One of the more common complaints heard in reference to driving an FJ Cruiser is the lack of visibility from within the cabin. Sadly, many test drivers move on to purchase alternate platforms because of this very issue, never getting to experience all those other features that make the FJ Cruiser great. Admittedly, the pillars in the FJ are rather sizable. But the side visibility problem is easily eliminated with two $3 convex mirrors, and rearward visibility can also be somewhat resolved by selecting Toyota’s optional backup sensors or camera package. With these solutions in place, the average daily driver and commuter should not have any problems safely navigating most paved suburban streets. Mountain trails, muddy ravines and boulder-strewn rock gardens are a separate issue, however.
When venturing off-pavement, visibility becomes a key factor in determining the path your vehicle will travel to reach its destination. Although I believe Toyota did an outstanding job designing the FJ Cruiser in general, the height of the stock doors is simply not conducive to good visibility on the trail. One option would be to remove the stock doors altogether but this option leaves the front passengers somewhat vulnerable to branches and other flying debris and is actually illegal in some states for safety reasons. So the logical solution to this problem is to replace the stock doors with an aftermarket alternative – one that improves the view from the driver’s seat but still offers some amount of safety and protection. On that note, I’d like to introduce you to Metal Tech’s tube door for the FJ Cruiser. To quote Metal Tech directly:
Metal-tech tube doors are a direct fit, bolt-on tube door for the FJ Cruiser featuring one year of development and testing. Stainless steel paddle latches make it easy to get in and out of the FJ Cruiser and secure the doors tight. Our paddle latches come with interior pull knobs to open the doors as well. Featuring Metal-tech’s 1.5” tube framing the doors and precision CNC laser cut mounting plates for a guaranteed first fit. Easily supporting the weight of a 200lb adult sitting on the door, they are extremely strong yet under half the weight of the typical tube door.
After a year of running trails with the stock doors, I decided I wanted a better view of the terrain around the vehicle. Picking a good line can make a world of difference and it’s much easier to do so when you can see the ground ahead, and to the side of, your vehicle. So I contacted Mark Hawley at Metal Tech for more details. In my case, I indicated that I was definitely interested in the doors, but with a slightly modified design. I requested that the traditionally open area of the door be covered with expanded metal for additional protection. Though there were additional charges for materials and labor, Mark was kind enough to oblige my request and a few weeks later I was staring at a beautiful set of Metal Tech, hand-crafted tube doors.
Installation of the Meta Tech tube doors is actually pretty straight forward. The biggest difficulty you’ll run into during installation is removing the stock doors from the FJ. The stock doors weigh in at approximately 75 pounds and are somewhat unwieldy to manage. So I recommend having a friend help you with this portion of the install. The other option that works well is to purchase a small hydraulic lift table like this one from Harbor Freight. They usually support up to ~500 pounds of weight and can be extremely handy during projects like these. Plus, the table collapses into a fairly compact package so it’s transportable if you want to remove the doors somewhere other than your own home or garage.
Removal of the stock doors is pretty simple too. Start by popping the front plastic sill cover loose that runs along the bottom of your door jam. This will allow you to remove the lower plastic kick panels next to the driver’s and passenger’s feet (under the dash). To remove the driver’s side kick panel, you must first pop the plastic foot rest loose (far left of the pedals). Underneath this foot rest is a small plastic knob that will unscrew. There is a similar knob on the passenger side as well.
Once these knobs are unscrewed, the plastic kick panel can be removed by pulling it straight backwards towards the rear of the vehicle. There are two main wire harnesses inside each kick panel that need to be disconnected prior to the stock door removal. These wires are tied to the door locks and window controls and will not be used once the stock doors are removed. The outer portion of the wire harness (within the door) is connected to the inner portion (kick panel) using a snap plug that can be unplugged quite easily by depressing the lock tab that holds the two pieces together and pulling them apart.
At this stage, make sure you have your stock door properly supported before proceeding. Once your wiring is completely disconnected, door removal is accomplished by removing four (4) bolts on the door side of the hinges and a single bolt that holds the retention bracket in place (prevents the door from swinging out too far). Make sure you save the bolts you removed from the stock door setup. You won’t need them to install the tube doors, but you will need them if you plan to reinstall the stock doors in the future. Be sure and leave the hinges attached to the vehicle since they are required for the tube doors as well.
With these five bolts removed, you should be able to simply slide the doors away from the vehicle and gently lower them to the floor. Again, the stock doors are heavy and cumbersome to deal with so take care and go slowly to avoid damaging the doors. Even with a friend’s help, I’d still recommend the use of a table jack as it makes the whole process a lot easier. The two bolts in the stock door jamb assembly are removed using a large star driver. The stock jamb is replaced with a single post Metal Tech jamb, designed to work with the tube door latching system.
The handle and latch mechanism on the Metal Tech tube doors are somewhat adjustable to allow for variances in door height once attached to the vehicle. The right-angle handle bracket attaches to the doors using two bolts, washers and lock nuts. The release arm attaches to the latch assembly using a similar combo. And lastly, the latch assembly itself attaches to the handle bracket using two bolts that fit through pre-threaded holes in the assembly bracket. I suggest tightening the nuts and bolts for the release handle but leave the other four bolts slightly loose to allow for adjustment after the door is attached to the hinges.
Metal Tech includes a good collection of large washers in their installation kit but I ended up requiring a few extra for spacers behind the hinges. In my case, I had to play with spacing a bit in order to get the doors to hang at the right angle and swing in such a way so the latch assembly aligned properly with the door jamb bolt. This process is not all that bad though. The tube doors are extremely light compared to the stock doors and it’s really just a matter of adding or removing washers between the hinges and the hinge brackets on the doors themselves. Once you achieve the proper spacing, the doors open and close as easy as can be, and the latching mechanisms provided keep the doors very secure when sitting in the closed position. Be sure and tighten all the bolts in your latching mechanism and handle once you get everything lined up the way you want.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Once you’ve completed the install one time, removal of the tube doors is even easier, and restoring your stock doors is no more difficult than it was to remove them. Just reverse the above instructions and you’re all set. Again, make sure you set all your stock hardware aside for safe keeping and I highly recommend using a hydraulic table lift as it will save you a lot of potential heart (and back) ache.
I’d like to thank Mark Hawley and the Metal Tech team for going our of their way and adding the expanded metal to my set. I realize that one-off pieces are always a bit of a pain so I really appreciate their extra efforts. I’d also like to thank Jake (TrailBus1) in the FJ Cruiser forums for some of the detailed installation photos. All in all, if you’re looking for additional visibility on or off the road, you can’t go wrong with a set of Metal Tech tube doors.
Having had a few months to put the Metal Tech tube doors through their paces, I have a few updates to add to this post. I’d like to start by stating that the Metal Tech tube doors do a fantastic job of expanding the cabin space of the FJ. Visibility has never been better and trail navigation has improved ten-fold with the doors in place. With their solid latching system and added protection of expanded metal, I have no qualms whatsoever when traveling on or off road. My daughter, who normally accompanies me and resides in the back seat of the FJ, was especially appreciative of the extra air flow and open feel that these doors provide. Like many products though, tube doors do take some getting used to.
In my opinion, there are only two real drawbacks to these doors, both of which are relatively obvious. When the temperature drops, you will either need to bundle up or reinstall your stock doors. I was good to go until temps dropped below 40 degrees, at which point, the combination of air temp and wind at highway speeds is a bit more than I wanted to bear.
The other somewhat unexpected surprise came while driving in rainy conditions. Mind you, a little rain in the cabin is not going to worry me all that much. The problem occurs not from the rain that’s falling, but from the rain that already sits on the pavement. Road debris (dirt, rocks, water, etc) from the front tires is kicked up and launched directly into the cabin area, entering through the bottom, front corner of the tube doors. Without the stock doors in place, there is nothing to stop this from happening. Compounding this problem is the wind, which acts as a torrent, whipping the rain water around inside the cabin to the point where I had to pull over because I could no longer see out the front window.
Once I was stopped, closer inspection revealed that the rain water had been spread pretty much everywhere – inside the front window, the dash, seats, headliner – you name it and the water found it. My entire left side was drenched as a result of one five-minute trip down a rain-soaked highway. So if you’re running tube doors and plan to travel in the rain, prepare accordingly. The same goes for overnight parking. I’ve actually added shower curtains to my list of on-board equipment for just this occasion. Hanging them from my roof rack when I expect rain storms helps prevent a lot of the water from getting into the cabin. As far as the road water goes, my plan for the future is to modify these doors so that the lower panel area blocks rain and debris from entering the cabin area altogether. But that will have to wait for a future article.
Lastly, just for fun, here’s a quick video taken last year while I was running these doors up at Rausch Creek Off-Road park in Tremont, PA. Enjoy!