Up it goes…the 4Runner gets a new lift.

Hi again, it’s been along time since I wrote about anything vehicle related. I took a break to enjoy other life experiences.  However, I’m a man and love vehicles so I thought I’d share one of my latest adventures with my 4Runner. This adventure happened right here in my own garage.

I bought my 2010 Toyota Trail Edition 4Runner with only 18K miles on the odometer a few years ago. Shortly after I purchased it, I headed to Ouray Colorado where I spent two weeks as an alpine host. What a fun job!! Other road trips in included a few excursions to North Carolina. I just love the balance of on road comfort and off road capability.

I bought the Trail Edition because I wanted to spend more time exploring rather than in the garage working on the truck. The trail has all the necessary toys such as locking rear differential, active track, crawl control and the like. The previous owner added things like rock sliders and over sized all terrain tires. As soon as I saw it, I loved it!!

I always said it only needed one thing; a mild lift kit. It just sat too low and the clearance under the front wasn’t as good as my previous 4Runners. While I had zero problems going anywhere, I just knew it would be more capable and look better.

After several years and the odometer  now turning 64K, it was time for a new suspension.

So I did what I always do; research!! And research, and research, and research. I think I literally read every post on the Toyota-4unner.org website!  Finally it was time to purchase and wanted to speak to a live person. I wanted to speak to someone to confirm I was on the right track. I made the call to Toytec, whom I bought the lift for my 98 4Runner years ago. Reading online is great, but talking to a live person who could answer all of my crazy questions was really fun!  I’m really glad I did, because they suggested a different rear spring and shock combo to ensure a smoother ride.

I purchased Bilstein 6112 set on the 4th notch and Toytec superflex coils with matching Toytec Boss shocks. Since the Toytec coils are only 10% stiffer than stock, they said this is a much smoother ride, especially with their longer, matching shocks.

Then came the time to install the lift. This was my 3rd time installing a lift on a 4Runner and by far the hardest. Let’s just say KDSS (kinetic dynamic suspension system) is awesome both on/off road. However when it came to install the lift, it was truly a 4 letter word!! Starting at 10am and taking breaks along the way, I single handedly finished the install around 8:30pm. At times I used every appendage possible(hands, feet, elbows) to get everything lined up so I could bolt it together.

When I stepped back and looked at it fully together, I really liked the stance of the 2.5 inch lift. Now came the fun part; did I measure accurately enough to get out of the garage! Thank fully, I did and headed out for a ride. Instantly I noticed that it soaked up the bumps much better and overall was much smoother.

A few weeks later and many miles, I still love it. It rides so much better. Bumps are still felt, but they’re less intrusive. And the big ones are absorbed so much better. Heading down a washboard road at 35mph was easy and just cruised right along without rattling the truck to death. Tires play a big part in the ride and I’m running 275/70/17 Cooper STs which have about 50K on them and are running 40psi.

My ground to fender measurements are as follows:  front 37 inches, rear 38.5 inches so it still has the factory rake which I wanted to keep. I like it higher in the back so it’ll sit level when loaded.

Aside from riding smoother, one of the best parts is the 4runner now looks like a Trail Edition. It’s sits high enough to be more capable, fits in all the parking garages, and most importantly….friends can still easily climb in.

Now I’m ready to go hit the trails looking for great photos and maybe an occasional T-Rex.

Here’s the before and after photos:






















Sights and Sounds from Imogene Pass

I had the pleasure of experiencing Imogene Pass in Colorado. Tons of history, lots of wild flowers and the trail isn’t too difficult. Just a fun, historic drive.
Here’s a short video compilation:

Tie Rod end replacement

After 133K miles, I figured it was time to replace the tie rod ends on my 4Runner. I’m not sure if they were original or not, but they looked like it.tie rod end for 4Runner

I’ve done this before and it’s not too difficult. For $98 delivered, I ordered OEM tie rod ends and set off to replace these.

With a vehicle of this age there is one thing that is a must; lubricant! PBblaster, Silly Kroil, ATF, or all of the above will work. I sprayed the bolts and alignment nuts liberally a few days prior.

tie rod end for 4RunnerWhenever I embark on these projects, I find the simplest things often create the most problems. On this job, it was the rusted cotter pins that secure the nut for the tie rod end. Liberal coating of lubricant, even a little bit of a torch to heat it didn’t phase it. It wasn’t budging and I ended up breaking off the ends. Then it was time to break out the real tool; hammer!! I used a screw driver to drive the broken pieces out the other side of the nut.

At least now the 19mm socket could fit over the nut. Loosening took some leverage, but it came off. The new tie-rod ends come with a new nut as well, but you’ll still need to get this one off.

Before removing the tie rod from the steering knuckle, I always loosen the tightening nut on the steering rack first.  This usually requires two wrenches; one on the tie rod and one on the steering rack side.

Once the steering rack side was loosened enough to remove by hand, I set off to remove the tie rod from the steering knuckle. None of my pullers would fit in the tight space. A few well-placed wallops with my hammer knocked it out of the steering knuckle.

Installation was easy, just screw the new one back into the steering rack and then bolt it into the steering knuckle and install new cotter pins.  A  new alignment will be needed, even if you line up the marks close to what they were previously. 4Runner tie rod end

The steering is a little tighter, the clunk in the front end is gone, and now I know those critical parts of the steering section are good for awhile. On to the next project…..

1998 4Runner Timing Belt replacement

$800?! That was the quote from an independent mechanic to replace the timing belt and water pump on my 1998 4Runner. $400 of the total was labor and the other $400 was parts. As a certified professional myself, I don’t mind paying someone for their time.

However, I really wanted to tackle this myself and understand how it worked. I’ve pulled rear ends, replaced fuel injectors, installed lift kits, and the like.

Plus I was pretty sure I could do it myself for cheaper than $800.  Although I’ll never forget a friend who said “why pay someone $400 when you can do it yourself for $600”.  I’ve had projects like that and was determined this wasn’t going to be one of them.

Thanks to the internet, I read every article I could find about replacing the timing belt and the problems encountered.  I even found some PDFs of service manuals and printed them.

Course, I wanted to use the right tools and this was the perfect time to upgrade and add some tools to my collection. Here’s what I used:

Timing belt: eBay kit that included; Toyota timing belt, Toyota thermostat, Toyota seals, Koyo bearings and Asin water pump.  Asin and Koyo are the manufactures of the parts for Toyota so it’s the same thing, just doesn’t say Toyota.

Pulley holder:                  to hold the crankshaft pulley while loosening/tightening the crankshaft bolt

Idler tensioner holder:   secures the lower idler so the timing belt can be installed.

Wheel puller:                    removal of the crankshaft pulley.

10mm hex socket:           removal of lower idler.

Torque wrench:                needed to torque crankshaft bolt to 217ft lbs.

Pliers:                                 removal of hose clamps.

Metric sockets                   19mm is the size for the crankshaft bolt

1/2 in breaker bar

Safety goggles

Disassembly isn’t that difficult, just a bit tedious at times. If you’ve replaced the belts and hoses, you’ve done about 50% of it.  Here’s a tip that helps me keep things organized. Each time I take a piece off, I put all the bolts into a plastic bag and label it. This way I can find all the parts later. In this case, I had to wait a week to reassemble so this worked well.

The book says to remove the A/C compressor but fortunately I didn’t need to do that. The hardest part of disassembly was removing the crankshaft pulley bolt. The infamous crankshaft bolt…..it’s torqued to 217ft lbs. so it doesn’t come off easily. And if you don’t torque it back right, it’ll come off easily and that will trash your engine.

Before I removed the crankshaft pulley, I used the ½ in breaker bar to cycle the engine by hand to see how the timing marks lined up. I wanted to get a feel of how it worked before I took it all apart.

When it came time to loosen the infamous crankshaft bolt, I used all the leverage I could, but still couldn’t get it loose. So I resorted to the starter bump method. The engine turns clockwise so I connected the 19mm socket to an old ½ inch drive torque wrench (set to loosen) and laid the wrench on top of the driver’s side frame.   When the engine turns, it pushes the wrench down into the frame which will force the bolt to loosen.

I had visions of my 1/2 in ratchet taking flight at supersonic speeds so I double checked everything. I even did a few test starter bumps so I’d know exactly how to bump the starter. Once I was sure I had a grasp of what was going on, I went for it.  The first bump sounded horrendous as the ratchet tightened against the frame, but everything looked fine. The second bump loosened it. So it was pretty easy to use this method, but be very careful and triple check everything. Especially which way the engine rotates and if you’re having someone bump the starter for you, stand clear.

So the bolt’s off, I’m home free. Not quite….that pulley isn’t coming off with just bare hands, at least not mine anyway. I had to make a store run to grab a wheel puller. Even that tool took some effort, but it did remove the remove the pulley. It’s 11lbs so don’t drop it on your toe. Don’t ask how I know this.

The pulley has a notch for the key on the crankshaft. If the crankshaft bolt isn’t tightened properly, it allows the pulley to wobble and loosen. Guess what I saw inside of my pulley? Not only was the key notch rounded, the pulley itself was cracked. I’m glad I found this now instead of far from civilization! 

A new pulley is over $300 from Toyota and off brands run around $200.  I found a used one for $99 shipped that only had 40K miles on it. That took a week to arrive so it was a good thing I had put everything in bags and labeled them.

If you think the crankshaft pulley is hard to remove, try reinstalling it! I could get it on the end of the crankshaft, but it just would not slide on. I smoothed out the inside with sandpaper and applied a liberal coating of synthetic ATF fluid. It slid right on effortlessly. ATF is the BEST lubricant!!

After that, the hardest part was lining up the belt and marks, but after numerous tries I made it. If you have an extra set of hands, this will be much easier. The water pump and idler pulleys were easy to replace. I had to compress the lower one to get the timing belt back on though.

After double checking and in some cases triple checking, I put everything back together. Now was the real test. I turned the key and the engine roared to life! Whooo Hooo, I did it!!! No pieces went flying, no odd noises. In fact it was much quieter.

So how did I do pricewise?

$264 for the timing belt kit, $99 for a new Craftsman Torque wrench (I’d been wanting a new one!), $25 for a Craftsman 1/2 inch breaker bar, $13 for the wheel puller, $33 for the idler tensioner holder, $50 for the pulley holder, $99 for the used crankshaft pulley, $12 for antifreeze, and $75 for all new belts and hoses.  Total to do it myself, including buying some tools and a crankshaft pulley: $670.  The fact I know how it all works was totally worth it. I hope that I don’t have to go in there for another 90K miles, but if I do, at least I know what to do.

Here are a few links that are a huge help:



Check your ground wires

Everytime I flipped on my driving lights, the fuel gauge would begin dropping. I knew that had to be a ground problem, but wasn’t sure where to start. I noticed the right hand light was dimmer so I started there.

I had grounded my driving lights using the bolts under my chrome bumper. I removed the ground wire from the passenger light and connected it to the horn mount. All I did was unbolt the horn and placed this connector around the mounting bolt.

Wow, the light was significantly brighter than the left one!  I grounded the left light to the other horn mount and now it matched in brightness. Oh and my fuel guage stays put too.

The night time ride was really impressive. The lights really noticeably brighter now! So if you’re experiencing any kind of issues, remember to check your ground points. Grounding through chrome bumpers and paint works okay, but a direct connection yields great results.



Trailer hitch install on 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander

The 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander has the factory roof bars but lifting mountain bikes up there was going to be tedious.  We decided a trailer hitch was the next best option. A trailer hitch can accomodate a variety of bike racks as well as a small camp trailer.  On my 4Runner the trailer hitch is like a second bumper. For the Outlander I wanted something less conspicuous.

An email to the folks at etrailer.com confirmed that this hitch would be hidden from view and work well for our needs. Hidden Hitch Trailer Hitch Receiver with Drawbar – Custom Fit – Class I – 1-1/4″ # 60824.

The instructions are very clear, which is a refreshing change. It’s really only a 30 minute install with basic tools. Here’s what you need to do, complete with pictures.

First off, remove the two tie downs on the passenger and driver’s side. They are held in place by three 14 mm bolts. Two horizontally attach to the frame and one vertically on the side of the tie down. Remove the vertical one first and then tackle the two easy to reach ones. Just remember that gravity will take over so don’t lay directly under the tie downs! Safety goggles are a must because of the dirt that falls off.

Next I did a test fit of the hitch and found the heat shield on the passenger side needed to be trimmed. The instructions said so, but I wanted to verify first. I used a pair of garden snips to trim the thin metal away. Trim enough so you can see all 3 bolt holes and then beyond so you can maneuver the hitch into place. I filed the newly cut edges and applied duct tape so I wouldn’t cut myself while working in there.

Now it’s just a matter of lifting the hitch into place and bolting it down. You need two people or at least a floor jack to do this. Fortunately, I had help so I could hold it while she bolted it in.

Don’t tighten all the bolts yet!! Crawl out, look at the hitch and make sure it’s centered. A few gentle taps with your fist will move it either direction. Once centered, now bolt everything down securely.

The last bolt above the muffler was the most difficult because I had to fully hand tighten it before there was enough room for my ratchet and socket. Aside from that, it was an easy install and looks great.

Tools required: socket set, tin snips or similar, safety goggles (of course!), and a floor jack if working by yourself. Two people make it much easier so grab a friend.

It was truly only a 30 minute install and you can barely tell the hitch is there. The Outlander is now ready for a bike rack or small trailer.

The quest for organization

The back of my 4Runner is a constant state of organized chaos. I’ve been wanting to organize it, but hadn’t found what I wanted yet. After attending the Overland Expo 2012 in AZ, I saw plenty of ideas on how. The rollover recovery demo that showed what happens when cargo is not secured sold me on getting better organized.

I looked in the stores and online, but still couldn’t find what I wanted. I know I’m picky, but I wanted something that would be lightweight, leave room for other gear, and of course be inexpensive. 

Anyone else dumpster dive? I do and am amazed at how many working items I’ve retrieved and repurposed. One lucky day I found a vertical organizer that had 2 large plastic slide out drawers. This might just work!

With the top cover, it was too tall to fit under the retractable cargo cover. The plastic pieces snap together, which means they also snap apart. After I removed the top cover, the unit was still about an inch too tall.

I was determined to make this fit and under the cargo cover. I thought about cutting it shorter, but then I realized the problem. The main cover mounting was the hinderance. That’s only a few inches wide.  Aha…..I tilted the organizer at an angle so the rear posts cleared that lower roll up section and then set it upright. Perfect fit!! It’s snug and doesn’t slide around. Course I had to paint it to be a closer match to the interior. The color is nutmeg in case you’re wondering.

The drawers are wide and deep and easily hold much more than the previous two plastic containers with snap on lids. They don’t slide around like my plastic bins did and the slide out drawers are easier to access. The whole assembly measures: 13 inches wide, 21.5 inches long, and 15.75 inches tall.

It’s so much easier to find things now and a relief to not see stuff all over.  It fits, is light weight, and was free….perfect.

Hella 700 FF Driving Lights

It was a dark night on a lonely stretch of road when my father said “hey son, watch this!” In an instant, night become day as the road was flooded with light on all sides and far away. What a difference!! He had replaced the crappy stock lights in the bumper of his Kenworth with airplane landing lights. I don’t know where he got them, but he loved using them.

Even though that was some 30 years ago, some things you never forget. Every vehicle I’ve owned has either had auxiliary driving lights and or headlight replacements.  In fact, lighting is usually the first upgrade on the list of a new vehicle.

My current vehicle, a 1998 Toyota 4Runner SR5, is no exception.  Even with upgraded headlight bulbs, I still needed more light on the road. Okay, maybe it was wanted more light on the road. My Hella work lights on the rear bumper work great so I grabbed another Hella product; the 700FF driving lights. The 7 inch round is perfect size for the 4Runner, not too big or too small. I wired them to a Toyota fog light switch to make it look stock.

The first time I turned them on at night, I was a bit disappointed. My Phillips extreme headlight bulbs were brighter than the 55w halogen bulb in the Hella kit. While the driving lights provided more usable light, it just wasn’t that bright white light I wanted.

I wanted to maintain the simplicity of the install so I purchased Hella 100W Xenon bulbs for $17. If I didn’t like them, it was a cheap lesson.

One screw removes the light housing so the entire bulb swap took all of 10 minutes. I did the swap around dusk. Just looking at the lights on in the daytime, it was obvious these bulbs were brighter.  I could hardly wait for full darkness to try them out.

(Xenon bulbs vs Halogen)



 (Both bulbs upgraded)





A flip of switch and the lights produce a bright white light that outshines my headlights. Now this is how they should’ve come from the factory!!

The 700FFs are fun to use while exploring at night and are a great for spotting wildlife before they run into the road.

LED interior bulbs installed

Have you ever looked for something inside your SUV at night? It’s like looking in a dark basement with a candle. It’s especially apparent when camping under the stars. A flashlight works, but having two hands to move items around is a big plus.

LED lights are an inexpensive and easy solution.  Replacing the 4 bulbs took about 15 minutes total and was one of the easiest upgrades.

All you need for installation is a small flat blade screw driver. The rear cargo and dome light are the same style housing. Gently pop off the cover, remove the old bulb, install the new one, and snap in the cover. When installing the new bulb, be careful not to have it pop up into hole and into the headliner. You’ll have to remove the headliner to get it out or be really creative in finding it.

To access the map lights above the mirror, the whole cover comes off in one piece. Just gently pry it loose from the headliner. If you encounter resistance, check for any tabs that may snap in like behind the rear view mirror.

The difference is amazing. Searching inside the truck at night during our last camping trip was a breeze and those small items were easily found. The cargo light now lights up the area behind the bumper which also comes in handy.

Here’s the part number from the vendor I purchased mine from.


3022-xHP4: 4 High Power LED Festoon Bulb | $ 6.95 |
3022-CWHP4: Cool White