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Keeping Your Tacoma Topped Off: Oil & Other Fluids

Keeping Your Tacoma Topped Off: Oil & Other Fluids

Pop the hood of your souped up Tacoma open and admire the beauty of it. This is the powerplant that helps blast you across the Baja desert, power through the thick-wooded forests of the Pacific Northwest, and embarks over icy roads and trails the north—doing it all without any complaint. Pretty impressive. The thing is, while the Tacoma’s powerplant seems totally indestructible, it can be subject to some serious damage without the proper care. Inside of it are various fluids used to keep things functioning smoothly and operating at cool temperatures. Without clean, maintained fluids, the Toyota will suffer in terms of performance and reliability. And without any fluid at all? You might as well throw the whole engine in the garbage. It’s important to understand what fluids are used inside your truck’s engine and when is the right time to change them. That’s exactly what we dive into in the guide below. Read on!

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Maintenance doesn't sound very exciting but without maintenance, your Tacoma wouldn't last very long. Imagine going on a beach trip and coming back without washing off the salt. Within a year you'll spot rust holes in the body. Keeping up with maintenance is sometimes as simple as an oil change, however. Do the boring stuff; don't skip your oil and other fluid changes.

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The Importance of Picking the Proper Oil for your Tacoma

Engine oil is known as the lifeblood of your truck’s powerplant. Without it, you’re going nowhere at all. There’s probably been a time when you’ve decided it was time to change the oil on one of your vehicles, only to be puzzled by all the options of oil types offered at the auto parts store, leaving with more questions than quarts needed.

Where do you start? The Tacoma’s owner’s manual (both the 2.7L inline-four and 3.5L V6) calls for a 0W20 blend. Below is a brief explanation of the tricky oil specifications:

The first number followed by the ‘W’ (or weight) describes the oil’s viscosity/flow at low temperatures, like at initial startup or running at cool temperatures in a winter climate. The lower the number, the better the oil will perform in these types of conditions. The marking ‘20’ in this specification refers to oil’s viscosity at 100 degrees Celsius. Like the W marking, the lower the rating the higher flow rate of the oil at this temperature.

Why is this important? Choosing the proper oil for engine type and driving conditions can greatly impact its performance, even causing damage to the engine if it’s not the proper type by not lubricating the internal components correctly. Trust us, take the safe bet on this one and stick to 0W20 in your Tacoma; Toyota designated that specification for a reason.

Choosing the Right Coolant

Engine coolant, also known as antifreeze, plays a vital role in keeping your Tacoma running properly, too. It’s mixed with water to keep the radiator from overheating in scorching temps, while also keeping it from freezing in harsh winter weather.

There are several different types of coolant on the market, with several different colors distinguishing the types. These specific formulations keep different car’s engine temperatures in check, and help extract as much performance as possible. Recommended coolant type is referenced in the Tacoma’s owner’s manual.

Transmission Fluid 101

The sole purpose of transmission fluid is to keep the internals of your vehicle’s transmission lubricated and cool. Without it, the transmission will grow increasingly hotter and wreak havoc upon the gears by allowing them to grind together, causing a variety of serious issues for your truck.

If by chance transmission fluid breaks down, your truck can begin suffering from loss of acceleration performance and have problems shifting gears. The most catastrophic result of worn fluid is a complete transmission failure, which can cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Toyota Tacoma Fluid Capacities

2.7L Inline Four-Cylinder Engine

Fluid Capacity Fluid Type
Engine Oil 5.4 quarts 0W20

11.5 quarts - automatic

10.2 quarts - manual

Transmission Fluid 7.6 quarts N/A

3.5L V6 Engine

Fluid Capacity Fluid Type
Engine Oil 5.9 quarts 0W20

9.1 quarts - automatic

9.2 quarts - manual

Transmission Fluid 8.9 quarts N/A

Keeping an Eye On Fluid Levels – How to Check

There’s no denying that each of the three fluids we’ve been covering—engine oil, transmission fluid, and radiator coolant—all deteriorate with normal driving, and even more so in harsh conditions. So how do you check and change each? We give you a brief description below.

Checking Engine Oil

  1. Start by parking your Tacoma on a level surface and letting the engine run into temperatures hit normal levels
  2. Shut the engine off and wait a few minutes for oil levels return 
  3. Open the hood and remove the dipstick, wiping it clean
  4. Insert the dipstick back in, then remove it once more, now checking the oil level. It should read somewhere in the middle of the indicators
  5. If there is no oil on the indicator, or the indicator shows the level is too low, add oil

Along with the oil level, check the color of the engine oil. If it appears to be very dark brown or black, the oil is contaminated and should be replaced as soon as a possible.

Checking Coolant Level 

  1. Instead of removing the radiator cap, check the coolant reservoir located under the hood of your truck
  2. The coolant should reach the “full” line on the outside of the reservoir
  3. If the coolant does not reach that line, create a 50/50 mix of coolant and water to add to it. Take note that some coolants come premixed.

Like engine oil, coolant can lose its color and become rusty looking. There’s also a chance that you may see small particles floating in it. In this case, flush the system and add fresh coolant. Most coolant systems require a once-a-year flush.

Checking Transmission Fluid Level

  1. Like the engine oil, open the hood and remove the transmission fluid dipstick 
  2. Check the level of fluid and rub it on your fingers

Transmission fluid should have a slight color to it, but remain almost clear. If the fluid looks or smells burnt, replace the fluid immediately. The same goes if there are particles left inside the fluid.

When is it Time to Change Fluids?

All engine fluids life comes to an end at some point, making it necessary to replace each. Here are some guidelines and signs for when it might be time to get your hands dirty and do a service on your Tacoma.

Engine Oil: We’ve all changed the oil in our pickup at least a time or two. Depending on the blend of the oil (conventional or synthetic), the length of the service intervals usually range between 3,000 and 5,000 miles. Put a beating on your truck in the form of hard off-roading or serious towing? Do yourself a favor and check the color of the oil more often.

Coolant: Typically, service intervals tell us to check the coolant level of our trucks every 30,000 miles, but then that doesn’t take into account us running them across the desert at full speed, raising temperatures above what the average driver would. That said, we advise checking coolant levels at oil change and replacing the coolant every 15,000 miles, if you consistently subject your Tacoma to high-rpm, high-temperature driving.

Transmission Fluid: Like the rest, transmission fluid deteriorates with time. Replacement should come somewhere between the 30,000 and 60,000 mile mark, depending on the interval called for in your owner’s manual. Preventive care here can go a long way in keeping your transmission working smoothly for the entirety of your truck’s life. Consider changing it consistently around the 30,000-mile mark for the best longevity possible.

High-Performance Fluids – Extracting Every Last Bit

You’re in the hunt to pull the most performance out of your Tacoma, huh? Several lubricant companies offer high-performance products with additives designed exactly for this.

Engine and transmission oils in this department are aimed at racing applications, with additives to protect the engine’s valve train and gearbox under heavy load, while boosting horsepower.

There’s even racing-specific coolant, which is designed for vehicles not requiring any freeze protection. This coolant contains additives designed at reducing corrosion and high engine temperatures. The downfall here is high-cost and short service intervals, making them unfit for daily driving or back road exploring use.

Fitment includes: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Pre-Runner, X-Runner, SR, SR-5, TRD-Sport, TRD-Off-Road, Limited, TRD-Pro