during his six-year ownership. He is reportedly the second owner and has added approximately 75,000 of the 116,000 indicated miles. Recent maintenance included a timing belt replacement along with the installation of new tires, front brake rotors, axle shafts, sway bar links, belts and filters. Modifications consist of a three-inch lift, Bilstein shocks, a Borla muffler, transmission coolers, LED lighting, bed liner.”
Watch Out For: There was a Tacoma recall for excessive ball joint wear that affected this truck, but at 116,000 miles, one of the previous owners should have take care of that issue. On higher mileage examples like this, the automatic transmission might have difficulty shifting. Not to worry, however — it’s like only caused by a shifted solenoid or a throttle position sensor needing adjustment. No major transmission swaps or overhauls should be needed.
Original Review: “When Toyota launched the 3125-lb S-Runner in 2000, TRD saw it as an open invitation to take sport trucks to the next level. By mounting a screw-type blower (set to a conservative six psi of boost) atop its 3.4L V-6, power bumps up 64 ponies for a respectable 12.5:1 power-to-weight ratio. Facing the timing lights, the Toyota beat the Dakota to 60 by a full second at 6.07, pulling an impressive 14.96 at 93.96 in the quarter mile.” — Dan NewHardt, MotorTrend
Alternatives: As far as small-ish pickups that are upgraded from the factory to be better-suited off-road go, pickings were slim in 2002. But, if you wanted a truck with factory-tuned power to modify yourself for off-roading, the Dodge Dakota R/T and Ford Lightning, while both street-focused sport trucks, would make incredible foundations for off-road projects.
Engine: 3.4-liter V6
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Price When New: $27,364
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