Help me buy a Toyota Truck and get it on the road in LA
January 19, 2011 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy a Toyota Hilux and get it licensed to drive in LA, CA. I have two questions: What mechanical problems should I look for when buying this specific truck (2WD, 22R engine, early 90's model)? What should I look out for when trying to license it in California? I'm shopping on Craigslist.

I currently have a valid North Dakota drivers license. Any experiences with these kinds of trucks or licensing cars in Cali would be most welcome.

I'm totally green - haven't EVER bought a car from ANYONE - I restored my first car from a junked VW and bought my current car from family.
posted by fake to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
are you specifically trying to import a car that says "Hilux" on it from another country, or would you be just as happy buying the version that says "Tacoma" on it, of which there are many already licensed in California and the rest of the US?

I guess they're slightly different trucks, but not by much.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:19 AM on January 19, 2011

We used to own a Hilux (I think it was the Surf). Loved everything about it except that it was hideously expensive to run. Gas/petrol is far more expensive here in the UK but with an average 18-20 miles to the gallon it might be worth you checking this.
posted by ceri richard at 8:24 AM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not importing anything, I'm buying a US-branded Hilux-type Toyota truck on Craigslist. 2WD models are 20-28MPG, so I'm not too worried, my current car only gets ~33.
posted by fake at 8:27 AM on January 19, 2011

If you're looking to import a truck, I would do a ton of research first. You'll likely find it's not worth the hassle and cost.

But if you're just looking for a regular Toyota pickup, then that's a good choice of vehicle. The 22R motor is, in my opinion, one of the best engines ever built. They aren't the most powerful, but they are rock solid, smooth, built to last, and good on fuel.
posted by azpenguin at 8:28 AM on January 19, 2011

Pre '95 Toyota pickups are just called the Toyota Pickup, Hiluxes are the foreign produced model. They switched to the Tacoma badge in '95 and changed from the 22RE engine. I had a '94 that went up after the timing chain ate through the plastic guides and threw metal shavings into the engine. I also had a '98 Tacoma that I sold and still see around town every once in a while. I generally think that the early Tacomas are just as reliable as the pre-'95 models.

I can't speak to the California specific regs, but you mostly want to look for the same things as with any other used car.
posted by electroboy at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I asked a related question previously and got a wealth of extremely useful and detailed answers.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2011

Getting it registered in California shouldn't be a problem as long as it will pass a smog check. People bring cars here from other states all the time. I think if you've owned it for less than 90 days before bringing it here you may get charged some extra tax (to discourage people from buying cars out of state to avoid sales taxes and such).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: I'm really not importing anything, sorry if the name throws you, as I said, I'm buying locally on Craigslist here in LA. In my mind Toyota Hilux=Toyota Pickup.
posted by fake at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: ChrisHartley, that question didn't come up in search but does have some excellent answers in it, thank you very much!
posted by fake at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2011

Leaks: ask to see the truck before it's warmed up, where it's been sitting overnight to check for leaks on the ground.
Bushings & Bearings: Test drive, how is the ride over bumps? is it noisy from any particular area?
Electrical/wiring: does everything work inside the cab?
Transmission: all gears okay? noisy? clutch works ok?
Smoking: R-22 will smoke (see tailpipe) when piston rings start to go, or when it hasn't been maintained well.

Taking it to a garage for a thorough check is the best way to ease your mind.
Good luck!
posted by artdrectr at 9:38 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may run into issues if you're trying to keep your ND license. I'm pretty sure you can't get CA plates without having a California license, it's one of the fields on the registration application form.

You'll also have to come up with a story as to why you haven't gotten your California license yet if you've been here for longer than a month.
posted by hwyengr at 10:31 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: You may run into issues if you're trying to keep your ND license. I'm pretty sure you can't get CA plates without having a California license, it's one of the fields on the registration application form.

You don't need a license from California or anywhere else to register your car. However, you do need liability insurance on it, and your insurance carrier will want a valid license, whether it is in California or ND or anywhere else is up to the carrier.

I think the only legit reason left not for a California resident to have out of state license/plates is to be active military.

You'll also have to come up with a story as to why you haven't gotten your California license yet if you've been here for longer than a month.

Actually it is 10 days.

What I don't understand is if the truck is currently registered and titled in California. If it isn't, find out why. It can't pass smog. It is an imported car that the state deems unsafe, etc.

Check out They have checklists on different titling/registering situations.

When you do go into the DMV to register/transfer title, you might as well get a DL while you're there. But if you aren't a CA resident, you may wish to keep title/register it back in ND because it has to be cheaper than it is here.
posted by birdherder at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In my mind Toyota Hilux=Toyota Pickup

That's cool, but in the world of branding and how vehicles are labeled and sold, the Hilux is the overseas version and the Tacoma is the modern US edition (formerly they just called it the pickup). So if you keep calling it a Hilux, you are going to find expensive and (possibly) hard to register grey-market imports, rebadged US trucks, and other oddities. Look for it under its real name, and then make yourself happy by buying some Hilux badges and gluing them on.

Mechanically, those trucks aren't known for big weaknesses (which is why they usually sell for more money than other brands of the same age). The hardest part is to simply not buy one that has been worked hard. Your ideal truck had a suburban owner or two who used the truck to commute, haul yard debris, for trips to Home Depot, and to take the dog to the dog park. That truck might have a few scratches in the bed, but will run forever.

You don't want to buy a truck that was used for a lawn care business or anything else where it was loaded hard and abused all day every day, or that was owned by a 16 year old who either took it offroad or cheezed it out with racer boy extras. If the bed is dented and looks like it was attacked by an angry blacksmith, don't buy it. Look underneath, and if the skidplates or oilpan have deep scrapes and gouges, don't buy it. Lowered or jacked up suspension parts? Tires that stick way out to the sides or are super tiny? Don't buy it.

Do buy one where the owner has kept up on basic maintenance. Old vehicles are only cheap until you need to buy new tires, new brakes, new clutch, new hoses, and a new battery all in one month. A lot of people let those things slide and sell the vehicle rather than take care of them, which is ok as long as the purchase price reflects that you are going to need to spend hundreds or more making it safe to drive.
posted by Forktine at 5:42 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So if you keep calling it a Hilux,

Look, I said Hilux once, and I did it because that's what Wikipedia called it. I said several times now that I'm not importing anything and that I understand it's a pickup and that I am shopping locally, on CL. I didn't say that was the specific term I was searching for on CL. I learned whatever lesson there is to learn about the word Hilux watching answerers get all derailed all over it. The Tacoma brand didn't show up until 1995 and that is later than the models I was looking at when I posted this.

The thread ChrisHartley linked was a big help and connected me with the deep and unerring wisdom of Mosk, anyone reading this question in the future should definitely go there, even if the advice is mostly 4WD specific.
posted by fake at 10:28 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Look, I said Hilux once

...or actually a couple times, but I really don't need to hear any more about it.
posted by fake at 10:29 PM on January 19, 2011

Well, my kids may beg to differ on the "unerring" part, but I'm glad I could help, Fake. Forktine's advice on what to look for (and avoid) when you examine one of these trucks is also excellent and extremely practical. There are LOTS of these trucks out there, and it really pays to be picky. Wait for a good one.
posted by mosk at 1:18 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wanted to give you a couple more thoughts on the buying process. Since you are looking at only one basic model (2wd Toyota pickup, from year X to Y), pricing will be easy to get a handle on. So when you go out a check out trucks, this is what you want (in addition to my above comments about not buying one that has had the snot beaten out of it):

* Maintenance records, including oil changes and major work.
* All four tires matching, with decent tread and no grossly uneven wear (or, a price that is discounted by at least $500, which is what it'll take to buy four ok tires and get an alignment).
* No dripping fluids. These trucks aren't prone to leaks, so avoid one that dribbles.
* Can it drive straight? Pulls to one side when braking? Those problems take money to solve, so only buy it if the price is seriously discounted.
* No evidence of major work (mismatched body panels, wrinkles, gaping seams, etc).
* No warning lights lit up all over the dash, or gauges that don't work. This stuff gets expensive to fix and there are clean trucks out there, so don't bother.

If you find one that has all of these things, and at a price that is ok by your research, grab it on the spot. If there are issues, keep looking -- they sold gazillions of these trucks, and there's no reason to buy a beater. Also, having 4wd will make it super easy to sell if you ever move somewhere where it snows, so if you find a 4wd for cheap, consider buying it even though the fuel economy will cost more.
posted by Forktine at 10:49 AM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, Forktine, and sorry for being snippy.
posted by fake at 5:46 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: Update: I bought this truck.

It has a few things going for it - cheap (~3300) no power anything, no AC, no frills, manual transmission. Smogged OK, registered, clean title.

It has a few problems - the worst being that it had really bad, fairly large offroad tires on it. I was able to get away with replacing just two ($300 mounted and balanced, OUCH) to get it back to a smooth ride. Unfortunately, the body's been raised, even though it's a 2WD, so it's kinda tough to go back to the stock small wheels and tires.

Overall, I'm extremely happy with it and I'm finding myself enjoying driving again, which is really a great thing when living in Los Angeles.

Thanks for all the help, special thanks to Forktine, Mosk, and ChrisHartley.
posted by fake at 5:10 PM on April 15, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, another thing - I used AAA for my insurer, because they offer DMV services. Even though they are more expensive than the alternatives, the time I saved registering the truck was probably worth the extra amount.

And if it fails out on the road, and I can't fix it with spit, baling wire, and seething rage, I guess I can call them.
posted by fake at 6:09 AM on April 16, 2011

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