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2003 Toyota 4Runner - Our 'Runner Rides Red

Posted in How To on March 1, 2009
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Photographers: Collette Blumer

"You don't know what you've got until it's gone" is an overused clich. Guess what? Sometimes it's true. Our '03 4Runner UNlimited had springs, but no shocks when we were handed the keys.

Originally equipped with Toyota's cross-linked XREAS shock system, the 'Runner had received an aftermarket suspension system as part of its previous buildup. It turns out that when any part of the hydraulic workings in the XREAS system is disconnected, the whole system is kaput. While the XREAS is a clever idea, it was not meant to be serviced in any way, shape, or form. A leaking XREAS can only be replaced with a complete factory-new system. This is relevant because the XREAS had been disconnected during the aftermarket suspension's installation. Since the 'Runner was slated to return to Toyota, the aftermarket parts were pulled and the stock items were re-installed. Remember the part about the XREAS being non-serviceable? When the stock suspension was re-installed there wasn't any fluid left in the formerly cross-linked shocks.

Want a wild ride? Try draining the fluid out of your shocks (actually, don't; it's a bad idea) and taking a drive to the nearest grocery store. You won't believe you're driving the same vehicle you were before. Trust us; even the cheapest, most basic shocks are still performing some function to make your rig stable and controllable.

Yes, the UNlimited needed a new set of shocks, but we were after more than that. We needed off-road performance, too. Sway-A-Way had what we were after. Sway-A-Way's 4Runner suspension bolts on without cutting, drilling, or welding. The stock front coilovers are replaced with a pair of 2.5-inch-diameter S.A.W. adjustable units. Out back, S.A.W. offers a set of coil springs featuring a 10-percent-increased rate over stock, which are designed to provide a 2-inch lift. The rear springs are coupled with a pair of two-inch diameter shocks that bolt to the stock shock mounts.

With the Sway-A-Way suspension in place, the 'Runner was completely transformed. The bucking, uncontrolled ride was gone, replaced by suspension that handles small bumps well and takes bigger hits without a fuss. Since we began with a non-functional stock suspension, there was no question that functional shocks were going to make a huge difference in drivability. We've since had the opportunity to drive an '04 4Runner SR5 4x4 with fully-functional stock suspension. Trust us that the Sway-A-Way kit blows away the stock system, street or dirt. We're happy that our 'Runner's riding red.

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Sway-A-Way's 4Runner suspension easily bolts on with basic hand tools. The trickiest part of the installation is properly supporting the vehicle while the wheels are off and the suspension is being installed. If you lack the proper jack stands, floor jack, and hand tools, it's best to take your 'Runner to a professional shop for the installation. This kit, one of several that Sway-A-Way offers for the '03 and newer 4Runner, comprises a pair of 2.5-inch adjustable front coilovers, a pair of two-inch lift rear coil springs, a pair of 2.0 rear shocks, front sway bar re-location brackets, and a spring preload adjusting wrench for the front shocks. Sway-A-Way's products are made in the USA. We like the S.A.W. red against the 4Runner UNlimited's metallic grey, but Sway-A-Way will soon offer its shocks in a black anodized finish for those seeking a neutral hue. In addition to its 4Runner kits, Sway-A-Way's lineup includes systems for the Tacoma, Tundra, FJ Cruiser, Sequoia, and selected Land Cruisers.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

If the sway bar will be retained, it needs to be spaced forward to avoid contact between the sway bar and the new coilovers. To avoid mixing them up during installation, the stock mounting brackets are clearly marked. Leaving the sway bar off of the front will net better bump absorption because the sway bar attempts to force both sides of the front end to work in unison. When negotiating slow-speed trails, leaving the sway bar off will let the front end articulate much better. The downside to leaving the sway bar off of the front is noticeably increased body roll in the turns. We snapped some photos of the Sway-A-Way sway bar spacers, but ultimately chose to leave the sway bar off. No matter what you do with the front sway bar, it's best to leave the rear sway bar in place.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

With the wheels on and the 'Runner off of the lift, we backed up a few feet and then pulled forward to settle the front end into a natural ride height. Brian then checked the new ride height to ensure that overall lift height was correct, and that the vehicle was level side-to-side. Crank too much lift into the front on a 4WD 'Runner, and the CVs and CV boots won't live long. The vehicle should have its alignment checked after the suspension is installed. Our 4Runner was still within spec after the Sway-A-Way suspension was installed and didn't need any alignment adjustments, but getting the alignment checked was still the right thing to have done. You might have to hunt around to find an alignment shop that will work on a vehicle with an aftermarket suspension system. We've had good luck with a nearby shop that's equipped to handle big rig tires and suspension. Finding this shop was a boon because our local consumer tire store curls up into a whimpering ball whenever we show up with a modified suspension.


Chatsworth, CA 91311

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