Now four years later, we’ve gotten to the point where my wife needs access to a larger vehicle, and some winter capability would be nice for her to have, too. At the same time, some of the 4Runner mods I’ve done in the past year were starting to make the vehicle not very family-trip-friendly; for example, a rear drawer system was very nice for organizing recovery gear and tools, but prevented us from getting the toddler’s stroller in the back. So, the gears have been turning for a bit in my head already on how to tackle this situation.
I’ve always been a fan of the early 5th Gen 4Runner Trails – they looked phenomenal with some of the small visual tweaks the models received, such as the black trim, the different bumpers and the different instrument cluster. Most of those little touches disappeared on the face-lifted Trails, for some reason. I saw that another local off-road enthusiast had a very clean, low-mile, pre-face-lift Salsa Red Trail for sale, and I fell in love with it and bought it.
I figured that I could “down-build” my gray 2016 Trail to make it family-friendly for my wife and turn it into the family trip vehicle, and I would make the older Trail my dedicated off-road and camping vehicle. So, I put the plan in place and, as soon as the tag for the new red 4Runner arrived, started wrenching.
I’ve basically been modifying the gray 2016 Trail since the day I got it. I honestly had forgotten about some of the modifications until I started working out the to-do list for the new red Trail, using the modification list from the gray Trail as a starting point. Holy cow, I did a ton of work to the gray Trail!
First up was removing the steel bumpers and getting the gray Trail back towards a stock height, wife-friendly suspension. A gently used Toyota TRD Pro suspension fit that bill nicely. I also switched the roof rack over from our full to our ¾ rack. The full rack is the best for hauling gear, but the ¾ is best for a daily driver vehicle that doesn’t need to carry much gear – it hardly adds any wind noise compared to stock, doesn’t weigh much at all, but gives you a sturdy rack platform should it be needed. I left the 255/75 KO2s on it. I find that those get great MPGs on the highway, but are still capable tires if needed. I also left the skid plates on, because they don’t add a ton of weight but still offer great protection. And, I left the snorkel on, because everyone loves a snorkel, including our toddler!
Now that the gray Trail was back to its family-friendly configuration, I could start to tackle the red Trail build. First on the list was installing a full set of our skid plates and recovery points from Apex Overland (www.apexoverland.com), followed by installing our full roof rack and adding a winch and our winch mount. The rear shocks were completely shot, so I put some gently used TRD Pro rear shocks we had here on it. I threw a better set of tires on, and on week two of ownership headed up to Appalachian Toyota Roundup at Windrock park in Tennessee.
It was a completely different experience riding around Windrock in the still-stock-height (and sliderless) red Trail, versus last year in the fully built gray Trail. I stuck to the easier trails due to not having sliders, but I still gave those skids a heck of a good workout, bashing them on rocks all over the place. I also headed over to Kentucky for the day on Saturday to say hi to people at the T4R Experience that was happening that same weekend. I did about 1500 miles that weekend, really getting to know the new 4Runner.
Even though they’re both 5th Gen 4Runners and only four years apart, there actually is a pretty noticeable difference between the two, besides just re-learning how many rocks a stock height vehicle hits! For example, the brake pedal feel was modified during the facelift, which makes two pedal driving on obstacles a little different between the two 4Runners.
I’m in the process of getting the new suspension installed on the Red 4Runner with the heavier springs in anticipation of getting metal bumpers installed in about a month when our next batch makes it through production. Still on my list for the next couple weeks is getting the rear differential breather extension on, installing the snorkel, installing and wiring the air compressor in the engine bay, getting auxiliary lights mounted and wired on the roof rack, and going through the tool and spare parts kit in the drawer system to reduce some of the tool clutter that has accumulated over the past four years.
This has been an interesting process, because it has given me a new perspective on building a vehicle, and a good reminder of the amount of time and dedication it takes to create a built vehicle. In some aspects, it has been quicker this time around. I cut my teeth on the previous 4Runner and know exactly how to do the modifications, but more importantly, I also know what mistakes to avoid this time around. It was easy to forget all the work I put into the gray 4Runner: It took me nearly four years of tinkering on weeknights and weekends, in addition to the long hours at work fitting prototype parts, to get it to the point I had it.
In the end, the past month has really taught me that building a vehicle, whether it is an overland build, an off-road build, a track-day build, or just for fun, is an extremely personal project. You’re putting your own touches on and making the vehicle truly your own, and your end result is unique. It's something I didn’t really appreciate the first time around.