Toyota Tacoma 2009

Of Trucks and the “Toyota Tax”

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In my review of the 2015 Toyota Corolla S, I mentioned the “Toyota Tax.” The Corolla tends to be priced higher than some of its principal competition where I live, and the only reason I can think of is because of the perceived value of its brand.

Well, perusing Craigslist this weekend, I came across a pair of vehicles that explain the Toyota Tax better than most cars. Living out in the country, the Toyota Tax is most clearly seen in pickup trucks on the used market. Case in point: these two trucks I found online.

1987 Toyota SR5 Craigslist photo
Photo: Craigslist

First is a 1987 Toyota SR5. Sure, it has the legendary 22RE four-cylinder engine and it’s a four-wheel drive truck. But from my experience with compact trucks of this era, it’s also probably got zero nice options — power steering is in question — and the photos show it has the typical tinworm known to be Toyota trucks’ killer cancer.

The ad claims there’s “plenty of tread” left on the tires and that the truck has seen regular maintenance including oil changes every 3,000 miles. The kicker, however: The ‘Yota has a reported 261,000 miles on it.

Asking price: $3,200

1991 GMC Sierra Z71 Craigslist Photo
Photo: Craigslist

Now, let’s look at a newer, larger, more capable four-wheel drive truck. Here is a 1992 GMC Sierra Z71.

Like the Toyota, it’s a regular cab pickup truck. Unlike the Toyota, it’s a full-size truck with a much larger long bed and more space in the cab. No mention is made about the tires, but it’s apparent from the photos that there’s nowhere near as much rust on this truck as what can be seen on the Toyota.

Depending on how you look at things, this could be a really good point to consider: The truck reportedly has a Groom’s remanufactured 305-cubic inch V8 engine under the hood with only 5,000 miles on it. The downside, even if you consider the rebuilt engine a good thing, is that those 5,000 miles have been accumulated on a farm. It’s worth bearing in mind, at this point, that we don’t know how the Toyota accumulated its 261,000 miles. Total miles on the GMC are claimed at 143,000.

Asking price: $1,995

There are paint defects on both trucks, obviously. The GMC’s major paint defects seem to be on the roof, hood, and the driver’s side front fender, while the Toyota also has suffered the roof and hood oxidation typical of the brand’s ‘80s pickups. My bigger concern with the Toyota would of course be the rust visible in the bedsides and, quite possibly, on the frame beneath.

The point is this: Toyota trucks are stupid expensive even here in boondock country where there’s a shortage of good-paying jobs to make stupid expenses like overpaying for a beat-up old pickup, uh, slightly less stupid.

2006 Ford Ranger XL - The Banger Ranger
My 2006 Ranger (above) looked like a million bucks compared to both of the Craigslist trucks linked here, but its book value was firmly in the $4,000 range when sold in December 2014 with 101,000 miles. Photo: Lyndon Johnson

Consider also that I sold a 2006 Ford Ranger XL in December 2014 — admittedly a two-wheel drive truck, but still — and it booked out at roughly $4,000 in much better condition than the $3,200 Toyota above. Was my 101,000-mile Ranger a less-reliable truck than a nearly 30-year-old, 261,000-mile Toyota? I sincerely doubt it. Certainly my Ranger was free from rust and looked like something that would be worth more than a rustbucket Toyota from the ‘80s. And it was worth more — but barely, all things considered.

In the two trucks above, I can tell you I’d rather have the GMC. I’d want a truck to haul trash to the recycling center once a week and do other occasional weekend trucky stuff. Since trail-busting isn’t on the agenda, the larger size of the GMC is actually a bonus for my purposes. Ergo, I really, really don’t “get” the premium price of the higher-mileage, rougher-condition Toyota SR5.

But as I near 30, I have resigned to the fact that there are just some things I will never understand. There are people in my family who are Toyota diehards, who will elect to pay the Toyota Tax every time they buy a vehicle. Having driven a great many Toyotas in my time as an auto reviewer, I can see the appeal of the automaker’s products. What I don’t understand is the blind allegiance the brand seems to inspire in some.

But my role is not to understand these things. After all, very few people understand what on earth would possess someone to buy a Nissan cube, then buy another one so they can park two little cubes side-by-side in the driveway. Yeah, I’m that weirdo. We’ve all got our thing, I guess.

So, you do you, Toyota buyers. I’ma be over here with the weird cars. We don’t have to understand each other.

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson is a husband and father of two who has now spent more of his life as a journalist than as a non-journalist. He serves as assistant editor at his hometown weekly paper in rural Tennessee and freelances in the automotive journalism world.