15 minute Gadget Wire-Up

I love all the gadgets available these days that make getting to your off-road adventure a breeze.  But I hate wires dangling all over, getting in the way and generally creating a big spaghetti mess. Sure you can hard wire the gizmo into your rig’s electrical but than you can’t easily move it to another rig and you still have to route the wires.  So to satisfy my love hate relationship with gadgets and keep it simple I came up with the 15 minute GPS gadget wire-up.

Although I performed this mod using a Garmin nav which is stuck to the windshield, it will work with most dash or windshield mounted gadgets.

States have numerous rules of the road and one law that many states have adopted is the placement of a windshield attached gadget.  The nav unit needs to be placed in the  lower corner of the windshield (check your state’s regulations).  So in order to keep us out of trouble and allow my navigator quick access, I choose the lower passenger side but this mod will work equally well on the drivers side.

In order to run the power from the GPS  to the auxiliary power supply down on the console, we are going to run the power cable under dash, behind the glove box and up to the power source.  This simple mod will require a 10mm socket, a small flat screw driver, a couple of zip ties and 15 minutes.

Use a thin piece of ridged plastic (a popsicle stick or small screw driver will also work) to remove the bolt cover on the “oh my god” handle on the A-pillar.  Slide the screw driver  between the top of the cover and the handle pressing downward a little as it slides in.  After both covers are off, remove the two 10mm bolts holding the handle to the A pillar.

With the handle removed, the A pillar cover is held in place with two small plastic snaps.  Gently pull the inside cover away from the A pillar.  The snaps will release their grip allowing you to remove it and gain access to the dash.

Now that the top is exposed, we move on to the glove box.  The FJ  Cruiser’s glove box is held in place with a single hinge pin and two stoppers.  Open the glove box and slide off the hinge pin which is attached to the glove box on the right side.  After sliding off the hinge pin, press on the outside of the glove box’s sides, pushing inward, to allow the stoppers to come forward.  The bottom of the glove box is attached with an open hinge design and you can easily lift it out.  You should now have clear access to route your power code.

Run your power cord down from the top of the dash and over to the console zip tying it to keep the cord out of the way and in place.   Since we also use the auxiliary power outlet  to charge up the iPod we added a splitter to keep the power flowing to the GPS nav as well as any other gadget we might have on board.  To keep things simple we slide the power cord between the front console cover and floor covering rather than than removing console.  Remember we wanted to keep this simple and easy.

After the cord is in place give the nav a quick power test to ensure power is flowing freely, before buttoning everything back up.  To put your FJ Cruiser back together, reverse the process, setting the glove box in place followed by snapping in the inside cover of the A-pillar and than bolting up the “oh my god” handle.

This mod is not going to make you go faster, ride higher or improve your gas mileage but it will keep the power cords out of the way, lend to a neat clean appearance and allow you to worry less about anything getting hung up on your power cords.  Best of all…  the GPS nav is easy to see while still keeping an eye on the road as we find our way to our next off-road adventure.

CB Talk For Your Off-Road Adventure

Every once in a while we get to share advice from real experts.  This time, Andrew Youderian from Right Channel CB Radios helped to explain some of the basic components that make up a complete CB package for off-road communication.  So give this a read and don’t hesitate to let Andrew know you appreciate his contribution…

While the CB radio remains the most popular method for vehicle-to-vehicle communication on the trail, assembling a off-road CB system can seem complex.  The vast array of available radios, antennas and mounting solutions can cause confusion and uncertainty for those unfamiliar with CBs.  Fortunately, CB systems are simple and assembling a complete off-road installation is straightforward if you understand a few key principles.

CB Antenna

While there are lots of different types of CB antennas, fiberglass antennas are usually the best choice for off-road vehicles.  They generally are the most durable, provide the most mounting flexibility and are affordable.  When selecting a fiberglass antenna, you’ll want to consider:

  • Length:  The longer the antenna, the better performance you’ll receive.  A 3’ to 4’ length is generally recommended.  You want to make sure that, at a minimum, the top of the antenna is slightly above the roof-line of the rig.
  • Flexibility:  You want to make sure your antenna can survive a few hard shots on the trail;  breaking an antenna half-way through an off-road adventure is no fun.  It’s smart to get a flexible antenna (which are marketed as such), or to add a spring to a stiffer antenna to provide flexibility and prevent breakage.
  • Type:  The Wilson FLEX and Firestik FS are two of the most popular off-road antennas available.  The Wilson is ideal if you want a really flexible antenna, and the Firestik is the better option if you want the best possible performance.  While there are other quality antennas available, these two are very popular and are highly recommended.

CB Radio

When picking a radio, the most important thing to remember is that all CB radios are limited to 4 watts of transmission power by the FCC.  This means that all CB models will transmit at the same range, everything else equal.  Picking a radio really comes down to deciding which bells and whistles you want.  The good news is that it’s possible to get a basic, bare-bones radio for around $50 that will transmit just as well as a high-end $150 unit.

So what should you consider when picking a radio?  Space is at a premium in most 4×4 off-road rigs and you should strongly consider size when picking a radio.  Also, you’ll want to consider durability and reputation.  Cobra and Uniden are two well respected manufacturers to consider.  Specifically, the Uniden 510/520 series and the Cobra 75 models are extremely popular with off-road drivers due to their compact size and reputation for reliability.

You’ll also want to consider getting your radio “Peaked and Tuned”.  With this upgrade, a CB shop will adjust your radio’s output power up, generally to between 8-14 watts, increasing the transmission range of your CB.  Is this a necessary upgrade?  It really depends on how you’ll be using your radio.  If you plan to talk to other vehicles in your caravan on the trail, it’s not necessary.  A “stock” CB with a 3’ fiberglass antenna should have no problems talking a mile up and down the trail.  However, if you want additional range for your CB and increased performance when the terrain gets tight and varied, a “peak and tune” will give you 2x to 3x the range of a stock radio. Just remember this is not in line with the FCC rules.

Mounting Hardware

Deciding on a CB antenna mount is often the most difficult decision people make when selecting new equipment.  As fiberglass antennas make use of a standard 3/8 x 24 inch thread, they are compatible with a wide variety of different mounts.  When considering a mount and mounting location, you want to ensure that:

  • The mount allows the antenna to be at or above the roof-line
  • The mount is made from high quality materials (stainless steel, powder coat, etc)
  • The mount is well grounded

For FJ Cruiser owners, the most convenient and popular way to mount a CB antenna is to use the Bandi Mount.  A proprietary mount created by a member of  FJCruiserForums (blue forums), the Bandi Mount allows FJ owners to install a CB antenna using the rear door hinge – no drilling required.

Other popular mounting options include “L” brackets that allow mounting on the bumper and vertical vehicle surfaces, as well as hood channel mounts which make it easy to install a CB antenna along the vehicle’s hood.

When purchasing coax cable to connect the antenna mount and the radio, make sure to buy from a quality manufacturer such as Belden or Firestik.  Cheap coax cable can be poorly manufactured, resulting in premature failure and/or sub-par system performance.

Final Thoughts

Once you finally get everything installed, make sure to tune your CB antenna before use.  Not to be confused with a radio “peak and tune”, antenna tuning makes use of a SWR meter to adjust your CB antenna for peak performance on your specific vehicle.  Most antennas will included detailed tuning instructions on the packaging.

Make sure to purchase quality components and choose a suitable mounting location and you should enjoy years of trouble-free CB operation on the 4×4 trail.

Video instructions for installing Cobra 75 wx st CB Radio install FJ Cruiser.

Asking The Right Question FJ Cruiser Lift Kits

Seems like a reoccurring question I hear from new FJ Cruiser guys is “What lift should I get”?  Not that I’m an expert on all the lifts available but I thought it was time to address this question in a bit more public forum.

The question is not necessarily wrong, but it is incomplete.  The question should be  “What lift should I get for my style of off-road adventures…  I enjoy wheeling my rig… in the sand, on 4×4 trails, crawling up gnarly boulders, racing down desert roads, or just looking good on the street”.  The best lift for one style of wheeling is not necessarily the best for another style.  And as the saying goes one man’s garbage is another man’s gold, it all depends on what you’re planning to do with your rig, what your after and your budget.  Don’t worry if others tell you how they think you should enjoy you’re rig… Consider what will make you happy.

First of all, lifting your truck does not increase ground clearance.  A lift provides more room for larger (taller) tires.  Larger tires provide the increased ground clearance.

Second lift kits for the Toyota FJ Cruiser mainly address the front-end.  This is because the factory stance has the rig on a significant rack with the rear higher than the front.  However when lifting the front end, you should consider upgrading the rear suspension components (springs and shocks) to a quality that matches your front-end choice.

Third, springs provide lift and shocks provide dampening.  If you upgrade the shock you will feel a difference in ride but without changing the geometry of the coil (spacers or longer coils), the height remains the same.

Lift kits can be broken down into a couple of groups. There are a lots of choices and the number of inches of various lifts may vary, the basic groups of lifts available for the FJ Cruiser are:

  • spacer lift
  • 3″ suspension lift
  • 6″ lift (anything from 4″ – 6″ will fall into this group)
  • long travel
  • solid axle swap

A spacer lift, sometimes referred to as a leveling kit, is the least expensive lift available with height achieved by placing a spacer between the top of the strut mount and the coil-over spring.  The spacer effectively compresses the spring which pushes the rig up as the spring tries to reach equilibrium.  A spacer lift does not increase travel and is now stretching your factory shocks to their limit.  This method of lifting your rig will level it out and allow you to put on larger tires (although depending on tire choice you may still need a body mount chop to avoid rubbing).  A lift that uses spacers to raise the rig is best suited for those who do not plan on going off road and simply want the look of a more rugged stance and bigger tires.  If you add a heavy bumper or winch to a spacer lift your springs will give back all the lift under the additional weight.

The second 4×4 lift category, a 3″ suspension lifts use longer shocks, stiffer springs and coil-overs to provide the lift.  A 3″ lift will allow  for 33″ tires (yeah you still need the body mount chop), although some folks have stuffed 35″ tires into the FJ Cruiser’s wheel well accepting the rub that comes with them in this setup.  Unlike a spacer lift which simply compress the springs, suspension lifts gives you additional travel along with lift because of the longer components. Adding aftermarket front upper control arms will extend that travel even further.  That additional travel equates to a smoother ride in most cases along with improved handling.

3″ suspension lifts can be broken down further into kits that are adjustable and those that are not.  With a non-adjustable suspension lift you select the stiffness of spring you want (or in some cases spacers to compress the springs) based on the weight of your front end. If you are running a heavy bumper and winch select a stiffer rated spring, if not choose a medium or light coil-over spring. Spring ratings can be heavy up front with medium in the rear allowing for some customization. If you change your front-end’s weight down the road, you have to change out your springs to maintain the same ride.

On an adjustable suspension lift kit, in addition to spring rating choices, the coil-over comes with a built in collar that will increase or decrease the pre-load tension on the coil-over spring, compensating for any additional weight.  A few turns of the collar allows you to dial-in the ride most suited to your liking.  Each side of the front-end can be tuned individually to compensate for the extra weight of the driver or dual batter stack.

Because a 3″ lift increases travel and in most cases upgrades the quality of shock, as well as providing lift, it is well suited to individuals looking to wheel their off-road vehicle through many different terrains including 4×4 trails, sand dunes and two track dirt roads as well as miles of washboard gravel or dirt.

As you would expect their is a difference in price between the adjustable and non-adjustable suspension lift options.  Non-adjustable suspension lifts will cost up to $700 for a quality setup.  Adjustable suspension lifts kits can cost upwards of $2,600 depending on manufacturer…  The religious debate on the best manufacturer of coil-overs and shocks makes the holy war crusades look like a minor disagreement on the play ground.

The next type of lift, a 6″ lift, will put you high off the ground.   Part suspension lift part body lift, a 6″ lift involves adding spacers that separate the body from the frame along with a number of suspension components including  longer rear upper and lower control arms (or relocation mounts for stock trailing arms)  longer shocks, springs, coil-overs, and steering knuckles.  A 6″ lift allows you to easily slide in larger 35″ tires (most tires over 275x70x17 will likely require a body mount chop).  The center of gravity is now six inches higher (think hard now before putting any weight up in the roof rack…  like a tent, gas cans, spare tire…).  The suspension travel gain and increased ground clearance of a 6″ lift is only about 3″ although 35″ tires will add to the ground clearance.  This lift is not for the budget conscious with parts running up to $3,700 depending on how complete the kit is and the quality of the suspension components.  Those who plan to drive slow on the trails and need larger tires to get over rocks and can stay away form the off chamber stuff will find the height of a body lift to their liking.  If you are seeking the big rugged 4×4 look you will also find the 6″ lift appealing.

When you start talking about long-travel lift kits, you move into the more specialized lifts. With a long travel lift you replace almost all of the stock IFS components including upper and lower control arms, axles, and in some cases new shock mounts to allow for dual shocks up front.   The long travel kit pushes out the wheels extending the distance between the shock tower and lower arm mount.  2″ and 3.5″ kits are available from Total Choas for the Toyota’s FJ Cruiser.  The increased distance between the shock tower and lower control arm shock mount is now filled with a longer coil-over increasing the total travel available to soak up the bumps, ruts and pot holes in the trails.  Up to 13″ of travel can be achieved when you push each wheels out 3.5″.  The coil-over components of a long travel kit operates the same as an adjustable suspension lift but with more coil-over spring to work with.

The long travel kits are designed with desert racing in mind.  In this style of wheeling, height is not as important as keeping the wheels in contact with the ground to maintain forward momentum and steering control.  With a long travel kit the droop, a measure of how far the wheel can fall down from its resting stance, is just as important as the lift that is achieved.  More lift means less droop and vice verses.  But with those long coil-overs there is a lot to work with.  On a 4×4 tail the longer travel will bring addition flex allowing the rig to remain stable while traversing all sorts of contours.  As you would expect the price for replacing your entire stock IFS  is steep.  Depending on the long travel kit and the coil-overs, secondary front shocks and rear shocks you choose expect to pay between $4,000 and $7,000.  And just in case you were wondering, no you can not use the coil-overs from a 3″ suspension lift, they are just too short.

A solid axle is considered the holly grail of hard core off-road rock crawlers.  Tons of flex, high lift, locking front differential and armor plated toughness, a solid axle swap turns the FJ Cruiser into a point and shot rig.  Lift height and tire size is only limited by the shocks length you can throw down with and the amount of cutting on the wheel wells your willing to do. Of course what you gain in trail worthiness you loose in daily driving on-road manners.  The rigs that under go what today is mostly a one-off custom front end build, tend to be purpose built rock crawls.  Building a solid axle that can incorporate all the front end electronics including ABS and other sensors will set you back about $10,000.  But don’t worry, the kids dreams of college where never that realistic anyway with their grades.  Just let them know you spending their inheritance while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.

What is the right lift for your FJ Cruiser, I don’t know.  How do you plan to wheel your rig?  How much are you looking to spend?  Have you considered the additional cost of tires to fill all that space?  What are you looking to gain by raising your FJ Cruiser, good looks, bigger tires, smoother ride, unlimited flex?  Of course if you were thinking of in stuffing 35″ tires so you could go rock crawling and have a $2oo budget; learn to live with disappointment.  If however your dream is to run logging roads and some 4×4 trails while still maintaining the rig as a daily driver on 33″ tires using a 3″ suspension lift and spending about $800, plus tires; you will most like see huge value from your investment, along with a little compromise on adjustablity. In other words if you are comfortable with the what you want to do and set aside the appropriate budget, you’ll get miles of smiles (sorry it just came out) from your lift, out on the trail or anywhere else you want to wheel you rig…  Even the Denny’s parking lot.

And now thanks to Metal Tech 4×4 there is an option specifically designed to improve FJ Cruiser rear travel for a long travel option with more travel and flex for the rear end of the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Off-Road Adventure Shelter – Kelty Carport Review

Off-road adventures can be for a day, a week, a month…  And at some point you need to stop for the night.  Options abound for overnight accommodations ranging from a tarp on the ground to roof top tents with changing rooms and a luxuriously padded floor.  In between is just about everything else.  We decided to test out the Kelty Carport Deluxe Shelter and see how well it would work as a shelter for long off-road adventures.

The Kelty Carport can be set up in several configurations.  It can function as a car side awning with just a top or as a sided privacy shelter attaching to the rigs roof rack.  It can also stand alone as a three sided shelter with the included poles.

The first thing you notice when setting up the shelter is that you will need to read the directions (not a straight forward setup process).  There is an order to things and in this case if you don’t follow Kelty’s order you’ll end up wondering why the shelter seems more difficult than it should be.   Set up time averaged about 15 minutes once we knew the right order.   The second thing you’ll notice is that everything is an extremely tight fit and you will be stretching and pulling to hook the Polyester taffeta shelter to the aluminum polls.  Kelty’s engineers use a lot of tension to keep everything in place.  The final issue to overcome is wind…  When the atmosphere is less than calm, lifting the shelter to attach it to the rig is a lot like holding a kite in a wind tunnel.  Once it is up and the sides all staked down it is stable and protects you from wind.  Even in the awning configuration it remained solid although you have to use three tension lines on each of the two polls to keep it standing tall.

In either configuration the shelter will keep the rain off, however there is no floor and you will have large gaps at the roof line where the shelter attaches to the roof rack allowing wind to push rain in when it is coming down horizontally.

When the shelter is set up, you’ll find a spacious, well ventilated area that protects you from the wind, sun and night time dew point.  With the high point of the shelter  attached to your rig, there is plenty of standing room in the shelter with the added bonus of full access to your rig.  In fact the shelter can be set up with the sides down for full privacy while allowing you to open the doors of the rig providing full access.  The ability to keep your gear and cloths stowed in the rig while you sleep in the shelter add to the roominess of your living area.

The shelter attaches to your rig with three Velcro straps making it is fairly easy to unhook the shelter, rest it on the ground and drive off for a day on the trail, knowing it will take only seconds to reattach upon your return.

We found the Kelty Carport makes a good summer shelter and like that it can be configured as an awning (roll up the sides) or a night time retreat.  The carport can be attached to the rig or stand alone providing countless configuration options. But setup and tear down takes can be a little challenging for one person.

The Kelty Carport is not cheap, retailing for $330.  If you like the idea of an awning and want a little more earthiness in your overnight accommodations, consider the Kelty Carport as an option somewhere in the middle of true luxury and bear bones minimalism.

Metal Tech 4×4 Off Road Tube Bumper

So why did we say good bye to our tried and true off-road adventure ARB Bumper?  How else could we try out and review Metal Tech 4×4’s front tube bumper?  If you haven’t heard about Metal Tech 4×4 and their products for Toyota Land Cruisers than you probably don’t spend a lot of time on the FJ Cruiser forums or don’t wheel a Toyota Land Cruiser.  Metal Tech 4×4 started out building cages and other trail protection for the Toyota Land Cruisers (think old school FJ40, 80 series or FJ60).  Now Metal Tech 4×4 has taken that experience and applied it to Toyota’s newest member of the cruiser line building sliders, front and rear bumpers as well as cool tube doors Toyota’s FJ Cruiser.

Metal Tech’s off-road accessories are engineered from the ground up for protection and their front tube bumper is an ultra high performance, lightweight package. The tube bumper is only 19 pounds heaver than the factory stock front bumper. Made from 1 ¾”, .120 wall tube steel, the bumper features four light mounting tabs and the ability to work with or without a winch.    The bumper mounts to the front FJ Cruiser frame using the factory bumper mounts for easy installation as well as ensuring a strong integration with the frame.

Installing our Soltek off-road lights to the bumper was a simple matter of running the wire harness through the tube from the frame to the single 1/2 hole we drilled at top of the bumper next to the top light mounts.

We chose to add the optional winch mount system which is designed to be installed independent of the bumper allowing for increased strength as well as easy installation.  The winch system is a twin beam design that bolts to the sides of your frame using the factory reinforced points on the frame. This winch mount system was designed for the abuse of real off-road situations.

The winch system bolts on and as advertised is the easiest winch installation of any bumper. Once the mount system is in place you simply bolt the winch on.  A simple one-person job.  With both the tube bumper and winch mount system installed, the two look integrated as if they are one unit but remain independent for better strength to weight ratio.

The first thing we noticed after installing the new bumper and winch mount, was that the front end now sits about a half inch higher than before (without the bulk weight of the ARB bumper).  The lighter front end has reduced dipping in hard fast turns and with an improved approach angle climbing steep obstacles just got a little easier.

The openness of the tube bumper definitely shows off the suspension and in our opinion really complements the front lines of the Toyota FJ Cruiser.  Lite weight, engineered protection and good looks, what more could we ask for.  Look for updates over the coming year as we take the rig and it’s new bumper out on various off-road adventures.