When it comes to off-roading, there are a number of upgrades that can be added to your vehicle to gain additional traction. For those areas where mud and rocks are plentiful, a mud-terrain tire is highly recommended. If the terrain is especially rocky, steep, or otherwise hinderful, a driver also has the option of reducing the air pressure in the vehicle’s tires. This lower pressure allows the tire to deflate and spread in width, increases the rubber footprint and provides greater traction as the increased surface area allows the tire to better conform to the terrain over which it travels. This technique is known as “airing down” in the off-roading community and is a common practice among its members. Continue Reading →
I’m currently working on another update to the electrical system and hope to have the article up soon. In the mean time, I thought you all might enjoy a few videos from various excursions over the last few years. These are not professionally shot by any means, but a few friends were kind enough to hang back and take some shots while we played, so I’m more than happy with the results. Over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that one of the biggest challenges to writing articles is capturing events as they transpire. Whether the format is audio, video or still photograph, and extra pair of hands is usually required to ensure the time line of events is properly tracked.
In the case of installation, it becomes rather a nuisance to have to stop at every step in order to detail progress after the fact. So much of the time, my photographs only tell part of the story. When I have the privilege of participating in off-road events, event capturing will oftentimes translate to standing in the bushes, hanging from tree limbs, or sinking knee-deep in the mud if necessary, in order to do the shots justice. It also means hanging back from the group while everyone else gets to play. For those of you who are willing to go this extra mile, I extend my whole-hearted thanks. Without folks like you, I’d be left with only memories of events past. Continue Reading →
I spent the better part of three years searching for an aftermarket wheel that not only looked good cosmetically but was designed to meet the rigors of off-road conditions. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been very picky when it comes to the style of a wheel. Generally speaking it takes a lot to impress me since I find many designs to be unappealing for one reason or another. As such, you can imagine my elation when I first laid eyes on the Rock Monster, a wheel that not only looked good, but was specifically designed with rugged conditions in mind. Hutchinson Industries, the company behind the Rock Monster series wheels, has been manufacturing heavy duty aluminum beadlock and run-flat wheels for the U.S. military for more than two decades. Their product lines are specifically targeted towards emergency recovery and military support vehicles in the field. These wheels have undergone extensive testing and have proven themselves again and again under rather extreme field conditions. Suffice it to say, they are designed to withstand some serious punishment.
Unlike a traditional one-piece wheel, the Rock Monster is a split-rim design where the outer facial portion of the wheel is removable. This two-piece design enables Hutchinson’s proprietary beadlock ring to be installed prior to wheel assembly. Once the beadlock is in place, the wheel is assembled, effectively pinching both the inner and outer tire beads between the respective rims of the wheel. This method for beadlocking is not only high effective, it’s also extremely safe. So safe, in fact, that Hutchinson Rock Monsters are the only beadlock wheel that has been approved by the department of transportation (DOT). Because Hutchinson holds military contracts, they are held to higher standards than traditional wheel manufacturers. As a result, these wheels are produced with extremely tight tolerances. They offer two different sizes of beadlock rings so you’ll need to know what tire you plan to use before ordering, to make sure you get the right size beadlock. Continue Reading →
As the ratio of off-pavement to on- tips in favor of the dirt path, I’ve found myself in need of a slightly more aggressive tire. For a daily commuter and general off-road use, the Nitto Terra Grappler is a great all-around choice. I ran this tire for roughly 40k miles, wearing the tread to approximately 50 percent of its original depth. For those less familiar with Nitto’s tire line, the Terra Grappler is Nitto’s answer to the all-terrain, and a great answer at that. The Grapplers ran relatively quiet, emitting a slightly higher tone than the BFGoodrich T/A KOs they replaced. As the miles accumulated on these tires, the noise levels did increase, but not disturbingly so. The tires performed admirably through light mud and rock but in heavier conditions, especially after the tread began to wear, they exhibited a noticeable loss in traction. This became even more apparent during a recent snow storm that left us trapped in almost four feet of drift. Since performance has always been a key component in building the FJ, I decided it was time for an upgrade.
For a lot of folks, selecting the next set of tires for your vehicle is as simple as replacing the existing set with a new set of the same brand. This is one of the primary reasons why opinions on “the best tire” are so limited. It’s commonplace for consumers to stick to a single brand/model of tire for the lifetime of their vehicle – the theory being that if it works, keep using it. This is the primary reason why I ran BFGoodrich all-terrains for so many years. It was a good all-purpose tire that suited my needs very well in most scenarios. But based on price as well as the reviews provided for the Nitto Terra Grapplers, I took a chance at the time, and switched brands to try something new. And I’m glad I did. I definitely preferred the Nitto all-terrains over BFG’s offering. Not to say it was a better tire but simply that I preferred the look and performance of the Nitto design. Since all-terrains had proven repeatedly that they lacked the necessary traction to get through the tougher obstacles, I decided to try something a bit more extreme this go-around, opting for a mud-terrain tire instead. 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 →
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 →
As a dedicated BFGoodrich tire guy for almost ten years, I was surprised to see such a loyal following in the FJ forums for Nitto brand tires, specifically their all-terrain series tire known as the Terra Grappler. The positive feedback for this tire and rating for its performance under the FJ was so overwhelming that I decided to take a chance and branch away from BFG. With the new rear suspension on the way, I decided nothing would complement it better than a new set of shoes. Plus, with the suspension raised three inches higher than stock, the original tire size was going to look somewhat dwarfish. So I decided to upgrade the tire size in the process. After calling around to various tire shops, I finally got a smokin’ deal on five brand new Nitto Terra Grapplers in a size of 295/70R17 and an appointment to get them installed. For those who may have missed my previous post, I had recently ordered the remaining pieces of a Stage One suspension from Icon Vehicle Dynamics. So two new springs and shocks, five new tires and one alignment later, I was driving home in a lifted, but very smooth-riding FJ Cruiser. Continue Reading →
Having been used to Ford’s line-up over the previous years, I became accustomed to selecting from a virtual smorgasbord of options, when it came to factory features. The FJ Cruiser was my first official Toyota purchase so I was somewhat surprised to discover that many of the luxury options I had ordered with previous vehicles, were simply not available with the FJ. Dual zone climate control, sunroof, leather seating, and other similar options were simply not offered. In Toyota’s defense, however, the FJ Cruiser’s MSRP sits between 20K and 30K, roughly half of what it would have cost me to upgrade to a new Ford diesel pickup. So I was more than willing to forgo a few of the more luxurious items, temporarily at least. Even without the luxury items, I still drove off the dealer lot with a nicely loaded Titanium Silver model. And now that I finally had my expeditionary platform of choice, it was time to begin the mods.
In the past, my first customization/modification would typically consist of new tires and wheels. The FJ Cruiser was one of the first vehicles to ever produce a stock wheel design that I actually liked. Enough so, that I decided not to replace the wheels until something better came along. As of this writing, I have yet to find a wheel I like better. The tires were a different story entirely, however. Having lived in Maryland for the last twelve years, the winters here provide both snow and ice a-plenty. It’s nothing like our northern counterparts, but it’s enough that without some aggressive all-terrain or mud-terrain tires, you’re more likely to be left sitting where you stand, so to speak. Almost all of my previous Ford trucks had run BFGoodrich AT K/O tires, and with very good luck I might add. The BFG ATs are comprised of a fairly hard rubber compound making them last for easily 60K miles. Many who have run them in the past have reported numbers nearing 100K in terms of mileage gained out of a single set. They also do remarkably well in the snow. Suffice it to say, I’ve been very happy with them in the past and was now in the market for a new set of five of these tires in the FJ’s stock size of 265/70R17. Continue Reading →
As promised, I’ve compiled quite a few additional videos covering some of the many great features available on the FJ Cruiser platform. Most of the videos are short but they do provide a good visual demonstration in addition to describing each feature. Not all of the options featured in the videos are available in the base level configuration; some require one or more upgrade packages. But each of the upgrade packages offers a number of additional options that may also be of interest to a potential buyer. For more details on upgrade packages, simply contact your local Toyota dealership. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to fill you on the details. Without further ado, the video links I promised can be found below. Continue Reading →