The Hilux changed Australian attitudes towards Japanese utes. Who could have predicted that big Aussie bruisers would ever swap their six cylinder and V8 local utes for a “rice burner”?

It took some time for Australians to see past the funny styling, cheap plastic interiors and smokey four cylinder engines struggling under a load, that were the signature of early Japanese utes. The Hilux hastened this shift in perception, to the point where it has been regularly topping monthly sales charts as Australia’s biggest selling vehicle.

From the start, Toyota light commercials – which included the Crown ute and the utilitarian Stout range – were tougher than expected with their strong separate chassis. In terms of image and grunt, neither could match the locally assembled Ford F-series or the local utes. That was before the Hilux arrived in 1968.

Few know that the first Hilux was not strictly a Toyota. In the 1960s, Hino was one of the first Japanese companies to enjoy some success in the commercial and bus field, challenging entrenched Western attitudes that the Japanese couldn’t build a serious work vehicle.

Toyota took over Hino and in the process inherited the Hino Briska, which quickly evolved into the Toyota Hilux to become one of the most successful light commercials ever.

Later diesel 4×4 versions became the definitive Australian farm and contractor’s vehicle. And as it became more refined and better-equipped with mainstream western styling, it was perfectly placed to exploit Australia’s transition from a single-vehicle household economy.

The Hilux soon played a critical work and recreation role in booming multi-vehicle households after the economic woes of the early 1990s.

This shift in vehicle ownership also coincided with strict new child restraint laws that ended the family transport role for most local utilities. For many parents in single and two-parent families, a Hilux twin-cab and its rivals immediately became a mandatory purchase for those who had to transport their kids in a working vehicle.

The Hilux also gave birth to a new class of 4×4 multi-purpose vehicles with the 4Runner wagon. Since replaced in the local Toyota range by the Prado, the concept has been kept alive locally by the Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi Challenger.

Private imports of the ‘Surf’ version of the 4Runner have generated such a separate and loyal following that if Toyota chose to return with a replacement Hilux-based wagon, there has been little loss in continuity.

Wide body = wider appeal

Limited up to this point by the 1700mm width restrictions of the Japanese market, local tariffs and unfavourable yen exchange rates, the Hilux was given a new lease on life in April 2005 with the all new wide-body Hilux series.

It was not only a half size bigger, but also sourced from Thailand. Along with the more favourable exchange rates, it also escaped import duty thanks to Australia’s free trade agreement with Thailand.

The increase in sales was dramatic, as it now had the width to accommodate three full-size Aussies across the cabin at a time when equipment and pricing became more competitive. It rapidly became the new benchmark for this segment.

Following a major upgrade in Australia’s diesel fuel quality after mid-2006, its powerful diesel engine quickly replaced the later V6 petrol engine as the premium engine of choice.

This new generation Hilux was also given the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) treatment, with a powerful forced-induction 225kW/453Nm version of the 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine in 2008. In hindsight, it might have achieved more than its limited sales if it had the LandCruiser’s 4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel, with its 195kW/650Nm under the bonnet.

This current Hilux generation has since received two facelifts, including the latest MY12 upgrade styled in Australia with a new grille that shares a family resemblance with the locally-upgraded Aurion.

New and used, the Hilux has always been slightly more expensive than its Japanese rivals but its solid reputation, longevity and reliability have proven to be worth the extra investment – especially if your business depends on it.

Yet it’s fair to say that in late 2011, the Hilux has never faced such tough and competent competition in its entire history, which can only work in favour of the buyer.

While surveying service centres to investigate what goes wrong with a particular model, it’s not often that you get the blank look that occurs when you mention ‘Hilux’.  However, the latest examples have generated some new compromises (see below) in its evolution from a compact no-frills work vehicle to a bulkier dual purpose passenger vehicle and work ute.

For used buyers who need a hard working vehicle or a cheap to run and practical runabout, there should be a Hilux model and generation that covers a range of body styles and sizes to fit your budget.


Model History


RN10 series, additional grille above quad headlights. 1.5 litre, 82bhp/61kW (below).

RN 10 Series


RN13, RN16, as for 1970 model with fine grille bars, pokier 90hp/67.5kW 1.6 12R pushrod engine.

October 1972

RN20, RN25, new model with single full-width grille, separate twin slots below grille. Same 67.5 kW 12R engine (below).

RN 20/RN 25 series (US model)

March 1975

Facelift, lower grille surround extended towards bumper concealing twin slots of previous model.

November 1977

RN27 LWB half-tonne recreation pick-up. 2.0 litre 18R overhead cam engine. Styling as for 1975.

September 1978

New model RN30, RN40 and RN41 SR-5. Look for single round headlights in grille with four sections of six horizontal bars. Hilux has 1.6 12R pushrod, SR5 has 18R-C 2.0 litre overhead cam and disc brakes (below).

RN 30/RN 40 and RN 41 SR-5 series (LHD model shown)

April 1979

RN46 Hilux 4WD and RN41 2WD with 18R 2.0 litre 63kW overhead cam. 4WD has disc brakes, flared front guards, bolder grille with four framed sections of four horizontal bars.

June 1980

LN40 Diesel 2.2 litre, 46kW belt-drive overhead cam introduced. All models gain chrome bumper.

November 1981

Facelift. Square headlights, twin horizontal grille sections on 2WD models. Six vertical mesh grille sections on 4WD.

November 1982

Double cab RN41 with 18R 2.0 litre petrol or LN40 with L 2.2 Diesel.

November 1983

New model with new pushrod petrol and OHC Diesel engines. YN55 with 1.6 litre 1Y 55kW petrol, YN57 with 2.0 litre 3Y 65kW petrol, LN55 with 2.2 litre L diesel and LN56 with 2.4 litre 2L 55kW diesel. 4WD models become YN65 2.0 litre petrol and LN65 2.4 litre diesel. Look for 24 section grille on 2WD models, six horizontal mesh grille sections on 4WD models. 5 speed manual and 4 sp auto optional on 3Y petrol. 4 sp auto optional on 2.4 litre diesel (below).

YN 55/ YN 57/ LN 55/ LN 56 2WD series

YN 65/ LN 65 4WD series

September 1984

L 2.2 diesel dropped.

November 1985

YN67 4Y 2.2 litre 70kW petrol engine upgrade for 4WD.

February 1987

Facelift. Look for 18-section grille on 2WD, four-section grille on 4WD.

October 1987

YN55 1.6 IY petrol dropped. YN56 1.8 2Y 58kW petrol introduced with 4 speed column manual called Grinner.

October 1988

New model. Grinner YN85 with 2Y engine, RN85 2WD and R105 4WD with 22R 2.4 litre overhead cam 75kW petrol, LN85 with 2L 2.4 diesel, LN106 4WD with 2.8 60kW L diesel. Look for single horizontal grille bar and moulded bumper style (below).

YN 85/ RN 85/ LN 85 series

September 1990

Power steering standard.

September 1991

Facelift with rounded grille styles. LN85 dropped. 2.8 L diesel introduced to selected LN86 2WD models. Toyota logo in horizontal centre grille bar on 2WD. Forward sloping grille style on 4WD with large chrome grille logo (below).

R 105/LN 106 4WD series

August 1994

Mild facelift. Vertical bar below centre grille logo on 2WD. Large full-depth centre vertical grille bar on 4WD.

January 1996

‘Tamworth’ limited edition dual cab in 2WD and 4WD.

October 1997

New series introduced with price cut. Look for the more rounded lines, sculptured front guards with reverse sloping front and separate grille. LN147R (4X2 dual cab) and LN167R (4X4 dual cab) gained Prado’s new 3.0-litre diesel with 65kW/197Nm. Petrol fours on other models included a 2.7-litre EFI with 108kW/235Nm or a new entry level 2-litre (EFI) with 80kW/166Nm (below).

LN 147R 4×2 dual-cab and LN 167R 4×4 dual-cab gained new Prado 3.0L turbo-diesel engines

December 2000

Diesel boosted to 71kW/200Nm.

November 2002

New petrol 3.4-litre V6 with 124kW/291Nm added to range.

September 2003

V6 petrol now LPG compatible.

March 2005

First wide body series GGN25R arrives. New 4.0-litre V6 petrol with 175kW/376Nm and new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel with 120kW/343Nm. New 5-speed auto option on upper levels. Early grille had fat centre bar with pillar under Toyota logo (below).

First wide body GGN 25R series

October 2006

Diesel upgraded for new low sulfur fuel with 126kW/343Nm.

October 2008

MY09 upgrade with single slat open grille.

September 2011

MY12 upgrade with fine horizontal bar grille.


Some Helpful Hints

  • Because the Toyota Hilux is exceptionally durable, its reliability is its main drawback as it can attracts owners who don’t fix anything until it’s broken. Many have not been taken off the road for regular servicing, which can later generate a list of problems. Parts are reasonably priced.
  • Over the years, Hilux engines have changed dramatically as Toyota’s switch to front drive passenger cars has forced the development of specific commercial vehicle engines for load-lugging rear drive applications. 1Y, 2Y, 3Y and 4Y petrol engines were specially developed as simple, easy-to-maintain pushrod engines for commercial use. They are virtually maintenance free, but the hydraulic valve lash adjusters can suffer if oil is not kept clean.
  • The overhead cam 18R/22R petrol engines are variations of early Corona/Celica passenger car engines and are not as simple or reliable. Can suffer from rattly timing chains, severe oil burning and oil leaks around the front of the engine. Head gasket failure is also common with these engines as they age.
  • Unlike Toyota passenger car versions, certain Hilux 18R/22R engines do have valve clearance adjustment so it’s possible that noisy valve gear can be adjusted out.
  • Diesels are exceptionally long lived, but early models were short on grunt and cam belt change intervals and regular oil changes are essential. The injectors can be reconditioned but the pump can cost big money. Accelerate up a hill and check if it belches smoke under load.
  • This all changed with the later wide body series. Many operators found the bigger model to be less agile and more vulnerable to damage in tough conditions, which keeps pre-2005 models in steady demand. The later diesels are also far more sensitive to even slight variations in fuel quality and can generate five-figure repair bills if things go wrong.
  • The later V6 petrol engine is also thirsty and needs a top quality LPG conversion if it’s not to give trouble.
  • Concerns about certain Thai components across this market segment apply equally to the later Hilux, with some operators reporting that items such as clutches, shocks and other components are not as durable as they were previously.
  • Over its model life, the Hilux came as a short and long wheelbase pick-up, a double cab, an extended cab (Xtra) pick-up and a cab/chassis with a variety of tray tops and other fittings. Load capacity also varied, so before purchase make sure that it will meet your requirements.
  • The 3.0-litre diesel in the current shape HiLux is now known for fuel injector problems that first present themselves as excessive noise on start-up. As the fuel injector seals fail, they can cause such extensive damage that the entire engine will need replacing.  In some markets, these injector seals are replaced as a pre-emptive routine maintenance item. Poor fuel has been blamed in some cases but it is worth monitoring developments with local Toyota dealers and HiLux diesel specialists if in doubt.


Hilux: Global View

Australia was one of the few mature automotive markets to experience a wide range of early Japanese utes and was in the box seat to watch the evolution.

There were several market niches waiting to be filled between the locally adapted versions of large full-chassis US pick-ups, the unique coupe-utilities based on Australian passenger cars and the pick-up version of the British Land Rover. The Japanese often used the Australian market as a test context before going global in the early 1960s.

The earliest Japanese utes were based on their four cylinder passenger cars, to slot under the Australian utes with price and some fairly optimistic payload figures as sweeteners. A claimed one tonne capacity for the tiny 1.2-litre Datsun Bluebird was typical.

Toyota also presented coupe utility versions of the Toyota Tiara and Crown, which were similar to Australian rivals as the styling and cabin were based on the sedans. The Crown found steady buyers with its full chassis toughness, but barely adequate power.

Both Toyota and Nissan also offered separate light truck ranges based on more substantial purpose-built four cylinder pick-ups with up to a claimed two tonne capacity.

The Toyota Stout and Nissan Junior (later renamed Datsun two-tonner) were not directly related to any current Japanese passenger car even if they shared some mechanical parts. These vehicles, despite their substantial payload claims that invited comparison with the truck-based pick-ups from Ford, International and Dodge, were much smaller.

Both did reasonably well, as they were much cheaper to buy and run and were much more robust than the passenger vehicle-based utilities, even if they too were underpowered.

As Japanese passenger cars grew in size and switched to unitary body construction, there was a point when the smaller Japanese utes grew closer in size to these heavier duty models and became redundant.

After the Hilux charted its own course between these two classes of Japanese work vehicles late in the 1960s, Japanese rivals soon started separating their passenger range from their work vehicles with purpose-built light trucks featuring cabins that had grown in size. They loosely followed the styling changes of the 1.5-1.8-litre sedans, but charted their own path with full-chassis construction.

Around the same time, new ute versions of smaller Japanese 1.0-1.2-litre passenger models were created to fill the gap at entry level. Today’s global one tonne ranges are the direct descendants of the larger 1.5-1.8-litre models following their complete separation from the passenger car ranges, most of which occurred in the early 1970s.

As the Hilux has shown, the wheel is turning full circle as more passenger vehicle refinements are returned to the specification. TJ



10 Responses to Full History: Toyota Hilux 1968-2012

  • LadyMe says:

    The Hilux still had the round headlights in 1981. I have a 1981 model – it lost the round headlights in 1982. The big change for 1981 was the engine. 1981 is the first year of the 22R.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Joe Kenwright, the author of this article, has double-checked Australian records and cannot find any reference to the 22R 2.4-litre in a HiLux until late in 1988. The 22R 2.4 first reached Australia as a premium fuel injected engine late in 1984 for certain RWD Corona models and Celicas. The 22R 2.4 was also first offered in local HiAce deliveries from 1989. As for the Corona and Celica 2.4, Toyota usually prepared special emissions engines for Australia in tandem with other models. The 1989 HiAce 2.4 light commercial engine is consistent with the late 1988 release of the HiLux 2.4 with the same engine.

      As you say, the first year of the 22R 2.4 was 1981. If there is documentation verifying that HiLux deliveries were sent to Australia with this engine in its first year, we will revise the history. The switch from round headlights was indeed announced in late 1981 in Australia as stated which is consistent with your suggestion that it was a 1982 change.

  • Anon says:

    as said Hilux went to square headlights in 82, i have a 81 4×4 with round headlights.

    • Draxon says:

      I have a 1981 2WD tray-back. It has square headlights. I believe they made the shift to square headlights late in the year. The ’81 has both round and square headlights, depends if you bought it early or late in the year.

  • 81Toyo says:

    Yes, the 22r started in the 4×4′ in 1981, also last year of the round headlights was 81, both are well documented facts.

  • Paul edwards says:

    With the common rail engine in the diesel, how are they going to fix the rattle when the engine’s cold? Who’s going to pay? Not me I hope, the owner of a SR Hilux.

  • John Redfern says:

    The history above does not mention the first 3.0 litre turbo diesel motor, the 1KZ-TE which became available in 2000 in the Hilux and Prado. The Prado gained an intercooler and I believe rear disc brakes, which begs the question of why are the utility cousins treated as poor cousins compared to their wagon cousins? While the 1KT-TE is down on the later diesel, it can be argued they have a better reliability record as long as the Chinese-sourced cylinder head is not one of the faulty ones.

  • Huon PETTITT says:

    I have still got a Hilux RN46 4WD which is a May 1982 build and was first registered in Queensland. It came with the following genuine inclusions: square headlights, bucket seats, centre console between the seats, 4 speed manual, 18R 4 cylinder petrol engine and an air pump to pump air into the exhaust as an attempt to comply with the emission rules. No free-wheeling hubs. The 18R was so pathetic I put a turbo on it. It was still pathetic! The reason? Race engine builders Waggott Engineering (Sydney) found that the camshaft drive sprocket, as built in the factory, was installed on the cam at 10 degrees retarded. When that was fixed the engine came to life! Not as good as the 253 Holden V8 it now has though. Cheers, Grant.

  • Paul Pavia says:

    The 18RC engine in the RN46 series was introduced as a running change in 1981. My RN46 (late) has the non emissions 18R. No air pump, early cylinder head design (closed chamber, early cam profile), single header pipe. It appears that the differences between the early and late engines are not well defined. The oversquare design of this engine does not endow these trucks with much useable torque below 3000 rpm. Then the limitations of the fuel/points ignition system gives barely another 1000 rpm of grunt. Wide gearbox ratios see you falling in a hole. For the sake of originality and a challenge, I’m rebuilding mine with modified 22R crank and faster cam profile. The 18R is not a bad engine, they are well designed and reliable. But they are a car engine and Toyota should never have stuffed them in a truck.

  • Suzette says:

    I am interested in purchasing a 4×4 Toyota pick up for muddy areas.

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