Everyone Loves Tacos: Early Tacomas Are Small Trucks Making a Big Splash in the Market


I’ll come right out and say it—automobiles have gotten too big, and trucks are the worst offenders. Even some of the more diminutive pickups in showrooms today would have seemed quite hefty just 20 years ago. And while I may be a biased long-time small car fan who’s frequently terrified by towering trucks on the road, I’m not alone in this sentiment. When looking at our data for the smaller Toyota trucks of a generation ago (the 1990s-2000s), which do most truck things just as well as and some even better than today’s bloated crop, the market seems to agree.

While this Datsun Sunny is dwarfed by the Ford Raptor, it would have no problem hauling the futon that can’t quite fit in the Raptor’s bed.Adam Wilcox

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when the average pickup truck didn’t make a H1 Hummer blush, and when “mid-size” actually meant something. Enter the 1995-2004 Toyota Tacoma, the first-generation of this now-famous little truck. Built to replace the legendary and creatively-named Toyota Pickup, the Tacoma was available with a 3.4L V-6 and two all-new four-cylinders (in 2.4- and 2.7-liter forms) that replaced the indestructible but outdated 22R-E engine that preceded them.

Toyota 2400 Four Cam 24 6 Cylinder engine

While calling this truck “small” would be a bit of a stretch in the grand scheme of things, it has a genuinely tiny footprint by today’s pickup standards. In its largest and most usable form—the four-door Double Cab—it’s 70 inches wide and 203 inches long. That’s five inches narrower and only seven inches longer than the smallest truck you can currently buy in the US—the Hyundai Santa Cruz. The two-door short-bed Tacoma measures only 175 inches long, seven inches shorter than a new Corolla sedan.

first gen toyota tacoma interior front full

The first Tacoma was small enough to technically be classified as a “compact” pickup, though as trends went bigger and heavier, subsequent “Tacos” got bigger and moved into the “mid-size” category. Over the years, Toyota’s littlest pickup grew and grew, adding about five inches in length each new generation. The fourth-generation Tacoma, released last year, maxes out at 226-inches long and 80-inches wide—nearly two feet longer and 10 inches wider than the original Tacoma Double Cab and just a few inches short of the largest first-generation Toyota Tundra’s which was a true full-size pickup.

Despite the Tacoma’s progression in size, there is still clearly an appetite for truly small pickups. We do not yet have Tacoma values in the Hagerty Price Guide, but insurance quote values for the first generation Tacoma have been increasing rapidly in recent years. Since 2021, their average quote value has increased 30 percent, from $9290 to $12,040. That makes it one of the fastest-appreciating Toyotas in our insurance book. In fact, the Tacoma is the third-fastest-appreciating Toyota truck behind the often-overlooked FJ55 Land Cruiser and the 1993-98 Toyota T100, at 45 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

Toyota T100 Regular Cab front three quarter

Speaking of the T100, if you don’t remember it or its cyborg-y name, it was Toyota’s first attempt at a full-size pickup, preceding the first Tundra, which arrived in 2000. But unlike the Tundra, it never came with a V-8. The largest of the three engines was the 3.4-liter 5VZ-FE V-6 shared with the contemporary 4Runner and Tacoma. The T100 is a regular cab with an eight-foot bed or an extended cab with a 6.25-foot bed, both 209 inches long and four inches shorter than the current Tacoma, even in its shortest form. Like the first-gen Tacoma, these more reasonably-sized T100s face increasing demand, but they are still rather affordable. The average insured value on Hagerty policies is only $8675—not bad for a bulletproof full-size pickup. It lacks the name recognition of the Tacoma and Tundra, so values reflect that. The 1995-2004 Tacoma and 2000-06 Tundra both hold more than a 20-percent premium over the T100, with average insured values of $10,750 and $10,576, respectively.

If you are in the market for a first-gen Tacoma, finding one won’t be difficult. Toyota sold nearly 1.5 million of them just in the U.S. However, finding one in good condition could be tough depending where you live. While the Tacoma’s fully-boxed frame makes it a beast off-road, it’s also the truck’s Achilles’ heel. Due to inadequate drainage, moisture often got trapped inside the frame, leading to severe rust. Toyota eventually recalled all affected Tacomas and either replaced the frame or bought the truck back at 1.5x its KBB value, though not every truck was fixed. In areas of the country that salt their roads, this problem was made exponentially worse. But out in the Mountain West, where our relationship to water mirrors the natives of Arrakis, good Tacomas aren’t hard to find and the model is very popular. If you are worried about frame rust, Toyota used an open C-section frame on the second-generation Tacoma that mitigated this issue.

2002 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab rear three quarter

Don’t be surprised if you end up paying more than you were expecting for a 20 to 30-year-old truck, though, especially when you look at the mileage. For example, $10,700 might not seem too bad for this 1998 Tacoma Regular Cab 4×4, until you see that its been driven over 300,000 miles.

But don’t let mileage scare you. Because they are so usable, most of these trucks have seen a lot of road, and like most Toyotas, they just don’t die. This means low mileage examples are rare and you will end up paying a premium for one. It’s no surprise that low-mileage Tacomas often result in jaw-dropping record sales, like this 27k-mile 2000 XtraCab 4×4 that sold for $44,100 after fees. A little over a year later, this top-trim 2004 Tacoma XtraCab SR5 V6 TRD 4×4 five-speed with 58k-miles beat the record at $47,250 after fees.

Although most of the record sales are set by the Xtracab, the four-door Double Cab carries the greatest premium. The average insured value for the standard two-door regular cab is $10,200. Xtracabs hold a 10-percent premium at $11,400, with Double Cabs commanding a 27-percent premium at $14,000. Why doesn’t a Double Cab hold the auction record? Logan Calkins, our resident Toyota truck expert, theorizes that because the four-doors are so useable, low-mileage ones may simply just not exist. I’m inclined to agree.

Tacoma front three quarter extended cab

These early Tacomas were built to be used. When you think about it, isn’t that one of the main appeals of a truck? To go on adventures and get stuff done? Small vintage pickups aren’t for everybody, but neither are the gargantuan new ones, and a thriving market for smaller and older models proves it. If you often find yourself hauling mountain bikes up steep, washed-out forest roads, or playing backcountry chairlift on Loveland Pass and living the real fantasy truck commercials are selling you, then a truck is great. But size matters, and the smaller, the better.


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    Not everyone. Never liked the seating and the rust issues here in the midwest you just don’t see many old ones worth buying.

    Might change it to many but not everyone.

    I had 1998 Tacoma SR5 extra cab. We loved it. Insurance was insane though. So even though all the parts are dirt cheap and readily available it was expensive to run. Also, there’s not a great selection of stock sized tires.

    owned all of them at one point.. rust was an issue, with EVERY vehicle here on the east coast…but the drivetrain went forever… single wall boxes were a drag until box liners came along too/did’t help rusting..

    I’ve had my eye on Tacoma’s for quite a while because, once you’ve owned one and let it get away…
    On the auction sites, you hear the comments all the time, “why can’t we have these reasonably sized trucks anymore”? I’m in Wisconsin and if I ever find the right one, it will be stored during the winter in order to preserve it for life.

    I have owned a 1992 Toyota pick up ( DX model ) for about 18 years now. Reg. cab, long bed , 22 RE engine and 5 speed stick. It is near perfect, mostly orig. paint, that I would now like to sell to make room in my garage here in New Berlin , Wi. 52,800. orig miles . I love the truck but an old car becons me.

    I had a black 4-cylinder ’95 Tacoma with the 5-speed, regular cab, and two-wheel drive. It had a snug, strictly two-passenger cab with a lack of interior storage space. Otherwise, it was a nifty truck for homeowner chores and handled nicely in urban traffic and cruised without effort at freeway speed. It prompted my dad to buy a V6 with the extended cab and 4WD. I have to admit that my dad’s version was the better vehicle all around. One thing that never affected us, but was apparently a problem: the front rail of the box could buckle if something heavy was strapped to it. The new Tacomas are nice, but it would be nice to have the samller Tacoma (and smaller Tunda) once again.

    Interesting story, but Tacoma trucks are not listed in the Hagerty Buyers Guide. Where can we find Valuation info as used in the article?

    My 95 4×4 taco was the best truck I’ve ever owned. Had multiple Ford’s a couple of Chevys and none performed as well or was as reliable. Had over 240k on it over the course of 15 years and only put a starter in it and a set of leaf springs. The springs were my fault due to loading it with rocks to build a wall. I was so sad when Toyota said they would buy back my truck but with the insane money they gave me and the extra money as an incentive to buy a new or used one it was a no brainer. So now I have a 09 and while it’s a good truck. I would jump at the chance to get another 95

    Great article! I currently own a 2004 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab SR5 TRD (Pre-Runner) with only 120k on the odometer and I can personally agree that every time that I get in and drive it I enjoy it. I just love the simplicity of it mechanically and it is the perfect size for almost every scenario and location I drive it to.

    First gen Tacomas and similar sized trucks are perfect for a second vehicle, and great for light to medium hauling. The only thing today to somewhat compare to it is the Ford Maverick, and it needs more bed! The little Tacoma’s back seat isn’t comfortable for an adult, only suitable for short rides (I’d say an hour or less), as as most of the small trucks until the four doors arrived — then you gave up bed!

    I use a first gen Tundra for a work truck. Like the Jeep J-Series trucks it’s “just right” sized. It was criticized as being a 7/8 sized truck, not really full sized, but it has the bed capacity and with the 4.7L has a towing capacity of 7200 pounds — enough for most jobs. Sometimes you need something bigger — you’re not going to pull a big fifth wheel camper with it (or even a 30′ or so bumper pull), but MOST people don’t need a really big truck! When I retire from doing home repairs I might look at a Maverick… big enough to haul the trash off and do some light work, and pull a small utility trailer if the bed isn’t big enough… I still have my Expedition for camper tow duties.

    I had a new 1995 regular cab 4×4 and was my favorite truck ever. 14 years and 240,000 miles before Michigan salt ate the body. I’m on my fourth Tacoma now. I had to buy a 2011 regular cab 4×4 a year and a half ago because I found one with only 25,000 miles on it! It should last for the rest of my life!

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