There are some modifications that universally increase trail prowess regardless of what you drive. Locking differentials. Larger, more aggressive tires. A winch. We are not going to bother rehashing those items. Instead, we are here to share with you ten modifications specific to ’79-’95 Toyota pickups and 4Runners that will make them more capable on the trail.
A few decades ago, the off-road community shunned these vehicles, but now they can be found off-road nearly as often as Jeeps. The reliable engines, excellent wheelbase, and low purchase price make Toyotas a great platform to build on. And now there is a formula to make them reliable and capable, using the parts we have outlined here.
Dual Transfer Cases
The 22RE engines are simple and reliable, but they are not powerhouses. The best way to add trail prowess to your Toyota is to add a second T-case and/or T-case gears. The wheelbase of pickups and 4Runners allows enough space for the gear reduction unit of a Toyota RF1A T-case to be added to the drivetrain using an adapter such as this unit from Marlin Crawler. Gearsets with 4.7:1 reduction are also available from Marlin Crawler for even more torque multiplication. This results in increased control and less tire spin during technical rockcrawling.
Toyota axles use lightweight, high-clearance stamped steel housings and removable third members like a Ford 9-inch axle. They are relatively strong, with one notable exception. Instead of U-joints, the front axles use a Birfield joint that is a mess to repair on the trail. The factory Birfields are prone to breakage with 35-inch and taller tires, particularly when backing up or when the steering is at full lock. Longfield has solved these issues though with its 4340 chromoly Birfields, available from Trail-Gear. The Longfield Birfields are available in 30-spline (stock is 27-spline) with corresponding chromoly axleshafts for even more strength.
Solid Axle Swap
Starting in 1986, Toyota replaced the simple leaf spring front suspension and solid axle on pickups and 4Runners with a torsion bar suspension and smaller front differential. The independent front suspension has not proven to be as strong as the solid axle, but fortunately, it is easy to remove the IFS and replace it with a solid axle. Trail-Gear’s IFS Eliminator kit comes with everything you need to retrofit a solid front axle into your ’86-’95 Toyota.
Toyota pickups and 4Runners that came equipped from the factory with a solid front axle are highly desirable, but there is still room for improvement. These trucks came with push-pull steering that uses a short drag link that connects from the pitman arm to the driver-side steering knuckle. The problem with the short drag link is that it does not accommodate increased articulation. Crossover steering, such as the Trail-Gear kit shown here, uses the steering box from an IFS truck to connect a longer drag link to the passenger-side knuckle and a stronger tie rod that is located above the leaf springs where it is protected from impacts.
Transfer Case Crossmember
The factory Toyota T-case crossmember is a stamped-steel unit that is 2 inches tall and provides minimal protection from impact. BudBuilt resolves all of those issues with its high-clearance steel crossmembers with integrated skidplates. BudBuilt offers bolt-in crossmembers for both single and dual T-cases and can even accommodate custom modifications such as transmission conversions and raised drivetrains when building your crossmember.
Longer Leaf Springs
Longer leaf springs don’t have to flex as much to provide as much articulation as a shorter spring. One popular modification is to use 63-inch-long leaf springs from Chevy pickups on the rear of Toyotas and then use the factory rear Toyota springs on the front axle. This has the added benefit of moving the axle forward for more tire clearance at the firewall and is inexpensive as well. Spring hangers are available from All-Pro Off-Road, BudNuilt, Marlin Crawler, and Trail-Gear.
U-Bolt Flip Kit
Toyotas came stock with the axles under the springs, so there is no need to do a springover conversion. The only problem is that the U-bolts face down, robbing ground clearance and begging to get caught up on obstacles. However, All-Pro Off-Road has a solution with its U-bolt flip kits, which reposition the U-bolts to result in a smooth axlehousing.
One of the reasons Jeeps work so well on the trail is that the axles are out at the ends of the chassis, resulting in excellent approach and departure angles. Toyotas can benefit from this as well by bobbing the sheetmetal behind the rear tire. On pickups, this is fairly straightforward, and it is possible to remove 12 inches of bed to position the tailgate directly above the shackles. The process is more complicated with 4Runners, which have a larger, heavier tailgate and corresponding top. Grafting a pickup tailgate onto a 4Runner sheds a lot of weight and allows the corners of the tub to be trimmed for even more ground clearance.
Low Profile Drain Plug
Not all modifications have to be expensive. From the factory, Toyota axles used a hex-shaped drain plug on the bottom of the axle. Contact with rocks and other obstacles can cause these plugs to loosen, making a mess and potentially ending your day of wheeling. Fortunately, low-profile drain plugs that accept an Allen wrench are available as a factory part (PN 90341-18021) from a number of Toyota vendors.
Vented Front Rotors
Front Toyota axles were equipped from the factory with small single-piston calipers and solid brake rotors. This is fine for a lightweight stock truck, but add on big tires and there is plenty of room for improvement in the braking department. One of the most appealing aspects of Toyotas is the parts interchangeability between models, and the front brakes can be upgraded with vented rotors from an FJ60 Land Cruiser in conjunction with two-piston calipers from an IFS Toyota pickup or 4Runner.