How To Buy a Used Toyota Pickup

    A Guide to Buying a 1979-1985 Toyota Pickup: Inexpensive to Repair, Dependable, and Tough

    So why'd we pick these years to focus on for Toyota? Well, 1979 was the first year Toyota pickups were offered in four-wheel drive. And from then until 1985, Toys came with solid front axles--it was 1986 when live axle versus IFS became the subject of many a-heated campfire discussion.

    These Toyotas were called the Son of Land Cruiser because many drivetrain parts were carryover from the 'Cruiser. And that's a big plus for these model years since parts are readily available. But for some real shopping secrets, we turned to the Toyota experts: Jim Sickles of Downey Off-Road Manufacturing, Marlin Czajkowski of Marlin Crawler, and John Hendricks of Northwest Off-Road Specialties. They tell us that '79-'85 Toyotas are cheap to buy, easy to find parts for at wrecking yards and in the aftermarket, inexpensive to repair, dependable, and tough.

    Models Available

    One advantage Toyota has over other manufacturers is that it keeps things simple, from the vehicle design to the configurations. The SR5 package came in 1981 and was an interior/exterior upgrade, but there were no packages that affected the engine or performance. The '79-'951/2 pickups were called Hi-Lux though the name was rarely seen past the early '80s and changed to Tacoma in mid-1995. The pickups came in standard bed and longbed, and while there were no sheetmetal changes from 1979 to 1983, the big going-ons happened in 1984--the introduction of the Xtracab, which has a shortbed on a longbed frame for 2 more feet of interior room.

    For you spotter's guide fans out there, '79-'82 Toyotas have round headlights and the '83-'85s have square. The '84-'85s appear taller because they have square-cut fenderwells versus the '79-'83s round ones. Grilles changed slightly during the '81-'83 model years.

    Engine Options

    There were three Toyota pickup four-cylinder engines used from 1979 to 1985: 20R, 22R, and 22R-E. There was a 21R, but it was used only in Japan. The '79-'80s had the 20R carbureted 2.2L engine; the '81-'83s were fitted with the 22R carbureted 2.4L engine; and '84-'85s came with either the 22R carbureted or the 22R-E electronic fuel injection.

    It's easy to tell the engines apart--just read the writing on the wall. On the driver side of the engine behind the alternator is a flat, machined area with the engine designation. Also look on the nose of the valve cover--if you're lucky there will be a decal with the original engine size. Or for more of a challenge, look for the 20R's round intake ports; the 22R has square intake ports. The intake manifolds are not interchangeable.

    All of those four-bangers can be easily upgraded for performance. One drawback of the solid-axle Toys is that they were never available with a V-6.


    All '79-'85s came equipped with 8.0-inch (same as the 7.8-inch) solid axles. The experts we spoke to agree that the solid-axle setup can't be beat when it comes to hard-core rockcrawling, and Jim Sickles from Downey points out that these trucks can be lifted less expensively than an IFS truck.

    But here's the cool part--the front and rear axles each feature a dropout pumpkin, and it's interchangeable from front to rear. The only distinction between the pumpkins is '84-and-newer models have a different rear pinion bearing.

    Tranny choices

    Only about 10 percent of the 4x4 Toyotas in America have automatic transmissions, introduced in '85s. Transmissions are the one area Czajkowski, Hendricks, and Sickles say Toyota had some trouble. The '81-'83 versions just weren't strong enough. But in '84s, the trannies improved and were much more trouble-free. Five-speed overdrive trannies first became available in '81 models.

    T-Case Tips

    Rather than have a transfer-case model designation, such as NP205, Toyota builders call the T-cases four-cylinder or six-cylinder types, whether they're in standard beds, longbeds, or Xtracabs. All the '79-'85s had four-cylinder versions, and the '84-and-newers have the only change during the years--a 1/4-inch-taller 'case with bigger driveline flanges.

    The T-case with '79-'83 carbureted engines and '84-'87 EFI engines has the shift lever bolted to the top of it, while on '84-'87 carbureted Toys the lever bolts to the tranny.

    The transfer case on the left is the same for all '79-'83 Toyotas and '84-'87 fuel-injected engines; the shift lever bolts to the top of the transfer case. The one on the right is for '84-'87 carbureted engines, and the lever bolts directly to the tranny.

    Common Problems

    Do Toyotas have any glitches? "None--vastly superior vehicles, army tanks." So says Sickles of Downey. He points out that the '79-'84 trannies are too weak for big tires and big engines but they improved in 1985. Hendricks of Northwest says Toyotas are well-designed trucks, but notes that the '84-'85s had problems with rust in the bed and doors (usually owner-inflicted, he says), but with IFS in 1986 the rust problem went away. Czajkowski of Marlin Crawler notes that the rust decreased with newer vehicles. Hendricks of Northwest has also seen upper shock-mount breakage, but wonders if it's more the fault of the owner than Toyota.

    Czajkowski says the front drive axle joints, called Birfield joints, are the most common parts to break if you add a front locker; he won't leave home without spare Birfields. Another notable dysfunction is the left horseshoe steering arm, which fatigues and cracks--another spare part he won't 'wheel without. He also says the exhaust manifolds can warp. And we've heard the '85s have the weakest of the engines.

    The Best Year

    Czajkowski says the best years for lifting are the '79-'83s because they have the largest wheel openings--you can stuff 35-inchers and a 5-inch lift, no problem. In the luxury department, the '84-'85s have more creature features, such as a bigger cab and buckets. He'd lean toward a fuel-injected '85 shortbed since it gets good mileage, torque, and power--and because it was the last year for that rockcrawler's fave, the live axle.

    Hendricks says the '79-'83s have the sturdiest bodies and most solid construction. He would pick an '83 since it was the last year of that body style, before refinements came along. It's a popular choice because of its classic style and large, round wheelwells. And Sickles' votes for the Xtracab 'cause you get the new body style and the extra cab space.

    Related Articles