Is your Toyota vehicle experiencing delayed-engagement when shifting from Reverse to Drive?

After driving Toyota vehicles for over 11 years, starting with a 2005 Toyota Tacoma, followed by a 2010 Toyota Tundra, I have bragged over and over to my friends about how reliable vehicles they are. Not once did either of those vehicles enter the service facility, except for routine oil changes. This along with all of the fantastic features, of course made me a raving fan of Toyota products. After owning my 2010 Toyota Tundra for 7 years (purchased in early ’09), and really wanting some of the newer technology features (and better gas mileage) I decided to purchase a 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road with the Advanced Technology package. Let me tell you, crawl control is awesome!

Delayed-Engagement of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Transmission

Well, I guess even the best of relationships are doomed to hit a snag every now and then. Toyota and I are now not on good terms. Within a few weeks of buying the truck, I started randomly having an issue that seems cold weather related. When shifting the vehicle from Reverse to Drive the transmissions seems to not always engage. After pressing the throttle and hitting somewhere around 1200 RPM the transmissions would slam into gear, jerking the vehicle.  It quite honestly feels like someone rear-ended you.  In fact that was my first reaction the first time I experienced it. I should have taken it to the dealership immediately, but after it warmed up outside after spring approached the problem mostly went away. It will happen maybe one out of 100 times in warm weather, and it never happens after the truck has been running for any length of time.

Tim Farrand Freeman Toyota Delayed Engagement - 0001Today I took the vehicle into Freeman Toyota‘s service department for its 5000 mile maintenance (tire rotation, brake inspection, etc). This was the perfect opportunity to see if I could get this problem fixed. I explained the issue to Tim Farrand, my Service Adviser. He immediately started in on a line about “I like to fix trucks, but if I can’t duplicate the problem we’re not going to be able to fix it.” The frustrated me somewhat because I knew that I couldn’t be the only one in the history of this drive-train to experience this problem.

After a little pressure on my part to look into it further, we walked into Tim’s office and looked on his computer for TSBs  (Technical Service Bulletins) from Toyota on this problem. We did find one that described my problem exactly, except for it was from shifting from Park to Drive.  Mine was shifting from Reverse to Drive. The TSB was called “Delayed-Engagement”, referring to the transmission. Tim swears its not my problem.  So that was that, Tim advised me to let it get worse and bring it back. That’s crap.

So while Tim was filling out the forms on the screen I googled “2016 Tacoma Delayed Engagement”. There are many, many results that come up with people complaining about my exact problem.  Shifting from Reverse to Drive the transmission does not engage until the engine revs passed a certain RPM and then engages abruptly, lunging the truck forward. I showed him the results and he looked at me with the oddest face and said “We don’t work off of Google, we only work off of TSBs.” Now I do get that sentiment, but exactly how does something ever become a TSB unless Toyota hears about it from multiple sources?  And he most certainly was not putting any notes in the computer to send to Toyota. In fact, I asked if he could make a note about it under my VIN or account and he said “We don’t even have a way to do that.”

Low Transmission Fluid on the Toyota Tacoma

A number of people in the forums and on Reddit expressed that this has been found to be caused by the Toyota Tacoma shipping from the factory a quart low on transmission fluid. It is possible this is the case, though many on the Taco forums have had their fluid checked and raised and claim that the problem persists.

I did ask Tim Farrand, my Freeman Toyota Service Adviser to check the fluid levels on my truck and flat out refused. He said the system is manufactured, filled and sealed at the factory (sealed system transmission) and that checking the fluid would “take too long” and “cost too much” to be worth it.

Tacoma Delayed-Engagement Fix

If you are experiencing transmission problems with your Toyota Tacoma (or other vehicle, as this transmission is shared across several product lines) leave a comment below. Someone also pointed out to me that it is possible it is a torque converter problem. I don’t think that is the case, because the impact is hard, not a soft impact when engagement of the transmission finally occurs. With modern vehicles and locking torque converters, I suppose anything is possible though.

If Toyota ever fixes this problem for me or posts a TSB about it, I will list it here.  I have sent an email to Toyota Customer Care, asking for them to look into this issue. Hopefully I will hear back soon.  With many, many people reporting this same problem, Toyota can not ignore this forever!

In the meantime, here’s some pictures of my truck the day I bought it.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Delayed Engagement Transmission - 0001

2016 Toyota Tacoma experiencing transmission delayed-engagement

2016 Toyota Tacoma Delayed Engagement Transmission - 0002

2016 Toyota Tacoma experiencing transmission delayed-engagement

UPDATE 8/11/2016: Toyota has issued T-SB-0077-16 which contains software update 89661-04K52 that updates the transmission to shift properly.  This update also claims to smooth the on-road shifting out.  I’m going to get this update as soon as possible and will update here again.

UPDATE 12/27/2016: It has been almost two months since I had the TSB done. It has only partially fixed the problem.  I have not had the delayed-engagement problem since the update.  However, the transmission now seems to clunk into first gear. When coming to a stop as the transmission downshifts it makes a loud clank as it goes from 2nd to 1st.  So disappointing.  It seems like Toyota had to make some solenoid fire harder to get it shift, resulting in harsh shifting all of the time.  They should be ashamed of this drive train.

UPDATE 1/2/2017: I took my 2016 Tacoma with the TSB in place on a road trip from Dallas, TX to Ruidoso, NM.  This trip was almost 600 miles each way. I honestly felt like the transmission hunted and pecked for gears the entire trip, something my previous Tacoma (2005 model, which did the same trip) did not do. This was especially awful in the mountains when the truck seemed like it couldn’t find a gear to stay in more than a few seconds at time.  It is of course normal to need to shift more in hilly terrain, but it seemed like the truck would shift to a higher gear only to realize it should have stayed and shift back to the lower gear after just 3 or 4 seconds. At one point, I actually put the truck in sport shifting mode to stop the upshift.  Using the ECT PWR mode did seem to help some.  This trip confirms to me that this engine/transmission combination belongs in a mini-van, not a truck.

UPDATE 4/10/2017: I took my 2016 Taco in for service at the 15K mark this morning, and complained about the transmission clunking into first gear and the constant hunting for gears at highway speeds.  As I expected they claim the truck is operating as designed.  This is my 4th Toyota vehicle over 15 years.  After this experience it will be my last.

UPDATE 6/9/2018: After two years of driving this miserable truck I traded it in over the weekend on a new Ford F-150.  This not only ends my run as a Tacoma owner, but also as a Toyota owner.  I will not purchase anymore of their products…. EVER.