The Toyota Tacoma is one of the most practical, capable, and reliable mid-size trucks money can buy. However, they do have some problems, namely the notorious Tacoma frame rust.
We’ll take a look at this Tacoma frame rust problem. From how it happens, what model years it affects, and what you can do to prevent it. If you’re thinking of buying a secondhand Tacoma, be sure to read this until the end!
Tacoma Frame Rust: What Is It?
So, what is this whole Tacoma frame rust kerfuffle? Well, some model years of older Tacoma has frame rust issues, as the title suggests. While rust or corrosion will happen over time to any car that uses steel – or even aluminum – it’s appearing quite quickly in the Tacoma.
Specifically, to its frame or also known as the chassis of the truck. While rust will eventually appear in any car with a steel frame, but take a look at NHTSA’s page for the Tacoma and you can see owners complaining about rust as early as three years after purchase.
Rust usually takes about a decade to start appearing in a car, and will usually take around 15 – 20 years before it finally spreads and become a serious problem.
Is It A Big Deal?
Yes, it is a big deal. Corrosion to the body is bad, but corrosion to the frame or chassis can be fatal as it compromises the structural integrity – and therefore safety – of the entire vehicle.
Additionally, it seems like the rear part of the frame is particularly prone to rust. This has resulted in the leaf spring mounts deteriorating, and some owners have experienced the leaf springs falling out of place.
The leaf spring is a type of suspension spring, and as with any type of spring, it’s there to absorb vibrations and make the car comfortable, as well as stable to drive. They’re not particularly modern nor comfortable, but they’re cheap and they do the job just fine for pickup trucks.
Anyway, springs are an important part of the car’s suspension assembly. As you can imagine, if a spring breaks free from the car’s chassis, you’re not going to have a good time. At best, the car will be difficult to control. At worst, it’ll be completely undrivable and could put you in an accident.
Rust appearing in a car before it’s supposed to be already bad enough. But for rust to appear on the frame and cause suspension problems? It’s downright dangerous.
Why Is This Happening?
Corrosion can happen to any metal that has iron in it, including copper, aluminum alloy, and of course, steel which is the main material for the Tacoma’s frame. When steel corrodes, it forms rust.
Rust will appear when the iron (Fe) in steel oxidize, or in other words, comes into contact with oxygen and moisture. When steel comes into contact with water, the iron particles will go through a chemical reaction and form Fe⁺⁺.
Then oxygen will cause the electrons to form hydroxyl ions (OH). Afterward, this will come into contact with Fe⁺⁺ and form hydrous iron oxide (FeOH), which is the scientific way of saying rust. In a nutshell, steel reacts badly with oxygen and water, which will form rust.
Rust is bad because it essentially eats away the steel, compromising its structure and integrity. Hence why the leaf springs can break free since the frame loses its strength.
In most modern cars, it takes at least a decade for rust to finally start, thanks to anti-corrosion treatments that the cars go through before leaving the factory.
There are plenty of ways to prevent rust, or at least, delay it from spreading. One of the most common ways is through a process called galvanization, which is a process that involves coating the steel with a layer of zinc.
So, did Toyota skip this process in the factory? Toyota doesn’t explain exactly why, but it seems that they outsourced the Tacoma’s frame production at the time to a third-party vendor to keep up with the demand.
Tacoma Frame Rust: Model Years Affected
So, which Tacoma model years are experiencing this problem? This problem affects many Tacomas in the second generation, specifically ones from 2005 – 2010. The first-generation Tacoma also seems to have this problem, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as widespread.
However, the Tacoma isn’t the only one experiencing this problem. Its larger brothers the Tundra (2007 – 2008) and the Sequoia (2005 – 2008) also seem to have frame rust issues. But the good news is that it doesn’t seem to be as widespread as the Tacoma.
Does It Affect The New Tacoma?
As far as we can tell, it doesn’t. The third-generation Tacoma (which was introduced in 2015) doesn’t seem to have any frame rust issues. So, if you have a third-generation Tacoma or planning to buy one, you can rest easy.
How About The 4Runner?
As some of you might know, the 4Runner is the Tacoma’s SUV sibling. While they don’t share the same platform, they’re often seen as siblings since they’re in the same class of size.
Despite using different platforms, frame rust also seems to affect the 4Runner. Specifically, the 2005 – 2011 4Runner. So, be wary of this if you’re thinking of buying a secondhand 4Runner.
Tacoma Frame Rust: What Do I Do?
So, what do you do? Should you just scrap your plans on buying a second-generation Tacoma? Well, you can look at the second-generation models from 2011 to 2015, as they seem to have fewer corrosion problems.
However, if you already own a 2005 – 2010 Tacoma, or you have your heart set on one, here’s what you can do:
Tacoma Frame Rust Extended Warranty
While it took a $3-billion class-action lawsuit, Toyota finally agreed to provide a solution for the frame rust problem for Tacoma, Tundra, and Sequoia owners.
They extended the warranty coverage, and owners can take in their cars to have a free inspection and replace parts if necessary. In some cases, Toyota may replace the frame of the car entirely if need be.
However the time limit for this coverage is running out, and for some model years, it has run out. Here’s the detail:
- 15 years for 1995 – 2000 model years.
- 12 or 15 years for 2005 – 2010 model years.
- 12 years for 2011 – 2017 model years.
Unfortunately, the extended warranty has run out for 2000 model years and earlier, as well as for some 2005 – 2010 models. However, some may still be eligible, and the 2011 – 2017 models are still eligible for a checkup.
If you own a Tacoma from those years, we recommend contacting your nearest Toyota dealership to get your car checked. Meanwhile, for potential buyers, we recommend checking the car’s history to see if the previous owner has taken the car in for the recall.
What Do They Do In The Recall?
As mentioned, Toyota will check your Tacoma’s frame for rust for free. If it turns out the rust has perforated by 10mm or more on the frame, they will likely call a representative from Toyota’s headquarters to assess the options.
From here, there are two possibilities: either they will buy back your Tacoma at 150% of the “excellent condition” Blue Book retail value. Or they will replace the frame of your Tacoma entirely.
This is a long and difficult process, so your Tacoma will be out of commission for a while. Be sure to make other arrangements for commuting if this turns out to be necessary.
If the rust hasn’t penetrated more than 10mm, Toyota dealerships will apply corrosion-resistant compounds to your Tacoma to help slow down the corrosion. According to some owners, this process may also take a few days to finish.
Which Deal Should I Insist On?
It’s hard to say whether you should insist on a buyback or a frame replacement. A buyback means you’ll get a huge chunk of cash, but then you’ll have to decide on a replacement.
Meanwhile, a frame replacement sounds like a good idea. You get to keep your beloved Tacoma, and you get a new frame that’s more rust-resistant. However, a significant repair job like this is often thought of as not a good practice.
So, take whichever one you feel more comfortable with. Either way, it’s better than paying out of pocket for a complete frame replacement since it will cost $15,000. The frame itself costs about $5,000 with labor costing another $10,000. Might as well buy a new car with that sort of money.
How About The 4Runner?
Unfortunately, Toyota hasn’t provided a solution for 4Runner owners. While the 4Runner’s rust problem doesn’t seem to be as widespread as the Tacoma’s, owners are experiencing this problem as well. Most notably Gary Weinreich, who filed a lawsuit against Toyota in December of 2018.
The lawsuit is still ongoing, so keep your eye on that if you have a 4Runner or planning to buy one. If you’re wondering how much it will cost to replace a 4Runner frame, it’s also around $15,000.
Tacoma Frame Rust: Prevention Measures
The best rust prevention is for the manufacturer to treat their car with anti-corrosion compounds before the car leaves the factory. Without that, you’re not going to have a good time with rust.
However, there are some things that you can do to prevent rust in your car. Or at least, delaying their appearance. Here are our tips to prevent rust:
1. Wash Your Car
It’s so simple yet so understated. Washing your car doesn’t just make it look nice and shiny, but it can help to prevent rust. This is because washing your car will get rid of debris and dirt that can cause corrosion.
To prevent rust on the frame, be sure to get under your car and clean every nook and cranny possible. Use high-quality car shampoo, and remember to dry the car properly. Leaving your car to dry out in the open won’t completely get rid of the dirt, and can even cause corrosion.
2. Avoid Driving In Snow
Driving in snow is often dangerous, and many experts will tell you to avoid it unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, driving in snow can speed up corrosion, especially if you live in salt belt states.
Salt belt states refer to the states where they deploy saltwater onto the road during the winter. Salt affects the freezing point of water, which when deployed to ice, will melt them down much quicker.
While this makes the road safer, salt can speed up the process of corrosion. Needless to say, this will speed up the appearance and spread of rust in your car.
So, unless absolutely necessary, avoid driving in the snow especially if you live in salt belt states. There are 21 salt belt states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and more. Check out the full list here.
Needless to say, if you absolutely must drive in the snow, clean your car immediately after driving to get rid of any salt road residue.
3. Wax Or Detail And Coat Your Car
Waxing will make your car look new and shiny, and it will also give your car a protective layer. This won’t prevent frame rust, but it will prevent rust on the body of the car.
Waxing is essentially covering your car’s body and paint job with that wax compound. This protective layer reduces the amount of dirt, oxygen, and water your car comes into contact with and therefore slows down corrosion. You should wax your car at least twice a year.
If you don’t feel like waxing once every six months, the long-term solution is detailing and coating your car. You can learn to do this by yourself, but it usually takes anywhere between an entire day to two days to do this properly. If you don’t feel like it, there are plenty of detailing services for you to choose from.
The process involves washing, polishing, and finally waxing the car. If you want, there are also packages where the detailer will do a paint correction to get rid of deep scratches.
Auto detailers also offer a coating service. This will coat your car in a protective layer just like waxing, but it will last longer. The two most common coatings are automotive sealant and ceramic coating.
Sealants typically last anywhere between six months to a year, and they cost somewhere around $50 – $200 depending on the car size. Excluding the detailing service, by the way.
Meanwhile, ceramic coating can last anywhere between two to five years depending on the quality. It will cost between $1,000 to $3,000, but this usually already includes the detailing cost, as well as the cost of future maintenance.
The key thing here is that it’s important to give your car a protective layer to help prevent corrosion. There’s a solution for every budget.
4. Don’t Ignore Rust Spots
It’s important that the moment you see rust on your car, you immediately get onto it. They’re like cancer: hard to treat, but you can slow the spread and sometimes get rid of them.
Now, frame rust may be a bit more difficult to spot and treat. But body rust is often visible, and if you spot it early on, it’s treatable. The process will involve some sandpaper, an adhesive body patch, some paint, and a bunch more chemicals and tools. This is quite a long process, so we’ll ChrisFix show you how to do it instead:
If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, many decent auto body repair shops can do it for you. They will get rid of the rust, and then spray your car with anti-rust sprays afterward. Rust repair costs will vary depending on the severity. It usually starts at around $500, but minor jobs will cost less than that.
5. Keep Your Interior Dry
Whether it’s spilled coffee or coolant from a leaky heater core, you want to clean that as soon as possible. Water can soak into your carpets and eventually get to your car’s floor underneath the carpet. And as mentioned, steel really doesn’t like moisture.
If your carpet is damp, take them out and let them dry. Clean off any water or moisture that may be left behind to make sure it’s dry.
Rust, much like taxes, is unavoidable. Your car will eventually have them, but by following the tips above, it will take longer for them to develop.
Tacoma Frame Rust: Alternatives To The Toyota Tacoma
If this whole Tacoma frame rust kerfuffle is putting you off the Tacoma, don’t worry, plenty of other carmakers also make decent mid-size pickup trucks. Here are the secondhand pickup trucks from around 2005 – 2010 to consider:
1. GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado/Isuzu i-Series
Yes, these three cars are related. Specifically, the first generation which began selling in 2003. They share the same platform, the engines are similar, and even the same interior. There are minor differences here and there, but for the most part, they’re the same truck.
Engine choices vary from turbo four-cylinders making 116 horsepower, to large 5.3L V8s making up to 300 horsepower. However, they only began selling the V8 in 2009, and the most popular engine choice seems to be the 175 horsepower 2.8L four-cylinder engine.
Regardless, this is a truck you should definitely consider. The reliability rating is good, in fact, RepairPal gives the 2003 GMC Canyon a reliability rating of 4 out of 5. What’s the point of a good truck if it isn’t reliable?
It has a decent towing capability, anywhere between 3,500 to 7,700lbs depending on engine specs, and is decent to drive. The Isuzu is a bit more difficult to find, but they’re quite cheap at around $4,000 – $7,000.
Meanwhile, the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado variants are anywhere between $6,500 to $14,000 depending on trim, engine spec, and model year.
2. Honda Ridgeline
Honda entered the pickup truck market back in 2006 with the Ridgeline. It doesn’t quite have the same reputation or following the Tacoma does, but it’s still a truck you should consider.
The styling of the first-generation is somewhat, let’s be kind, odd. And it only has one engine option, which is a 3.5L V6 making 255 horsepower. This means the towing capacity tops out at 5,000lbs, and it’s not exactly the most capable off-roader you will find.
However, it’s comfortable, quiet, and easy to drive. Many reviewers note the truck as being very car-like to drive. This means that although it’s not great offroad, it’s one of the best trucks to drive on the road.
Of course, as it is a Honda, the Ridgeline is very reliable with a reliability of 4 out of 5 for the 2006 model year. It’s also quite cheap to maintain, with an average annual repair cost of around $428.
The Ridgeline costs as low as $6,400 in the secondhand market. But if you want ones with mileage under 100,000 miles or younger model years, they can cost anywhere between $12,000 – $19,000.
3. Ford Ranger
The Ford Ranger is a decent truck, but it’s plagued with reliability issues. One of the worst ones is transmission problems in the automatic version. Many owners report clunking noises from their transmission and shifting delays.
However, they are still decent trucks. But don’t expect to tow much with the Ranger, as the third-generation Ranger (1998 – 2011) can only tow between 1,600 to 3,100lbs depending on the powertrain.
You can pick one up for anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000. And we recommend choosing the 2009 model year or newer, as they seem to have fewer reliability issues. Our guide to the best Ranger model year may help you decide.
Tacoma Frame Rust: Wrap Up
If you still have your eyes set on a Tacoma, be sure that the vehicle has gone in for an inspection at a Toyota dealership. Check the vehicle history, and see if it has had either a frame replacement or at least treated with anti-corrosion compounds.
Needless to say, before you purchase a secondhand Tacoma, check the frame. If there’s rust on it, you may want to walk away and find another truck instead. As always, we recommend you do a full pre-purchase inspection before making a decision.
If you own a Tacoma, take your truck to a Toyota dealership and have it inspected before the extended warranty runs out. This will help to get more life out of your beloved Tacoma.