There can be a number of reasons why you purchased your Toyota Tacoma: looks, performance, power, reliability, and so on. It’s almost an endless list for such a great truck. However, there will always be a bit more you want to achieve. We have talked article after article about off-road additions, suspension upgrades, and more, but what about performance? What about focusing on the HP over the MPG? What about if it’s literally the opposite and you want MPG over HP?
Performance upgrades are all about the driving experience both on and off-road. Being a Toyota, there are plenty of options for you to consider, and that is what this article is all about. Join us for the ultimate guide in engine performance modifications to your Toyota Tacoma to get more power!
The Basic, Disclaimers, and other Housekeeping
What is a performance mod? While we normally talk about off-roading, we know there is plenty more to the Tacoma. For this, we will be focusing on products, additions, and hacks that will help improve the drivetrain in some way on your Tacoma: horsepower, fuel mileage, torque, shift stiffness, throttle response, and things like that.
I should point out that you should be careful about any of these mods. While most of this plug and play stuff is completely safe, changing the way your engine and transmission behave from the factory could lead to troubles down the line. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: vehicles are made to work the best they can from the factory. Changing one aspect will make other parts have to work harder. Just be careful and know that you could void certain aspects of your warranty with certain mods. Always read what the manufacturer of performance mods say about their product so you’re on the safe side.
You also should note that some states (mainly California) do not want you modifying your engine in any way, so make sure whatever you are interested in is legal for your state or country.
Let’s also get some baseline numbers out of the way for the Tacoma so we can compare them down the line. Let’s keep it simple and stick with a baseline from a 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport…
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport Specs
- Horsepower: 278
- Torque: 265 foot pounds
- 0-60: about 7 seconds
- Miles Per Gallon: 19 City / 24 Highway
With all that out of the way, let’s get on to some mods!
TACOMA ENGINE BOLT ON MODS
For this section I’ll cover the few modifications that “bolt on” to your engine to help increase performance. With modern day engines, there are not an incredible amount available for many vehicles, but the few that are can help!
Cold Air Intake
Cold air intakes are some of the most cost effective modifications that you can do to any vehicle. Engines work better with cooler air. Ever notice your Tacoma has a bit more pep in its step on a nice fall day compared to the middle of summer? Cold air intakes take the place of your factory airbox and intake tube, and are designed to take in more air, and from a position that sucks in cooler air compared to air closer to your engine. These are relatively inexpensive for the amount of horsepower and torque you get. While you won’t be racing Supras anytime soon, it is something you will notice!
K&N is a household name for cold air intakes. They have been in the business for years and make some incredible hardware. For about $330, you’ll get the tube, hardware, and a reusable/washable filter which will save you tons of money down the line! They also claim gains up to 17 horsepower.
One of the more affordable yet still well known names is Spectre. For $215, you get a polished intake tube, hardware, and a reusable filter. While they don’t specify any performance numbers, you will feel your Tacoma wake up a bit with something like this.
Throttle Body Spacers
While debatable by some on if these actually do much, what they are designed to do is mount between your throttle body and intake manifold to increase the spin in the air to make it flow more optimally into your engine and allow better combustion. Better airflow and better combustion means better performance. While your butt dyno may not be picking up drastic differences, adding this and a cold air intake could lead to great results adding the gains together.
These are always easy to install. All you have to do is unbolt your throttle body from your intake manifold, put the spacer in, and then bolt it all back together. Do not overtighten the bolts, because you don’t want to crack anything!
This spacer has a very unique “serrated-helix design” which will assist in the spiral flow of the air. This in theory will force the air into the engine better than factory performance. It comes with a two year warranty. It will only set you back $150.
The patented Helix Bore design in the spacer will also help spin the air into your engine, improving the air/fuel mixture to ensure the best performance. As they say for this product, it’s if you want to squeeze every bit of power out of your Tacoma. With all spacers, you’re not winning races with it alone. At $140, it could be worth trying!
Tuning your engine means changing the computer’s parameters. While in the past tuning was all mechanical and involved screws and springs, now it’s all electronic. Tuning an engine can change idle speeds, shift points, speed limiters, and so much more.
There are two main ways: DIY and professional. Doing it yourself can be done with tuners you can purchase, and professional means taking it to a performance shop. While taking it to a shop can be more expensive, there is less chance of you messing something up doing it yourself! While doing it yourself can be fun, if you change the wrong parameter, you can create negative long term effects which could get very expensive!
This tuner allows you to hold multiple custom tunes, and some of the best ones they offer can give you 25 extra horsepower and 28 foot pounds of torque. It also allows data monitoring and live gauges so you can really see what’s going on with your ride. If you ever get a check engine light, you can also read what they are, and clear codes as well! While it will set you back $600, you will unlock so much power and features.
If you know what you’re doing, this software will basically give you complete control over everything. This will require a computer to run their custom software. If you want their help, they offer plenty of support, but they also sell custom tune packages that can allow you to get started. I would not suggest something like this for beginners. However, there is a recovery mode where you can always flash the stock tune back on your Tacoma’s computer. They have packages from $400 to $1200.
Professional tuning is not really something I can give links to here. There are shops all around the world that can assist with something like this. Prices can be all over the place depending on what you need done. Simple tuning can be a couple hundred, but if you want to step up to full on dyno tuning, you’ll be looking at a pretty penny.
The good thing about professional turning is that it’s done by professionals. While that may sound obvious, they know what they are doing. Their work can come with a warranty, and if you go to a certified shop, there is a chance that the tuning might not even void the factory warranty.
Do your research and ask around. You do want to make sure it’s not a random shop that got the same tuner you could have. Remember that when it comes to something like this, you get what you pay for!
OTHER TACOMA BOLT ON MODS
There are other products that you can attach to your Tacoma in locations beyond your engine that will increase performance. Again, while this is limited with modern drivetrains, there are a few good products out there that can help crank out some better performance!
If you’re tired of lag and slow acceleration, Pedal Commander is here to help. This simple product plugs into your gas pedal to help eliminate that nonsense. Gone are the days of a physical wire opening and closing your throttle when you press your pedal down. Now, everything is electronic.
When you press your pedal down, it tells your Tacoma’s computer that you’re doing so, and how hard you’re doing it. The problem is that it will still only open the throttle as fast as it’s programmed to. Pedal Commander will amplify the signal your foot provides to open the throttle faster. You can choose between different settings to dial in the amount of performance and fuel savings you want. For $350, it could be one of the best mods you do and definitely one of the favorite mods I have on my Tacoma.
Changing the exhaust on your Tacoma will not only help it breathe better, but it can make it sound better too. Like your cold air intake taking air in more efficiently, a less restrictive exhaust will help the air leave more efficiently. Why is this important? Breath in as much air as you can, then stick a straw between your lips and breathe out. It sucks, right? Your Tacoma has to deal with that with a stock exhaust.
Within reason, as you still want to maintain good back pressure, a more free exhaust will help your engine perform better which will unleash more power. Keep in mind that this will also change the sound of your engine. You’re going to want to watch tons of YouTube videos to hear what you’re interested in to make sure that it is for you.
Since sound is highly subjective, and there are so many muffler and pipe combinations, I’m not going to leave any example links. You could expect to send anywhere from $250 to $1000. Most will fall around the $500 range.
TACOMA PERFORMANCE HACKS
In addition to all of these physical products, there are a number of hacks you can do to increase performance in your Tacoma. Some of these involve you getting a little dirty, and others just involve paying attention to what you’re doing. Let’s take a look.
Windows Up, Air Off
Aerodynamics and your comfort can actually go hand in hand. To get the best fuel economy, top speed, and acceleration, the shape of the Tacoma plays a big part. While mostly built for conquering mountains, the Tacoma’s shape will allow for improved highway performance as well. However, you can mess all that up depending on when you use your windows or air conditioning.
Lowering your windows obviously allows air into your Tacoma. At high speeds (generally accepted to be above 55 miles per hour), this will create much extra drag on your Tacoma. Your engine will have to work harder to compensate for the extra “weight” of the air forced into your truck. This will lower your fuel economy. While it’s hard to beat the windows down sometimes, if you’re going over 55 miles per hour, it may be best to leave the windows up and turn the AC on instead. However…
If you’re cruising around town, using your air conditioning is actually not the smartest idea. The A/C causes your engine to work harder, and while that may be fine if you're cruising along at 60 miles per hour, stop and go traffic paired with your A/C will kill your mileage. Over time, it’s potentially going to cause more wear and tear on your engine as well. If you can handle the heat, keep your windows down around town.
Cleaning your Throttle Body and MAF Sensor
Your mass airflow sensor (MAF) is a bit of circuitry that reads the air that’s coming into your engine. It will read a number of parameters and tell your engine how to run accordingly… What RPM, the amount of fuel, amount of air, and so on. When this gets dirty, it can start causing false readings. You’ll start to lose power and probably some MPGs as well.
Thankfully this is super easy to clean. For a few bucks at your local auto parts store, you can pick up a can of MAF sensor cleaner. Then just disconnect your battery (to be on the safe side), unplug your MAF, unscrew two screws holding it in, then pull it out and spray it down! Once it’s dry, reverse the process, and your truck will come alive once again.
As I mentioned before, your throttle body is responsible for letting air into the engine. If it gets dirty, it may slow down how fast it opens and closes, or it may have trouble opening and closing completely. Your truck may start to sputter, and maybe even stall. This is also easy to clean!
Go back to that auto parts store and pick up a can of throttle body cleaner (not carb cleaner). Take off the intake tube, spray the cleaner onto a cotton cloth (like an old t-shirt), and wipe the inside down! Make sure you open the valve and get behind it. Be careful and gentle, and don’t let the valve slam closed.
If you do these two things, especially if it’s been a while or never since the last time, you’ll be amazed at the results. Close to $10 will get you the two cans (that will last you years), and it will take you 30 minutes to do both things. A shop will charge you close to $100 for this service.
While the Tacoma is amazing off-road, a little help on the road may not be a bad idea. As you can see, you can accomplish quite a bit for a few hundred dollars. Just make sure you follow all directions, and enjoy the power gain!
Tacoma Engine - Courtesy of Trail Tacoma
Cold Air Intake - Courtesy of Trail Tacoma
Dyno Tuning - Courtesy of Havoc Speed
Pedal Commander - Here at Empyre Off-Road!
Exhaust - Courtesy of Bilstein Lifts
Throttle Body Spacer - Courtesy of aFe Power Amazon Store
Tacoma Driving - Courtesy of PickupTrucks.com
MAF and TB Cleaners - Courtesy CRC on Walmart