Toyota Hilux Buying Guide
Toyota Motor Corporation launched the Hilux in 1968 and is still in production today as one of the best pick-up trucks. The name Toyota Hilux is simply the two words “high” and luxury” combined. It is also known as the Toyota 4Runner, a version of the Hilux Surf sold within North America and Australia and at one point in the UK. The Hilux Surf was manufactured and sold only within Japan. The Surf and the 4Runner have some distinct differences. For example, The Surf is a right-hand drive, whereas the 4Runner is left; diesel/gasoline engines are available on the Surf, and the 4Runner only has gasoline engines; the 4Runner is still in production.
Toyota Hilux Pros and Cons
Extremely Reliable and Durable
The Toyota Hilux can be described as the pinnacle of Toyota’s reliability and durability without a doubt. It has been dropped from a multi-story building, drowned in the ocean, set on fire and still survived with what would be described as just a scratch. To say the Toyota Hilux is bulletproof or indestructible would be an understatement. Impressively, it’s not only the later generations that are reliable and durable. Early generations, such as the first-gen Hilux N10, also have Toyota reliability and durability DNA. However, finding one for sale isn’t easy since most owners are reluctant to sell.
Nothing makes the Toyota Hilux stand out among other pick-up trucks regarding build structure, drivetrain, and powertrain components. It doesn’t have a fancy, complicated suspension setup or powerful engines, which would make it capable of towing a road train like its bigger brother, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Toyota has always maintained a simple but functional build structure in the Hilux, making car journalists and enthusiasts wonder how it outdoes its major competitors. Some have even tried to replicate Top Gear’s Hilux tests, dubbed the Hilux Trials, to see if the Hilux is indestructible.
Not Everybody Has One
Wouldn’t it be nice pulling up with a Toyota Hilux on a weekend expedition when everyone else has Jeep Wranglers and other US market trucks? It’s the most underrated pick-up truck you can buy for less than $20,000 if you resist the urge to get a big American truck. Another factor that makes the Toyota Hilux more unique is that only a few were sold in the United States, and a majority were 2-door pick-ups. The Hilux 2-door extra cab, four-door pick-up, PreRunner, limited, and Surf were only sold in Japan and Thailand. Aftermarket support might be better, but you can interchange parts from the Hilux’s US market equivalents, the Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner.
Low Running and Maintenance Costs
Prices for a Toyota Hilux might be higher than its competition, starting at around $15,000 for an import unit, but it’s one of the cheapest pick-up trucks to own. Fuel consumption is above 25mpg for all diesel and petrol engine options. However, running costs involve more than filling the tank. Oil changes are cheap since you don’t require top-shelf oil, and service parts such as the air filter and oil filter are cheap. Since it’s a Toyota, you can use the cheapest parts, and the Hilux will still drive like it rolled off the showroom floor. The only downside is that you’ll have to change them earlier than the expected mileage span.
If you want to save cash and learn how to work on your JDM truck and other cars, why not fix some issues yourself? There’s nothing too complicated that you can’t work around by watching YouTube videos and repair guides on owners’ forums. Lastly, insuring a Toyota Hilux shouldn’t cost more than $2,100 a year, regardless of the YOM, with newer models attracting higher insurance costs.
Poor Ride Comfort, Especially on Paved Roads
Buying a Toyota Hilux only to drive it on tarmac or smooth paved roads defeats the purpose. Though Toyota didn’t dictate where it should be driven, have you tried driving a large pick-up truck like the Toyota Hilux on the road? It’s slow, and the tires are noisy; no one likes that during a morning commute to work or school. Driving on the highway becomes cumbersome as the car becomes unstable due to a high center of gravity, and keeping up with speeds is easier if you stick to the slow lane.
Unrelated to road driving, the interior of the Toyota Hilux isn’t that accommodating. Interior comforts only go as far as the AC and the old auxiliary power outlet (also known as the cigarette lighter) making it an unsuitable daily driver truck. When off-roading, the plastic trims will rattle so hard that you’ll almost regret buying the car if you are a perfectionist. Electronics such as window switches and door locks sometimes fail and must be operated manually. These are some of the first fixes and upgrades you should prioritize when buying a Toyota Hilux.
Some Available For Sale Might Have a Lousy Ownership History
Due to the belief that Toyota Hiluxes are indestructible, some owners only carry out maintenance when something completely fails. They will then hide information during a sale, and given that the vehicle will run like usual, it’s hard for a buyer to detect possible failures. Luckily, we have compiled a list of some common problems to expect should you decide to buy a Toyota Hilux. Most of them are caused by old age and normal wear and tear.
Toyota Hilux Common Issues
Fuel System Issues
In the Toyota Hilux, fuel system issues are more prominent in the diesel engines, especially the 1KD and 2KD, and are mainly caused by low-quality diesel clogging the injectors. If not fixed, insufficient fuel in the combustion chamber causes incomplete combustion leading to carbon buildup in the intake manifold. Cleaning the fuel injectors occasionally prevents them from clogging, and it isn’t tricky as it can be done in your backyard or garage. If the engine still has the OEM injectors, replacing them with aftermarket ones, preferably higher-capacity injectors, goes a long way.
Furthermore, old Toyota diesel engines made before 2007 have fuel injector copper seals that wear out rapidly. Toyota switched to aluminum injector seals that last longer and can be installed on any Toyota diesel engine. Still, you could also opt for some aftermarket seals, which might be better depending on the manufacturer. Early signs of failing or clogged fuel injectors include engine sputtering, poor fuel economy, and stalling during startup or deceleration.
Fuel pump failure in the Toyota Hilux is also probable in both petrol and diesel engine variants, mainly due to old age. It’s one of the first things you should change, especially if sputtering and stalling persist after cleaning or changing the fuel injectors. Other symptoms of fuel pump failure include power loss, trouble starting up, and if there are noises from the fuel tank, the pump is too far gone.
The Toyota Hilux’s suspension might be durable, but it wasn’t built to last through the car’s lifetime. Some owners have complained of pitman and idler arms failure, while others have complained of rear suspension collapsing, especially in older models produced before 2004. That’s why you’ll find some of them sagging at the rear, even under a light load. The pitman and idler arms, generally known as the control arms, are responsible for turning the wheels, so you might notice poor steering and noises when steering if they are faulty. However, the car will lose steering capabilities if the idler arms fail.
If you plan on overlanding in your Hilux, a rear suspension overhaul with aftermarket parts should be done before installing any other mods, such as a bed canopy or aftermarket steel bumpers. On the front suspension, check the rubber bushings underneath the strut towers, as they are known to harden and crumble. If aftermarket suspension parts are above budget, rebuilding the suspension with the OEM parts while replacing all the bushings is easier if you want to avoid keeping the car parked awaiting parts.
Turbo Failure on Turbodiesel Engines
Toyota didn’t use any turbodiesel engine in the Hilux until 1983 when producing the fourth-gen Hilux. The more these engines age, the more they consume oil which is completely normal in the Hilux. Refilling is recommended even with the slightest gauge needle drop when the engine has a higher-than-average oil consumption. Oil starvation might cause engine and turbocharger failure due to insufficient lubrication, causing it to overheat.
The turbochargers in old Hiluxes are sensitive to overheating mainly due to old age, and most mechanics recommend changing it if the car is driven often. Boost leak is also common in Hilux turbodiesel engines and other old diesel engines. It’s not a major issue, but since it’s possible, the best way to prevent it is to replace the old piping, hoses, and clamps and ensure they are well-tightened.
When buying an old car, regardless of whether it is a muscle car or an old JDM pick-up truck like the Toyota Hilux, there are some inevitable issues, some of which are transmission-related. For starters, anybody who has owned a Hilux will tell you not to buy one with an automatic transmission. It makes more sense to buy a Hilux with a manual transmission as it puts you on the safer side of complete transmission failure. If it happens with an automatic transmission, the only solution is to replace it or convert the car to a manual transmission.
A faulty automatic transmission in a Hilux will be unresponsive, slip gears, and make weird grinding noises if defective. Check for transmission fluid leaks on high mileage and abused Hiluxes, as it’s one of the signs of future transmission failure. Manual transmissions aren’t as problematic, but if you’re buying a Hilux with a manual transmission, get one with the 5-speed manual instead of the 4-speed, which isn’t as efficient and overheats when stressed.
What To Look Out For When Buying a Toyota Hilux
Toyota’s excellent build quality doesn’t extend to the body panels and chassis, so rust and dents, poor brakes, and electronic issues are unavoidable in the Hilux. Dents on the body panels aren’t that bad, but if the panels have mismatched paint, you might regret buying the car. Mismatched body panels signify previous accidents or rust infestation, and the owner had to replace and repaint the car.
Common rust spots to inspect on the Toyota Hilux include the frame, rocker panels, door jams, floor, bed, and around the engine bay, especially on the strut towers. Also, check behind the bumpers and the rear seat since the rubber weather trim on the back window allows water to leak in.
Before test driving the car, visually inspecting the brakes should be done, especially on older models with front disc and rear drum brakes. Check the thickness of the rotors and use a flashlight to check the thickness of the front pads. The problem with drum brakes is that they can only be gauged when the car is moving. But if the front brakes are okay, a drive around the block should tell the condition of the rear drums. Any scraping or grinding noises indicate they are done and overdue for a replacement.
Lastly, check the electronics, which most car buyers fail to do, You should do it with the engine running or during the test drive. Turn on the headlights, AC, window switches, and door locks. If the radio is still functional, turn it on too. It might not seem like much, but it helps determine if the car has electrical issues. For example, if the headlights dim after a while or the radio randomly turns on and off, the battery is low due to a faulty alternator, or the terminals need to be replaced.
Surf prices widely vary depending on a multitude of factors: year, model/specs, mileage, body condition, mods, and transmission. The market currently ranges between $5,000 – $25,000, with models earlier than 1990 being harder to find.
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Models and Specifications
1968-1972 Toyota Hilux (N10)
Toyota introduced the Hilux N10 to the Japanese market in 1968 to add to their lineup of commercial vehicles. It was sold with only petrol engines, a 1.5-liter, 1.6-liter, 1.9-liter, and 2.0-liter engine mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. No diesel engines or automatic transmission options were made available during production time. To increase load capacity, the first-gen Hilux got a leaf spring suspension as it soon replaced the Toyota Mark II, Crown, and Corona pick-ups with a similar suspension setup.
1972-1978 Toyota Hilux (N20)
The 1.5-liter and 1.9-liter engines were discontinued for the second generation, and you can only get a Hilux N20 with a 1.6-liter, 2.0-liter, or 2.2-liter engine. A new 3-speed automatic and 5-speed manual transmission was made optional to supplement the 4-speed manual, but no diesel engines were still manufactured for the second-gen Hilux. No major changes were made to the Hilux except cabin upgrades for more comfort and a slightly longer bed in the long wheelbase model.
1978-1983 Toyota Hilux (N30, N40)
1978 saw the Hilux redesigned, and a new 2.2-liter diesel engine was added to the engine options. Also, Toyota unveiled a new 4×4 model, which entered production in 1979. Petrol engines remained similar to the previous generation but with the addition of a 1.8-liter and 2.4-liter engine. Transmission options remained unchanged too. The 4×4 Hilux sold so well, especially in the North American market, due to its gear driven 4×4 system, solid front axle, and a well-built rear leaf spring suspension maintained since the first-gen Hilux. This led to the development of the Toyota 4Runner for the US market and the Hilux Surf for the Global market.
1983-1988 Toyota Hilux (N50, N60, N70)
Toyota introduced the fourth-gen Hilux in 1984 with major changes over its predecessors. It was the first generation to be produced with an extended cab model sold as the Hilux Xtracab. This design was adopted from American trucks as most of them were produced with an extended cabin for extra storage. Buyers who wanted more seating capacity could opt for the four-door Hilux Double cab or the two-door Hilux Surf, which both came with rear seats or a canopy-covered load area. The Hilux surf was the only Hilux model not sold with a bed like its American equivalent, the 4Runner.
Petrol engine options offered in the fourth-gen Hilux include a 1.6-liter, 2.0-liter, 2.2-liter, 2.4-liter, and 3.0-liter V6 introduced in 1988 for the Hilus Surf and 4Runner. The 2.4-liter petrol engine has a turbocharged variant offered alongside a 2.4-liter turbodiesel. These were the first turbocharged engines in the Toyota Hilux. Other diesel engines include 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter, and 2.5-liter, mainly used in the Chinese-spec Hilux. Transmission options include a 3/4-speed automatic or a 4/5-speed manual, with the 5-speed manual being more common in diesel engine models.
1988-1997 Toyota Hilux (N80, N90, N100, N110)
Production of the fifth-gen Hilux began in 1988, and it was sold with fewer engine options than its predecessor. A 1.8-liter petrol engine replaced the 1.6-liter in base spec models. All other petrol remained the same, like in the fourth-gen Hilux, except that only one naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine variant was offered instead of three. As for diesel engines, buyers got two options a 2.4-liter or a 2.8-liter with no turbocharged option. The 3-speed automatic was discontinued leaving the 4-speed automatic, 4-speed manual, and 5-speed manual as the only transmission options.
Like the first-gen Hilux, Toyota offered an extended wheelbase option for the fifth generation, which aimed to increase the cabin load area in the Xtracab model. This enabled buyers to opt for jump seats making the Hilux a 2+2 seater, leveling the competition from other pick-ups with a similar setup.
1997-2002 Toyota Hilux (N140, N150, N160, N170)
The sixth-gen Hilux can be considered the last boxy Hilux, a design that Toyota had kept since the first generation. It had no major changes compared to its predecessor except that a new model, the Hilux Sport Rider, similar to the Hilux Surf and Toyota 4Runner, was introduced exclusively for the Thailand market. Toyota also returned turbodiesel engine options which include a 2.5-liter 1KD, 3.0-liter 1KZ, and 3.0-liter 2KD alongside the 2.4-liter and 2.8-liter naturally aspirated diesel engines. No turbocharged petrol engine was made optional, with the only options being a 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter, 2.7-liter, or a 3.4-liter V6 which replaced the 3.0-liter V6 in SR models. The 4-speed manual transmission was phased out, and all trims got a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual.
2002-2015 Toyota Hilux (AN10, AN20, AN30)
Toyota started producing the Hilux in Thailand in 1975 and moved total production in 2002, making the seventh-gen Hilux the first Hilux to be produced outside Japan. Production continued in Pakistan and other markets, such as South Africa and Argentina, where it was produced and sold. Diesel engine and transmission options remained similar to the ones in the previous generation, but petrol engines were changed to four-cylinder 2.0-liter and 2.7-liter, 4.0-liter VVTi engines. There still wasn’t a turbocharged petrol engine, but the 4.0-liter V6 had a supercharged variant mainly used in double cabs.
2015-Present Toyota Hilux (AN110, AN120, AN130)
Like most Toyota cars from the 20th Century, the Toyota Hilux is still in production today and still dominates the pick-up truck category. It’s still not being produced in Japan and sold in the United States, which is a disappointment since most buyers would pick the Hilux over its cross variants, the Toyota Tacoma and the 4Runner, especially because the eighth-gen Hilux has five turbodiesel engines to chose from. The seventh-gen Hilux has the same petrol engine as its predecessors, and the turbodiesel engine lineup consists of a 2.4-liter, 2.8-liter, two 2.5-liter, and two 3.0-liter engines. There’s also a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter diesel, but it isn’t as powerful.
The Toyota Hilux Surf is Classified as a large SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle).
1984-1988 Toyota Hilux (N50, N50, N70). This Hilux is arguably the most reliable workhorse Toyota has ever made. The Toyota Hilux Surf was never sold in the UK, but the Toyota Hilux was sold globally. In the USA, the Hilux Surf was sold as the Toyota 4Runner.
The 4th-gen Hilux, N50, N60, and N70, is the best Toyota Hilux Generation.
The Toyota Hilux Surf is classified as a compact SUV.
The 1996 Toyota Hilux Surf is classified as a compact SUV.
The Hilux Surf is a compact SUV that has been produced in various generations, dating back to 1968. Each generation had different updates and improvements. It shares many design elements and components with the Toyota Hilux pickup truck. It comes with a spacious cabin that can accommodate 5 passengers and a separate cargo area in the rear.
The whining noise when accelerating in a Toyota Hilux Surf is caused by low-power steering pump fluid.
The four-wheel-drive system has a four-wheel-drive system that sends power to all four wheels when off-roading to improve traction. It has three modes, 2WD, the normal driving mode that sends power to the rear wheels, and 4H, which splits power equally to all wheels. There’s also a 4L mode which also sends power to all four wheels but with increased torque and slower wheel rotations.
How to Import a Toyota Hilux Surf
Read our ultimate guide, How to Import a Car from Japan.