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 →
Okay, so maybe the term “bulletproof” is a slight exaggeration. But sometimes it’s the small things in life that seem to have the largest impact. In the case of Ricochet’s lower control arm (LCA) skids for the FJ Cruiser, nothing could be truer. Like their name implies, Ricochet’s assortment of skid plates offer great deflection through light-weight protection. I originally purchased these skids back in November of 2009 and I’ve been running the same set since installation. They have taken a significant beating since they were installed and they have the scars to show for it. But despite the harsh environments they’ve witnessed, these skids continue to provide the same great protection they offered when they were first installed.
For the die-hard rock-crawling fanatics out there, I should point out that these skids, like most of Ricochet’s products for the FJ, are comprised entirely of aluminum. Some of the most popular skid plate vendors out there will tell you that when it comes to underbelly protection, nothing beats steel. And from my own experience, I’d have to agree. Steel is stronger, more pliable, and will slide off rocks and other hard surfaces much easier than an aluminum skid. From a material standpoint, aluminum tends to be more brittle than steel and is more prone to sticking on rocks than sliding. The malleability of steel makes it a popular choice for wheels, skids and other parts used in the off-roading arena, because these parts can be bent back into shape when struck and warped by obstacles. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →
When it comes to modifying the FJ my goal has always been to achieve increased capability without negatively impacting vehicle performance. There’s no doubt that a vehicle designed for hardcore off-roading is going to witness its share of bruises. And the greater the number of modifications, the greater the chances that the stock integrity will be affected. My FJ Cruiser began its life as a daily commuter that saw occasional off-road use. Over the last four years of ownership, the scales have definitely tipped in favor of off-roading. It’s still my daily commuter, but my upgrade priorities now lean towards off-road conditions, rather than worrying so much about what kind of mileage I can achieve. To that end, it’s time to roll back the clock once again, to retroactively discuss one of the best possible modifications available for FJ Cruiser owners.
October of 2009 was a great month for my FJ Cruiser, and probably one of the most significant in terms of upgrades. I had spent the previous month or so analyzing my FJ’s performance characteristics in great detail in an effort to determine my next upgrade path. One of the immediate drawbacks to note was performance on inclines. Although the FJ comes stock with a 2.56:1 transfer case gear ratio, the gearing even in LOW/LOW leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to steep hills. Extremely rocky terrain can also prove frustrating since drivers can find themselves in constant “brake” mode, where their foot never leaves the pedal. On flat terrain, riding the brakes can indeed be an effective method for controlling forward momentum. But on inclines where the surface is loose or slippery, hitting the brakes can lead to disastrous results. The question is, what can FJ owners do to improve this situation? Continue Reading →
In my never-ending quest to build the ultimate expeditionary vehicle, a good portion of my focus has been spent analyzing various trail and weather conditions, and gauging the FJ’s capability under said conditions. I am once again breaking away from the modding time line in order to get feedback on a more recent experience, one involving the FJ and its performance in two plus feet of snow.
The mid-Atlantic region was recently blanketed with what the meteorologists dubbed, “an epic winter storm.” The fallout of this event was more than two feet of snow and ice, and now they’re calling for another 20 inches on top of that. Marylanders are used to getting snow in the winter, but it rarely accumulates with such ferocity. Thankfully, we were well prepared and decided it would be best spent holed up in the house for a few days rather than venture out too far. But by mid-afternoon the next day, the snowing had ceased, leaving us with a wonderful landscape of frosty goodness. Continue Reading →
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. Continue Reading →