Even though I got the jump on a few luxury upgrades right out of the box, the only real necessity in terms of upgrades were the all-terrain tires. I would not consider this particular purchase to be a luxury since the stock Dunlop series tires supplied by Toyota were one of the worst options available. Toyota did a great job of designing the FJ Cruiser, but the stock tire options offered in the first model year were of really poor quality. My only explanation is that someone higher up decided it would be cheaper to throw an inexpensive set of tires on since most owners would end up replacing them shortly after driving the FJ off the lot. And if that’s the case, they were probably right.
Thankfully, the new models now come with decent options for tires, offering either BFGoodrich Rugged Terrain or All-Terrain series tires. This is a definite bonus to new owners since they’re getting a decent tread pattern right off the bat. But in my case, in early 2007, Dunlops were all the rage. And they were gone as quickly as I could get my hands on a replacement set.
So what’s next? My first thoughts after replacing the tires went directly to the undercarriage. It’s true, Toyota does offer some skid plating protection with the stock platform. They even offer the option of a heavier gauge, aluminum skid plate that mounts directly below the front bumper. One of the upgrade packages I purchased included this as an option. And for those who stick with daily commuting and the occasional forest road, this is more than enough. But for anyone who plans to run their vehicle through rougher terrain, a quick inspection of the FJ’s underbelly reveals some definite vulnerabilities. The heavier front skid does offer considerable more protection than the much-thinner sheet metal skids found under the motor and transmission. And given that most objects will be struck while moving in a forward direction, this location works well enough. The problem occurs when you continue driving over the obstacle and it moves past the heavier skid, heading straight for the sheet metal skids, or worse, other crucial components that have no protection whatsoever. Obviously, protecting the undercarriage components was a top priority. So I began researching my options to see what, if anything, was available in aftermarket parts.
I’d like to segue for just a moment and point out one of the greatest resources available for current and future FJ Cruiser owners, the FJ Cruiser Forums. I’ve been a member since before I even owned an FJ and have remained a loyal visitor and contributor for almost three years now. I have been a member of dozens of online forums in the past, and none have proven more useful and more friendly than the FJ Cruiser forums. Like all forums, some filtering is required at times to get the answers you require. But all in all, the forums are comprised of a great bunch of folks who all share one thing in common, an ever-growing appreciation and love of the FJ Cruiser platform. These forums have proven themselves again and again, to be one of the best resources online for FJ Cruiser related information. It was while digging around on these forums that I first discovered BudBuilt products.
At the time, there weren’t quite as many options for underbelly skid plates as there are now. You can actually purchase quality skid plates from half a dozen different manufacturers nowadays. But if you’re looking for heavy-duty, precision-laser-cut, 3/16″ steel protection, nothing beats a Budbuilt. Located in North Carolina, Budbuilt is a family-owned business, operated primarily by Bud Rosenberger. Bud has spent the last decade or so earning quite a reputation for his company, a reputation that speaks highly of both his products and his commitment to customer service. The quality of these skids is so good in fact, that the Toyota Trail Teams themselves ordered complete sets for all of their FJ Cruisers. It didn’t take long to convince me that Budbuilts were the only way to go. Bud currently has plans to overhaul their company website so I’m not sure how long links will remain active. But for the quick and dirty info, Bud currently offers skid plates for the following items:
- Bumper Gap Skid – Fills the gap between the stock bumper and the front Budbuilt skid plate
- Front Skid – Protects the front side of the engine and coolers
- Engine (Mid) Skid – Protects the underside of the engine, oil pan, etc. Comes with drain hole.
- Transmission / Transfer Case Skid – Protects the remaining drive train components
- Gas Tank Skid (Medium/Heavy Duty Options) – Replaces the stock resin skid with beefy steel
- Transmission Cross-Member – Used to partially mount the trans and gas tank skids
- Lower Link Skids – Protects the front anchor point for the rear lower control arms
- Rear Differential Skid – Protects the back side of the rear differential and the e-locker
Bud offers bare metal or powder-coating options in a multitude of colors if you prefer. He also offers stainless steel skids for a bit more if you prefer a low-maintenance option. All skids are cut from 3/16″ steel plates, offering a great layer of protection between your undercarriage and that two-ton boulder you’re attempting to clear. If you’d like to get more information on Budbuilt skids for your FJ Cruiser, you can do so here. While you’re there, check out his other great Toyota products. Budbuilt offers plating, sliders and much more. And they’re not just limited to FJ Cruisers. They offer similar products for other Toyota platforms as well. All in all, Bud’s a great guy to work with and you cannot go wrong if you’re looking for the ultimate in protective skid plating.
For posterity’s sake and for those who are interested in seeing the stock setup vs. the Budbuilt skid plating, I’ve included a few before and after shots below. You’ll note that Toyota’s stock front skid actually ends up reducing the approach angle because of the way it’s mounted. It’s really not the best design in my opinion. But take a look at the Budbuilt skid that replaces it. Not only is it laser-cut for a professionally finished look, but the design of the Budbuilt skid allows it to mount much higher and closer to the underside of the FJ.
As a testament to the Budbuilt quality, I’ve had mine on for almost three years now and have given them a good run for the money on trail runs and rock crawling events in our area. I’ve run blue, purple and black trails up at Rausch Creek in Pennsylvania and the Budbuilt skids have taken every boulder, stump and other obstacle I can throw at them. There is no doubt that the Budbuilt skids are one of the best upgrades I’ve purchased for my FJ and I highly recommend giving Bud a call today if you want the best protection available for your FJ Cruiser’s undercarriage.