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  • Writer's pictureJustin Turner

Why does the 3rd Generation (3.5L) Tacoma need to be tuned?

If you are like me, you purchased your Tacoma for one primary reason…RELIABILITY. The Tacoma brand is known for being able to drive for hundreds of thousands of miles, with many owners having exceeded 1 million! Add to that the excellent resale value and multitude of customization options available, and you have a pretty great mid-size truck option.

When Toyota released the 3rd Generation Tacoma (2016+) there was one standout difference: something funky was going on with its transmission. The truck didn’t seem to know what gear to be in, the power was lacking, shift points seemed off, and overall it just didn’t feel right to drive. For the purposes of this article we will be sharing information (developed by VF Tuner, formerly OV Tune) that explains how the 2016+ Tacoma transmission varies so heavily from the 2nd Generation (2005-2015).

But before we go down the Tacoma transmission rabbit hole, let’s first get some of the basic points out of the way.

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 I need a tune?

I am not a racer! If you own a 3rd 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’s of your truck’s operation, 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

My truck is still under warranty. Will a tune void it?

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 and your truck is happy.

What if I hate the tune?! Can it be undone?

It is rare that anyone has “hated” the tune, and I have yet to have a customer come back to me 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.

Now, back to that Tacoma transmission…

So why is the transmission so blah, and why do we hate it so much? According to VF Tuner, it's the new logic (brain) behind the transmission that has too much freedom. What does that mean?

How does the Aisin AC60F 6-spd automatic really work? The transmission itself (hardware) is set up quite similar to any other transmission on the market. There is not a magical recipe of hardware under the casing that makes this transmission act poorly. It's purely electronic. So how do the electronics interfere with the operation of the transmission? Well, the operation is quite complex, and quite a new concept to Toyota’s transmission programming in general.

Here is what vF Tuner knows and has tested... and it may boggle your mind. The truck does not have determined up-shift and down-shift tables in the electronics. What? That does not make sense! Actually, the way Toyota has it setup makes perfect sense. The truck does not have tables specific to shifting the transmission up or down. It has tables that control shifting in any direction!

How did Toyota’s transmission logic work BEFORE the 3rd Gen Tacoma... Let's briefly explain how Toyota controls their transmissions, or how they used to, and how it helps you understand why you hate the 3rd gen transmission. Previously, Toyota had a way of controlling the transmission in their vehicles which makes complete sense and actually makes the transmission shift like it should.

Let's take the 2nd Gen Tacoma for example. The 2nd Gen Tacoma used a series of tables that control shifting up to the next gear (ONLY UP) and a set of tables that control shifting down (ONLY DOWN). It then pairs these tables to a single (or double) transmission "torque" map that helps to create smooth shifts by pairing the shift to the torque of the engine.

Here is a brief diagram of this (simple example), and an explanation.

There are tables that control the limit (axle speed) of shifting the transmission up from one gear to the next, or shifting the transmission down from a higher gear to a lower gear. It will use the torque map to finalize the calculation of the shift and shift the transmission (as smoothly or forcefully as required, by the torque value). This creates a very straightforward way of controlling the transmission, and is the reason it is so predictable. The transmission can go up or down. That's it.

Now how does the 3rd Gen transmission work? Absolutely nothing like this. Nothing like any transmission mapping that vF Tuner has ever seen, and it is not like any of Toyota’s previous transmission control code. Let's start with how the transmission shifts. You would expect this to be straight forward, like the 2nd gen. However, how the transmission selects a gear is controlled by an extremely complex algorithm. Not only is this algorithm complex, but it has a certain degree of executive privilege that allows it to control the transmission far beyond what or how the driver would expect.

Now back to this sentence "The truck does not have determined up-shift and down-shift tables in the electronics." Here is what vF Tuner means, with orders of diagrams in increasing complexity and explanations.

First, the gear control itself. There are similar gear based limits like the 2nd Gen Tacoma transmission. If all conditions are met, shift the transmission, (for example if you floor it, or you're near the rev limiter, etc.). This concept of shifting remains. However, how does the transmission control which gear to go to? Good question.

The transmission uses what vF Tuner would like to call "executive privilege" which controls what gear it will select. What does this mean? Take a look at the 2nd Gen Tacoma table again. See that there is a table dedicated to controlling the transmission UP, and DOWN?

The 3rd Gen Tacoma uses a single / primary table that controls ONLY the limits of the gear itself. It does NOT have control over going up or down, but rather only has control over the limits/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 that is required, as long as that gear meets the required conditions.

There is no standard up and down blueprint here. There are simply 6 gears that are accessible, at any time required, that the truck will use. If it “wants” 6th it will select 6th. If it "wants" 3rd it will select 3rd. It does not "up-shift" from 2nd to 3rd, rather it selects the gear. By modifying the code you can actually make the transmission "select" 5th gear after 2nd, or "select" 3rd gear after 5th! Why? Because the code does not go up and down. It selects in any direction as long as the conditions and thresholds are met.

Here is the takeaway from all of this information :

- The transmission does not, and will not shift in a predetermined manner of going up and down the way anyone currently thinks a transmission does.

- If you "expect" the transmission will go from 5th to 4th, you're incorrect.

- If you "expect" the transmission will go from 5th to 6th, again you're incorrect.

- Any gear, at any time, is selected based upon the variables, limits, and calculations of torque / accelerator angle etc.

- From that point the ECU will select WHATEVER gear it determines is necessary to match driver demand (gas pedal).

So, as you can see the ECU does not select gears and shift it like a traditional transmission would. Rather it selects gears based on various predetermined gear limits, torque calculations, and variables from the engine which help to select through the shift routine and actually create a "shift" event. The ECU has a lot of executive privilege to shift in any direction or select any gear that it wants.

So how does the vF Tune solve these problems?

The vF Tuner 2.0 tune completely rewrites the control of the transmission. They’ve completely re-tuned and changed the shift routines, the shift limits and torque tables. They’ve eliminated the multiple redundant tables, effectively stopping the "learning" that everyone keeps mentioning about this transmission. vF Tuner has made the ECU follow only a single set of tables to select and determine which gear to shift to. This makes the transmission act much more closely to a normal transmission and shift the way we would expect it to.

They eliminated the need for multiple torque calculation maps that directly affect how and when the transmission shifts. This is one of the main reasons that the transmission is so unpredictable.

Finally, they modified the 4D control / compensation tables and the multiple throttle tables, torque converter locking control / unlocking control tables to enhance shifting and transmission control even further.

OK, I’m sold! How do I get tuned?

Use a vF Tuner Pro Tuner like Mobile Antics. Mobile Antics LLC is an Arizona-based VF Tuner Pro Tuner that can tune your vehicle using the vF Tune v2.0. We will also get your truck’s ECU on the latest TSB. If you are ready to improve the drivability of your 2016+ Tacoma, contact us today at

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