RCI 4Runner Aluminum Skid Plate Package with Filler Plate

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RCI 4Runner Aluminum Skid Plate Package with Filler Plate

Overview

I don’t plan to complete any serious rock-crawling in the 4Runner. However, I have been wanting to complete more difficult off-road trails, but have been worried about damaging critical engine/drive train components while wheeling. This is especially a concern since I often wheel by myself (albeit cautiously) and cannot afford getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.

All 4Runners come with a front skid plate from the factory. The OEM skid plate, which covers the front engine area (two cross-members, the front differential, and oil pan), is made of thin steel that can definitely take a pounding, but is only so-strong and provides no coverage for the nearby transmission, transfer case (and additional cross-members), or stock exhaust crossover. TRD skid plates cover the same area but are constructed from 1/4” thick aluminum. Furthermore, the skid plate must be dropped each time an oil change is performed (not a huge deal, but could be a factor in installing aftermarket skids?).

There are a handful of different companies that fabricate aftermarket skid plates for the 4Runner, typically using either 3/16” steel or 1/4” aluminum. Steel is often revered for its durability, strength, and ability to allow the vehicle to “slide” over an obstacle. Aluminum is revered for being lightweight, strong (though not as strong as steel), and light. Steel is very heavy - almost 3x the weight of aluminum. Furthermore, untreated steel corrodes unlike aluminum (although aluminum can corrode in some cases). Since aluminum is a softer metal, it is also more likely for a rock (or other hard obstacle) to gouge the surface of the metal and “stick” to it, rather than “slide” over it. There are plenty of debates I’ve observed on various forums and other media weighing the opportunity cost of steel versus aluminum skid plates, but since I know I don’t do much hardcore rock crawling or wheeling

I had been eyeing a full skid package from RCI Metal Works (in aluminum) for a almost half a year, but finally decided to pull the trigger during a recent Labor Day sale. “Why aluminum?” you might ask. Well, I based the decision on three considerations: (1) the 4Runner is my daily driver and weight is a factor; (2) rust is of the devil and I want to perform as little maintenance as possible on the skid plates over the lifetime of the vehicle, and (3) aluminum can be kept exposed and matched the appearance I wanted to create.

Lo-and-behold! About 3-4 weeks after ordering I received 5 packages in the mail from RCI Metal Works. These included:

  • 1/4” aluminum full skid plate package

    • Front engine skid plate

    • Transmission skid plate

    • Transfer case skid plate (with supporting steel cross member powdercoated black)

  • 5/16” steel filler skid plate (extra add-on)

Photo below is of packaged components as-received.

Unpacked photos below in order are:

  1. Filler skid-plate

  2. Front engine skid plate

  3. Transmission skid plate

  4. Transfer case skid plate (and cross member support)

Here are some photos of the full kit basically set-up and ready for install.

Tools

  • Floor jack (optional)

  • Jack stands (optional)

  • Vehicle ramps (optional)

  • Anti-seize

  • 3/8” socket wrench

  • 10mm, 12mm, and 13mm sockets

  • 3” 3/8”-extension

I found it easiest to raise the front-end on vehicle ramps, though others may prefer to jack up the front-end and place on jack stands. I have a ~2” suspension lift installed, which also provided a little extra clearance. Yes, I used jack stands with the vehicle ramps. You never know when plastic will break!

Since these skid plates are aluminum, it was easy for me to install by hand without a friend or jack. Steel, which is much heavier, would likely have been an issue for me to install solo.

Front Engine Skid Plate Install

The front-engine skid plate directly replaces the OEM front-engine skid plate. Hardware includes:

  • Six 5/16” washers

  • Two M8x40mm hex bolts

  • Four M8x30mm hex bolts

  • Two 3/8” nylon spacers

Sorry, I jumped the gun before taking pre-install pictures of the OEM skid plates. However, the steps are as follows:

  1. Using 10mm socket, remove OEM plastic filler plate between front bumper and front engine skid plate.

  2. Using 12 mm socket, remove OEM front engine skid plate (two parts)

  3. Lift RCI front engine skid plate into place. Using 13mm socket, loosely install the four M8 30mm bolts with washers into the two front and two center mounting holes. Apply anti-seize to bolts before installation. Use the 3” extension to install bolts into the center mounting holes.

  4. With the skid plate now self-supported by the four 30mm bolts, Using a 13mm socket, loosely install the two 40mm bolts with nylon spacers at the rear of the skid plate at vehicle cross-member. Apply anti-seize to bolts before installation. The nylon spacers should be placed on top of the skid plate, between the frame and skid plate.

  5. If not installing the transfer case skid plate, adjust all skid plates so they are evenly spaced and torque all bolts to factory torque specs (21 ft-lb, I think). If installing transmission skid plate, leave about 1/2” of space to allow transmission plate to slide in-between cross member and front engine skid plate.

Transmission Skid Plate Install

More photos this time! I believe the kit comes with more hardware (as outlined in written instructions), but since I purchased the set it includes the minimum. Hardware includes:

  • Four 5/16” washer

  • Four M8x50mm hex bolts

Steps are as follows:

  1. Using a 12mm socket, remove four bolts connecting frame support tubes to transfer-case cross member and discard.

  2. Lift front of plate and slide notched cutouts into gap between front engine skid and crossmember. Lift the nylon spacers so they are sandwiched between the transmission skid plates and cross-member. The order will be front engine skid plate, then transmission skid plate, then spacer, then cross-member. The notched cutouts will fit perfectly around the bolts, with some leeway.

  3. Using a 13mm socket, loosely install four M8x50mm bolts with washers at rear of transmission skid plate, with the frame support tubes sandwiched between the skid plate and cross-member. Apply anti-seize to bolts before installation.

  4. If not installing the transfer case skid plate, adjust all skid plates so they are evenly spaced and torque all bolts to factory torque specs (21 ft-lb, I think). If installing transfer case skid plate, leave as large a gap as possible at the rear of the transmission skid plate.

DSC_3851.jpg

Transfer Case Skid Plate Install

This kit came with some extra nuts and bolts. But hardware needed includes:

  • Two 5/16” washers

  • Two M8x30mm hex bolts

  • Three 7/16”x1” carriage bolts

  • Three 3/8” washers

  • Three 7/16” nylock nuts

  • Two 3/8” u-shaped zinc spacers

The zinc spacers are especially important to increase clearance between the skid plate and exhaust crossover.

Steps are as follows:

  1. Using a 12mm socket, identify brake line bracket on driver’s side of frame. Remove bolt. RCI cross-member will bolt into this hole, and corresponding hole on opposite frame rail.

  2. With the help of a friend or jack, lift cross-member into position. Using a 13mm socket, loosely install two M8x30mm hex bolts with washers. Apply anti-seize to bolts before installation. With bolts loosely installed, ensure cross member “tabs” at end are parallel with and touching frame. This ensure the cross-member is seated tightly against the bottom of the frame. Using a jack will ensure upward pressure is maintained. Tighten M8x30mm bolts - I did hand-tight with a quarter turn - no torque specs given.

  3. Lift transfer case skid plate into position. Align notched cutouts at front of skid plates with loosened bolts at rear of transmission skid plate. Slip into place.

  4. Lift rear of skid plate and install three 7/16” carriage bolts with threads facing up (towards vehicle). Loosely install nylock nut and washer above cross-member using 13mm socket.

  5. Where transfer and transmission skid plates meet, install 3/8” u-shaped zinc spacer in between transfer case skid plate and crossmember frame tubes.

    • I had difficulty with this step because the frame support tubes (sandwiched between the frame and skid plates) were flexing down towards the ground. To address this, I fully remove all four bolts. Then I used a jack to apply an upward force on a support tube (to compress it against the cross-member). Once the cross-member was compressed, I easily re-inserted the bolt and u-shaped spacer. I tightened the bolts a little then did the same to the other support tube.

  6. Adjust all skid plates so they are evenly spaced. Torque all bolts to factory specs (21 ft-lb, I think).

I quickly determined the exhaust crossover was hitting the transfer case skid plate, even with the u-shaped spacers installed. A common quick-fix is to tighten up the rubber exhaust hangars with stainless steel hose clamps. There are two rubber exhaust hangars that need to be tightened - one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger’s side. The following photo is from the driver’s side. Don’t need to tighten these too much - just enough to slightly raise the exhaust crossover away from the skid plate.

Filler Plate Install

Without a filler plate there is an unsightly gap between the stock bumper and front engine skid plate. This leave a lot of room for debris to enter the radiator (no bueno). RCI’s filler plate definitely fills this gap - though it is only available in 3/16” steel powdercoated black.

Hardware included:

  • Two washers

  • Two bolts (10mm heads)

Steps to install include:

  1. Slide filler plate into two bolt locations in front engine skid plate.

  2. Using a 10mm socket, bolt front of filler plate in to bumper support tabs with two bolts and washers. Tighten hand-tight (don’t know if there is a torque spec for this… there probably is).

  3. Tighten front-engine skid plate bolts to factory specs (21 ft-lb, I think).

Peace out, buddy!


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Greasing Driveshaft ("Propellor Shaft")

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Greasing Driveshaft ("Propellor Shaft")

The wifey and I recently moved into a house so now I have a garage to work out of. Yay! This means starting to performing basic maintenance on the 4Runner myself rather than paying a dealership or other tech to do it. I grew up working with my hands - so I’m very excited to put some love into the 4Runner. Though I just met a mobile mechanic whom I like so I may have him do some of the nitty gritty stuff I’m unable to do.

Anyway, one item I know dealerships fail to check-off is lubricating the propeller shaft. What’s the propeller shaft? Well… it’s your drive shaft, which delivers torque from your transmission to the rear differential (when in 2HI) and front differential (when in 4HI or 4LO). I’ve taken my 4Runner in for service at least 3 or 4 times since purchase and at no time did the service department add a line item to lubricate the drive shaft.

It’s actually really easy to lube the drive shaft. In total there are six greasable zerk fittings:

  • Front drive shaft:

    • One slide yoke zerk

    • Two spider joint zerks

  • Rear drive shaft:

    • One slide yoke zerk

    • Two spider joint zerks

I found online there is some discrepancy on the type of grease to use in each type of fitting. I checked my manual and it said the spiders need to be greased with Lithium base chassis grease, NLGI No.2. The slide yoke says it should be greased with Molybdenum-disulfide lithium base chassis grease, NGLI No. 2 OR Lithium base chassis grease, NLGI No.2. This all being said, I decided to use Lithium base chassis grease, NGLI No.2 so I’d only need to carry one grease gun and not two. After some research I decided to use Sta-Lube “Moly” Graph Lithium Grease. The cheapest place I found to get this is at Harbor Freight (not Amazon)… As always, I encourage you to do your own research before committing to a grease.

Tools I used include:

The spider joints only need enough grease to purge old grease/debris from the joints. If they haven’t been greased for a while, there will be audible “pops” as the new grease pushes out dry junk from the spider joints..

The slide yoke should not be overgreased. Very little grease is expelled from the slide yoke as it moves back in forth during operation. Overgreasing the slide yoke will cause it to hydrolock and not be able to compress (no bueno). While I shoved a good 4-5 pumps into the spiders, I only pumped 2-3 times into the slide yoke. If you accidentally overgrease your slide yoke, you can remove the zerk fitting, push up and down on the front and rear bumper of the vehicle, and that should let some of the excess grease out. Be sure to re-install the zerk fitting before driving off!

It was very easy to roll under the 4Runner after the Bilstein 6112/5160 lift (haven’t posted this yet). The front drive shaft can be rotated as long as the vehicle is not in 4WD, since the front differential is not engaged. The spider joint and slide yoke zerks towards the rear of the vehicle are partially obstructed by a metal guard. However, it’s easy enough to reach around the guard to grease the zerks with the whip hose.

The rear drive shaft was a little harder. Since the rear differential is engaged, you cannot manually rotate the drive shaft by hand like the front drive shaft. If the zerks are not accessible, you will need to start the vehicle and move it forward or backward by 1-2 feet for the drive shaft to rotate in a favorable direction.

Be sure to clean the zerks before pumping grease, and wipe up excess grease expelled through the spider joints. If you don’t wipe up excess grease, it’ll just fling all over the place the next time you drive somewhere.

Some photos below.

Rear drive shaft shown below. Remember - this drive shaft does not rotate. Top two photos are forward portion of drive shaft (slide yoke and spider joint zerks) while bottom two photos are rear portion of drive shaft (spider joint zerk only).

Front drive shaft shown below. Remember - this drive shaft can rotate. Top two photos are forward portion of drive shaft (spider joint zerk only) while bottom two photos are rear portion of drive shaft (slide yoke and spider joint zerks).


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Rad Rubber Design Engine Splash Guards

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Rad Rubber Design Engine Splash Guards

There’s a lot of sensitive “junk” in the 4Runner’s engine bay. Stuff that shouldn’t get wet, muddy, or have debris lodged into. Luckily, the 4Runner has a pair of flexible rubber splash guards in each wheel well (spanning between the body and frame) to minimize unnecessary debris thrown up by the tires from entering the engine bay. A few days ago I noticed that one of the engine splash guards was slightly torn and a few of the plastic push-tabs holding the guard to the frame were broken or missing. Lacking plastic tabs, I secured the engine splash guard with some black duct tape… a temporary fix.

After some thought and deliberation I decided not to go the cheap route and order a replacement OEM engine splash guard. Overall, the OEM engine splash guards are floppy, flimsy, thin, and apparently tear way too easily! The plastic push-tabs are also pretty flimsy (like most others on the vehicle.)…

Thankfully I had known of Rad Rubber Design Engine Splash Guards for a while (via forum lurking and a sweet post on Trail4R.com) but did not think I’d need to replace my existing splash guards so soon. Their product is 1/8” thick, made of durable nitrile rubber, and come with much heavier duty plastic push-tabs. I ordered on a Thursday and received the shipment (from Florida, mind you) within a week. The splash guards came rolled-up in a taped plastic wrapping shipped via USPS Priority mail. Note: cute dog did not come in mail.

I unwrapped the goodies in my garage and placed the engine splash guards on a piece of cardboard to prevent garage dirt from embedding on their surfaces. The package contents included:

  • 21 5/16” high-quality plunger-type push tabs (17 for use, 4 extra)

  • 2 1/4” plastic barbed-type push tabs

  • Two driver’s-side and two passenger-side engine splash guards

  • Swag sticker and business card

The first step was to remove the existing engine splash guards. This is most easily done by turning your wheel all the way in one direction, which will open up plenty of space to remove one of the two engine splash guards in each wheel well. For example, if you point the wheels hard-left (shown below), there will be plenty of room to replace the driver’s side front and passenger’s side rear engine splash guards. Note, your engine must be turned on for power steering to be enabled - you won’t be able to move your wheels otherwise.

Use an angled plastic trim remover to remove all tabs on the accessible OEM engine splash guards. The plastic push-tabs can be thrown away as they will not be reused. Note that the front-most engine splash guards are connected at one point to the side shock frame support.

Here is a comparison of the old versus new engine splash guards after removal, and a comparison between their different thicknesses. I’d say Rad Rubber Design’s engine splash guards are 4-5x thicker than the OEM stuff. Bulletproof!

The next step will be to insert the plastic plunger push-tabs and barbed push-tabs into the Rad Rubber Design engine splash guards. The 1/4” barbed push tabs are inserted into the front engine splash guard’s hole that aligns with the side shock frame support. Be careful not to fully depress the plunger heads while inserting the body into the new engine splash guards. This action is what pushes the plunger wider and locks it into the frame holes.

Once the new push-tabs are in, the engine splash guards mount in the same exact holes as the OEM guards. Carefully push each plunger in first (without depressing the heads), then push in each plunger head. Some heads took more effort than others to fully depress. I used the hard flat part of the plastic pry tool since my fingers were too squishy.

Changing of the Guards. Heh.


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Four Tire Inflator/Deflator

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Four Tire Inflator/Deflator

Originally I had purchased an ARB ARB505 E-Z Deflator to help deflate my tires before hitting trails. However, despite my love of off-roading, I hate getting my hands dirty with wheel grime while just starting a trail. At the end? No problem. At the start? A nuisance. Call me what you want. It was also troublesome to bend down, install the deflator, keep checking the pressure gauge until 20 psi was met, then remove the deflator and install it onto another tire three more times. Yes, the E-Z Deflator airs down tires very quickly because it removes the valve stem from the core… but it made my fingers and hands very unhappy through the process.

Additionally, I have a VIAIR 400P compressor which does not automatically start/stop based on the back pressure of an inflation gun. It became a nuisance walking back and forth between the tire and compressor to turn on/off the compressor while checking tire pressures during inflation. I also did not want to have to keep asking my wife to turn on and off the compressor when filling all four tires. Furthermore, I found over time that the size of the VIAIR 400P air chuck interfered with the OEM wheels in a way that made it difficult to lock the air chuck at certain angles.

Lo-and-behold almost a year after buying the E-Z deflator I came across a couple articles of people building their own four tire inflator/deflator systems. There are also a few options available that are professionally/commercially built. I had also read of the MORRflate 4-way tire inflation/deflation system over on Trail4R.com. My only issue with it was that it is designed to accept a female quick connect at the compressor whereas my VIAR 400P compressor has a male quick connect. Also I’d have to buy another pressure gauge to use with their device, or screw on the ARB ARB505 E-Z deflator whenever airing up. Not ideal, and more money and parts.

I decided to give this project a go. Here are a couple cool end results.

  • The whole setup roughly wraps up and fits into a standard gym bag sack pack (the draw string kind).

  • Since all four tires are connected to a virtually single airline, all four tires equalize in pressure.

  • Since I use an oil-filled pressure gauge (resists needle movement), I’m able to read the actual air pressure while the tires are being inflated. I have tested this against my standard stick pressure gauge.

  • Compact lock-on air chucks that are easy to install and remove.

  • Quick connects to portable or on-board air compressor.

  • Deflate and inflate all four tires at once!!!

Components include:

  • 50-Feet of 1/4” Air Line Hose (I used Hybrid, rather than 100% rubber or reinforced PVC)

  • 25’ Tape Measure

  • PTFE Pipe Thread Tape

  • ONE ball shut off valve, 1/4” Male NPT to 1/4” Female NPT

  • ONE 0-60 PSI Pressure Gauge (Lower Mount Connection advised), 1/4” Male NPT

  • FOUR Haltec H-5265 Standard Bore Lock-on Air Chuck, 1/4” Female NPT

  • ONE Female Quick Connect Coupler, 1/4” Male NPT

  • ONE Male Quick Connect Coupler, 1/4” Male NPT

  • ONE Barstock Cross (Female), 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/4” All Female NPT

  • FOUR Barb to Male Adapters, 1/4" to 1/4” NPT

  • TWO Three-Way Barb Tees, 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/4” NPT

  • TEN Stainless Steel 1/4” - 5/8” Adjustable Worm Gear Clamps (not pictured)

This system was designed to work with my VIAIR 400P Compressor, which has a male quick connect coupler.

  1. Cut the 50’ air hose using a sharp knife or pair of scissors. All measurements are in feet.

    1. Cut two 17’ lengths from the 50’ air house. Each 17’ length should be cut such that each has one of the two existing crimped on 1/4” male NPT connectors.

    2. From the one of the 17’ length air hoses, measure 5’ down the length starting at the 1/4” male NPT connector. Cut each piece such that there are two 12’ lengths (without the existing connector) and two 5’ lengths (with the existing connector).

    3. From the leftover 16’ section (from original 50’ length), cut two 3’ lengths.

  2. Assemble the brass components. Wrap PTFE pipe thread tape around each threaded end to ensure a good seal.

    1. Attach each lock-on air chuck to a barb to male adapter.

    2. Attach the quick connect coupler to one end of the barstock cross.

    3. Attach the pressure gauge to the ball shut off valve, then both to the opposite end of the quick connect coupler on the barstock cross.

  3. Assemble the brass components and air hose. Tighten hose clamps after assembly. Wrap PTFE pipe thread tape around each threaded end to ensure a good seal. Pipe thread tape is not necessary on the barbs.

    1. Assemble 3’ length, which will run from tee to front tires.

      1. Attach one 3’ hose to the middle leg of each barbed tee.

      2. Slide two hose clamps over each length of air hose.

      3. Attach one lock-on air chuck with barb to the other end of the 3’ air hose.

    2. Assemble tee with 12’ length, which will run from front tire to back tire.

      1. Attach the cut end of each 12’ hose to one of the remaining legs of the barbed tees.

      2. Slide two hose clamps over each length of air hose.

      3. Attach one lock-on air chuck with barb to the other end of the 12’ air hose.

    3. Assemble compressor end of line, which will run from the front tire to the compressor (assumedly at front of vehicle).

      1. Thread the existing 1/4” male NPT connector from remaining 5’ air hoses into each remaining side of the barstock cross.

      2. Slide one hose clamp over each 5’ length of air hose.

      3. The barstock tee should be arranged such that the female quick connect will connect toward you to properly orient the pressure gauge during reading.

      4. Connect the cut end of each 5’ air hose to the remaining leg of each tee. Remember that the three-way tee’s middle leg should be facing inwards.

    4. Ensure all connections are snug and hose clamps tightened.

After a few test runs I’ve decided that the ARB ARB505 E-Z Deflator is still the easiest way to deflate my tires. However, using this 4-way inflator tool is definitely the way to go when airing up before hitting the road. Note that I covered the hose clamps with electrical tape to keep off dirt and other debris in lieu of proper crimp-on connections. Just didn’t want anything making its way into the worm gear. Personal preference.


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MaxTrax MKII and Custom Roof Mounts

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MaxTrax MKII and Custom Roof Mounts

90% of the time I plan on offroading solo. At this point in time I am not involved in any overlanding groups nor have many peers equipped to go offroad. I’ve been in the process of pulling together recovery gear to keep on the 4Runner. I don’t have a complete kit yet, but it’s coming along! One piece of gear I wanted to include were traction recovery boards - especially since I don’t plan on adding a winch any time soon. Traction boards are used when a wheel (or wheels) cannot gain traction (i..e. stuck in sand or mud). I have avoided encountering such scenarios due to previous experiences of myself or other friends getting stuck in the sand with their 4WD vehicles in the past. Definitely hate digging out vehicles!

After researching for a few weeks I decided on purchasing a set of MaxTrax MKII Recovery Boards and MaxTrax Mounting Pin set from Battle Born Offroad. Note that the recovery boards are sold in pairs, and each pair comes with their own set of leashes - you do not need to buy additional leashes. The total came out to $315 shipped, which was almost 10% less than another offer I found online. There were a couple other alternatives I was looking at online, but I concluded on the MaxTrax because:

  • Raving positive reviews - tested and proven.

  • Mounting pins allow a TSA-style lock, or cable lock, to secure recovery boards.

  • Mounting setup allow four MKII boards to be stacked atop each other in a very compact fashion (unlike most other options).

After receiving the boards I needed to devise some way to mount them to my Southern Style Offroad Full Length Roof Rack, which uses extruded aluminum crossbars. There are ready-made mounting options out there that cost $100+, but I’m cheap and would rather fabricate my own mount than purchase one. Plus, most mounting options are made of steel - I wanted non-corroding aluminum. So here’s the build!

Necessary items:

  • 1”x36”x1/8” Aluminum Flat Bar (~$7.00)

  • Four 1 1/4”, 1/4-20 stainless steel socket stud (~$3.00)

  • Sixteen 1/4” stainless steel washers (~$4.00)

  • Four 1/4” stainless steel hex nut (~$2.50)

  • Four 1/4” stainless steel nylon lock nut (~2..50)

  • Four drop-in t-nuts (~$6.00 not incl shipping)

  • Drill with 1/4”, 1/2” and 7/16” drill bits

  • Hacksaw with metal cutting blade (or something to cut aluminum bar to length)

  • Deburring tool

Steps:

NOTE: My original intent was to mount them on the 3” crossbars, but after measuring the cartop carrier we will likely use in the future, I had to mount to the 2” crossbars.

  1. Use hacksaw to cut two 13” segments out of the aluminum flat bar - the remainder is scrap metal.

  2. Drill holes into aluminum bars - in total, each bar will have four holes. Protip: tap and pre-drill holes using 1/4” drill bit. Also, use a deburring tool to remove aluminum burs.

    1. Drill one 1/2” hole approximately 1 3/16” into each side (towards center) of each bar. These holes will be for the MaxTrax Mounting Pins.

    2. On each aluminum bar, drill one 7/16” hole at 6.5” (center of bar). Drill one additional 7/16” hole either 1” above or below the center. These holes will be used to mount to the roof rack’s extruded aluminum crossbars.

  3. Install MaxTrax Mounting Pins onto aluminum bars such that the movable portions of the pins lock orthoganal to the bars.

  4. Drop in four t-nuts into the crossbar of choice. Based on my current rack configuration (and plan to use a rooftop cargo carrier), I chose to install it on the second-to-last 2” crossbar before the sharkfin antenna.

  5. Lightly screw-in one stud to each t-nut. Add two flat washers (I used them as spacers) and a hex nut to each stud. Add aluminum mounts with MaxTrax Mounting Pins. Move mounts to where you want them on the roof rack - I chose to center them.

  6. Tighten the stud into place with an Allen wrench, then tighten the hex nut into place with a 7/16” deep socket. The t-nut, washers, and hex nut will sandwich the extruded aluminum crossbar so the mounts don’t move.

  7. Add one flat washer atop the hex nut on the stud. Install aluminum bar with MaxTrax Mounting Pins. Add one more flat washer, then one nylon lock nut to each stud. Tighten down with 7/16” deep socket.

  8. Place MaxTrax MKII and enjoy.

For a little over $20 in parts… this was not a bad project :).

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Over time the brackets have bent/twisted backwards towards the rear of the vehicle(as a result of the traction boards lifting while I am driving. If I had my way I’d double up on material to reinforce - but I’m too lazy.

  • Had the hardest time finding these, but bought a few TSA-style locks to discourage would-be thieves.


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Car Trim Home Raptor-Style LED Grill Lights

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Car Trim Home Raptor-Style LED Grill Lights

Having daytime running lights (DRLs) on is intended to increase your vehicle’s visibility on the road during the daytime (although some SoCal drivers are just poor drivers…). I was very used to having DRLs on while driving my old Honda Accord, which turned on automatically whenever the vehicle ran.. However, the 4Runner DRLs need to be turned on manually - which I often forget to do. I’m one of those weird guys that likes to be seen on the road…

The 4Runner DRL is the same lamp as the high-beam lamp, which uses a modified input power signal to reduce light output. Rather than burn out the DRL/high-beam lamp faster than necessary, I decided to add-on some marker lights to the front grill. This is a very popular mod as it mimics the aesthetic marker lights used on Ford’s F150 Raptor.

There were a few options available to implement grill marker lights. One option would have been to buy LEDs and wiring separately, and then solder/fabricate my own setup. However, this route usually requires zip-tying the LEDs to the front grill, which I determined to be visually unappealing. There are a few manufacturers that sell ready-made marker light kits. Some use the zip-tie method while others have LEDs that clip into place in the grill. I knew that this type of lighting should be very cheap and I was not willing to spend over $100 for this simple mod. After some research, I stumbled across a set sold by Car Trim Home for just $25 (and free shipping!), which included four snap-in LEDs and wiring harness. That was a deal I could not pass up! Keep in mind that this product is Made in China - though it is of decent quality… I would not say it is the best manufactured marker lights out there.

The product came a little less than 3 or 4 business days after ordering from Car Trim Home (fulfilled by Amazon out of Florida) just as pictured below..

Installation was very easy. Items necessary for installation include:

  • One ATM Add-a-Fuse

  • Two 5A ATM fuses

  • Fishing wire to pull wires through firewall grommet (I used a modified metal clothes hanger)

  • Crimper or long-nose plier

  • Crimp-on 5/16” ring connector

Optional items include:

  • Multimeter

  • Electrical tape

  • ~2.5 ft of 1/2” plastic wire loom

Steps to install:

1. Open hood and remove front trim piece above grill/radiator by depressing plastic buttons on each plastic trim tab. Then, use a screwdriver to pry up each trim tab.

2. Insert LED marker lights into grill. They only go in one way and only on certain parts of the grill (especially SR5 grills). Cheater tip: red wire faces down, black wire faces up.

3. Clip each LED connector into the wiring harness.

4. Pull away fender edge plastic trim piece and run wiring through. Secure with zip ties. After installation I added a plastic wiring loom to protect the wire from abrasion. Pull most of the wire slack towards the firewall.

5. Push fishing wire through firewall grommet from vehicle interior. The grommet is located about the level of your left knee while sitting down. It took little force to puncture the grommet with the wire hanger (sharpened end to a point).

6. Use electrical tape to secure wires to the fishing wire. Pull-through firewall into the vehicle interior.

7. Locate blank fuse location that is energized when when the ignition is turned On, but not turned to Acc.

8. Crimp ring connector to black wire. Secure to grounding point below the driver’s side fuse box.

9. Crimp add-a-fuse to red wire and add two fuses. Note, photo shows 15A fuses, but I later switched to 5A fuses. Install at selected blank fuse location.

10. Wrap connection points with electrical tape. Tidy up wires with additional zip-ties as necessary.

After installation, I noticed that two of the four LED marker lights had half their LEDs burned out (each marker light has six LEDs). So I contacted the seller and they promptly shipped another set out.

These LEDs are bright. Hoping to have some night-time shots soon :).

Two vs. four lights below.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Good for when you don’t want to blind people at camp. Just use these and DRL for adequate lighting.

  • Running wires through the engine firewall is not hard. Just make sure you have a sharp end.


Other Mods

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Carista OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter

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Carista OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter

The wife pointed out that our 4Runner’s loud beeping (when locking and unlocking the vehicle) could be an annoyance to others while camping a few months ago. I figured there must be some way to decrease the beep’s volume. The Toyota 4Runner Manual lists a variety of customizable features that can be changed at the dealership. However, some dealerships charge money for this service… and I did not want to pay for such a simple change). After some research, I found a quick and cheap way to change the beep volume and much more!

Enter the Carista OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter. For a not-so-bad price of $20 (at time of purchase), I could customize many programmable settings as listed below. The little device plugs into the OBD2 port underneath the driver’s side dash and requires Bluetooth connection to a smartphone (with data). Note that Carista actually features free and pay-to-access features.

The free features include:

  1. Basic OBD2 Diagnostics: Identifying fault codes for check engine lights, and resetting check engine light.

  2. Basic Service: Shows if vehicle is ready for emissions tests.

The pay-to-access features include:

  1. Advanced Diagnostics: Dealer-level electronic diagnostics of all electronic control units.

  2. Customizations: Personalization of comfort and convenience features.

  3. Advanced Service: Details information about vehicle’s electronic control units, and inspection of ABS/VSC/TRAC (if applicable).

The good news is that the Carista adapter comes with a free 30-day trial of the pay-to-access version. That’s all you need, really, for customization purposes. Setup is as simple as downloading the Carista app to your phone, plugging in the Carista OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter, connecting the adapter to your phone via Bluetooth, creating a Carista account and redeeming the free premium trial, and making changes.

The other cool thing about the Carista adapter is that it is compatible with other OBD2 mobile apps often used to observe vehicle performance (RPM, engine temperature, etc) and conditions (i.e. battery voltage). A full list of compatible apps are listed on Carista’s website here.

Below is a list of all features that Carista can customize. Note that some features may not be applicable to your vehicle based on trim level. Some changes that I made included decreasing the lock/unlock beep volume, enabling opening all windows with the key fob, and removing the annoying ECO drive indicator bar from the dash display.

  • Doors/Windows/Remote

    • Wireless door locking (Enabled/Disabled)

    • Blink turn signals when locking/unlocking with remote (Yes/No)

    • Beep when locking/unlocking with remote (Yes/No)

    • Volume of beep when locking/unlocking with remote (Off/1/2/3/5/6/Max)

    • Beep when opening/closing windows with remote (Yes/No)

    • Warn (beep) when door can’t be unlocked because it’s still open (Yes/No)

    • Panic function on remote (Enabled/Disabled)

    • Re-lock doors automatically if you unlock, but do not open a door (Yes/No)

    • Re-lock doors automatically if you unlock, but don’t open a door within… (30 seconds/60 seconds/120 seconds)

    • Auto-lock doors when moving (On/Off)

    • Lock doors when shifting into gear (On/Off)

    • Unlock doors when shifting into park (P) (On/Off)

    • Unlock all doors when driver’s door is opened (On/Off)

    • Close rear hatch window by turning and holding key in door lock (Yes/No)

    • Open rear hatch window by turning and holding key in door lock (Yes/No)

    • Open windows and sunroof by turning and holding key in door lock (On/Off)

    • Close windows and sunroof by turning and holding key in door lock (On/Off)

    • Open windows and sunroof via long-press on remote (On/Off)

    • Open passenger’s window using single button press (Yes/No)

    • Close passenger’s window using single button press (Yes/No)

    • Open rear left window using single button press (Yes/No)

    • Rear-left window single-touch-close (Yes/No)

    • Open rear right window using single button press (Yes/No)

    • Rear-right window single-touch-close (Yes/No)

    • Passenger window single-touch-open from driver’s switch (Yes/No)

    • Passenger window single-touch-close from driver’s switch (Yes/No)

    • Rear-left window single-touch-open from driver’s switch (Yes/No)

    • Rear-left window single-touch-close from driver’s switch (Yes/No)

    • Rear-right window single-touch-open from driver’s switch (Yes/No)

    • Rear-right window single-touch-close from driver’s switch(Yes/No)

    • Rear hatch window auto-close (Yes/No)

    • Rear hatch window auto-open (Yes/No)

    • Rear hatch window open/close delay (0.8 seconds/1 second/1.2 seconds/1.4 seconds)

    Instruments/Displays/Dings

    • Seat belt warning (driver) (Enabled/Disabled)

    • Seat belt warning ding (front passenger (Enabled/Disabled)

    • ECO Drive indicator zone (On/Off)

    Lights

    • Coming-home lights duration (Off/30 seconds/60 seconds/90 seconds)

    • Auto headlights activation threshold (Darkest/Darker/Normal/Lighter/Lightest)

    • Instrument lights dimming sensitivity (Darkest/Darker/Normal/Lighter/Lightest)

    • Instrument lights restoring sensitivity (Darkest/Darker/Normal/Lighter/Lightest)

    • Dim interior lights after… (7 seconds/15 seconds/30 seconds)

    • Turn on interior lights when you shut off engine (Yes/No)

    • Turn on interior lights when you unlock doors (Yes/No)

    • Interior footlight (bright when doors open, dim when driving) (Yes/No)

    • Turn on interior door-handle and center console lights dimly (flood lights) when ignition is on and shifter is not in park (P) (Yes/No)

    • Turn on exterior footlight when doors unlocked via remote (Yes/No)

    • Turn on exterior footlight when doors unlocked via interior switch (Yes/No)

    • Turn on exterior footlight for (Off/7 seconds/15 seconds/30 seconds)

    • Interior light control (Enabled/Disabled)

    • Exterior light control (Enabled/Disabled)

    Other

    • Run rear wiper automatically after rear window washer use (On/Off)

    • Additional ‘tear’ wipe after window washer use (On/Off)

    • Rear wiper intermittent run time interval (2 seconds/3 seconds/4 seconds/5 seconds)

    • Rear wiper retract time (2 seconds/3 seconds/4 seconds/5 seconds)

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Customization :)


Other Mods

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Cali Raised LED 0 Degree Rock Sliders

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Cali Raised LED 0 Degree Rock Sliders

Our 4Runner came with OEM running boards from the dealership. After half a year of vehicle ownership and completing a handful of off-road trails (with some sketchy sections), I decided to replace the running boards with proper rock sliders.

In general, when most people think of adding steps to their SUV or truck, they think of installing running boards or nerf bars. As far as I understand it, there is very little difference between these two accessories - most of their difference is in appearance. Both bolt into the rocker panel under the vehicle - usually in at least two locations, sometimes three. However, running boards are often constructed of extruded aluminum and plastic while nerf bars tend to be round tubular aluminum bars. Some running boards are even automatic (!) - lowering and raising from the rocker panel whenever a door is opened. In any case, both setups function well as steps to get into and out of the cabin. However, both designs are more focused on functioning as a step rather than protecting the rocker panel or door of a vehicle (especially on potentially rough off-road conditions or obstacles…).

Rock sliders, on the other hand, are meant to protect a vehicle’s rocker panel from damage whilst “sliding” over obstacles on off-road trails. Some can even function as a step if the outer tube is not set at a high angle. Unlike running boards and nerf bars, rock sliders are made of thick steel tubing and attach directly to the vehicle’s frame - not the rocker panel. They are also supposed to be designed to hold the weight of your vehicle on (surprise!) a rock or other obstacle. Different purpose, different design. Rock sliders generally have four components: mounting plates, a main tube, an outer tube, and supporting tubes. The mounting plate attaches to the vehicle’s frame… supporting tubes attach the main tube (sits about right at the vehicle’s door) to the mounting plates… the two ends of the outer tube are usually bent and welded on to the main tube… and supporting tubes run between the main tube and the outer tube at intervals.

I’m not considering taking our 4Runner over any serious rock crawling obstacles. However, rock sliders are cheap insurance for body damage on any inadvertent drop-offs I encounter on any trails I elect to tackle.

On to sharing some of my limited knowledge on rock sliders! Do your own research before making a decision… I’m still learning and am prone to misunderstanding a concept somewhere down the line. Feel free Contact me if I’ve misstated something. I’m sure there’s a lot of folk with more technical knowledge than myself on this topic.

Bolt-on vs. Weld-on

In general, rock sliders either bolt-on or weld-on to the frame of the vehicle - they are not bolted-on to the rocker panel. Some bolt-on slider make use of existing factory-tapped holes in the vehicle’s frame whereas others may require you to drill additional holes into the frame. Contrarily, weld-on sliders are just that - the sliders are welded directly to the frame of the vehicle. Bolt-on sliders tend to be more expensive than weld-on options, although you might have to pay someone to weld-on the sliders if you’re don’t know how to weld (like myself). Out of simplicity I decided to invest in pure bolt-on rock sliders that did not require drilling additional holes.

One caveat of bolt-on versus weld-on rock sliders is that sand or other fine particulates may sneak into the gap between the rock slider’s mounting plate and the vehicle’s frame. Over time, with on or off-road movement/vibrations, the particulates could damage the frame or rock slider’s protective coating. This will eventually allow rust to form on either surfaces. Bleh, rust. I am from Hawaii and hate rust. We had to deal with rust a lot on the frame of my father’s boat trailer. That was no fun - luckily where I am in California is not as humid or salty as Hawaii.

Annual or semi-annual maintenance and inspections are recommended to check for and treat any frame rust. This is especially important if you live in areas that salt roads in the winter, but a little less of a concern concern in more dry arid climates. However, keep in mind that all bare steel rusts in the presence of water and oxygen! Periodic inspection and maintenance of the undercarriage is recommended, anyway.

HREW vs DOM

Sliders are often fabricated from either round or square steel tubing, or sometimes both. The steel tubing is generally either Hot Rolled Electrically Welded (HREW) or Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM). I’m no metallurgist, but I think if you boil it down to a one-liner it is: HREW is much cheaper than DOM, but DOM is much stronger. I’m not going to go into more detail than that. Other factors such as weld quality, tube inner and outer diameter, and others also lend to overall structural strength

Angle

Angle refers to the angle between the main and outer tube. In general, the main tube is always parallel with the vehicle’s frame. The outer tubes can angle upwards, which helps to provide more ground clearance and better door protection. Common angles include 0-degrees (flat), or 10 to 25-degrees in 5-degree increments. Higher angle outer tubes are less useful as steps.

Filler Plates

Filler plates are meant to “fill” the gap between the main and outer tube. These are helpful for small feet (people or pets) that have to hop in and out of the cabin who may have problems stepping onto the outer tubes. Most filler plates are either bolted, riveted, or welded into place. Some filler plates are solid or have dimples to provide traction or drainage.

Kickouts

Some sliders are built with kickouts toward the rear tire. The kickout is usually a straight piece of tubing that is bent and rounded to create a bump in an otherwise straight outer tube. The bump is meant to “kick out” the vehicle if you by-chance get too close to an obstacle, like a tree, rock, or stump. The kick out action is meant to protect your rear quarter panel and wheel from receiving damage.

All this being said, there are waaaaay too many companies out there that sell rock sliders for the 5th generation 4Runner. Many companies and sliders have great reviews, are burly built, look great aesthetically, and… are located out-of-state (not in California). I would’ve had to factor in almost $200 in shipping costs with an out-of-state company… Furthermore, many companies standardize HREW tubing and charge more for DOM tubing, ship raw (not powdercoated) products only, and/or charge more to add a kickout.

Then I came across Apex Fabworks, which is part of Hamar Industries, who sell their products through Cali Raised LED (at least I think that is how the relationship works?). They are a local company within pick-up distance from my home - therefore no shipping costs! Traditionally, Cali Raised LED (or Apex Fabworks) has sold a lot of sliders for the Toyota Tacoma and just started selling sliders for the Toyota 4Runner around December 2018. The 4Runner sliders have been picking up in sales since their release. As of this post, Cali Raised LED is selling 0-degree and 20-degree rock sliders. The sliders come standard with DOM tubing and an optional kickout at no additional charge. There is also a bolt-on dimpled filler plate option at an additional cost. They are also KDSS compatible (not applicable for our 4Runner). As typical, the sliders come raw with an option to pay for satin black powdercoating of the sliders and filler plates.

I opted to purchase the Cali Raised LED 0 Degree Bolt On Rock Sliders, with kickout, without filler plates, and powdercoated. The following photo shows the passenger side slider - good stuff! I put in the order on January 22, 2019 and picked the sliders up from Cali Raised LED’s shop in Buena Park, CA on Friday, March 1, 2019. To be fair, the sliders were ready (fabricated and powdercoated) on February 25, 2018. One of the guys at the shop gave me a call saying they were done - but I wasn’t able to pick them up til Friday. Lead time of a little under 5 weeks - pretty good.

Upon pickup, two of the guys at the shop helped load everything into the 4Runner. Overall, the kit included:

  • Passenger and driver’s side sliders.

  • Two bolt-on gussets for the driver’s side slider.

  • Two frame clamps for the passenger’s side slider.

  • Metric grade 8 steel bolts and flat washers for bolting the sliders onto the frame.

  • Two long metric grade 8 steel bolts, flat washers, aluminum spaces, and nylock nuts for the frame clamps.

  • Four short metric grade 8 steel bolts, flat washers, and nylock nuts for the gussets.

All of the hardware was packaged together in compartmentalized plastic. The gussets and frame clamps were wrapped loosely in a styrofoam sheet. Pictured below is the passenger side slider and the bag of hardware. Forgot to take a photo of everything.

Installation was very straightforward, as outlined below. The only problem I encountered was aligning the bolt holes on the driver’s side slider with the fuel tank skid plate holes and their respective frame holes. The slider holes needed to be moved about 1/32” or 2/32” towards the front of the vehicle to align the slots with the skit plate and frame homes. However, this was impossible as the slider’s mounting plates are slotted to only allow movement along the y-axis (up and down in relation to the vehicle), not the x-axis, as facing driver’s side door. I could not thread the supplied bolts into the frame. However, I was able to use the old OEM bolts instead… The middle and aft bolts went in fairly easily, while the forward-most bolt took some force…

UPDATE: After a few days of use and rumbling on the road, I was able to replace the middle and aft fuel tank skid plate bolts with the supplied bolts. The slider holes are still not aligned completely with the frame holes - but I could get bolts in! The kit I received was short one bolt, so I’m not replacing the forward-most bolt at this time, which was the most far-off center.

Throughout this process I was in contact with Chris Pelley, who heads up Apex Fabworks. He was very easy to work with and was also very communicative through the whole ordering/waiting/installation process. Since this is a fairly new product, I understood from the start that the sliders may have a few design bugs. I did provide him feedback about the issue I encountered. They are constantly working to improve upon their design and am sure future customers will have an easier installation.

This was a “rushed 5-hour install job” due to other time committments. As a result, I did not take many photos through the whole process. I’ll try to take more in the coming month or so. Abridged installation instructions and some photos below.

1. Remove OEM running boards. I used a pair of jack stands to keep the running boards up as I removed bolts.

2. Unbolt the emergency brake line from the frame. Note that there are actually two holders; both are towards the rear tire, but you only need to unbolt the one closer to the middle of the vehicle. This is true for both the passenger and driver’s side.

3. Line up the rock slider with the frame on the ground - it should be clear based on the mounting frame’s design where the rock slider should be positioned in relation to the frame holes. Identify rectangular and circular plastic tabs to be removed from the frame. Use a small flat-head screwdriver to remove these plastic tabs. In total, there is one circular tab for the front mount, and two rectangular and one circular tab for the rear mounting plate that require removal. I accidentally removed an extra circular tab (shown on the right in the photo with the e-brake line) on the passenger side. Afterwards, I sprayed a layer of Fluid Film along the undercarriage.

4. Assemble bolts, lock washer, and flat washer.

5. Use jackstands (one on each end) to hold the slider in place and align the mounting brackets with the holes in the frame. Tip: Use something to cushion the slider on the jack stand to prevent scratching the powdercoat… I used the styrofoam packing sheet Cali Raised LED wrapped around the gussets.

6. Start bolting on the rock slider. Partially install each bolt. Once all bolts are installed, tighten one rear and one forward mounting plate bolt snugly. Check leveling of the slider. Adjust level as necessary by slightly loosening bolts and nudging slider up or down. Once it is level, tighten down all bolts.

Steps 1-6 are the same for both the passenger and driver side sliders. The main difference in installation are the following:

a. Driver:

1. With Step 2 (above), also remove the three bolts holding the fuel tank skid plate to the frame. Install the slider as normal and bolt down the slider over the fuel tank skid plate into the frame using supplied hardware.

2. There are two gussets that need to be bolted onto the slider using short bolts with washers and nylock nuts, and then into the frame using supplied hardware. One gusset matches the e-brake bracket mounting position. Both gussets are for the rear mounting plate.

b. Passenger:

1. The driver slider has two additional frame clamps, which each consist of a small bracket, a long 1/2” lag bolt, an aluminum spacer (that slides over the lag bolt), and a nylock nut.

2. Remove two rectangular plastic tabs at the back of the frame where the frame clamp’s brackets will hang onto. Remove these with a small screwdriver. One is easily accessible. The other is located behind the muffler.

3. Install and tighten down both frame clamps. The bolt should be inserted upwards, toward the vehicle. I found installation was easiest (about 5-minutes into it) using a 3/8” socket wrench with a standard 19mm socket to hold the nylock nut and another socket wrench to turn the bolt. I could not fit a combination wrench behind the muffler.

Some photos below - sorry I was in a rush that day due to an appointment later in the afternoon. Will try to snag more useful photos later.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Buy local. Support a local business and you could also save some cash on shipping.

  • One downside of not having filler plates is spray and debris from your tires may fling out and hit the vehicle’s doors. This isn’t the end of the world.

  • If you’re installing sliders by yourself, use a pair a jack stands to hold the sliders against the vehicle’s frame. Use something cushy (even folded newspaper) to prevent the jack stands from scratching the slider powdercoat.

  • Sliders will “sit” higher than the OEM running boards. This means you will have to raise your feet higher to use them as steps. You’ll also be more prone to hitting your shins…

  • 0-degree sliders like these make great, sturdy steps to access the roof. No need to open the door and step on the plastic trim pieces.

  • Sliders are slippery when wet. I’ve seen some folks add grip tape… kinda tacky, but it seems to work! Not sure how wise it is to add grip tape if you plan on repainting the sliders - seems like it would be a pain to remove tape and adhesive.


Other Mods

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Lift Supports Depot PM3489 Lift Gate Struts

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Lift Supports Depot PM3489 Lift Gate Struts

A few weeks ago I added the C4 Fabrication Summit Hatch Ladder to our 4Runner. Regrettably, I forgot to weigh the ladder before installation. Whatever its weight is, this addition further loaded the OEM lift gate struts, which then would not fully open under their own power and required a little coaxing to open during the initial 10 to 15 degrees of motion. Furthermore, after a little bit of research, I became aware that additional load to the lift gate struts could cause premature failure over time. This made sense, given that the struts were handling a load larger than they were originally designed for.

So I did some research to replace the OEM struts with stronger aftermarket units. Most of this research pointed to Lift Supports Depot, who appear to be a well trusted and referenced aftermarket strut manufacturer/supplier in the 4Runner online community. It was very helpful that I could search for struts by make, model, and year on the Lift Supports Depot website. A search for struts available for the 2017 4Runner can be found here.

Although there are a few options available on Lift Supports Depot’ website, their main difference is the amount of force each strut is able to exert (in lbs). WIthout thinking much of it, I took the easy way out and purchased their PM3489 Gas Charged Liftgate Lift Supports which are supposed to function well with the Gobi ladder. Although I don’t have a Gobi ladder, I figured the new struts should perform better than the OEM struts anyway. Great reasoning, right? Anyone can purchase directly from Lift Supports Depot, but I ordered a set Amazon to take advantage of Prime free shipping. Overall, the new struts were easy to install - it probably took less than 10 minutes to change both (with some photographing in between).

It is best to replace struts in pairs, as having one weak strut or one strong strut could lead to premature failure of the stronger strut (because it will be more heavily loaded). I did not have assistance during installation and needed to keep the rear gate fully open, somehow, while replacing the struts. So… in lieu of a friend, I called up my buddy Ladder, gave it some padding, and propped open the rear hatch. Note, photo was taken after replacing struts.

It is best to remove one strut a time. The struts are held in place by nylon ball socket ends with metal spring retainer clips. The first step is to remove the spring retainer clips from the top and bottom of the strut using a small flat-head screwdriver. I removed the clips completely, although I think you could also partially remove them just enough so the clip does not wrap around the mounting ball… that might have been a better approach since it Is difficult to re-attach the clip to the strut connector. Anyway, the new struts do not need these clips - so it’s not the end of the world if they fly away and are hidden in a bush somewhere. After removing the clips, firmly pull out the bottom ball socket of the strut from the ball stud on the vehicle. The top ball socket will also disconnect once the bottom ball socket has been removed. Remove the strut.

Now to it is time to attach the new lift gate struts, which have metal ball socket ends with a much simpler removable metal spring clasp. First, remove the metal clasp from each ball socket end. Then install the new strut in the same position as the OEM struts (piston side down) onto the vehicle. Re-install the metal spring clasps onto each metal ball socket. This keeps the socket from sliding off the ball stud (VERY IMPORTANT!!!) during motion. If the support you are using to keep the lift gate up is not tall enough to fully raise the lift gate, then you may need to use one arm to raise the lift gate higher and the other arm to install the strut and metal spring clasps. Be careful - my chummy buddy, Ladder, fell on me when I did this for the first time without thinking.

Now the lift gate opens up smoothly through its full range of motion. I’m very pleased with this retrofit.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Having a friend or ladder to help with this install is essential.

  • Don’t throw away your OEM lift gate struts. Sell them to someone who wants to replace their failing struts to remake some of this investment. Think I basically gave away mine at $20, but that was about half the cost of the PM3489 struts.


Other Mods

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C4 Fabrication Summit Hatch Ladder

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C4 Fabrication Summit Hatch Ladder

Impulse buys aren’t really my thing, although I know a guy who had it bad. But, when it came to buying a rear hatch ladder for the 4Runner… it was probably a 60% utility buy and a 40% impulse buy. The 60% was… I did want an easy way to climb up to the roof rack (other than stepping on rear tires and hoisting my heavy frame up), and a ladder can also be useful for mounting “stuff” like a Trasheroo, water or gas cans (i.e RotoPax), or other gear assuming you have the proper mounting hardware. Personally, I’m hoping to use it to get on the roof of the vehicle to get above brush and take scenic landscape photos. The other 40% was… because it looked cool. Haha. Lets be real here.

Fast forward to December (a few months after ordering the SSO Full-Length Roof Rack but a month before receiving it), I found myself sorting through a few ladders available on the market. Prominent manufacturers included BajaRack, Gobi, C4 Fabrication, and one or two lesser known brands. Off the bat, I did not like BajaRack or Gobi’s rear hatch ladders - both use tubular steel which I thought did not go well with the sharp, angled look of the SSO roof rack. Furthermore, since their steps are just powdercoated tubular steel, I feared scratching them up over time and facing rust in the long run. Additionally, Gobi has notoriously long lead times that I did not want to deal with.

The C4 Fabrication Summit Hatch Ladder is unique, however, in that the main structure and ladder steps are made of aluminum (top and bottom mounting brackets are still steel), and the ladder steps are extruded aluminum T-slot bars, which allow a textured rubber step insert to be added for grip. Furthermore, the top mounting plate of the ladder also functions as a step (of sorts) - one step above other ladders on the market, ha! C4 Fabrication also sells bolt-on accessories for their Summit Hatch Ladder, which includes side steps and a RotoPax mount (neither of which I added on to this order as I have no need for them, yet). This is not to say that such accessories are not available for either BajaRack or Gobi ladders. Additionally, the C4 Fabrication ladder had a projected lead time of 6-8 weeks, which wasn’t bad (though this seems standard in the industry)… but I had heard good things of C4 Fabrication being on time. With all these considerations in mind, I decided on ordering the ladder from C4 Fabrication.

The order went in on order December 19, 2018. About a day after I ordered the ladder, a representative from C4 Fabrication sent an email with an expected completion date of January 30, 2019 (~6 week lead time). The representative also assisted with figuring out that the ladder would be compatible with the SSO roof rack (again, before I had it installed), and promptly responded when I followed up with a status inquiry near the expected completion date. I received the ladder a few weeks after the expected completion date on February 13, 2019 - not bad.

The parts came neatly packaged in one rectangular box. Its contents are shown in the photo below (no apologies for the amazing rug). The kit included:

  • Stainless steel mounting hardware.

  • 1” and 3/4” foam strips.

  • Top and bottom ladder mounts (the top mount actually consists of two pieces).

  • Four extruded aluminum T-slot steps and rubber inserts.

  • Two main rails that form the body of the ladder.

  • Two support rails that add structural rigidity to the body of the ladder.

No paper instructions were provided - the instructions were available online at C4 Fabrication’s website. There were no written instructions for assembling the ladder body - only CAD diagrams, which were pretty straightforward. Originally I thought the rubber tread strips were designed to slide into the T-slot steps. However, after the installation, C4 Fabrication reached out and mentioned that the easiest way to install the rubber tread strips into the T-slot steps is to lay the strips along the groove and just push them down into place. I took the hard route by trying to slide the rubber strips into the T-slot groove - oh well.

On another note, since all fasteners are stainless steel, each bolt needed to be coated with anti-seize. I had purchased a tube of anti-seize prior but didn’t have a good way of applying it to each bolt’s shaft… so I used a paper towel to rub anti-seize evenly into the threads. Photos of the the ladder assembly are below (and a cute dog).

I had a chance to mount the ladder a few days later with the help of my father-in-law. The hardest part was aligning the rack to appear vertical - this took some finagling. The bottom mounting plate does allow some horizontal play by releasing the locking studs. To make the top plate flush against the rear hatch spoiler, I needed to use my full body weight and “jump” up and down on the ladder. After tightening all the bolts, the ladder doesn’t budge and holds my weight well. The wife tried it out and she liked it, too.

The ladder steps do sit close to the hatch. I am debating about buying some 3M clear vinyl to cover the areas directly behind the steps, but haven’t pulled that trigger yet…

The ladder does increase load on the struts, which causes it to naturally open less and requires some assistance within the first 10 to 15ish-degrees of motion. I recently installed some stronger lift gate struts, which have worked well so far. The two photos below show the rear hatch naturally opening with the OEM struts and a little assistance versus manually forced full open. Sorry the first photo is out of focus.

Some people had inquired if there was interaction between the top mounting plate and the rear of the roof, or the top mounting plate’s hook and the lift gate. These are reasonable concerns as any rubbing would damage the vehicle’s paint... which can lead to other problems over time. It appears the ladder is designed well-enough such that the top mounting plate should never hit the rear of the roof, even when the lift gate is fully opened. Furthermore, I think that any rubbing of the top mounting plate’s hook will depend on how forcefully the top plate is pushed back towards the rear of the vehicle during mounting (i.e. jamming in a lot of cardboard). Luckily, I think I have about a 1/16” gap between the hook and the lift gate edge - so hopefully no rubbing or damage in the long run! First image is of the lift gate closed, and shows the gap of the top mounting plate hook to the lift gate. Second image is the lift gate opened to a maximum - the mounting plate does not hit the roof.

The ladder does obstruct the rear-view camera’s view when reversing. The obstruction can vary a little depending on how far left or right the ladder is mounted in relation to the camera.

Overall, I am very pleased with C4 Fabrication as a company, and the quality workmanship that went into their Summit Hatch Ladder. The ladder itself improves upon the appearance of the vehicle with the SSO rack, has wide grippy steps (big safety factor), and will hopefully be very useful in the near future.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • I love that 85% of this ladder is made from aluminum. Furthermore, wide, rubber grippy step treads are wonderful. less chance of slipping!

  • Rather than trying to slide the rubber treads into the T-slots from an end, place the entire tread along the slot and push firmly push it down into the groove.

  • Ladder sits pretty close to the hatch - don’t have a comparison of other ladders available on the market, though.

  • Ladder slightly obstructs rear-view camera, maybe 10-15% of the screen. This obstruction might be lesser on other ladders that use round steel tubes (which are typically thinner).

  • The OEM lift gate struts can be used with this ladder - but they will require some assistance when the lift gate is first opened and they are incapable of holding the lift gate fully open. I recommend swapping out the struts with stronger lift gate struts, which will open the lift gate smoothly through its entire range of motion. It’s a fairly cheap retrofit that could save headache and irritation in the long run.

  • Over time the foam at the bottom of the hatch will dry out/degrade. Note I’ve stored my vehicle outside for about 6 months since installing the ladder. I’ve found the best fix is to paste on a few layers of protective vinyl film on the hatch body to prevent contact with the ladder’s “clamp”. This has worked out so far.


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Southern Style Offroad Full-Length Roof Rack

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Southern Style Offroad Full-Length Roof Rack

Want $100 off your next Southern Style Offroad purchase? Use this referal code during checkout: REFHQ6JM396QH.

We ran out of space in the 4Runner’s rear cargo area during a recent camping trip with just my wife, myself, and our dog. Our load included a kennel, Yeti Tundra 65 cooler, box of canned and other non-perishable food (and dog food), tent and sleeping gear, a camp kitchen, a few gallons of water, and duffel bags of clothes. By “ran out” I mean that all of our gear just slightly blocked the rear window (I prefer to see what’s behind me while driving) with the rear passenger seats up.

Based on this experience (and the poor influence of social media), I decided we should invest in a roof rack if we plan to carpool and camp with other friends or family in the future. Not only would a roof rack provide valuable storage space for cargo, but it would also be a future investment for additional accessories such as water or gas cans, auxiliary lighting, awning, traction recovery gear, or potentially a roof top tent in the far future… Haha, big dreams! In other realistic plans, it could also be used to carry lumber or any other large bulky items in the future. The in-laws also have a car-top carrier that could be used - woohoo!

All Toyota 4Runners come with a pair of roof side rails straight from the factory. The side rails are 5-feet long and span the rear 2/3 of the vehicle’s cabin. One option was to purchase OEM (plastic) or aftermarket (typically steel) crossbars that slide into the existing rails. At worst, the roof rack would have two crossbars available and at best about five crossbars. Even then, the rack would only extend the length of the existing side rails, which is only up to the B pillar. I wasn’t satisfied with that length - I wanted the roof rack to extend the entire length of the cabin. Listed are characteristics I wanted from a roof rack system:

  • Runs full length of vehicle cabin.

  • Wind fairing that mounts (fairly) flush to the roof line to minimize wind noise.

  • Static load capacity of at least 700 pounds (approximate weight for at least a roof top tent, two persons, and a few miscellaneous cargo bins). Yes, thinking ahead.

  • Majority aluminum construction (less steel, less rust).

  • Spaced out crossbars (versus mesh) as tie down points for loads. Also easier to clean roof surface.

  • Modular components (easy shipping, assembly, mounting, replacement of parts etc). I needed to get this shipped to my apartment and then transported elsewhere to install. A single-piece roof rack would not work).

  • No-drill front mount (many full-length racks require drilling holes for front mounting pads). More holes, more problems - though additional mounting holes mean a more stable rack on the front-end).

  • Low profile.

All of these requirements cut down the number of options available on the market. The product decide on was Southern Style Offroad’s Full Length Roof Rack. This rack in particular met all of those needs and more. The rack sits about 1.75” higher than the factory side rails, and has modular steel side rails and aluminum crossbars. It’s great that the crossbars won’t rust; I anticipate abrasive damage to the crossbars more than the side rails which would damage powder coated steel crossbars, allowing rust to form. The front mounting pads have rubber feet that rest against the roof’s rubber trim pieces. SSO offers anodized black aluminum crossbars and black oxide fasteners as options, but I opted for the default silver components since our 4Runner is Classic Silver. The rack also comes with four mounting points (two on each side rail) for BajaDesigns or Rigid scene lights - I have no plans to fill these blanks until I decide an auxiliary lighting setup is necessary.

I ordered the rack from SSO on November 19, 2018 and took advantage of a Black Friday sale, which essentially paid for shipping. About a month after I made the order, I contacted SSO to include one additional 3” crossbar and two additional 2” crossbars after discovering that it took 11 total crossbars to fill the rack (comes default with seven 3” and one 2” crossbar). The additional crossbars were able to added to the shipment easily. Naturally, given Black Friday influx of orders, the shipment was delayed beyond the typical 6-8 week window. Some of this was beyond SSO’s fault as the crossbar manufacturer shipped SSO’s order of crossbars elsewhere. I received the rack a few months later on February 5, 2019. When I finally received the package, I opened it up to find that all the parts were individually plastic wrapped and encased in expandable foam packaging (sprayed in as liquid designed to mould around the package’s contents).

Sadly, during shipping, one of the wind fairing’s edges had jammed into a 3” crossbar slot, thereby damaging both components. Thankfully I had purchased shipping insurance from SSO, which protects against all damage or loss incurred during shipment. After a few emails with SSO and providing appropriate documentation (description and photographs), I was told the insurance would cover the cost of replacement parts and shipping. I elected to claim a monetary refund since both the wind fairing and crossbar were not damaged beyond use. For the wind fairing damage, which was 75% cosmetic (a corner had a minor bend), SSO informed me that I could paint over the damage with Rust-oleum Textured Fine Textured Finish #7220 Black, which would roughly match the powder coat. So I made a trip to Home Depot and painted over the damage the next day. The aluminum cross bar is slotted in all four sides (not including tapped ends), so I just flipped it over during installation so the damaged side faces the 4Runner’s roof.

Another issue I experienced was that all nine of the 3” crossbars were tapped in metric for M6x1.0 bolts rather than 1/4”-20 bolts. This appeared to be the fault of the crossbar manufacturer, which led SSO to send incorrectly tapped bars to multiple customers. I reached out to SSO and they apologized (again, not their fault though!) and offered to send me new metric button head bolts and metric-tapped 2” bars.

Despite these setbacks, Installation was straightforward - instructions were provided via SSO’s website, but here is a quick summary of what I did.

  1. Unpack.

  2. Unpackage components (all parts were individually plastic wrapped, except for fastening hardware which were packaged by type).

  3. Use plastic trim remover to pop off front and rear OEM rail covers. Unbolt hex nuts and remove OEM side rails.

  4. Clean mounting location with a damp cloth. Do not push liquid or dirt into the bolt holes or plastic locators.

  5. Run a heavy bead of silicon (provided with roof rack) around the plastic locators, then place the aluminum spacers over the locators and push down firmly. Make sure the locators are flush against the roof and they are level to each other.

  6. Wait for the silicon to dry a bit and put together the SSO side rails and wind fairing. The photo below shows the driver’s side rail incorrectly bolted together. I had to swap the footing plate positions after the photo was taken. This includes fastening the rubber feet and mounting plates to each side rail, and assembling the wind fairing with two brackets and a rubber edge trim (cutting to size). Do not completely tighten all hardware.

  7. Mount the two side rails onto the roof using the OEM hex bolts. Do not completely tighten down the hex bolts, but they should be tight enough to keep the rails on the roof without it torquing the bolts out of place.

  8. Install vinyl on roof where edge guard from fairing will touch. The vinyl needed to be cut and trimmed to size (definitely messed up install of the vinyl - a good number of air bubbles and warped vinyl, but it’s ok). If any air bubbles form, pop with a small pin and push out the air with a plastic rewards (i.e grocery store) card.

  9. Install the wind fairing onto the side rails. This took some finagling as the fitment was very tight.

  10. Install a 2” crossbar behind and in front of the sharkfin antenna. Install 3” crossbars at all other locations except the two crossbar locations above roof mounting points. Tighten all roof rack cross bar, fairing, and footing fasteners.

  11. Align/square up roof rack. Remove hex bolts from roof mounting points one at a time, add silicon along last 3/4” of each bolt (to fill aluminum spacers with silicon) and thread back in. Repeat for remaining seven hex bolts.

  12. Install last two cross bars - one 2” bar at rear in front of sharkfin antenna and one 3” bar in middle of rack.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • Very little difference in wind noise post-installation (driving 65+ mph… heh). Most wind noise comes from the window visors. Have not noticed a difference in average mpg - still averaging about 18-18.5 mpg depending on city and highway driving.

  • The rack has space for eleven crossbars. Best configuration is to mount two 2” crossbars in the rear (one behind and one in front of sharkfin antenna) and nine 3” crossbars in all other slots. This ensures the crossbars do not touch the sharkfin antenna.

  • Accidentally ordered a wind fairing with light bar cut-out, but it looks fine now even though I don’t have plans to add a light bar in the immediate future. The fairing only fits 40” light bars and comes with steel light bar mounts.

  • When installing crossbars, lay a doubled-up moving blanket and one of the crossbars on the roof, running parallel to the vehicle. Not only will it protect your roof when installing the crossbars, but you will also be able to lay the crossbar you are installing on top, which will align the crossbar taps to the side rail holes.

  • A few side rail holes were improperly powdercoated - not a big deal to me. I sprayed Rustoleum into a paper cup and used a small 1/8” tip artist’s brush to apply the paint to the bare metal.

  • Purchasing eyebolt hardware from SSO to mount onto the rack is expensive. I found the cheapest route was to order t-nuts online and zinc coated C15E M6x1.0 13mm low-carbon steel eyebolts from Grainger. Flat and lock washers can be purchased from your local hardware store.

  • SSO provides outstanding customer support. Reliable email and phone call interactions, and quick responses. Typical response time within 24 hours.

  • Check out how to make some cheap mounts for MaxTrax MKII traction boards.

More photos taken after installing new metric stainless steel button heads and eyebolts. (Yes, I torqued down the eyebolts too much and the locknuts are squished - thereby defeating their purpose. Trying to find a better replacement.)


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Rago Fabrication Fire Extinguisher Quick Release

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Rago Fabrication Fire Extinguisher Quick Release

About half a year after installing Rago Fabrication’s Modular Storage Panels (MSPs) and running a few offroad trails, I decided to invest in a fire extinguisher in the event of a flammable liquid or electrical fire. To some extent, the same fire extinguisher could also be used to quench very small brush fires (I always keep a few gallons of water in the 4Runner, too). I ended up purchasing the H3R HG250B Clean Agent Fire Extinguisher and attaching it to the quick release.

A big question I faced while deciding on a fire extinguisher was “Where do I put it?” I wanted the fire extinguisher to remain in a known place until needed, without fear of being lost. After a few days of research, I found a handful of mounting methods via public forums. A few identified options and my opinions of them are listed below:

  • Laid flat on ground somewhere. No. Didn’t want it rolling around or having to move it whenever passengers enter the car.

  • Laid flat in rear cargo cubby. Sometimes I have a hard time getting stuff out of the cubby since the cubby can be blocked by other larger items in the rear cargo space such as coolers or camping gear. Didn’t want to deal with it.

  • Quick release bracket drilled into rear cargo panels, somewhere, it didn’t really matter where. Lots of folks online just drilled plastic quick release brackets (typically supplied by fire extinguisher manufacturers). This method works, but I was not a fan of drilling into plastic trim pieces and it looked tacky.

  • Quick release bracket underneath driver or passenger seat, mounted to seat foot caps. Although this allows the fire extinguisher to be accessed within seconds, most brackets limit the forward seat adjustment range. Furthermore, I was not keen on having a metal object behind my ankles in the event of a frontal crash.

  • Quick release bracket mounted to the MSPs. Thankfully, Rago Fabrication has a nifty Fire Extinguisher Quick Release accessory available for their MSPs. The quick release setup is CNC cut from 3/16” steel, powder coated black, doesn’t rattle, and can mount vertically or horizontally to the MSPs. Furthermore, it keeps the fire extinguisher off the ground and in an easily accessible location.

With a bit of luck, Rago Fabrication held a Warehouse Sale about a week after I started thinking of purchasing their quick release. I was able to purchase a “blemished” fire extinguisher quick release at a decent discount, though I had to pay a small shipping fee. Upon receipt, I could not identify any blemish in the powder coating at all. Maybe I just have lower standards.

The Fire Extinguisher Quick Release comes in two parts: one mounts to the MSP (the Mount) and is held in place by four bolts while the other can be strapped to a fire extinguisher (the fire extinguisher Holder). The Mount can only be mounted to the MSP when the MSP has been removed from the vehicle. Mounting a fire extinguisher to Holder requires two adjustable worm-gear steel straps. One end of the Holder is slotted while the other end has has two holes. The end that is slotted slides onto a bolt on the Mount, which has a thick rubber o-ring around it. The bolt creates a pivot point for the Holder while also minimizing movement (which results in noise/clanging). The upper portion of Holder rotates upwards and slides into a slot on the Mount, which has two holes that match up with the Holder holes. The quick release pin fills one hole while a separate lock (not provided) can be installed in the second hole (to prevent tampering if the fire extinguisher is located outside). The quick release pin itself is easy to remove using an index finger and thumb leverage.

Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of Rago Fabrication’s Fire Extinguisher Quick Release. Hopefully I never have to use the fire extinguisher, but having one on hand provides a lot of peace of mind.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

  • The Rago Fabrication Fire Extinguisher Quick Release is a convenient way to mount a 2.5 lb fire extinguisher to their MSPs.

  • Some fire extinguishers cannot be stored horizontally. Do some research on the extinguisher you want to use to determine if whether it can be stored vertically and horizontally, or only vertically.

  • The o-ring around the pivot bolt is large, but durable. It is larger than the slot in the Holder. That being said, it does take some effort to jam the Holder onto the pivot point on the Mount. I’ve mounted and unmounted the Holder from the Mount about a half a dozen times (playing with it, and mounting the fire extinguisher to the holder, and then taking photos) and the o-ring has not yet torn. It does show some wear, though.

  • I just made up the terms “Holder” and “Mount” to distinguish between the two pieces of this product.


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H3R HG250B Clean Agent Fire Extinguisher

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H3R HG250B Clean Agent Fire Extinguisher

Selecting a fire extinguisher is about as complicated as you make it. After a few weeks of browsing around, I elected to purchase an H3R Performance HG250B Clean Agent Fire Extinguisher. Before I get into why I chose this extinguisher in specific, lets go through a brief overview of fire extinguishers! This is information I am summarizing from my limited knowledge. I’m no fire extinguisher expert. Anyone interested in fire extinguishers should conduct further research to conclude on a product that meets their needs. Hot stuff!

In general, there are five different classes of fires:

  • A: Ordinary combustibles including in paper, cloth, wood, plastic, and rubber.

  • B: Flammable liquids including various oils, gasoline, grease, paint, solvents, etc.

  • C: Electrical fires involving wiring, fuse boxes, or other energized electrical equipment.

  • D: Flammable metals such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium.

  • K: Combustible cooking fluids such as cooking oil or fats.

For vehicular purposes, class D and K fire extinguishers can be crossed off the list. I figured the most common classes of fire I’d encounter on the road are either among (A) ordinary combustibles, (B) flammable liquids, or (C) electrical fires. Moving on, fire extinguishers themselves can make use of different extinguishing agents. The most common (that fight types A, B, or C fires include:

  • Water is a common extinguishing agent for Class A fires. Water should never be used on class B or C fires. Water can potentially spread flammable liquid, and is also conductive and could lead to electrocution in the event of an electrical fire. Typically, water extinguishers are partially filled with water and then pressurized with air. Some water-based fire extinguishers include a detergent to induce foaming. Regardless, water extinguishers are only useful for Class A fires.