MotorTrend Article - How to Stop "Gear-Hunting" in Your 3rd Gen Toyota Tacoma
Updated: Mar 8
Back in May 2022 I had the pleasure of tuning a guy (here in Arizona) who is a writer for MotorTrend. He agreed to collaborate with me to write an article detailing why the 3rd Gen Taco has drivability issues, as well as how to fix it with a tune. Below is a copy of the article:
The reputation of the current line of Toyota Tacomas is built on the solid backs of the Toyota 4x4s that came before them. You can rest assured that the current midsize pickup offering from Toyota will be capable, reliable, and will maintain value. Those are some of the reasons we bought a 2020 Tacoma SR Double Cab V-6 4x4 for our daily driver a while back. Having said that, though, we knew going into the deal that the 3.5-liter V-6 leaves something to be desired when it comes to power and economy, and drivability is not helped by the six-speed automatic transmission, which many have labeled unpredictable at best.
The trouble isn't necessarily the transmission itself (the mechanicals of this transmission are sound and proven in other platforms), but rather its factory tune, which tries to maximize fuel efficiency. That tune, as well as the AI-Shift, adaptive-tuning, or transmission "learning" shift patterns, often leave the attentive driver thinking the transmission is unable to select a drive range. This "gear-hunting" occurs frequently, and it can be annoying. Add the kind of modifications that off-road enthusiasts desire, like larger tires and heavy aftermarket wheels, and these problems become even more pronounced. The solution is a tune that can help the transmission behave in a more predictable manner. With this in mind, we did a little research and found a local company called Mobile Antics run by a guy named Justin Turner, a Tacoma enthusiast who uses vF Tuning to greatly improve the transmission performance of these trucks.
What Is A Tune?
A tune is when you use a computer to edit the programming of the software that is loaded on your truck, using a specialized software program and pre-edited tune files.
Why Might My Tacoma Need A Tune?
I am not a racer! If you own a third-gen Tacoma you already know that the shifting from the factory is bad (to put it nicely). A tune will:
- Fix the shifting points to make for a smoother overall ride
- Reduce the rpm of your engine, putting less stress on the truck
- If you have gotten bigger tires or a re-gear, the tune will adjust your truck's computer to account for these additions
- Increase mpg (this varies by vehicle setup and driver)
- If you have upgraded to an AGM battery, the alternator settings can be tuned to properly charge the batteries to the correct voltage
Will A Tune Void My Warranty?
This modification is virtually undetectable by Toyota. The ECU ID still reads out the same when they plug the computer in. That means it will not void your warranty.
Can The Tune Be Undone?
It is rare that anyone has disliked the tune, and Mobile Antics has yet to have a customer come back asking to have the stock tune put back on. However, with just a few clicks on the laptop, everything can be put back to stock.
How The Third-Gen Tacoma Shifts From The Factory
Unlike most automatic transmissions, the third-gen Tacoma six-speed transmission is, at best, unpredictable. That's because it does not follow predetermined up-shift and down-shift tables in the electronics.
Instead, as Mobile Antics tell us, "The 3rd-gen Tacoma uses a primary table that controls only the limits of the gear itself. It does not have control over shifting up or down, but rather only has control over the limits and conditions of when the gear can be used. What that means is that if all conditions are met, the ECU can select any gear at any time it is required, as long as that gear meets the appropriate conditions. If the computer 'wants' sixth gear, it will select sixth gear. If the computer 'wants' third gear, it will select third gear."
Basically, the transmission does not do what you'd expect based on your experience with more traditionally shifting automatic transmissions. It won't necessarily upshift linearly, say from second to third, but will instead select the appropriate gear to maximize fuel efficiency (or what the computer thinks will maximize fuel efficiency, anyway). Add in larger tires, a load of heavy gear, heavy wheels and drivetrain components, changes in road surface, and the shift characteristics can become frustrating.
What A Tune Does To "Fix" The Shifting Problem
Using the vF Tuner software and v2.0 tune packs, Mobile Antics flashes your vehicle, which completely rewrites the control map of the transmission. The retune changes the shift routines, the shift limits, and the transmission torque tables within the computer. This eliminates multiple redundant tables, allowing the ECU to follow a single set of tables in determining which gear to shift to. This makes the transmission act much more like a traditional automatic transmission, and shift the way we would expect it to.
Finally, vF Tuner modifies the 4D control and compensation tables, and the multiple throttle tables and torque converter locking control tables to further enhance shifting and transmission control.
OK, I'm Sold—How Do I Get Tuned?
If you want to get it done the easy way, use a vF Tuner Pro Tuner like Mobile Antics. Mobile Antics LLC is an Arizona-based professional tuner that can tune your vehicle using the vF Tune v2.0. Mobile Antics recently joined the YotaWerx Tuning (@yotawerxtuning on Instagram) network and is authorized to flash their "Weekend Warrior" and "Active Duty" tunes. On top of that, they will also get your truck's ECU on the latest TSB. If you are ready to improve the drivability of your 2016-and-up Tacoma, contact them today at www.mobileantics.com.