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4Runner Modifications

By Nick H-J

::The Truck

We are traveling (and living) in a 1988 Toyota 4Runner that was bought and outfitted specifically for this trip.  I’ll give you a short run down on the details.  If anyone (gear heads) has more specific technical questions about how I did something feel free to write me or comment on this post and I’ll be happy to answer questions or provide more details.

I chose a late model Toyota because it will be easier to get parts for and easier to work on. The Hilux is the South American counterpart to U.S. DX Short bed and very close to the 4Runner in many ways.  I also made this choice because late model Toyotas with the 22RE engine are unarguably the best small trucks ever made.  Old Toyotas are ubiquitous down south from what I gather and so finding people that work on them should be easier as well.

::The Engine

I’m running a 150hp long block 22RE engine built by D.O.A. Racing.  We are averaging almost 17 MPG (13.5 in the mountains) with all the gear loaded in the truck.  It’s somewhat underpowered but I will comfort myself about that by remembering that I can afford to drive it to Argentina since it’s a 4 cylinder.

::The Roof

It has a Can-Back canvas top on the back (www.can-back.com).  It mostly keeps the water off of the sleeping platform and out of our gear.  It has a few years of wear on it and I’m sure was slightly less leaky when it was new.  It really only lets a few drops through and I have to say, I love it.  We can roll up the sides and back and have the whole back area be open air when it’s warm.  With a Yakima Load Warrior rack on top and dry bags, we nearly double our storage space.  It however does not provide any security. Which leads me to the following section:

::The Cage

I added this because we have all our gear in the truck and we are heading into Central and South America, as well as some dicier areas of The States.  Also because we want to be able to sleep most anywhere.  The cage will do a fairly good job at discouraging all but the most determined bandits and will definitely keep out animals (short of grizzlies).  I welded up 3 panels that bolt to the metal Can-Back frame.  They are made of expanded metal and flat-bar (also some angle iron).  The trick to the design is to make sure that they don’t rub the canvas and tear it, or prevent it from snapping into place where it clips to the sides of the truck.  After I built the panels I had them sprayed with Rhino Lining to keep them from cutting us when we bump into them and tearing the canvas.  Also since they are iron and steel it prevents rust.  I drilled holes in the frame and welded nuts to the inside so that I could just use security screws to attach the panels to the frame without messing with nuts and bolts at once.  The back panel required tabs to be welded to the frame and nuts welded to the tabs.

:: The Console and Dash

I removed the stock center console and built this one out of Advantech 3/4 OSB.  I then wrapped it in marine carpet from Home Depot.  The stock console just didn’t have enough room in it, and there were no cup holders (and who can live without cup holders?).  This provides us with just under a cubic foot of storage and houses the charging station for our walkie-talkies.

I added a pillar mounted gauge array that I found on 4crawler.com and bought from Jeff Moskovitz to keep an eye on things.  It has a Tachometer, a Voltage, and an Oil Pressure Gauge.  For electrical power we have a 1000W (peak) 110V inverter that is mounted in behind the dash console and provides two outlets.  The console also houses a CB and CD player.  We have just added a satellite radio so we don’t feel quite so cut off when we’re out in the sticks down south.  (We’ll let you know what we think of it once we’ve had a chance to use it and see how it performs south of the border).

:: The Front Bumper

This is the thing that held us up from starting the trip.  It’s an ARB bumber that houses our Warn XD9000 winch.  It also holds 2 sets of KC lights.  A set of Long throws and a set of short throw driving lights.  After looking at the price of lights and comparing different brands I decided these were the best fit since they provide a fair amount of light and are not so expensive that I would cry more than a few minutes if they were stolen off the truck.  I may get around to posting about the amazing level of incompetence that seems to be the standard at 4 Wheel Parts in Raleigh NC.  Let us just say that after two weeks of delays and many broken promises I went and took my truck back and finished the job myself.  I’ll include this one detail here: They gave me my truck back and let me drive off without bolting the front of the body back to the frame…….. everything else they did was just as staggering in it’s ineptitude.  If you were thinking of using them for anything more than creating a headache for you, just send your money to me and I’ll do nothing to your rig for half the price they’re quoting you.

::The Sleeping Deck

I wanted to keep the ability to use the back seats if they were needed.  So I built the platform in two sections.  If I remove the front section of the deck I can fold the seats up for carrying extra company.  The deck itself is made of 3/4 Advantech as to be waterproof and thick enough not to flex too much.  I wrapped it in marine carpet from Home Depot (maybe $20 worth did the deck and the console).  I bolted flanges to the body using some bits of rubber as gaskets to prevent water from getting in and then used 3/4″ threaded pipe to connect the flanges on the body to the flanges I bolted to the deck itself.  The flanges furthest from the camera in the photo to the right are fitted into flanges that are bolted to the floor behind the front seats in order to make the platform stable over the folded down back seats (which are not so stable).  Bolting it all together makes it somewhat inconvenient to get at our gear when we want something buried deep in the back of the storage area.  The advantage is that when the tailgate is locked shut (with an exterior pad lock) there is no way to get in to the gear storage area even if you break into the truck.  The pipe and flange system also provides a sturdy platform that wouldn’t allow our gear to go flying around the cab in the event that we rolled the truck.

::The Fridge/Freezer

We bought an Engel MT17 Fridge/Freezer and have been very pleased with it so far.  It pulls only about 3 amps so I’m not worried about running down the batteries and it will indeed freeze if I turn it up that high.  It has just enough room to keep the essentials cold for two people and doesn’t take up any more room than a cooler. The Champs gives you an idea of the size… and the lifestyle… ha…yeah right.

::The Kitchen

I swapped out the carpet panel on the tailgate for cutting board so that we could take things out of the fridge, chop them up and cook them all right there without needing to set up a table.  Because I wasn’t sure that the cutting board I used could stand the heat of the stove (we are using an MSR Dragonfly) I put a piece of left over Advantech on one side to put the stove on.

::The Exhaust and Spare

I rerouted the tail pipe further to the side of the truck and out the rear leaf spring to make enough room under the truck for a 33″ spare.  I’m running 35″ tires at the moment put plan to go down to 33″ before heading into Mexico.  I’m afraid my independent front suspension won’t be able to take the sideways loads generated by such big tires on rough terrain.  I’m thinking I’ll also pick up another spare.  I’d love to put a tail gate multi-carrier like this one from Kennesaw Mountain Accessories, but I’m not sure it’s in the budget.

::The Batteries

In order to run all the electrical equipment and not fear draining the battery I’m running two Optima Yellow Top Batteries.  The first is in the front left corner of the truck (stock air box location).  The second I mounted under the truck just in front of the spare tire. (Calphalon makes a brownie baking tray that seems to have actually been designed for holding a battery under a truck).  Putting one battery under the truck allows me to eventually add a snorkel similar to the one Roger Brown (4crawler.com) designed.  If you are into 4runners you need to know who this guy is.  He has built the baddest 4runner I’ve ever seen and seems to be the ‘Mcgyver meets Mr. Wizard’ of the Toyota world.  Per his recommendation I am using a Painless Wiring battery isolating system and though it did come with the switch wired wrong from the factory, it has performed well since we corrected the original problem by rewiring it.

::Tips and Tricks

-Keeping Components in Place

Because we are heading into places where I have heard horror stories about people’s cars and trucks being stripped while they slept inside a house just feet away I took some extra precautions.  I tack welded a number of connections between the frame and important and expensive extras.  I welded; bumper to frame, winch to bumper, lights to bumper, the heads on the bolts holding in my extra battery, etc.  If you can remove it from the truck from the outside with a wrench, I welded it in place so that you really have to want it to get it.  I know I can’t make it impossible to steal components off the

truck, but if you are going to get it, you are going to earn it.

-Eyes in the Back of My Head

I installed a motorcycle alarm that has a two-way paging system.  It is quite sensitive and if it is set off I get a page on my pager letting me know that something is being tampered with.

-Keeping the doors closed

I installed exterior locks on the doors so that even if you break a window, you still can’t open the doors.  If you want to get anything out you have to pass it out the windows.  This is in line with my philosophy that if you are going to steal it from me, I’m going to make you earn it.  These locks are on the tailgate as well.  This way it is very difficult to get into the gear storage area (under the sleeping deck). I first saw this idea on a vehicle on Chris Marzonie’s website Bajataco.com which is a great site for anyone who likes traveling off road and is into stuff like this.

-Starter Kill

This is a removable key that interrupts the electrical system when removed and prevents the truck from being started.

-Other Security Features

I will discuss other security features I’ve added after the trip as talking about them now might compromise their usefulness down the line if any of you decide to try something………. I’ll leave it at this:

Think tiger pit.

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5 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. hey nick good info man !!! thanks !

    1. mario.D on August 22nd, 2010 at 11:37 pm
  2. The cutting board I used came from Target. I had to use two pieces, which I cut to shape from two of their largest size cutting boards. After looking at Costco (nothing big enough) and in kitchen supply stores (way too expensive) I decided to just live with the seam. The seam hasn’t been any trouble so far. You could definitely use Formica if you supported it with something.

    - Nick H-j

    2. Nick H-J on October 29th, 2009 at 3:32 pm
  3. Hey Nick,
    Where’d you get the cutting board material on such a large scale. Was thinking about using a counter top material like Formica.
    -Dustin
    http://www.twentyfirstcenturynomads.com

    3. Dustin on October 26th, 2009 at 10:05 am
  4. Fine job! I was reading along, waiting for you to describe the security system, knowing you wouldn’t, and you didn’t! Congrats! It was great watching you put the truck together and it’s a great visual tour in the blog. Love to you both.

    4. Stephen on March 14th, 2009 at 9:27 am
  5. Shit, this makes me want to get a truck!
    Glad to see you guys are off and rambling.

    5. Dave Wofford on March 13th, 2009 at 11:44 am

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