Many companies make armor for the Toyota Tacoma, but despite the model’s popularity, we have been surprised at the lack of gas tank skidplate options for our 1996 trail Tacoma. And if your 4x4 isn’t a Wrangler or CJ, chances are your options may be limited as well. So when we set out to build a fuel tank skidplate for our Toyota, we figured we’d document the process. In our case, the side-mounted tank on the Toyota pickup and 4Runner is the lowest-hanging component on the undercarriage, and its position in front of the driver-rear tire means that the gas tank often encounters obstacles before the tire does. We know because we have smashed plenty of gas tanks in the past.
Like many 4x4 trucks, our Tacoma had a factory skid formed to fit around the fuel tank, providing all the necessary mounting locations, but it is made out of thin sheetmetal. In an effort to keep from repeating past tank bashings, we reinforced the factory gas tank skidplate. We simply used the factory skid as a template and cut out 1/8-inch steel with our Miller Spectrum 375 plasma cutter and then welded the thicker material to the factory skid. This entire process was done in an afternoon, which is less time than it takes to swap out a damaged gas tank—not to mentioning being less expensive than sourcing a new tank. That’s what we call a win-win.
The factory gas tank is like a crustacean. Under the thin sheetmetal shell it is just a plastic fuel tank. Plastic means that it will not rust and probably not crack, but it is also not difficult to smash.
The factory skidplate is held in place with four bolts. After unbolting it we laid the tank on a sheet of steel and traced the shape out. We used 10-gauge (basically 1/8-inch-thick) steel. Most would choose to run 3/16-inch-thick steel here, but given the relative light weight of our vehicle (and since we already had the 10-gauge steel on hand) that’s what we used.
Once transferring the shape of the skidplate to the steel we cut it out with our Miller Spectrum 375 plasma cutter. This plasma cutter is compact and affordable, making it perfect for the home fabricator. The Spectrum 375 is rated to cut material up to 3/8 inch thick, so our skidplate was no sweat.
You could cut the skidplate out with a torch, but it would take a little more cleanup work than using a plasma cutter. We like to use a straight piece of thick metal as a guide when cutting to make a straight cut with the plasma cutter.
We used a hole saw to make large holes in the skidplate. This allowed us to access the factory mounting bolts and also provided more surface area to weld the new metal to the factory skidplate.
We used our Millermatic 190 welder to stitch the new metal to the factory skidplate. Typically we use the Auto-Set feature on our Miller welder, but the difference in thickness between the factory skidplate and the new metal caused some issues. We got better results in this particular situation with manual amperage settings.
The front of the factory skidplate has a sharp angle, but we sloped the new skidplate at a 45-degree angle instead of 90 so it can slide over obstacles instead of getting hung up.
Remember that you don’t always have to order parts out of a catalog. For an investment of some scrap steel and a couple hours of our time we were able to add peace of mind the next time we take our mild Tacoma project on a rocky trail.