The Case for Keeping Your Tacoma Stock
It’s a great truck—even with zero modifications
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Spoiler alert: this article does not contain an in-depth breakdown of the off-road geometry or pinnacle features of the 2021 TRD Tacoma I purchased last November, nor information about how to upgrade your midsize truck into an overlanding home. What follows is a suggestion: you might want to just leave your truck alone.
This is actually the first vehicle I have ever purchased. I have been getting by just fine for the past nine years with a seriously reliable 2000 Camry that my grandmother gave me when she turned 95 and decided she was too old to drive safely. During the winters I got up to the local mountain in a quirky ‘97 Subaru Impreza that a buddy traded me for a pair of skis.
I talked myself into making the heavily researched and very expensive purchase of a new black Tacoma by deciding it would either be the last vehicle I purchased, or that my three-year-old daughter Jojo could have it when she turns 16.
The first morning the new truck sat in my driveway, I took a picture of it and texted it to half a dozen friends who write about or work in the overlanding space. I asked them what upgrades I needed to consider. I felt the real pull of making it a vehicular Swiss army knife. I wanted to make it look like the rigs that would allow me to thrive in the apocalypse but, until that day comes, will actually be used to deliver wifi in a mellow coastal campsite. I delivered monologues to my wife, Sarah, and my daughter over dinner about the pros and cons of aluminum versus fiberglass caps. At one point my patient and long-suffering partner diplomatically suggested that, “Maybe you just let it be a truck for a while?”
That sounded familiar. Sarah and I bought a house six years ago—the biggest purchase of our lives—from a wonderfully eccentric octogenarian named Lydia. We came in with plans to completely change the space but were given some sage advice: wait a year and see what you like. We grew to love the top-of-the-line insulation and HVAC system, and how accessible the custom closets were, though we did eventually get rid of the smell of her small dogs and leftover wire art. She’d spent decades making thoughtful changes to the house that we grew to appreciate and ultimately kept many of.
Fast forward 11 months. The only accessory I’ve placed on it is a trailer hitch my wife got me for Father’s Day. In that time, I’ve used it to safely drive up to the ski resort dozens of times (including over 20 days on the mountain with my daughter), one rafting trip a week during summer, and more than half a dozen camping trips. It has become the MVP of our family adventures.
The truck’s remarkable off-roading capability, open bed that swallows our toys, and lack of additional gadgets lets the truck exist as its own autonomous tool for having fun. When dealing with the inevitable messes in the cab at the end of the weekend or blackberry bush scratches on the side, I always say: it’s a tool, not a jewel. I’ve repeated that so many times, Jojo reminded me of it when she dropped a cup of juice on the floor. Not having a bunch of expensive stuff on the roof helps me keep that in mind.
Toyota has been making Tacomas since 1995. Lydia spent over 20 years fixing up our house. I’m glad that I took some time to think about any potential changes to both. As for the truck, I’ll let Jojo’s muddy footprints on the back of the passenger’s side chair be the only visible changes we make for now. It might not always be this way: maybe she’ll want to throw a camper on it when it’s hers.