close up arb front bumper fj cruiser

ARB Bumper – Long-Term Review

fj cruiser muddy trail fall colors 6It has been about two years since we first installed ARB’s Bull Bar on our off-road adventure based Toyota FJ Cruiser. In the early days of the FJ Cruiser, our choices of bumpers were limited to only a handful. ARB has been there with their bull bar since the beginning. These days FJ Cruiser owners have a wide array of the options when it comes to an aftermarket shell style bumpers but ARB remains as the standard by which others are measured.

ARB is one of the best known companies for aftermarket 4×4 products.  Headquartered out of Australia with it’s North American office in Renton WA., ARB has been building their 4WD products, outback tough for more than three decades.  In our case their bumper lived up to its reputation.  Originally installed on our Toyota FJ Cruiser to protect the front end during our Arctic Circle off-road adventure where there is always a real chance of colliding with wild life… large wild life.  After making the journey north the bumper continued to guarded the front end from trees, rocks and what goes bump in the night on numerous 4×4 trails and back roads across the west.arb bumper fj cruiser beach

Our overall impression?  This is a strong, well designed bumper (strong enough to hold your favorite pint glass).  Intended for off-road adventures in the Australian Outback, the bumper is built tough, supports a winch and houses built-in IPF fog lights as well as top mounted off-road lights.  This is the only after market bumper we know of which has been crash tested.

On the down side, like all shell style bumpers, that mass of steel is heavy and its square style pushes a lot of air, contributing to lower mpg.  When the rig is flexing over rocks or running fast down washboard back roads, expect a little rub from the bumper on the corners and fender flairs (we found this to be true for us and other ARB equipped FJ Cruisers we looked at).

2007 toyota fj cruiser field arb bumperQuality construction, bullet proof design and a reasonable approach angle makes the ARB, in our opinion, the top shell style bumper on the market today.  The ARB Bumper provided years of protection and performed well regardless of the terrain.  This is a product we can recommend to anyone looking for a shell style expedition bumper.

This is also the point at which we retired the ARB Bumper in order to test a Metal Tech tube style front bumper, but that’s another story…  off-road adventure accessory

fj cruiser packed maxtrax

Off-Road Recovery Made Easy

fj cruiser stuck in sand maxtrax ladders4×4 off-road adventures can put you in some sticky places and the last thing you want is to get your 4WD truck stuck.  Winches are great for self recovery as long as you have an anchor point.  But what do you do if there nothing but sand all around and no other rigs about?  We tested out a recover system (aka sand ladders) from Maxtrax out of Australia to see if we could find an easy one man means for getting unstuck.

fj cruiser arb bullbar maxtrax front wheelThe first thing you notice about Maxtrax is they are light, easy to work with and stack neatly for storage.  The second thing you notice is that Maxtrax put a lot of thought into their design and managed to build a better mouse trap with added gripping power built into the ladders as well as handles.  But do they work?

Putting the sand ladders to work is pretty easy…  On 4WD vehicles, place the Maxtrax up against the front wheels.  You may need to dig a little so the ladders lay as flat as possible, but that is easy enough since the Maxtrax can act as a shovel for scooping sand out of the way.fj cruiser driving on maxtrax

With the ladders in place, climb in the 4WD rig and drop it into low.  Gently apply the throttle.  As the tires slowly turn they will draw the Maxtrax sand ladders in and climb on top using the recovery system to gain traction and move the rig forward.  Keep the throttle steady and drive straight.

Once you’re onto firmer ground, it’s easy to go back and grab your Maxtrax for the next time you need a little help out of a sticky situation.

As advertised the Maxtrax recovery system worked well for getting us out of the deep sand.  When it came to hills we found it takes a little more work to use the ladders to move forward like climbing steps.  maxtrax fj cruiser stuck on sand hillPut the sand ladders under the rig, climb forward, retrieve the ladders, rinse and repeat until you’re up and over the dune.

Maxtrax recovery system does make self extraction in sand, snow and mud an easy one person job. These Maxtrax have definitely become a standard for our off-road adventures.

compass map

Adventure Puzzles For Your Mind

Puzzled about how to get out on the trail, looking for direction, need a break from the day to day grind… or just looking to kill time between meetings? How about attempting one of our puzzles. On the road (in the airport this time) I’m always looking for something to kill time so thought folks might enjoy these.  Time your self and leave a comment letting us know your best score to beat.

Try our Overland Badge… Not as easy as it looks


They get harder as you go… This oldy but goody comes from our Arctic Ocean adventure

See if your anywhere in this one… Remember the adventure on the dunes?

How did you do? Leave a comment let us know.

the slab 4x4 trails

4×4 Adventure On “The Slab”

the slab hills 4x4 trailsLet me start by squelching the rumors that I’ve got an IFS dark cloud circling over head…  But more on that later…

A while back Jerry over on the Pacific NW Backroad Adventures Forum announced an off-road adventure out to “The Slab” in central Washington.  The Slab, named for the little cement pad that serves as the gathering place, is an open sagebrush filled area just northwest of Zillah, Washington.  It is a wide open area full of two tracks, hill climbs and sunshine which sounded like heaven in the middle of a wet, western Washington spring.

If you’re going explore the dirt you’re going to have to cover a lot of concrete getting there. To get to The Slab the drive took us over the Snoqualmie Pass as the sun was coming up just past O’dark thirty. Crossing over the pass the 20 degree, tree lined, snow capped mountains were soon replaced by sunny dry rolling hills, scrub, fence lines and wide open highway, not a bad start.  Rolling through the Yakima Valley and on into Zillah I soon met up with the crew that I would be running with.  Strewn around Micky D’s were 4x4s sporting Ford, Toyota and Subaru badges telling the tale of those inside.  This group is focused on wheeling, not the wheels your driving and everyone is welcome to come along even a voodoo FJ Cruiser.snoqualmie pass snow highway

Our leader, and generally great guy, Jerry gave us a quick run down of what to expect on the slab; rolling hills, steep hills, and one call Rollover Hill along with a place aptly named flex canyon guaranteed to pit driving skills against rock, bent metal and broken glass.  Driving through the apple orchards, we soon arrived at the concrete pad to gather up and air down.

eastern washington fence lineIn no time the rigs were set as we mounted up for Jerry to lead us into the hills with a brief stop to peak at flex canyon.  This is a great place to work on driving skills.  Winding through “telephone line” you get plenty of off camber experience and a chance to measure the width of your rig by squeezing it past sage brush branches which appear to reach out for your rig in an attempt to apply pinstripes as you go by.

Approaching the down side of steep hills can be a bit unnerving as you loose sight of the ground below with only the hills on the other side of the valley appearing over the hood.  However these vistas are quickly replaced as gravity grabs the nose of your rig and pulls it down the incline giving you a clear view of where the incline rejoins level ground some 50 feet beyond.  Of course coming up offers a similar experience as you approach the  crest viewing nothing but blue sky and glaring sun until the rig levels out on top.  These are tiny moments where you just have to have faith.toyota fj cruiser ARB bull bar the slabs

Soon a voice came over the CB announcing several guys from the All Wheelers Club had arrived and would soon join up with us.  These guy rolled in sporting rigs clearly built for the hard core stuff and we followed them back to Flex Canyon, where they put their skills to the test.  Big tires, high lifts and lots of flex, these guys made easy work of it.

Now back to that dark cloud thing…  As you recall from our 4×4 adventure in the dunes, day 1 turned into axle field repair, and on this run, one of the Subaru among us gave up not one but two IFS axle shafts.  This time however, he was equipped with all the spare parts, tools and a through knowledge of axle repair in order to have the Subaru back together just as everyone finished lunch.broken subaru half shafts

Not quite ready to leave yet, the whole crew poked around the hills a little more and before long we were looking up at Rollover Hill.  The 100 plus foot climb is steep and requires speed to conquer but just as you approach the upper area there is a bump forcing you to slow, followed by a stretch of traction-less gravel.  The hill gets its name from the rigs that fail to make through the final gravel section and have to back down, only to get kitty wompus with gravity taking hold and testing its roll cage.

4x4 susuki jeeps subaruTrue as the day is long,  the fact is that “it is not the rig, its the driver”.  Phil first looked up the incline, walked to its top, surveyed  the change in terrain, calculated his changes and put together his plan.  Phill’s rig is a capable Ford Explore, but no giant lift, mud slinging tires or locking differentials, just a man who knows how to drive what he brung.  And we all watch as he headed up one of the more difficult routes making his way over the bump and clawing through the gravel leaving a cloud of dust as crested the top and made the sharp turn. After seeing who easy Phil made it look a number of us thought about taking a turn but never after 3:00 p.m. and you shouldn’t really climb hills for 30 minutes after eating…

Bonus pictures at our Flickr off-road adventure account

The Slab is not a big area but with all the trails winding back around on themselves and cutting back and forth we spent a full day wheeling and enjoying the company making new friends as well as connect once more with some old one.  If you ever get the chance join a trip put on by Pacific NW Backroad Adventures…  I promise you wont be disappointed.

yellow sun fusion fj cruiser rock crawling

The Press Can’t Stop Complementing The FJC

Seems like this year which is probably its last, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser has received more press than ever before. Take for example “FJ Cruiser does its off-road namesake proud, Toyota’s rock-crawling mud eater is the real deal in an era of phonies” on the Edmonton Journal site.

Like most of the reviews, it talks about the more than capable off-road qualities of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, ranks it at the top above Jeep, Hummer or Land Rover (some combination of price, quality, and capability), and informs you that the seats are little uncomfortable (I don’t get that one), the nobs are big (I like Fisher Price sized toys) and of course the now legendary blind spots.  But they also let you know that all great rigs of the past have had their quarks.

With the phasing out of the FJ Cruiser at the end of 2014 there remains hundreds of thousands out there and like their older brothers, these will be handed down, sold, traded and reincarnated by thousands more new off-road enthusiast  for decades to come.

My prediction from back in the day seems to have been pretty close…

Look for a big hand off with many of the 4×4 technologies and styling ques showing up on the Toyota 4Runner.  I believe the FJ Cruiser allowed Toyota to test a number of engineering and styling ideas as well as 4×4 goodies in a smaller package that are now ready to land on the Toyota 4Runner, their more mainstream vehicle.  But that is just my prediction… 

To bad I couldn’t have found a line on it in Vegas?

fj cruiser rear lower control arm install

How To Install Rear Lower Control Arms

Metal Tech fj cruiser lower control arm stock fj cruiser lower control armSooner or later anyone who spends a little time enjoying off-road adventures will hear a story from someone they know who bent their rear lower control arm (LCA).  On FJ Cruisers the stock rear LCAs are not the strongest in the world and the first time they get dragged over a rock or log, they’ll fold like origami.

The fix for this weak link is to swap out the stock rear LCAs for a set Metal Tech 4×4 LCAs made out of D.O.M. tubing, aka high-strength seamless carbon steel.  And as you would expect from the guys who defined protection, Metal Tech has engineer a pair specifically for those who wheel their FJC.  Besides strength, Metal Tech added length adjustments to their rear LCAs to ensure proper geometry is maintained for rigs with different lift setups.  In fact last time we were at Metal Tech, we asked Mark to show us how they build their rear LCA.metal tech fj cruiser rear lower control arm cut away

  1. separate the heads of the Stock LCA from the body
  2. liberate the bushing by squeezing it out.  Less pain the childbirth but just about as much noise
  3. demonstrate unequaled TIG welding skills, assembling all the parts including tubing body, threaded adjustable section and heads
  4. press down the bushings and thread a grease nipple into place

There is always a big confidence booster in a product when the manufacturer is proud to show off exactly how their product was designed and the process for creating a part they put their name behind.  And after seeing how Metal Tech engineered and builds their LCAs, there was no questions about which ones were going on our rig.

Flip the calendar forward a few months and we were back at the shop getting our own pair of rear LCAs. Arriving at Metal Tech, Mark wasted no time putting our rig up on jack stands and pulling the rear wheel.  The procedure is very straight forward, remove the bolt, holding the emergency break line to the LCA and than the bolts that hold the LCA to the rig, one at each end.  One of the tricks Mark showed us that the Toyota rear lower control are installation instructions omits is that by placing a strap around the axle to hold it in place will keep everything still making both LCA removal and re-installation a simple procedure.  When attaching the strap around the axle take care to clear the brake lines and ABS sensor cable.

Metal Tech LCAs are fully adjustable.  Once you have the stock LCA removed, match it up to the new one and adjust the head until they are the length you want.  Once you have the length dialed in for the specific geometry of your rig match up the second LCA so they are the same.installing fj cruiser rear lower control arm

Bolting the new LCA in place is a simple matter of sliding the front head its mount and slide the retaining bolt through to hold it in place followed by doing the same on the other end.  When mounting up Metal Tech LCAs remember the adjustable head attaches in the rear with the grease nipple point up out of the way.  Slide the washers over the bolts front and rear and tighten up the nuts.  You will want to torque the bolts down to the proper setting.  Toyota calls for 96 ft/lbs.  A little hint here:  Fix the nut with a box wrench while turning the bolt head with the torque wrench.

After you have the LCA bolted up and removed your strap, replace the bracket holding the emergency brake line and bolt it into place.  Replace the tire and head over to the other side to rinse and repeat.  That is all there is to it.installing lower control arm toyota fj cruiser

Once both LCAs are replaced and the rig is back on the ground, take it for a spin around the block and than torque down the bolts once more to ensure proper hold.

With the new rear LCAs we can rest a little easier if we have to drag the rear end over an obstacle on the off-road trail without worry that a bent LCA will put an end to our run or worse cause us to hike out for help.

Update: Metal Tech 4×4 has released their second generation lower control arms for the FJ Cruiser and Toyota 4Runner.  The new control arms have the added benefit of being offset that prevents binding and improves it’s ability to slid over obstacles.