Toyota Tacoma Brake Problems

by Jody L. Campbell
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Image by, courtesy of Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough

The Toyota Tacoma braking system integrates a four-piston fixed caliper with a large 11-inch rear drum brake application. Although this would assume that such a braking system would be more than enough for the lightweight compact track, problems in the braking system began to be commonplace. This is especially true in certain geographical regions where road sand and salt were used for severe winter weather. Excessive off-roading with the Tacoma was another culprit to the premature decline of the braking system.


A geographical problem with the Tacoma braking system became apparent soon after the truck was released in 1995. Because it only experienced problems in certain regions, this prevented a nationwide recall on the system. Sand, salt and other corrosives would work their way into the quad-pistons of the front calipers and cause them to stick. Without retracting, this caused the pads to drag on the rotors. The pads would wear prematurely and cause the rotors to warp from overheating.

In addition, the bellcrank cam boot in the rear parking brake mechanism would also become contaminated with undercarriage corrosives. This would cause the parking brake to drag or lock up completely, prematurely wearing rear brake shoes and overheating the brake drums.


Another thing to consider in the braking system consisted of problems with the pad retention pins seizing inside the caliper housing. The calipers featured an option to be able to replace pads without removing the caliper. However, the pins needed to be slid outward after a retaining wire was unlocked from them. Depending on the age of the pins and due to rust and other corrosion, the pins would become stuck in position. Removing them could be more challenging than desired and damage to the pins would become inevitable.


A nationwide recall was mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the 2005-2006 Tacoma for a locking nut failure on the parking brake. This was geared toward automatic transmission trucks only, because if the gear was not placed in the park position, the truck could roll. The NHTSA believed the nut was improperly tightened at the manufacturing facility. It involved around 20,000 vehicles nationwide.

Another adverse braking condition compromised the effectiveness of the quad-piston calipers that experienced piston failure. One or more pistons would protrude from the bore and cause pad drag on the rotor. If the caliper on the other side of the axle was functioning properly, this would cause the compact truck to pull to one side when braking; in some cases violently.

In some of the earlier models, a parking brake handle spring would become prematurely compromised. This would prevent the red brake light from going out on the dashboard. Although the problem was specifically in the handle and not in the actual parking brake system, the red light features a dual purpose. It warns the owner when the parking brake is on, but also warns them when the brake fluid is low. If the spring wore out and the light remained on constantly, the owner would often disregard the warning thinking it was the parking brake spring, when it could be low brake fluid. The quad-piston calipers require a great deal of brake fluid to activate the pistons, so it was not uncommon for the master cylinders to drain more quicker than other vehicles as the pads wore down and the pistons demanded more fluid to extend further.


Undercarriage car washes and maintenance to the braking system would help longevity of the braking issues with the calipers, the pad retention pins and the bellcrank cams of the parking brake. Annual removal of the pins to clean off the corrosive rust and then lubricating them and lubricating maintenance of the bellcrank cams would help prevent these components from failure. Using the parking brake often would also help prevent the cams from seizing up. This is a practice that many Tacoma owners with automatic transmissions fail to maintain diligence on.

Expert Insight

There was no specific time frame that owners experienced problems with the Tacoma braking system. Even when the pads wore down and the red brake light on the dash indicated low brake fluid, often times the pads were only half worn and didn't require changing immediately.

Since everyone uses brakes and drives quite differently, the time factor of experiencing any brake problems could vary widely. And again, the geographical aspect played a large factor in many of the braking components failure.

Most people fail to think of maintaining a braking system that seems to be working effectively. The problem with the braking system on the Tacoma is that by the time the owner experiences the problem, it could be too late to repair the component and replacement of it would be required.

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