As I head into year five with my favorite mechanical buddy, I am proud to announce that I have officially achieved my goal of bringing this site’s textual content and photos up to the FJ’s current status. I’ve scoured through nearly all of our photographs and can now confirm that I’ve completed documentation on all of the major modifications. There are still a few minor modifications, however, that have remained in hiding thus far. The main reason I have not yet addressed these items is that no one single mod was worthy of an entire article. But rather than just skip these upgrades entirely, I’ve decided to compile them all together into a single mini-mod article. Although a few of the below-mentioned items fall into the pricier category, most of these upgrades are either do-it-yourself type mods and/or modifications that fall into the quick and cheap category. In the end, whether your mods are major or minor in nature, it is the combination of the alterations that makes each person’s vehicle their own. So without further delay, here are a few of mine.
Dual Horn Upgrade – Cost: $45
Anyone who has owned an FJ for more than a week will no doubt agree that the stock horn configuration lacks punch. Part of the problem is that most vehicle horn systems nowadays utilize two separate horns to generate an audible warning to those around us. But for some inexplicable reason, Toyota opted to install only one of these horns, leaving owners a bit mute. There are lots of different options available for horn upgrades but I wanted to keep things simple so I purchased a set of low pitch PIAA horns from Amazon. Traditionally, the lower pitch horns are used by domestic manufacturers and the higher frequency horns are found in foreign autos. But when I sampled both horns through YouTube, I preferred the lower pitch.
Installation for the PIAA horns was not terribly difficult. Both horns come with a mounting bracket and there’s a conveniently located bolt behind the passenger side of the front grille. All I needed to add was a spacer to keep the secondary horn from hitting the radiators. The current draw for the PIAAs was nominal so I was able to tap into the existing horn’s hot lead in order to provide the secondary horn with power. The main difference between the PIAA horns and the stock horn is that the PIAAs have a secondary tab for grounding. But this was easily fixed by running a second jumper wire from the ground tab to the horn’s mounting bolt.
Custom Shift Knobs – Cost: $50-$100
Shift knobs are another area where customization can be achieved for nominal expense. There were quite a few options available for FJ Cruiser shift knobs but most of them seemed either clunky or the style wasn’t in keeping with the FJ’s look and feel. Then one day I came across a “for sale” post in the FJ Cruiser forums that displayed a set of custom aluminum shift knobs that were quite different from the typical offering. The main structure was all aluminum and the metal had been powder coated black with a mild texture to the surface. The circumference of the knobs was trimmed with several rubber rings that assisted the driver with a better grip and gave the knobs a bit more style. To top it off, custom FJ logo inserts had been added to the top portion of each knob.
Installation of the knobs was as easy as unscrewing the stock knobs and replacing them with the new set. The only issue I ran into was that the internal spacing on the transmission knob was a bit too big at the bottom so there was some wiggling while shifting. This was easily fixed with a few wraps of tape around the shaft, prior to installing the knob. The second issue is that being made of metal, these knobs are quite cold in the winter time. On the other hand, they also tend to stay pretty cool during the summer time, so I guess it’s a good trade off. If you’re looking to customize your FJ Cruiser with aftermarket shift knobs, there are a few vendors out there that produce some quality products. Some of the more popular suppliers are Iron Mountain Performance, Icon Vehicle Dynamics, and Ellis Precision. Beyond that, I suggest using Google to find the exact style you’re looking for.
Bumpers and Mud Flaps – Cost: Free
This mod is as cheap is it gets – it’s completely free with the exception of the time it takes to make the changes. After repeatedly striking my bumper wings (the silver portions that stick out on each side) into obstacles and and crushing my mud flaps on rock ledges, I decided it would be less harmful to just remove the offending items. So I did. It’s a pretty simple mod to do and gains some additional clearance around and under the FJ. The bumper wings are held in place by a series of plastic snap locks on the interior of the bumper. To gain access to these you must first remove the bumper which is done by removing a selection of bolts and screws. Most of the bumper’s attachment hardware can be found with a visible inspection and some common sense but there are a few hidden attachment points that sit just under the front bezel area so the bezel will need to be removed as well. Removing the mud flaps requires the same common sense approach. Just look for mounting screws under the vehicle where the mud flaps attach.
Exhaust Chop – Cost: $75-$100
Modifying the stock exhaust configuration is probably not necessary for the FJs that only see the occasional fire road. But for those of you who wheel your rigs a bit harder, this is great way to gain some added clearance and save those custom exhaust tips too. The idea is to move the output of the exhaust upward, closer to the underside of the vehicle. Like the bumper and mud flap mods, this alteration will help prevent the exhaust pipe from being inadvertently crushed while crawling over obstacles. If you’re handy with a reciprocating saw and a welder, this is a 30 minute job. If you lack the tools or the skills, almost any muffler shop can do this for under $100, including parts and labor. Make sure that the placement isn’t too close to your decking as it will heat up the interior flooring and potentially damage your flooring or mats. And for anyone considering an aftermarket bumper, you might want to purchase and install the bumper first to ensure your modified exhaust pipe will be short enough to clear. I did my initial chop before installing the Expedition One rear bumper and due to unexpected clearance issues with the new bumper, I had to shorten the pipe even further.
7-Pin Trailer Plug – Cost: $15-$20
For those FJ Cruiser owners that haul trailers on a regular basis, the standard 4-pin wiring harness that Toyota provides can be a bit of a pain. In my case, I had two main problems – corrosion and location. The salted roads in the winter time cause the pins of the harness to corrode, making it very difficult to get the trailer wiring attached, let alone get a good solid electrical connection. Secondly, the location of the harness made it extremely vulnerable to rocks and other obstacles on the trail. So after dealing with these issues for several years, I finally opted to have the entire 4-pin portion replaced with a 7-pin. The 7-pin connectors, like this one on Amazon, make hooking up your trailer wiring much simpler and they come with a spring-loaded cap to prevent salt and debris from building up within. With the old connector gone, I decided fix my second problem by relocating the new connector up inside the frame rails, mounting it flush with the bottom of the rear cross-member. This new location gives the harness and plug some much needed protection while still remaining very accessible when I need to hook up the trailer.
TRD Off-Road Decals – Cost: $15-$45
I’ll admit, I’m not the type of guy that peppers his vehicle with an endless supply of stickers. I’m not knocking those folks who do. After all, this article is all about inexpensive mods and customizing your vehicle to make it your own. But in the end, I’m not a big fan of clutter and I really prefer a cleaner look to my vehicles. So I’ll chalk it up to a coincidence when I happened to come across some Toyota Racing Division (TRD) decals and liked them enough to purchase a set. Since I’d never seen these stickers on an FJ before, I decided to keep things subtle and initially ordered the design you see below in a silver color with charcoal accents. Unfortunately, the color of the sticker was too close to that of the vehicle, making it almost impossible to see from certain angles. So I replaced the silver combo with a second set comprised of black letters with a red accent. The second set of decals were much bolder but I’m still very pleased with the result. You can also order your decals through 3rd party suppliers to save some money as the ones offered through Toyota tend to be a bit on the pricey side.
Installation of the decals is really more a matter of patience than anything. Placement is completely up to the installer but I opted for adding the accents to the FJ’s haunches. The main trick with this area is that the driver’s side contains the gas filler door. Since I didn’t want to split the sticker, I adjusted the placement to where it was just to the front of the fuel door. Although it was difficult to ensure that the stickers were completely level, I did my best by measuring up from the stock fender flares on each side. I marked the bottom horizontal line using painters tape. By lining up the decals with this bottom tape, I was then able to mark up the right and left edges with more tape. I completed the box by using one last piece of tape to mark the top of the decal. Per the installation instructions, I peeled the backing from the decal and used a light mix of soapy water in a spray bottle to wet the surface of the FJ and the back of the decal, and carefully placed the decal into the confines of my tape border. After spraying some additional soapy water on the outer surface of the sticker, I then used a small squeegee to work the bubbles out from underneath. Once I was happy with the position of the decal, I dried the surface and removed the painters tape.
Secondary MPAC Rack – Cost: $150-$200
I wasn’t the first to perform this mod but my theory is that just because someone beats you to the punch doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. You know what they say about imitation. In case you missed the previous article, you can get the full review of Springtail Solutions’ MPAC racks here. The design of the FJ’s rear door panel is such that you can actually fit two of Springtail’s full-sized aluminum racks – one on top and a second on the bottom portion. Since I am always on the lookout for additional cargo capacity, this seemed like a great way to achieve some extra mounting locations. So I ordered up a second rack and hardware from Springtail. By the way, if you’re looking to save a little money, ask Springtail if they have any demo or marred items in stock. I managed to save some money on the second rack because I opted to pick up one of the cosmetically “less than appealing” models. As it turned out, even though the scratches were marked with tape, they were so small that I would have never noticed. You can also save some expense if you order your rack as part of a combo. It’s more expensive overall, but if you’re planning on getting the side rack and MOLLE bags anyway, it’s a much better deal. By the way, the estimated price above is for the second rack only.
Installation of a secondary rack is pretty much the same procedure as the top rack. See your Springtail installation info for more details. The only thing I recall that was different was that I had to bend some of the washers to make them conform to the molding of the plastic. The fit was definitely tight with two racks though so if you plan to add a second rack, make sure you leave enough room when mounting your first. The other thing to be aware of is that items mounted to the bottom rack will tend to hang down below the door opening, preventing you from closing the door. I located all of my bulky bags on the top rack and only used the bottom rack for small pouches to alleviate this issue. Other than that, the dual rack setup has worked very well and gives me that much more space for my gear. Lastly, if you’re looking to purchase MOLLE bags from Springtail, I highly recommend their velcro rip-away design. Being able to quickly and easily install and remove your storage bags for restocking means time saved for other tasks.
Lower Shock Guards – Cost: $35
The lower mounting points for the rear shocks on the FJ happen to sit in a rather precarious zone, exposed directly to rocks and other immovable objects. Thankfully, aftermarket manufacturers have once again risen to the occasion and as a result, you can now pick up some pretty sturdy guards for your lower shock mounts. While visiting Man-A-Fre’s web site, I came across this set of guards that were relatively inexpensive and seemed to offer the necessary protection, so I ordered a set. I actually ran these for over a year and they did a great job while they remained intact. Unfortunately, the constant grinding on the rocks wore down the welds and all it took was one well placed snag and the outer face of the guard tore away from the round section. So I began looking for a better solution.
Having run Icon Vehicle Dynamics’ equipment in the past, I decided to see what they had to offer for lower shock guards. Comprised entirely of aluminum, the Icon lower shock guard design is not prone to rusting like the competing steel products. Plus, the Icon model sports an additional shielding component for the shock tubes themselves. All in all, they seemed to offer the same basic functionality so I plunked down some cash and had them in hand a few days later. My one concern with the Icon design was the upper shield. It lacked any type of reinforcement and I was concerned that a decent strike to the top portion of the guard would force the shield backwards, potentially damaging the shock tube in the process.
My prediction came true, unfortunately, as these new shock guards didn’t even last one round at Rausch Creek before succumbing to the rocks. I only managed to traverse a few trails before I experienced a loud clunking from the rear of the vehicle. As it turned out, the upper shield portion of my driver’s side shock guard had been bent backwards and was now lodged against the shaft of the shock, preventing the shock from fully collapsing. Needless to say, the Icon lower shock guards were immediately removed before they could do any more damage.
I have since returned to a new set of Man-A-Fre lower shock guards. While they are still prone to rusting and weld tearing, it took quite awhile for this to occur. And for the price, they still offer great protection for the shock mounts. The one thing I would change in Man-A-Fre’s design is to have an outer lip as well that would protect the head of the mounting bolt. It tends to take quite a bit of abuse through the rocks and a mushed bolt head makes removal a bit tricky. In the mean time, I’ll continue to keep my eyes out for other options and if anyone has any suggestions for a better solution, please feel free to leave a comment.
Aftermarket Seat Covers – Cost: Varies
In a nutshell, I like leather. I won’t go into too much detail on this one since I covered this already in my “stock vs aftermarket” article. Leather seats are not necessarily a cheap upgrade but in my opinion, they are a very worthwhile upgrade that adds both class and functionality to your vehicle. When presented with options, I selected Katzkin leather both for their reputation and their quality. My color choice was based on the darker charcoal color of the FJ’s interior and I am really happy with the way it turned out. I didn’t want anything too garish, but I had seen the FJ Cruiser logo in seats on another venue and really liked the way it looked. So when I ordered the Katzkins, I asked that this logo be added in a light silver thread. The end result turned out even better than I expected and if I had to do it all over again, this upgrade would be one of my first. Pricing for leather depends a lot on the manufacturer and whether you’re having it installed. A normal price range for a full set of FJ Cruiser leather seats installed is between $800 and $1200. A lot of the price depends on the installation shop’s labor charges.
If leather isn’t in your budget, there are a number of companies that offer less expensive seat surfacing solutions. With such a wide variety of customization options available, it’s easy to see why so many customers choose this route over leather. Whether you’re going for solid or two-tone, custom patching or embroidery, the nearly limitless options available means you can truly customize your interior and get the look you’ve always wanted. One of the more popular options for aftermarket seat surfacing comes from a company named Wet Okole. Manufactured from a material similar to wet suits, the Wet Okole seat covers are completely waterproof, making it easy to clean up after spills, splashes and other surface contaminants. On top of that, Wet Okole offers a wide selection of colors allowing customers to pick out the perfect color or color combination to meet their needs. If your FJ is in the market for aftermarket seat covers and neither of these options fits the bill, I suggest browsing through the FJ Cruiser forums or using Google to see what else is available.
Custom Gobi Stealth Roof Rack – Cost: $1,400
In an effort to open up the interior of the FJ, I had a sunroof installed within the first two months of ownership. Cosmetically, the stock roof rack was a great design that offered limited hauling functionality and complemented the sunroof nicely because cargo was designed to sit towards the rear of the vehicle. But for more serious trips, I needed a rack that was less about aesthetics and more about functionality. I needed a roof rack that would support more than 100 pounds and one that would allow me to pack smaller items without fear of them falling through the slats. My main problem in this scenario was the sunroof.
While reviewing my roof rack options, I discovered that a lot of the aftermarket solutions were either too small or too big. The small solutions were generally undersized baskets designed to take advantage of the stock rack or 3rd party 1/2 racks that only utilized the back end of the roof for storage. The full-sized racks were oftentimes lacking a full floor (slats only) and almost all of the larger racks suffered from the same problem – they all blocked visibility through the sunroof. After more than a year of driving with the stock roof rack, I finally came across a post in the FJ Cruiser forums that indicated Gobi was offering to customize their rack designs to accommodate those owners with a sunroof. Since the Gobi Stealth was already one of my favorite rack designs, it was an easy decision for me. All I had to do was send the dimensions of my sun roof to Gobi and they took it from there. The end result is the perfect combination for my needs. Not only do I have uninhibited access to my sun roof, I ended up with a rack that gives me a 300 pound weight rating and looks great too.
Vanity License Plates – Cost: Varies
To round out this compilation of min-mods, I decided to finish with one of the most commonly seen mods today – vanity license plates. For our United States residents, customizing your vehicle’s license plate is something that virtually anyone can do. Finding a custom plate id that isn’t already taken is usually the trickiest part. But once you find one that meets your requirements it’s usually only a small upgrade fee on top of the normal cost of your plates. I’ll admit, I never had the urge to purchase a vanity plate before I owned the FJ. But since this vehicle is here to stay for the long term, I decided it needed something a bit more personal since it’s now an official member of the family.
While I’m sure there are probably other items that I’ve missed, I think that pretty much covers the remainder of my modifications for the time being. Due to a recent job change, the FJ mods are on a bit of a hiatus but I hope to return with more upgrades very soon. The beauty of modding is that you’re never really done. Every time I think I’m getting close, I run across a new selection of irresistable toys, which makes it almost impossible to ever really “complete” this project. Plus, my tastes and needs change over time too, so as I grow, so does the FJ. If you have any questions about the above modifications or would like to share some of your own, please feel free to post a comment or two. After all, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting ideas!