Bought a 2004 Toyota HiAce in India: Living with an 18-year-old van – Team-BHP

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BHPian rrsteer recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Over the years, I have come to value the practicality that vans offer. My love for vans was triggered by the delightful experience I had with our Innova. But, I could have never imagined in the wildest of dreams that within a year of starting looking for a largish van for recreational purposes, I would ultimately end up buying a Hiace and that too in India.
My search for a van truly began sometime in 2018. We were returning from a trip to Palampur, and along the way, I was thinking only about getting a large van. I thought it would be an ideal vehicle for family vacations. Tata Winger and Force Traveller were the two vehicles that fit the description and for some time I was obsessed with the thought of buying either one of them. Of course, my family baulked and never understood how attached I was to the idea.
I would regularly screen OLX for both vehicles. The closest I came to buying either, was a 2013 Winger that was privately registered and had run for some 30k kms, if I remember correctly. The engine wasn’t the 2.2 Dicor though. While the car was not in the best of shapes, it was better than almost any other Winger I saw. Such was my eagerness, I was ready to buy it there and then, but fortunately lost the deal to another gentleman. May God bless him! The other close shave I had was with a Force Traveller being sold somewhere in Karnataka. It brings me a laugh now when I think about all the things I was doing then. Anyhow, God showed mercy on me and I spotted this HiAce parked outside a garage while on the road to Delhi. Made quick inquiries and got in touch with the owner, who was already selling it. Thereafter, I moved fast and within a couple of days was barrelling down the NH1 in the 15-year-old van that had run 2 lac km.
History, as I get to hear a lot nowadays, is often manipulated. So with that thought in mind, this is what the previous owner told me about the van’s history.
It’s a 2004, model that was built specifically for Eastern European countries. It was used by the Hungarian embassy as a school cum office bus. Thereafter it was purchased by a friend of the owner in 2017. Unfortunately, the person had to leave India for good but not before spending a good deal of time and money attending to the needs of the van (ah the Bollywood-ish cliché!). Now, I don’t have the knowledge or the experience to evaluate cars, but what I saw and felt of the van, really impressed me then. Haggled a bit and finally paid 3.25 lacs for it. Looking back, it has turned out to be a steal – a homerun of a purchase.
The van had ‘Toyota’ marked parts everywhere, e.g. this side view mirror. All the windows had ‘Toyota’ inscribed:

One test I have of used cars is to look for the manual and the condition of the jack and tool set. While the manual was absent, the jack and tool set were in very good condition and tucked in exactly where they should have been:

Just look at the condition of the roof lining:

As I undertook the first journey, driving the van back home – a 150 km odd trip, I couldn’t believe my luck. It was driving so smooth. The engine had that unmistakable grunt that a typical Toyota diesel has. The brakes were good. The AC cooled and the original radio was working fine. Amazingly, this 15-year-old metallic bread box had nary a squeak or a rattle – a trait that only a Toyota can have in my honest opinion. The journey had an overdose of ‘life’s beautiful’ vibe but was regularly interspersed with thoughts from Murphy dear.
Let me quickly summarize what extra I had to spend on the van before my ownership period truly began.

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. I will not stretch it and say it is a thing of art, but I like the looks. Especially when viewed from the side when the awning is visible, it bears a purposeful look, I feel. I haven’t been stopped by the police for having the awning on the top, so far. But, I have been stopped by Army soldiers. We live next to a cantonment and have to cross it to access the highway. The first few times, the soldiers manning the checkpoint stopped us to inquire about it. Given my frequent passage through the checkpoint, I know a few of them and they told me that they initially thought it to be some type of ammunition launcher!

The front has a typical 90s Jap car design, while the back is plain jane.


The current wheels and tyres are not the factory size, but they fill the wheel well quite nicely and make the van look big. The alloys are from the Innova, and the van came shod with them.

The reaction of people when they look at the van ranges from it being a Full-Size Maruti Van to a ‘High’ roof Tata Ace (lol). I have also been stopped by a discerning few, inquiring more about it and checking if I was selling it. And before I miss to add, the van is eye candy stuff for school bus drivers and tour operators. That Toyota logo in a mini-bus-type body is what dreams are made of for them (Well, it was for me too!). They bring their autos / mini-buses / travellers next to me and nonchalantly check the interiors. Once someone perplexed by just 4 seats at the back, even asked ‘paaji kinney nayane fit karde ho?’ (Brother, how many school kids do you fit in inside?)
The USP. Sadly, I have ruined it a bit by replacing the original arrangement with 4 captain seats from Innova. For a start, I could have bought seats of some other car. In the scrap market, I see seats (of good quality) of luxury cars going for a song. Given the space, many different permutations and combinations can be thought of, and I hope to correct my folly soon. Also, the new seat arrangement disturbed the seat belt alignment. For now, only one seat in the back gets seat belts.
The back seats:

The massive leg room:

The rear most seats

That said, the seats at the front for the driver and the passenger are par excellence. At least for me, they have the right support and I can be perched on that driver’s seat for however long I want. While the driver seat can move forward and backwards and tilt, the passenger seat is fixed and the engine is accessed by flipping it up. But it’s still very comfortable to sit there – it’s like you are sitting on an armchair.
A view of the front seats:

For an eighteen-year-old vehicle, the van is very well equipped with features. It has power windows for both front seats (including one-touch feature for the driver side), central locking, rear defogger with wiper, dual AC with independent control at the front and back and a CD player. All the features work as desired except for the defogger which gave up recently and central locking – that works partially.
A special note on the power windows – they go up and down quite smoothly and without any noise or hesitation. In my experience, Toyota cars have the most consistent and graceful power window operation. Similar to the Hiace, our Etios too works very well in this aspect, as did the Innova.
Overall, the family likes travelling in it (specific to certain conditions). There is so much space, so much light and absolutely no tension with regards to accommodating luggage.
The cockpit and all the controls:

Power window switches at the front:

It is powered by an old-school 3-litre naturally aspirated diesel engine churning out about 90bhp and has 192 NM of torque. The engine is from Toyota’s 5L diesel engine family. The last of the NA diesel engines before being replaced by the D4D generation.
I get consistent mileage from the van. It hovers between 9.5kmpl to 11 kmpl irrespective of the conditions, which I think is fairly decent and reflects the good condition of the engine.
Overall mileage:

The 3L Naturally Aspirated Engine:

The engine has got good low and mid-range torque and pulls cleanly from a standstill in an endearing way. In the city, it’s very tractable. The steering though power-assisted, is on the harder side, tuned very similar to how it’s in the Innova. In spite of that, a commanding driving position, excellent visibility of what lies ahead (since one is sitting on the edge) and the fact that the van’s body ends where you think it ends, ensures it’s quite easy to drive in the city. I have a lot of fun squeezing it in and out of traffic. Size-wise, it’s longer than the Innova/Crysta and almost similar in length to the Kia Carnival. But contrasted with the Carnival, while driving the Carnival is a chore in traffic, this is a breeze.
On the other hand, driving it on the highway is a totally different story. It’s meant for idiosyncratic like me. Accelerating above 80kmph, is the beginning of torture, both for the engine and your senses. On the highways, I just cruise at 75kmph. That’s a sweet spot for the van. The engine feels lusty, the brakes respond well and the van feels sturdy. But this can test the patience of the passengers and hence forced to use it only for short day trips or rides to the hills.
The ride and handling is as good or bad as you would expect from a ladder frame, bread box-shaped van. Given the reality, have low expectations and thus not much to complain about. E.g., our trip to Spiti was actually very comfortable. The road from Kaza to Manali, which is a back-breaking one, we were all at ease – the ride and the high GC of the van ensured we were unperturbed.
Brakes are applied through discs at the front and drums at the rear. In the limited use case, they work quite well and do a good job of stopping the vehicle. I say limited since I don’t cross 80kmph and my driving style is defensive. Again, the braking feel is quite akin to the Innova.
If you are used to cars of today, you will find the NVH jarring. On the other hand, if you consider the type of engine it has, where its placed, and how old it is and compare it to what you experience in a typical Tata Winger or a Force Traveller, you will appreciate what Toyota has done. I’d say the NVH factor is at par or only slightly worse than what I have experienced in the Qualis.
It has a dual AC setup and it makes the large cabin comfortable in quick time. It’s when you see and experience stuff like this, that you tend to have a bit more respect for the Toyota guys. I say so because it is now an 18-year-old van, that has passed through multiple owners, but the AC and AC controls work absolutely fine, with no complaints whatsoever. I find this just brilliant!
The Rear AC Unit

Controls for the rear heater for passengers at the back:

We have used it extensively to travel to the Hills and beyond. It’s when travelling to the hills that the qualities of the van truly shine. Ample GC, torque and visibility keep the driver happy, while the space on offer, being able to carry and access anything that your heart desires and the ability to get box office views of nature keep the passengers entertained.
A few pics from some of the journeys undertaken:
Firstly, my daughters absolutely love this vehicle. They call it ‘Pug’ for some reason.

Setting up our lunch table somewhere in Chitkul:

Waking up inside the van:

Witnessing snowfall in Palampur, of all places.

Proved its mettle on the ride to Spiti.


We started our journey to Manali from Kaza at about 4 am. This pic was taken at about 7 am just after the turn for Chandra Taal.

Stopped at this site on the way from Kaza to Manali. It was almost winter, but one just can’t ignore the sight of a clear stream running down a mountain.

Finally, a picture of when we spent a comfortable night on the highway. The awning can be turned into a room and we were carrying folding beds. It was winter and if you are to travel to Punjab, winter is the time. The crispiness in the air and the very smell of winter are just intoxicating.

I have also put the van to frequent hard use, and it hasn’t disappointed.

I want to get these repairs done only by someone who has the experience of working on old Toyotas, hence the delay in getting these sorted. I had contacted a T-Bhp member and ideally want the repairs to be done in his garage, but am scared to cross into Delhi – the police have gotten really strict nowadays. Sooner or later, though I have to make a decision.
Finally, hope our relationship is like this cheesy line written at the back of the bus:

(Treat me like a queen and I will turn you into a king)
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