As a current owner of a Toyota Tacoma, I find myself thinking about our future family and the increased interior space of the Tundra. To put it bluntly, I like the Tacoma – but I like the Tundra more. My biggest concern is likely shared with many of you: does the Tundra share the Tacoma’s legendary reliability and build quality?
Both the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra are incredibly reliable trucks. The 1st gen Tacoma and 1st Gen Tundra tend to be regarded as the most reliable of the bunch. Rust is the biggest killer of these trucks, regardless of model. All models are considered to be more reliable than their competitors.
The Toyota Tundra’s reputation (reliability compared to American trucks)
Despite appearing similar (or lesser) when looking at stats on paper, the Tundra is quite often considered to be more reliable than the American pickup trucks. Of course, brand loyalty plays a big role here but it’s very possible that this opinion is well-earned.
You see, one of the biggest complaints about the Tundra is the fact that it has stayed the same for so many years. On top of that, it’s known for being more “basic” in terms of fancy features and gadgets. There’s a great benefit to this though – Toyota spends many years perfecting the existing truck.
For example: the iForce 5.7L V8 has been used in the Tundra for nearly 15 years now. Yes, it’s less fuel-efficient and sometimes even has less power than some of the newer American engines – but Toyota knows it well and has made some important fixes over the years (like the air injection pumps).
So the latest and greatest in technology might not be the Tundra’s strong suit, but if you’re looking for an “old faithful” type of truck, it might be just what you need.
How does the Tundra’s reliability compare to the legendary Tacoma then?
In short, the Tundra is a very well-built truck but it might not be on the same level as the Tacoma. That’s more of a compliment to the Tacoma than a shot against the Tundra though.
It’s important to consider how each truck is used. With a 10,000 lb towing capacity on newer models, many Tundras are worked harder on a regular basis than the average Tacoma owner would ever dream of. Tundras are often used as fleet vehicles for places like construction companies whereas the Tacoma isn’t.
So if there are more complaints about the Tundra breaking vs the Tacoma, it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t as reliable. It just means they might be used differently.
Where the Tundra and Tacoma are built
Over the years, the Toyota Tacoma has been built in 3 different manufacturing plants: San Antonio, TX, Freemont, CA, and Tijuana, Mexico.
The Toyota Tundra has been built in 2 different manufacturing plants: Princeton, Indiana, and the same San Antonio, TX plant as the Tacoma.
Is the Tundra more American than Ram, GMC, and Ford?
Not only is every Tundra built in the United States, but it’s also true that at least 75% of the components are built by American suppliers. That includes the engines and transmissions. So although Toyota is a Japanese company, the Tundra is very much an American truck.
When comparing the Tacoma and Tundra, it’s obviously important to mention their commonly known problems. Despite being considered one of the most reliable vehicles ever made, the Tacoma does indeed have some known issues:
The early Tacomas are typically considered to be the most reliable because they’re so simple. With that said, there are still some common complaints like the exhaust manifold cracking on 4 cylinder models, weak/sagging leaf springs, worn steering bushings, and the seatbelt springs not retracting as they should.
One of the biggest complaints online is the placement of the clock in the dashboard – that’s a design preference and not a failure. That really tells you something about the 1st Gen Tacoma’s reliability.
These Tacomas are a nice mix of the older trucks’ simplicity and the creature comforts of the newer models. They’re built on a very popular platform that’s shared with the 4runner, FJ Cruiser, GX470, and more.
Known failures on the 2nd Gen models are the 4WD actuator, broken leaf springs, oil leaks, broken A/C compressor, worn front differential bearings, air injection pumps, and the head gasket on early V6 models.
The current model Tacoma has only been out for 6 years so naturally, it doesn’t have as many known problems just yet. Unfortunately, it’s the most complicated out of the 3 generations and has already shown signs of being less reliable because of that.
There are plenty of complaints about driveline vibrations, and differential whining. The chirping fuel pump is an expensive one to repair, as are the timing cover leaks (some owners were quoted $4,000!).
Rusty frames are no longer a problem but rust and paint blisters in the lower door jams are. There are also a few ECU tuning issues and more minor ones like the trip meter resetting on its own and the blind spot monitor system failing.
As the owners put more and more miles on their trucks over the years, new issues being reported are quite possible.
Now, let’s talk about the Tundra’s reliability so we can compare the two. It might be controversial because technically there are 3 different types of Tundras, but in the eyes of Toyota, there are only 2 generations. The current model is considered a facelifted version of the 2nd Gen.
The first-generation Tundras are known for things like warped brake rotors, leaking axle seals, cracked exhaust manifolds (same as the V8 4runner – check out this article for more:), Overdrive gear failures, as well as issues like rust forming around the windshield and lower ball joint failures.
The current model Tundra has a few known problems but considering it’s been on the market since 2007, the list is pretty short. There are bigger issues like the air injection pump (fixed with the 2014 model facelift), axle bearings, and front differential failure. There are also smaller ones like the dash sinking 1/8″ and radio failure.
You can learn more about the Tundra’s 5.7L 3UR-FE engine in this article:
As with the Tacoma, rust is more of a concern on the older Tundra models and less on the new ones.
Why are Tacomas more expensive than Tundras?
The simple answer is that there is a bigger demand for a mid-size pickup truck like the Tacoma. There are a lot of people out there that want the functionality of a truck bed without having to worry about parking and squeezing a full-size truck into small spots.
The Tacoma’s size makes it unique – although it does have competitors like the Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, and Chevy Colorado. It’s widely considered to be the most reliable of the group though.
The Tundra on the other hand, doesn’t stand out quite as much. It’s big and heavy, just like all the other popular full-size trucks. It seems as though people that are shopping for a smaller truck like the Tacoma prefer something simple that hasn’t changed much over the years while full-size truck buyers prefer the latest and greatest technology – which is where the Tundra often falls short.
This really comes down to your intended usage and the size you’re comfortable with. If you want something easy to park and better on fuel, the Tacoma is the clear choice. If you like having tons of space, the ability to tow heavy loads, and a mean V8 growl, the Tundra wins.
In terms of reliability, I’d say both trucks are built really well. It seems as though there are fewer complaints about the Tacoma in general, but it’s possible that Tundra owners are a bit pickier and more likely to complain online. The reality is that both trucks are incredibly well made, but despite the legendary Toyota reputation, can fall victim to the occasional problem.
In short, comparing these trucks to the competition is a matter of reliability, but comparing the Tacoma and Tundra to each other is really just a matter of size and efficiency. As for myself: I’ll be hanging onto the Tacoma for a little while longer before making the switch. Make sure to follow along with the restoration of this truck on my YouTube channel!
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: