Toyota Tacoma Still Reliable? Engine/Transmission Issues Plague Reliability Scores
In the recent 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Dependability Survey, the Toyota Tacoma wasn’t mentioned as a top mid-size pickup. It turns out, it hasn’t made the list since 2015. What gives? Transmission issues, now seemingly addressed, played a big role in dropping its score.
Long known for its reliability, the Toyota Tacoma has been off its game since its redesign for the 2016 model year. The problem seems to be largely due to the new 6-speed automatic transmission and 3.5L V6 2GR-(FKS) introduced for the pickup. Numerous owners have complained and Toyota has issued two technical service bulletins and two recalls to address the various problems.
What are the Problems?
First, there was a transmission issue causing a lot of frustration. TSB 0077-16 (PDF) explains the problems as:
- Delayed engagement Park to Drive or Reverse to Drive.
- Harsh 1st-2nd upshift.
- Delayed upshift when using cruise control.
- Busy shift like hunting gear behavior when driving on highway speed/slight grade.
The TSB fixes these issues with a software re-flash to the Engine Control Module (ECM) and many dealers also check the transmission fluid level. This means there is nothing mechanically wrong with the transmission, which Toyota uses elsewhere in their lineup, but rather it is a software calibration issue and a lack of transmission fluid from the factory.
Another, smaller issue also seems to be holding the pickup back in higher reliability scores. TSB 0062-18 (PDF) addresses one of these issues where 2016-2018 Toyota Tacoma pickups with the 3.5L V6 engine (2GR-FKS) is known to “stumble at wide open throttle takeoff at altitude,” the TSB fix, like the one above is a re-flash of the ECM.
A big recall of 228,000 2016-2017 Toyota Tacoma pickups for a leaky differential causing a host of problems has also played a factor in reliability rankings.
Finally, Toyota issued a recall of 32,000 2016-2017 Toyota Tacoma V6 pickups to address an issue with the crankshaft position sensor may malfunction due to too much anti-corrosion coating on the crankshaft timing rotor.
All of these problems certainly caused a lot of questions on the new 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
These various TSBs and recalls do seem to have fixed many of the problem. According to CarComplaints.com, a website focusing on gathering various consumer complaints, recalls, TSBs, etc… and compiling them into a score, the issues since 2016 have dropped dramatically as the chart below shows.
Digging a bit deeper into the data, we can see the majority of the problems from 2016 due indeed relate to the transmission shifting issues.
These issues were solved by the transmission software re-flash and some owners didn’t experience any issues which is likely attributed to their driving style or how they feel like the pickup should operate even with the recommended exhaust system for Toyota Tacoma.
The 2017 chart shows many transmission issues where addressed, however, it still looks like there is some work to be done.
For 2018, we can see even less problems, however, it is still early and more complaints can come in once the pickups see more miles added to them.
Reliability Scores Will Improve
What does all of this have to do with J.D. Power and Consumer Reports ranking? With these issues addressed, the Toyota Tacoma should move back into the reliability category quickly for Consumer Reports and likely by 2021 for J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Reliability Study (the study looks back three years).
We can say this based on prior studies. For example, the 2015 J.D. Power Initial Quality survey had the Tacoma #1.
The Toyota Tacoma hasn’t had the #1 spot since 2015 and this is directly related to the new 2016 model.
These issues probably played a role in the Toyota brand taking a hit, since Toyota sells hundreds of thousands of Tacoma pickups each year, on overall score over the last few years and only now regaining its top spots.
Consumer Reports currently lists the Toyota Tundra as most reliable. Once the Tacoma’s issues get worked out, it is reasonable to expect that pickup to join the list.
What does all of this mean for consumers? Simple, the bugs have been worked out and the Toyota Tacoma is really undervalued on reliability due to past software issues. It is reasonable to expect it to resume its role as one of the most reliable pickups on the market.