Toyota 4×4

The people's truck

Because I’ve worked for years at the edges of computer research, and have grown accustomed to flakey and fragile gadgets that only work intermittently, then crash, I have for my private life adopted a farmer’s’ frugal aesthetic when selecting durable tools. I favor poet Gary Synder’s measure of dependability*:

I lie in the dusty and broken brush
Under the pickup
Already thought to be old –
Admiring its solidness, square lines
Thinking a truck like this
Would please Chairman Mao

My own people’s pickup is a 1996 4-cylinder Toyota Tacoma 4×4 with 110,00 miles. Toyota pickups were widely visible during CNN coverage of the middle east as the vehicle of choice in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Indeed you find these almost anywhere in the world where reliability is difficult but critical. My mechanic for years, an expatriate Iranian, says that every mechanic he knows admires, and many own, the Toyota 4 cylinder trucks for their durability and reliability.

I use mine to haul feed for the animals, to clear brush from the pastures, to haul firewood, to traverse the high country through deep snow, and for regular commuting over mountain roads and congested freeways. Despite only 4 cylinders, power is ample for any use on or off-road. A used Toyota like mine would sell for $6,000. But I’m pleased to see that prices for a new one are about the same as I paid in ’96: dealers sticker is under $18,000, retail around $19,000. The basic four cylinder engine is unchanged throughout the years. It’s a classic, like the old GMC/Chevy straight six, and the Dodge slant six; only the running gear and comforts are improved.

It is a truck, I bet, that would have pleased Chairman Mao.

— Mike Liebhold

Toyota Tacoma 4-cylinder 4×4
$20,000+ New
$5,000+ Used
Available from Toyota and Ebay.

*’Working on the ’58 Willys Pickup’ from Axe Handles, North Point Press, 1983More reviews:

RE: Toyata 4×4

Toyota is well known around the world for its durability. Mike Liebhold mentions Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and other notorious places where Toyotas reign. In fact the United Nations uses a Toyota fleet for its peace keepers and observers around the world. Most don’t realize they are using Toyotas that are not available in the USA due to lower emissions standards. The Toyotas you see NGOs using are made by a special unit of Toyota called Girbraltar. Website here . They have SUVs, Pickups, etc.. same lines as you’d find at dealers but different models and configurations. My favorite option is the ballistic mat. It’s an explosion-proof padding that goes underneath the carpet in case of landmines.

I just spent the past 8 weeks on a “vehicle dependent expedition” in the deserts of Nevada in a Toyota 4Runner with no mechanical breakdowns (other than flats). It really is wonderful engineering. However, it is not always the best tool for the job. Toyotas are rock solid but they do wear out and when on an extended trip you want a vehicle that is easy to maintain in the field. Toyotas are good for short and medium term trips where breakdown is hopefully not going to happen, for long-term expeditions where breakdown is inevitable, you want something that is fully self-sufficient.

For example, on an extended African trip you won’t find a certified Toyota mechanic and parts everywhere. Older Land Rovers are often a better choice because they are essentially fully repairable in the field. Everything is bolted on and can easily be swapped out. Like the windshields come off with a few bolts. Fixing a windshield in a Toyota is more involved and complicated . With a Land Rover it’s possible to bring all spare parts and keep the vehicle going indefinitely with no outside help short of catastrophic damage.

To sum up: Toyotas are more modern design using newer technology; the older Land Rovers are basic nuts and bolts. The Land Rover will probably break down more often, but be easier to fix. Land Rovers are kind of like the hackers’ vehicle, an old PC running Linux, while the Toyota is more like a Macintosh, well designed and reliable.

— Stephen Balbach


I have owned three Toyota 4-cyl. 4×4’s over the years, but the basic unit is the same.

-A 1983 that I kept at a friend’s house in Baja. It had an Italian tent on the roof that unfolded, and I slept up there, usually on the beach facing the water, It had two batteries, a metal camper shell, and a single piece front axle that the Mexicans love because it’s so tough. I met a guy down there with the same model who had contracted to lead a bunch of Hummers on a tour and he said he went anywhere the Hummers could go (except I would guess for places needing the H’s high clearance).

-Then I had an ’88 that I put about 170 K miles on. In 14 years it never failed to start up (except once when the starter motor went out). I went through arroyos, all over the desert, on beaches with soft sand. I pulled people out of ditches. It was also my city vehicle. I sold it last year to a surfer dude for about $1500. The only thing wrong was that the body was pretty completely rusted out, since I live on the ocean (and also I figured in retrospect because I would never rinse it off after hauling surfboards dripping with salt water). The guy who bought took it to Tijuana where they put a new bed on it, fixed all the holes and painted it and I hear it looks great.

-6 months ago I bought a 2003 and it’s a dream. Toyota has re-thought every part of it, and redesigned where necessary. The radio, the wipers, the seats, the exterior and interior design.A 4 cyl motor but I don’t think it’s the same one. I was very careful in getting a rack and camper shell. I ended up with an insulated metal shell with windows that open on 3 sides and an aluminum rack that mounts on the bed rails, rather than resting on the shell. It extends over the cab. It’s got a carpet kit inside the shell that has compartments and is padded for sleeping.

It came with the large wheels and several off-road features and cost 21,500 including Calif. license. With the camper shell, rack, carpet kit, tow fender and a few other things it came out to about $26K and I plan on driving it for at least 10 years.


There’s an old Yakima rocket box on the top, and the cylindrical thing is a pull-out tarp for quick shade that I got used . Note the metal camper window on the drivers side (where you don’t need visibility).

–Lloyd Kahn


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