Toyota 4Runner Topsites



  Off-Road Gear




Now that I have two 4Runners I have decided to convert my 96 SR5 for use off road and dedicate my 97 RS for fun on the road.  I have attended several off road events carefully looked over what goes on and what seems to work the best and developed my own plan.

I never intend to do anything really hard core like some of these other guys do, but wanted to be able to go anywhere I want and get back and still be able to drive home.  I also don't want to do anything that will not allow me to return the truck to its stock configuration if needed. 

So far this is what I have come up with.


 Front Bumper Bar:   

First things first.  You just have to have an upgraded front bumper, right?

This is the TJM-15 bumper from Australia.  It is a direct bolt on and is a real bumper unlike the stock one.  Nothing special here.  I am sure that there are 10,000 out there just like it.  I sourced it through Mike at X-TREME OFF ROAD.  Mike is a great guy to deal with.  Be sure to tell him Gadget sent you.


Custom Rear Bumper Bar: :

I wanted a rear bumper bar, but did not like what I saw on the market.  I made friends with Dale at OZ Fabrications and was convinced that he could make exactly what I wanted.  He is located in Beckley,  West Virginia.  That is about six hours from me.  I rented a auto transporter and towed my 4Runner to him.  I told him what I wanted and let him have at it for a month.

I wanted something that would really protect the truck off road, not be ugly as hell, and again not have any permanent alterations to the truck.  The most important thing is that I wanted an removable tire rack.  I think tire racks are ugly and wanted to be able to install it for off road use as needed and then take the thing off and put the tire back under the truck where it belongs for normal driving.  Well, let me tell you, he did it!

Here it is with tire rack removed and the spare under the truck where it belongs. Don't worry, that exhaust tip with be gone shortly!

The overall fit and the strength is really much better then the TJM bumper I have on the front.

It is all dirty from driving back in a snow storm and everything is covered in road salt.  Once I have played with it for a while and I am sure I am not going to want any other mods to it I will probably have it sand blasted and powder coated.  I kind of doubt that I will think up any changes.  Dale seems to have nailed perfectly the first time.

The whole bumper bar is made out of 1/8" plate steel and is rock solid.

If you want to be the first on your block to have a "Gadget" model rear bumper bar for your 3rd Gen 4Runner email Dale at OZ Fabrications.  Be sure to tell him you saw the rear bumper bar here!


Custom Slider Bars: :

You just have to have side protection call slider bars.  I have looked at several different designs on the market and did not like any of them.  It is the method of attachment to the truck that turned me off of most of them.  Most are welded directly to the truck frame.  That was out.  I have also seen one type that requires you to drill 16 holes in each side of the frame and then attach the sliders with self tapping bolts.  There was no way I was going to do that, ever.

I was trying to think up a way to do it taking advantage of the existing holes in the frame and without drilling or welding.  I also wanted to be able to remove them and leave no trace that they were there.  I had this running through my mind when I took a look at a Tacoma own by a friend of mine, Jason.  I crawled under the truck and was amazed that the sliders used the very same attachment method I was thinking of.  The sliders also looked great.  Of course they were done by Dale at OZ Fabrications.

I had him whip me up a set while he was doing my rear bumper bar.  The 4Runner is a little different and he did need to drill two holes on each side.  I can certainly live with that.  They are wonderfully done and very strong.

As you can see in this picture the very simple mounting system taking advantage of the existing holes in the frame.

The passenger side can be installed and removed in just a few minutes. The driver's side will require you to loosen the fuel tank and slide it over until you get the sliders bolted in place and then you can slide the tank back and bolt it down.  Dale does first class work!

You can get yours by emailing Dale at OZ Fabrications.  


 ARB Air Locker: 

I knew I needed a axle locking device and after looking a most everything out there, I decided to go with the ARB Air Locker.  It uses compressed air to lock the front and rear differentials.

When the locker is switched on it instantly engages.  This solidly locks the wheels on each side together so there is no slip between them and both turn at the same speed even if you have one wheel up in the air.  This provides the best possible traction.  This is different then a limited slip differential.   A limitied slip will only reduce the differential speed between the tires on both sides, but usually require both tires to be be in contact with the ground to work correctly.  This really is not the best thing for off road use.  You can easily have one tire loose traction from it slipping in mud or being lifted in the air and a limited slip might still leave you stuck.  A locker will prevent this, maybe.

There are different types of lockers.  Some are automatic lockers and like limited slips they usually require both tires to have be in ground contact and have some level of traction to get them to engage properly.  If you get one wheel in the air you can ride the brakes to get the locker to engage, but that to me just does not make sense.  That is why I went with the selectable ARB lockers.  With a flip of a dash switch, both tires on each side of the axle are solidly and instantly locked together.  Then again with a flip of a switch, it is unlocked just as fast.  I think this is the best thing going.

I have an ARB Air Locker in both the front and rear axles.  It is amazing how much traction you can get with dual lockers!

There is a new type of locker entering the market that might just give ARB a run for its money.  It is made by Detriot and it is called the Select Track.  They do not currently have an application for the Toyotas, but you can always to a custom axle conversion.

What makes this so good is that it is a gear type limited slip just like the True Tack or TORSEN, but then with a flip of a switch it totally locks like the ARB instantly.

I removed the stock cruise control servo and mounted the ARB air compressor in its place.  I will be relocating the servo to the firewall as soon as I get a bracket made.


Suspension Modifications:

I originally installed Old Man Emu suspension all the way around.  I used their medium coils and firm shocks.  It was a great combination.  I got somewhere between 2-2.5" of lift on both ends and the ride was dramatically improved over stock.  The stock suspension just plain sucks.

Later I added the TJM-15 front bumper and the front sagged a little bit.  I decided to upgrade the front to the Race Runner coil over front suspension from Sway-A-Way.  I went with the stiffer Tundra valving and 650 pound per inch springs.  These are super nice and are adjustable for height.  I was able to adjust the height to compensate for the heavier bumper and then again later when I added the Warn M-8000 winch.  Easy height adjustability is a wonderful thing to have.

Nuke provided the quick disconnects for the front Addco sway bar.  Disconnecting the front sway bar makes a world of difference in the off road ride and greatly improves suspension articulation so you can keep more tires in contact with the ground for greater traction.

I also had an Addco rear sway bar and was disconnecting it to improve articulation off road, but the ends kept flopping around and banging on the frame.  I decided to try a different way.  I cut the sway bar near the place where it connects to the rear axle on the passenger side.  I then placed a sleeve over both of the cut ends and drilled holes through and bolted the two sides together.  When the bolts on one side are removed it has the same affect as disconnecting the ends with out the end flopping around since they are still connected to the frame.  It worked, but the bolts are kind of hard to install and remove if the bar is not exactly lined up correctly.

Steve Schafer did some testing with different rear sway bar configurations and found the best thing was just to leave the STOCK rear bar connected if used with his new rear super soft bump stops.  I thought I would reinstall the stock rear sway bar and give it a try.  Well he was right.  The stock rear bar does not restrict articulation at all.  I can still get max stuff on one side while getting full extension on the other.  

There was another beneficial side affect.  The truck was much more stable over all especially on the road traveling from the camp site to the wheeling area.  In the past the truck was real tippy and kind of unstable when traveling on the road with the tires aired down and the sway bars disconnected.  I had thought it was due to the tires being aired down, but with the stock rear bar connected the truck is very stable on the road even with the tires aired down and the front bar disconnected.  This is a great combination.

In addition to Steve's super soft rear bump stops, I installed his panhard bar drop bracket and his parking brake cable mount extension.  The drop bracket recenters the rear axle under the truck after it is lifted and the parking brake cable mount extension takes the stress off of the cable during flex of the rear suspension off road.  These are very good things to have.

I am very happy with my current suspension configuration.  The parts list is:


  • SAW Race Runner front coil-overs with Tundra valving

  • OME medium rear coils

  • OME firm rear shocks

  • Schafer super soft rear bump stops

  • Schafer panhard drop bracket

  • Schafer parking brake cable mount extension

  • Addco front sway bar

  • Nuke front sway bar quick disconnects

  • Stock rear sway bar


Skid Plates:

Underbelly Skid Plate:

There is a lot of expensive stuff underneath the truck that you can damage off road.  Some good skid plates are money well spent.

This is a picture of my underbelly skid plate made by Trail Carnage.  This picture was taken from underneath the truck facing forward from near the rear differential.

This is the front section of the Trail Carnage underbelly skid taken from the left side of the truck.

Here is one of the middle section that shows how it is mounted to the cross frame member.  It uses existing holes in the cross member and there are no holes to drill.  It just bolts right up.

Here is the rear section.  Again you can see how it bolts up to the cross members using existing holes.  You can see it fully protects the transfer case, that very expensive transfer case. 

This skid plate works well.  I spent three days wheeling at Paragon Adventure Park.  It has some nice scrapes in it, but no dents or divits.  I feel much better with it under there.

Tom at Trail Carnage does good work and this underbelly skid plate came out really nice.  Mine is the second one he did and it bolted right up perfectly.

Front Prototype Plate:

Skid Plate Mike from Arizona is developing a new front skid plate to replace the stock one.  It is make of 3/16" steel and is super heavy duty compared to the stock one.

He sent me a prototype one to try out and find its weak spots so he could make improvements for the production version coming out soon.

It is a very stout unit, but as you can see I found a few weak spots...

I tested it out at the Paragon Adventure Park during the East Coast 4Runner Jamboree '03.  That place it no joke.

The production version is going to have greater side and radiator protection.  I'll bet I can still bend it.