Time For A Change Sparky

One of the best ways to avoid trouble on an off-road adventure is to know your rig… inside and out.  One of the best ways to get to know your rig is through regular maintenance.  Toyota recommends changing your spark plugs every 30,000 miles.  Changing the spark plugs on a Toyota FJ Cruiser is a simple activity for any backyard mechanic and a good way to get to know your rig.

A couple of things you’ll need in order to change out the spark plugs includes:

  • 6 spark plugs
  • 12 mm and 10 mm socket
  • spark plug socket
  • spark plug gapper
  • couple of 10″ extensions
  • socket wrench
  • torque wrench
  • 2 flat head screw drivers (very helpful)
  • anti-seize (optional)
  • silicon grease (optional)
  • gloves (sure this is optional but Hula Betty wants to protect her manicure. Mechanic or latex gloves work great)

Spark plugs are the business end of your engine’s ignition system.  Its the spark plugs that delivers the spark needed to ignite the air/fuel mixture.  No spark means no combustion!  Combustion occurs when high voltage supplied by the ignition coil jumps across a small gap between the spark plug electrodes. The high voltage surge from the coil goes down the spark plug’s center electrode and forms an arc as it jumps across the gap. The voltage required to form the spark ranges from 4,000 up to 28,000 volts depending on the spark plug gap, engine load and compression. The spark only lasts a tiny millisecond, but it is long enough to start the burn.  And lets face it, a millisecond is a lot longer than you think about the answer to “would you like another beer”.

Never take for granted that your new spark plugs are properly gapped.  Before you tear into the engine check the spark plug gaps and set them to the factory spec.  For our 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser the gap needs to be .039″ to .043″.  After you have ensured the gaps are correct it is the time to apply a little (it doesn’t take much) anti-seize to the spark plug threads, if you want.

You will want the engine to be cold before you start so the metal in the heads is not expanded. To begin, disconnect the negative battery terminal cable.  I know lots of folks balk at this step but resetting the stereo and compass after it is all done is a small price to pay for avoiding an electrical short and chasing down a burned fuse.  After all you will be disconnecting the ignition coils on your rig.

Before starting you may want to take a look at this fj cruiser Ignition coil component replacement Toyota bulletin showing you how to remove the ignition coils.  Getting to the spark plugs on your rig will require that you pull a few bits from the engine including the:

  • V-Bank cover
  • Air cleaner assembly
  • Surge tank stay and oil stay plate (little brackets)

You will also need to unplug the hoses and electrical connections to the air cleaner assembly.  Once you have everything removed, the passenger side coils will be clearly visible.  The driver side coils are visible too, once you look past the tangle of hoses.  These hoses can be moved aside when you need.

If this is your first time…  changing spark plugs… get your mind out of the gutter and back on task…  start on the passenger side.  Trust me you’ll thank me later.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser has an individual ignition coil attached to each spark plug.   Disconnect the electrical connector to the ignition coil followed by removing the bolt holding the ignition coil to the engine.  With the connector and bolt removed, lift the coil out.  This is a good time to take a look at the ignition coil and check for cracks in the housing or tears in the terminal boots.

To remove the plug from its hole you will need your ratchet, spark plug socket and an extension.  When you are on the driver’s side you’ll need two extensions connected together to reach in through the hoses you didn’t remove.  It may take a little muscle but the plugs will release their grip and can be lifted out once they are unscrewed.

Now grab one of the new spark plugs you prepared earlier. The spark plug socket has a rubber insert designed to hold the spark plug while you lower it into the hole and thread it.  You will want to carefully thread the spark plug by hand so not to cross thread it.  Once the spark plug is hand tightened, brake out the torque wrench and tighten the plug down to 15 ft/lbs (factory spec for our 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser).

Before placing the ignition coil back into place over the spark plug, add a bit of silicone grease to the terminal boots to keep them conditioned and help form a tight dust seal.  Replace the bolt holding the ignition coil in place.  Remember this is a plastic housing so only torque down the bolt to its factory spec of 7.5 ft/lbs.  Reattach the electrical connector to the ignition coil and your done.  Now rinse and repeat with the other five spark plugs.

Before starting on the drivers side you may want to practice a little yoga and limber up. The driver’s side plug procedure is the same but there are a few helpful hints.

  • Small hands are a benefit.
  • Two screwdrivers may be needed to release the connector from the ignition coil.  One screwdriver holds down the clip while the other gently pushes the connector off the ignition coil.
  • Two ratchet extensions will improve the access to the spark plug allowing you better leverage.

Once you have all the spark plugs replaced, the ignition coils in and the connectors reattached, it is time to button it back up.  This is a good time to wipe down all the parts and remove the trail dirt and grim before reassembly.

Start by replacing the surge tank and oil stay followed by any hoses and electrical clips you may have undone on the drivers side to ease access.  Next place the air cleaner assembly back where it belongs and connect the hoses and electrical connector.  Don’t forget the little vacuum tube in the rear.  Cover it all up with the V-Bank cover and reattach the negative ground to the battery.

Turn the key, listen to your engine come to life and enjoy your success!

New spark plugs about $45, time involved about 30 minutes, the feeling that you get from knowing your rig a little better…

Should Have Taken That Left Turn At Albuquerque…

The best navigators are never really sure where they are going until they get there…

6:45 a.m. and the sun is screaming at me through the blinds, yelling to get up and go on this off-road adventure…  We were already late if we were going to be in Enumclaw by 8:30 a.m.  The drive to a trail run meetup for us is always a combination of caffeine, anticipation,  iPod shuffling and mental spring cleaning.  This was no exception.

It has been awhile since we’d run with the NWFJCC…  with anyone for that matter… and this was going to be and easy day of exploring forest roads with several new folks who’d be making their maiden run with the club.

The plan was to head up forest road 70 and than see what happens.  Maybe take a side road that looks interesting or head up to a lookout station or two.  What wasn’t planned for was snow!  After all this is June and we were only at 2,500 ft.  But the snow was there and it marked the end of exploring 70.  Now we were going off the map.

Off-road exploring is fun…  lots of stops and starts, heading down a trail spur only to find out it dead ends 100 yards from where it starts and turning around a parade of FJ Cruiser on a two track.  The poking around paid off as we found some hills, great views and a little mud.  It also let us spend time with everyone comparing rigs, discussing the merits of this mod or that one, hearing stories of ex-wives, kids, family dogs and the tails that are on each persons must run check list.

If you follow the blog (and I hope you do) you may remember the Greenwater area from our winter dog sled adventure.  It rests in the shadow of Mount Rainer offering post card photo ops of the snow covered mountain with swaths of green filling the hills and blue sky above.  The Naches trail cuts through the hills but remains closed until mid-July leaving us to only dream as we crossed it several times during the day.

Even though we spent all day on the back roads exploring, club runs always seem too short.  With the sun still warming the hoods of our FJ Cruisers, we said good bye to our old and new friends as everyone realized dinner time was approaching.  The drive home gave us time to reflected on how lucky we are to be a part of this club and also start planning to attend the next club run of the Naches trail.

Want to see more pictures… Greenwater off-road adventure pictures

Getting Back In The Saddle

2009 was incredible for off-road adventures… Tahuya OVR ParkBill Burke training, Tillamook State Forest and of course the Rubicon Trail off-road adventure.   It wasn’t so good for economic adventures.  Without much work we had lots of time to hit the 4×4 trails…  A little too much time.  Fast forward to today, 2010 and economic times have improved.  Good news for business…  not so good news for wheeling.  Over the last six months we’ve racked up more air miles than trail hours, flying back and forth to Texas, Montana, Oregon, and around Washington.   But all that is about to change…  at least a little.

The good thing about nights on the road and working out of hotel rooms is you have lots of time to Google trails and research you next off-road adventure.  This time we were looking for a multi-day solo run to wash off the stress and airport grunge.

Turns out the Olympic Mountain Range is the wettest place in the lower 48 states…  If you live in northwest you may think your back yard is the wettest place on earth this year but really the Olympics are it.

It also turns out that there are forest and old logging road encircling the majority of the mountain range.  While not the gnarly boulder filled “roads” of Rubicon, the back roads of the Olympics offer seclusion in one of the most beautiful places in the northwest.

At just under 8,000 feet high, Mount Olympus is the big boy in the range which includes Mt. Deception, Constance, The Brothers, Warrior, Eleanor and a host of others.  The range is filled with rain forest, beach, alpine meadows, rain shadows, clear cuts and some of the world’s largest trees.

This off-road adventure is not going to be about raising our testosterone level with gnarly terrain or testing the limits of our suspension.  This adventure is about getting back in the saddle, connecting with the soul of the open road and freeing the demons in our head through quiet reflection alone in the middle of nowhere.

We’ve printed the maps and loaded 500 miles of GPS way points.  Now to finish up a little rig maintenance and wait for the sun to warm up the trail…  or at least the rain to stop for a bit.  We haven’t figured it all out but looks like we have a plan…  And a good plan today is better than a perfect plan a year from now.