Stepping outside our comfort zone is something that most people will avoid doing unless absolutely necessary. There are those lucky few who seem to thrive by living life on the edge, but for most of us, there’s something truly unnerving about moving into unexplored territory. I guess I’d place myself somewhere in between. I like to push my limits because I feel it improves me as a person and allows me to grow and learn from the experience. But I’m also cautious when I take these steps and prefer to feel my way around before jumping in head first. This is true for many aspects of my life and off-roading is no exception. Every time I push my limits as a driver or the physical limitations of the FJ, I get nervous, but over the years I have discovered a few tips and tricks that help to reduce the stress. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
For those quick trips to the trail where you plan to return in a matter of hours, it is probably a safe bet to limit on-board recovery gear to the bare essentials. The story changes, however, when these two-hour trips become multi-day excursions. For longer trips or expeditions into areas devoid of the basic support elements, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead and include additional gear for those unexpected events. As someone who hedges on the side of safety, I tend to carry more gear than I expect to use, but I’d rather “have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”, as the saying goes. But there are penalties to pay for this peace of mind – penalties paid in the form of increased weight and reduced storage space.
One of the best solutions for on-board storage in the FJ Cruiser is provided by a company called Springtail Solutions. I won’t go into too much detail here since I posted a complete review of their storage racks several months ago. Suffice it to say, their rear door storage rack is a life-saver when it comes to the wide assortment of smaller items that I require for longer trips. These racks, and the optional MOLLE bags that attach to them, have no problems supporting the weight requirements for items such as small tools, various camping supplies, and a well-rounded first aid kit. But by the time you add two of these racks, loaded with all the accompanying gear, to the FJ Cruiser’s rear door, the strain becomes somewhat noticeable. The weight of the internal gear, combined with the spare tire and wheel mounted on the outside of the door, is a bit more than the stock hinges can handle. This is especially true for those folks who have upgraded their tires and wheels to larger, heavier models, increasing the outside weight dramatically in some cases. Continue Reading →
The mid-Atlantic region recently experienced several rather severe snow storms which left us with with more than four feet of accumulated snowfall in less than a week. Because of the road and parking lot conditions, many businesses remained closed during that week, to include my current work location. As a result of these closures, I had some free time on my hands and decided it would be a great opportunity to test out the FJ’s sure-footedness in some seriously heavy snow and ice conditions. The detailed results of that testing can be found in this post, but the bottom line of my initial tests showed that the combination of long, flat skid plates and Nitto Terra Grappler tires just didn’t perform all that well in deep, wet, heavy snow.
Realizing that I required a better solution to this problem, my next thought headed to snow chains. As I mentioned in the previous traction-related article, the use of studded tires in Maryland is prohibited. Using snow chains during inclement weather, however, is perfectly legal. Since I didn’t currently own a set of chains, I began searching the Internet, in hopes of finding a set of chains that not only fit my over-sized tires, but ones that were sturdy enough to endure deep snow and mud conditions. My research led me to the “Grip 4×4” chains, manufactured by a German company known as RUD. Among other positive reviews, these chains were personally recommended by Bill Burke, an internationally known and well-respected off-roading spokesman and trainer. Based on these reviews and recommendations, I decided to give them a shot. For my current tire size, a 295/70R17 Nitto Terra Grappler, I ordered one set of model number 2533, the largest size offered in the Grip 4×4 series. Continue Reading →
Just to avoid any possible confusion, the following post details events that occurred during the 2nd Annual FJ Northeast Run, in April of 2009. Event details for the 3rd Annual FJ Northeast Run can be found here.
Despite my mad-dash efforts to complete all mods prior to our first trip to Rausch Creek, I was not able to complete everything I had planned. With some advanced planning, however, I did make remarkable progress towards the end goal, acquiring and installing a host of different options that would make the FJ a bit more capable and the passengers a bit safer. In preparation for a winch and other accessories, I upgraded the electrical system using the Dirty Parts Dual Battery Kit. Having the new Icon suspension now in place, meant ride quality was dramatically improved. The new Nitto Terra grapplers would not only give me additional ground clearance beyond that of the Icon lift, but better traction in the mud and rocky areas too. To increase traction further, I planned to air down the tires prior to hitting the trails. Pressure restoration would be completed with my newly installed Powertank setup. Interior cargo items were now more easily secured using the Springtail Solutions MPAC rack systems and the Gobi ladder and roof rack were also available for any additional cargo that wouldn’t easily fit into the rear of the FJ. And last, but most certainly not least, the BudBuilt skids were now affixed in rock-solid position, awaiting the inevitable clashing of rocks, stumps and whatever else happened to obstruct our path. Continue Reading →
With some of the larger upgrades out of the way, it was time to review the list of smaller items required for the upcoming trip to Rausch Creek. The following items are in no way limited to an FJ Cruiser. These are simply my recommendations for anyone who wishes to travel off-road or longer distances into remote areas.
For those of you looking to attend sponsored off-roading events, a lot of the equipment requirements will depend on who’s hosting the event. Most sanctioned off-roading events will have a list of items that must be present in or on the vehicle, prior to participation. In fact, it’s not uncommon in the larger events for your vehicle to go through a complete inspection before the event begins. Typical checklist items are usually aimed at vehicle and passenger safety and include things like working headlights, wipers, and brakes. Again, many of these requirements come down to the event type and sponsors. Continue Reading →
One of the next requirements on my list was to find an ideal solution for mobile (portable) air provision. Although portable air can be used in a number of different scenarios, there are two primary uses in an expeditionary-type vehicle, running pneumatic air tools and refilling the vehicle’s tires.
Off-roading adventures tend to be a bit more demanding on a vehicle and as such, the potential for damage is much more likely. In the event that vehicle trail repairs are required, a portable air solution can be used to power a number of specialized air tools such as an impact wrench or grinder. This can make a huge difference in the amount time and effort required to get a vehicle back on the trail in serviceable condition. Using air tools on the trail does have its drawbacks, however. It all depends on the individual tool, but some of them tend to be quite greedy when it comes to air flow. Be sure and check the cubic feet per minute (CFM) rating of any tool prior to purchasing to ensure it’s compatible with your portable air solution’s maximum supply of pressure and flow. Continue Reading →
For those of you who have been following my progress, I was now at the stage where I needed to equip the FJ Cruiser with some better accessories, accessories specifically designed with off-roading and recovery in mind. I’ve been looking forward to this post for awhile now, since it symbolizes the first step in preparing the FJ for a true off-road experience. This was actually one of the more exciting times during the FJ’s build-up because I was able to research and purchase multiple items in a very short period of time. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach, as the price tags add up quite quickly. But because of the rather shortened time frame, I decided that Christmas would be coming a little early that year.
I should also point out that I spend a great deal more time researching a piece of equipment than I typically spend installing it. The only reason I say this is to keep readers informed and aware that I’m not simply making arbitrary purchases. I tend to take my time performing extensive product comparisons, using a combination of 3rd-party reviews and customer feedback, before I make a final decision. It’s not an absolute guarantee, but it does help me avoid some of the more obviously bad products. This is yet another area where I rely heavily on the FJ Cruiser Forums for consultation. With more than 30,000 members and 80,000 threads, these forums provide some very useful insight from actual FJ and FJ-product owners. This particular post is the first of several that will detail most of the equipment I purchased prior to our first trip to Rausch Creek Off-Road Park. Continue Reading →
Given the variety of equipment available for off-road adventures, locating all the necessary parts and pieces for an expeditionary load-out can be more than a little time-consuming. There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting the perfect piece of equipment for your trip. I am by no means an expert in expeditionary trips. As a matter of fact, I have very little experience in this area. But since I am learning as I go, I wanted to avoid as many potential catastrophes as I could. So I came up with my the following list of questions based on a purely-logical, common-sense approach.
I realize that it may not be the most comprehensive list, but so far I’ve found it to be quite useful when purchasing and preparing equipment for any type of overland adventure. I know I can’t prepare for every possible event, but the more time I spend focused on the necessities, the better off I’ll be in the long run. And my plan is to continue adding to the list and tweaking questions as I gain more experience in off-roading and overland travel. Continue Reading →
It seems that no matter what the vehicle, there will always be compromises in its design. Vehicle manufacturers typically have an intended market in mind when they design and sell a particular vehicle. As such, they engineer features into the vehicle to accommodate future owners the best they can. But with safety and emissions standards becoming more and more stringent, fuel prices on the rise, and the economy on the fall, auto manufacturers have been forced to make sacrifices for the greater good. It’s disappointing at times but it is reality so as consumers we’ve learned to live with it.
The FJ Cruiser does indeed lack certain luxury features, but despite its low introductory pricing, it comes very well equipped. With a focus on functionality instead of features, Toyota did a great job of determining what was needed in a vehicle aimed at the off-roading community. No doubt the lack of available luxury items is intended to reduce production costs. But based on the target demographic, Toyota was smart enough to realize that for many owners, features such as dual climate control would only add unnecessary cost. So by eliminating some of these options, Toyota was able to produce a reasonably-priced but very capable vehicle. Continue Reading →