Toyota regularly puts buttons in cars that quite literally do not make any sense at all.  I spent a few years of my career leading the User Experience Team for a large retail company.  I have to tell you.  Toyota designs and builds a fantastic truck.  In fact, I think it might make the best trucks on the road.  But when it comes to designing the buttons and controls, they are sorely in need of a user experience person (or a new one) to help them come up with better names for some of the features and controls they put on their vehicles.

I just recently traded in my 2010 Toyota Tundra Crew Max 4×4 for a new 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4.  This truck has the Premium Technology Package and not only looks cool on the outside, but its like a space shuttle on the inside.  But after driving it for almost a week I kept staring at this ECT PWR button on the dash with not a clue in the world what it does.  I finally decided to figure it out.

NOTE: If you are having problems with your Toyota Tacoma transmission not shifting smoothly, check out my article on the Delayed-Engagement transmission problem.

What is the Toyota ECT PWR button?

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ECT PWR Button

If you look at the dash of your 3rd Generation Toyota Tacoma, you’ll see an ECT PWR button right under the navigation system and between the Blind Spot Monitor (BSM button) and the Parking Assist Sensors (P button).

The ECT PWR button stands for Electronically Controlled Transmission Power. If you did the same thing I did, you just said “WTF does that even mean?” Remember what I said earlier Toyota needed a user experience person to help them with the design of their controls?  Yeah.  You got it.  What the acronyms stand for is just as confusing as what it actually means written out!

And it gets worse.  Digging out the Toyota Manual doesn’t help much more that just guessing at what it actually does.

ECT PWR in the Toyota Manual

I opened my 2016 Tacoma’s manual and flipped through it until I landed on this page:

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Selecting Power Mode

Use when high levels of response and feeling are desirable, such as when driving in mountainous regions or when pulling a trailer.

Press the “ECT PWR” button to select power mode.
The “ECT PWR” indicator comes on.
Press the button again to cancel power mode.

I thought for sure the manual would make it clear, but alas, it was vague and less than helpful.

What the ECT PWR Button ACTUALLY Does

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2016 Tacoma ECT PWR

The ECT PWR button is not a turbo boost button.  In fact, it doesn’t actually increase the power of your vehicle at all.  It’s nothing more than a tow-haul mode button that can be used when pulling a trailer, carrying a heavy load, or when traveling over hilly areas of land like in the mountains.  What that actually means is that it raises slightly the shift points of the transmission so that the engine will rev to a slightly higher RPM before shifting to the next gear.  This ensures that when under stress the truck will not lug as the next gear engages.

I called my dealership and Toyota looking to get the actual RPM values, but alas they could not give them to me at the time of this writing.  The customer service person at Toyota did say that some people use the ECT PWR button when they need to accelerate quickly, such as when entering the highway from the frontage road ramps, or when legally racing the vehicle.  However, I timed my 2016 Tacoma (TRD Off-Road 4×4) using my iPhone stop-watch from 0 to 60, with and without ECT PWR turned on.  The difference was actually slower by 1/2 second.

One thing we can be sure of is that this ECT PWR mode will reduce your gas mileage.  How much is unknown, but I suspect a couple of miles per gallon wouldn’t be too far off.  So I wouldn’t recommend running it in ECT PWR mode all the time.

If you have anymore insight into the under the hood operations of ECT PWR mode, please leave it in the comments below!

19 Responses

  1. Ron McCranie

    That’s like the T/S button on the new Ford F150 gear shift. At least it’s placement implies it’s related to the transmission. The button on the Toyota lies between two completely unrelated buttons in a location that implies nothing. Furthermore, the name & abbreviation says nothing about it either. Triple UX fail.

    Reply
    • Mike

      Thanks Mike. I recently bought a 2017 Toyota truck. I had no idea what that ECT button wax for.

      Mike there’s another button 3 buttons down from the ECT button. I’ve been searching for info on what it is god. There’s no writhing on it but there’s a symbol that kinda looks like the letter q. Any idea?

      Thanks,
      Mike

      Reply
  2. Aubrey Turner

    So basically it’s tow/haul mode. Why not put Tow/Haul on it? LOL

    On the F-150, if you have the column shifter, they did a good job telling you what the button does. It shows up with one arrow pointing to “Tow/Haul” and two arrows pointing to “Sport” to let you know to press once for Towing mode and twice for Sport mode. Unfortunately, on the floor/console shifter they didn’t have room and just have a button marked “T/S” on the side.

    They also do a good job explaining the modes in the manual.

    Reply
  3. Joshua Bent

    It isn’t actually a tow/haul button. The only thing it does is change the point at which the transmission shifts. A true tow/haul button will toggle whether or not an automatic transmission can shift into overdrive.

    Reply
  4. Scott

    Joshua,

    This may be the case in some scenarios, however, not in all. For instance, in the Silverado the tow/haul button increases the shift points and still allows for overdrive. Overdrive is still usable when hauling on flat ground, which in the hills happens from time to time. Also when tow-haul is activated with a trailer harness plugged in, the transmission will downshift for grade braking.

    Reply
  5. Ted Peery

    I like the way the truck drive when the ECT PWR button is on. My wife’s Lexus has a rocker switch for this so you can leave it in the “on” position all of the time.

    I don’t like to have to press the switch each time I turn the truck on to engage the ECT PWR, is there a way to bypass the switch so it remains on when the ignition turns off?

    Thanks for the help.

    Reply
  6. thefitbusiness

    Does it matter if you engage it while running above a certain speed? I drove on the interstate for about 600 miles both with it engaged and off. I actually got better fuel economy with it on. Maybe the speeds 65-85mph it actually does a bit better?

    Reply
  7. Brian Harvey

    I cannot see it increasing the fuel economy. it only raises the shift points so if anything you will see more fuel used. Once in 6th gear it doesn’t matter if you have it selected or not, your going to get the same mileage.

    Reply
  8. Tak Ohkan

    Toyota had this button for years in fact since early 80s. It not only raises shift point but increases response, in other words it downshift quicker thus accelerates faster hence power mode.

    Reply
  9. Mike J.

    The performance you feel is the change in throttle ratio. It has a different map for the drive by wire throttle and different shift map. It makes no more power.

    Reply
  10. Fain Zimmerman

    How about the “S” on the gear shift? I think it also has something to do with hauling/towing/mountains, but it’s also confusing!

    Reply
    • Buddy

      The S on the shifter allows you to select 4th or 5th as the highest gear instead 6th which is overdrive. Good for hills and towing .

      Reply
  11. Bill Fadely

    Can I move the starter switch from under the clutch pedal
    to a location on the dash. I have a 1999 Tacoma 5 sp
    2.4 engine. I have big feet and my shoes/boots will
    rub the wheel well next to the clutch pedal and rubs the
    brake pedal to the right. I know I would have to drill a
    hole for the switch if this is possible. I just purchased
    this truck to carry garbage to the landfill twice weekly but
    I like it so much I have been driving it all the time…..

    Reply
  12. Mercury12

    I suspect ECT power is somehow lost in Japanese translation. It probably means something in Japan.

    Reply
  13. M. Rich

    So, if I am hauling a 4K lb RV, do i need to have the ECT on as well as in the “S” mode for a 2017 TRD Sport?

    Reply
    • George S.

      Probably no set answer. It depends I guess, on what type of roads you’re hauling on. If it’s not hilly, I suspect you just use the ECT. That will delay the upshifts and may be good enough so that the engine doesn’t lug when you try to accelerate, and may also keep you in 5th instead of 6th.

      If, you’re on hilly terrain, and you see it’s still shifting into 6th and sluggish when you accelerate, then I’d experiment with “S” and “5”. If you have “S” off, and it’s staying in 5th but still sluggish in 5th, then try “S” and “4”. It’ll depend on how much of a load your trailer is putting on your engine.

      Reply

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