Category Archives: How To Modification Info

Step by step instructions on how to perform modifications on your 4×4 truck in order to prepare it for off road adventures.

fj cruiser dash pod console

15 minute Gadget Wire-Up

garmin car GPS kitI 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 cruiser grab handle screw access

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 fj cruiser inner apillar pannel removedpower 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 fj cruiser glove box stopper locationsplace 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 power to garmin gpson 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 cigarette lighter power adapterthe 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.garmin power cable through fj cruiser dash

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.

garmin car gps fj cruiser winshield mountedThis 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.

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.

black fj cruiser with snorkle

The Return of Scuba Steve

fj cruiser arb snorkelWhen we last left our off-road adventure hero, Scuba Steve had just saved the orphans from the waters of the 100 year flood and was riding off into the sunset to wheel another day.   Scuba Steve’s rig had barely dried off when a cry for help came over the CB.  Dastard Dobbs, Scuba Steve’s arch enemy, had kidnapped the Swedish bikini full-contact origami team and was holding them for ransom at his hideout deep in the middle of nowhere.  Without regard for himself or his rig,  Scuba Steve wheeled through the engine clogging desert dirt and crossed the chest-high torrent waters of Goober river which surrounded  the island hideout like a mid-evil castle moat.  Like all evil doers, Dastard had underestimated the power of the snorkel modded scuba rig and had flown off leaving the girls unguarded.  As Scuba Steve forged the waters and rolled up to the hideout, the front door flew open and the girls ran out, bouncing and bounding into the rig.  With the entire team, including its goalie, on board, Scuba Steve and the girls headed off  to the ESPN World Cup Beach Full-Contact Origami Bowl… But that is another story.

Snorkels are designed to allow the engine to draw fresh, clean, dry air from the rigs roof line.  In desert convoys the higher intake point of snorkels has been shown to deliver cleaner air to the rig’s engine reducing the strain on the filter.  And when it comes to water crossings…  well it works just like a snorkel, keeping the water out and the air flowing in.  Friends of ours, Ruben and Becky let us know they Snorkel Kitwere heading up to Metal Tech and having a Safari Snorkel from ARB installed on their rig.  So why not run down there and show everyone what it takes to add a snorkel to your FJC.  (some pictures courtesy Safari Automotive Technologies Pty. Ltd.)

The snorkel kit comes complete with all the hardware needed to connect it to your rig’s air intake system but you will need a few tools including:

  • Loctite® for the studs that you will insert into the snorkel body
  • 105 mm hole saw
  • 16 mm step-up drill bit
  • painters tape (blue or green)removing fj cruiser fendor apron
  • screwdriver, hacksaw, drill, grinder (or sander),  8mm & 6 mm wrenches
  • permanent marker or grease pen
  • body colored touch up paint
  • silicon sealant (optional)

You need to remove the plastic apron under the wheel well exposing the inside of the fender.  This involves popping out the little plastic fasteners that hold the liner in place.  It helps in spotting all the snaps if you hose out the wheel well fist to wash off the dirt and gunk.  With the fender  liner pulled out, remove the air intake duct located inside the fender well.  step1This is also the time to remove the intake duct located inside the engine compartment that connects to the engine’s air filter cover.


Thstep 2e kit comes with a template that will layout all the points where you will be poking holes in your rig.  There are eight (8) 16mm holes and one 105 mm hole. Getting the alignment correct is straightforward.  The template meets up with the rear edge of the fender and the tab come up to the top fender edge.  Use the painter’s tape to secure the template than mark the points with your pen and remove the template.

Drilling hole in fj cruiser for snorkleOk this is where we separate the men from the boys.  There is no turning back on this mod once you start the drilling.  Take a big breath relax and go easy.

Start by using a small bit to drill pilot holes on all the marks.  This will keep the larger drill bits from sliding off across the fender.  With the pilot holes in place take some painter’s tape and cover the areas that will be drilled out extending past the final hole size.   Be sure to leave the pilot hole visible.  The tape will keep any metal slivers caught on the drill bit from spinning around and scratching the fender on the hole’s edge.  If your step-up bit goes beyond 16 mm, run a piece of tape on the bit where you want to stop.

step3That wasn’t so bad…  kind of like ripping a band aid off, it only hurts for a minute. At this point you can remove all the tape and appreciate you work.  De-burr the holes and give a quick swab of body paint to keep the rust off.

Now that you’ve recovered from the trauma of attaching arb snorkel boltscutting a perfectly good fender, its time to install the eight studs into the snorkel body.  Apply a little Loctite® to the stud threads and screw them in.  Once you’ve hand tightened the studs, grab a couple of 8mm nuts to double and tighten the studs in.  A couple of DO NOTS.

  • Do not use the the nuts that came with the kit to tighten the studs since they have nylon bushings and are designed to be used only once
  • Do not over tighten the studs.  Remember the snorkel body is plastic and you don’t want to strip out the threads

At this point you will also step 5want attach the upper mounting bracket to the snorkel body neck.  Add a dab of Loctite® here as well.

Grab the tape again and cover the upper A pillar cover where the upper mounting bracket will be attached to the rig.  In order to determine where these holes will be drilled, dry fit the snorkel body on the rig holding snug to the body and A pillar cover. Mark the tape with the pen and pull the snorkel back out.  Drill the three holes which will hold the plastic inserts.  Start again by tapping the hole, followed by the step up bit to 8 mm.  De-burr and swab with a little body touch up paint.

step 7aDepending on the type of air intake you have, the procedure changes a little here.  Later models have a pre-filter which acts like a centrifuge spinning the air which throws the dirt to the side and down the one-way rubber debris cup.  To ready this style of pre-filter, remove the front cap and grind down the plastic lugs that hold the front of the step 7 old style pre-filterpre-cleaner in place.

The older style pre-filter is one piece unit.  Grab the hacksaw and cut the collar off just behind the point at which the foam rubber gasket is attached.  When the cut is complete, be sure to wipe out the interior and remove any of the plastic sawdust.

step 8This is also the time to decide if you want to seal the drain holes using a little silicon.  Sealing the drain holes will prevent water from getting in, but also means it can’t get out if some finds it way down the snorkel during a monsoonal down pour.  You can rotate your air ram to face backwards when driving in the big rain to prevent water from entering the air ram.  There is a single drain hole in the air filter cover and on the older style pre-filter you will find three drain holes on the bottom.

step9Lets bolt it all in place.  Attach the rubber boot to the snorkel intake collar.  Bring the snorkel up to the rig and using the washers and 8mm nylon lock nuts, attach the snorkel body to the fender.  Attach the upper mounting bracket to the A pillar cover using the three screw included with the kit.  Tighten the 90/100 stainless steel hose clamp over the hose and collar holding it in place against the snorkel body.step11

Hang in there, you’re almost home!  Using the other stainless steel hose clamp (80/100) attach the modified pre-filter to the hose that connects the snorkel to your air intake.  re-attach the pre-filter to the rig and the air filter cover.  Wow that part was easy.

step 13Lastly, attach the air ram assembly to the snorkel body using the black hose clamp to hold it all in place.  Use a socket to tighten the hose clamp instead of a screw driver, this will lesson the paint scratch on the black clamp.  A little black rattle can will touch up any scratches on the clamp.

Your engine is now safe from gulping water when crossing rivers or playing in the mud.  Don’t forget to protect your rear diff and e-locker, relocating their breather by performing the original scuba mod.  When it’s all done your rig is ready to join Scuba Steve on his next adventure, keeping the world safe for orphans and the world of Beach Bikini Full-Contact Origami.

toyota fj cruiser front long travel suspension flex

Too Much Wheel Travel, Is There Such A Thing?

As the saying goes “you can never be too thin or too rich”.  We’d add, your rig can never have too much wheel travel on an off-road adventure.  To that end we finally took the plunge and threw out the stock independent front suspension (IFS) and replaced it with Total Chaos’ 2″ long travel kit…

Now, we could go into a write up with pictures, witty descriptions and clever verbal banter that you have come to expect from us, but than you would not have incentive to read the article we shipped of to “4WD Toyota Owner”…  Hopefully this video will hold you over… if you’re really jonesing for a story you can always check the archives.

We will tell you, this set up allows you to dial in more lift for bigger tires or add droop for more travel.  Since we spend more time bombing down dirt roads than crawling over boulders and rock we choose to utilize all of the 11.5 inches of travel dialing in more droop to keep the rig riding fast and smooth over miles of washboards.

So how does it ride you ask… you know you were thinking that. The ride is incredible.  We had a chance to take it off road a little bit and the ride unbelievable…  and those pothole filled back roads are not match for this setup.  Even without the sway bar, the rig corners like it is on rails with very little body roll.  No it doesn’t handle like a Porsche, but you can’t take a Porsche where angle fear to tread.

fj cruiser metal tech slider rub rail

Always Carry Protection (Sliders)

original metal tech 4x4 shopI always enjoy any opportunity to meet up with Mark and LT from Metal Tech 4×4 and this project brought me to their shop in Newberg, OR. These guys are a couple of the most knowledgeable guys in all things Toyota 4×4 and wheeling. What makes these guys special is their willingness to spend time teaching others how to wheel trails, talk about the differences in various years of the 80 series or explain the performance difference between ICON, Sway-A-Way and Old Man Emu suspension components. Mark and LT go out of their way to make sure you understand what you’re doing and feel good about your choice rather than just selling you what they have on the cruiser last great road trip sticker

Off-road adventures involving difficult 4×4 trails takes a certain bit of acceptance that you will scratch, ding and possibly brake something. One way to minimize this possibility is to protect the most vulnerable points on your rig. On the FJ Cruiser, one of those vulnerabilities is the door sills which if set onto or slid across a bolder can result in an expensive repair. Protecting this area is achieved through the addition of “sliders”. Also known as “rock rails” or just “rails”, sliders bolt onto the frame of the FJ Cruiser and take the impact of a bolder, sliding across the rock rather than it bashing in the bottom of the door sill.

This means, now your sliders will take the brunt of the force and receive a significant impact. Not all sliders are created equally. In today’s market there are two groups of sliders. There is the group designed for show, which are made from thin walled steel or aluminum. While they can act as a step up, they will crumple under the weight when pressed between a bolder and the rig with both the slider and door sill being damaged. The other group is for serious wheeling, made of thicker high-grade steel, and reinforced at points that will be asked to take the brunt of the impact and support the weight of the rig.

fj cruiser frame mounting point for slidersMetal Tech sliders fall into the serious wheeling category and are among the strongest on the market. These sliders have a hard core off-road design imbedded in their DNA. The sliders are laser cut and bent to match the lines of the FJ Cruiser, proving protection their entire length. These sliders are a fully enclosed box style, allowing a full length step for quick access to the top of the FJ Cruiser. Metal Tech maintains a high quality standard on everything about these sliders from being the only ones on the market that are powder coated inside and out, to the U.S. made, high alloy grade 10.9 metric bolts used to attach them to the frame.

Thanks to Metal Tech’s on-site fabrication we had ours customized for our special needs. We asked the guys there to add a rub rail for additional protection and mount points that would allow us to clip in our team of sled dogs to the sliders when we come back from mushing snow covered mountain trails with our dogs. We also requested mount points for rock crawling lights that will illuminate the ground below for night time trail runs and making activities such as airing up or taking off snow chains a breeze in the dark.metal tech slider custom work

Installing sliders on the FJ Cruiser is one of the simpler mods any back yard mechanic can do. Toyota designed the box frame of the FJ Cruiser with eight mount points on each side, allowing sliders to bolt directly up. Installation is a matter of lifting the slider into place and hand tightening the bolts so you can ensure the slider is level and aligned. Once you have the slider where you want, torque down all eight bolts, rinse and repeat on the other side for a complete set of protection.

Although this is an easy mod, you will want a friend to help lift and hold the sliders in place while you hand tighten the bolts. They can also help gauge everything is aligned and level before you torque it down cruiser frame mount nuts for sliders

One cautionary note: The nuts you are screwing the bolts into are tack welded to the inside of the enclosed frame. You don’t want to brake the tack weld by misalignment of the bolt and twisting hard only to have the nut free fall into the box frame. It is a good idea to clean out the gunk that may have built up in the threads and spray a little WD40 before you line up everything and ensure the bolts go in straight and smooth.

With everything bolted up we were good to go knowing the Metal Tech sliders will carry the weight of the rig over boulders and protect our door sills from things that go bump on the trail.

quad 4x4 water crossing

Scuba Steve Drives an FJ

…the water was exceptionally wet with the rain, heavy snow melt and oceans rising from the global warming. As the water in the rivers crested and levies broke, flood waters rushed over everything west of the Pacos. The only hope for saving the orphans was Scuba Steve riding high in his FJ Cruiser. Crossing the high water in his Voodoo Blue wet suit, Scuba Steve saved the children and Sister Mary Knuckle Buster, driving them to higher and dryer ground… it could happen!

But before it did, we would want to relocate the rear differential and E-Locker’s breather to a higher and hopefully drying location. You can read the horror stories on the forums about rigs who got water sucked in through the breather and the dollars it took to pull the fish out of their rear end. You can also read how simple it is to relocate you breather, with the list of parts and instructions.

After running a number of wet off-road adventures this winter and pushing my H2O luck with some crossings, I finally took the plunge and performed the famous Scuba Mod on the Last Great Road Trip’s Rig. As the video shows, it was a simple process of pulling a length of hose down from the gas fill area to the rear frame, zip tie it here and there, pull the stock breathers, hook it all together with a handy little T-connector and put the original breather on the hose end back in the gas fill where is all began. Waalaa Scuba Mod.

While we may not be called in, like Scuba Steve, to save a house full of orphans or the Hooters bikini car wash girls, we can feel confident in navigating some water crossings that previously had us a bit nervous.

fj cruiser baja racer

Not Your Mother’s Headlights

baja designs off-road lightsWhen we started planning for the Baja off road adventure we know we would need some serious lighting if we were going to explore the desert at night. Not wanting to take any chances we looked at a lot of manufactures’ lighting systems. After months of painstaking analysis and research, reading through magazines (looking at pictures), going through forums, stopping at 4×4 shops and talking to anyone who would listen, we decided to go with Baja Designs’ Soltek setup.

We choose these lights for their crystal clear optics, high quality electronic components, no-tool adjustments and a mounting system that isolates vibration. They also weep testosterone on the pages of Hula Betty’s magazine.

Need more information… How about our PDF write-up over on ISSUU on installing off-road lights to go along with the video.

Even more information… Must read, step by step Toyota Bulletins:

Relay DiagramAnother little tidbit that is handy to refer to is a relay diagram when you’re trying to remember all the different wires going from here to there. This is a nice reference:

If you still need MORE… drop us a comment with your question and let us know if you like the format and what we can add to help others when it comes to off road light selection and installation.

stack of windshields

Keeping the Vision Clear

removing fj cruiser windshieldEveryone asks… How do you like the rig… How did it perform on your arctic circle adventure?

Our answer… IT IS Great. The only thing we would fix… The windshield! The windshield picked up a number of star cracks which in the cold weather this winter turned to crack across the length of the windshield. And we finally decided to fix it.

Read the posts on the FJ Cruiser forums about windshields, lower right side, I’ll wait.

fj cruiser windshield installWhat you find is that you should buy stock in glass, your going to replace a few. This is our frst windshield replacement so we took it down to the local glass guys at The Autoglass Clinic to see what it takes.

Turns out, the easy part is putting the windshield in. The hard part is getting all the little bits of molding and covers pulled without leaving a mark. Once the bits are off, pulling the old glass and replacing it with the new windshield is quick and easy.

installing fj cruiser windshieldWhen it was all said and done the guys made it look easy and did a great job. They even offer a slice of pizza for being the first FJ these guys changed out. Another bonus that came for hanging around with these guys was understanding what comes apart and how. This new found knowledge will be come in handy as we take on installing the Soltek 8″ LaPaz HID lights that just arrived from Baja Designs. But that is another story.