Life is full of hurdles. But hurdles are far easier to overcome in a lifted 4x4. So, after running a few trails in our 2012 FJ Cruiser Project and quickly finding the ground clearance limits, a lift and larger tires were the first boxes to check on our build list.
But first, a bit about the project. Introduced in 2006, the FJ Crusier was a throwback to the legendary Land Cruiser FJ40 and was a polarizing exercise in style by Toyota that channels either love or hate for most enthusiasts. Middle ground is scarce. However, underneath its subjective aesthetics, the FJ is packed with some serious, off-the-used-car-lot-capable hardware. An optional rear locker (which ours has), a 2.566:1 low-range, and a tough, coil-sprung solid rear axle are all part of the off-road equation. Add to the mix ATRAC, a wheel-speed-sensor-based traction aid, and Toyota’s legendary reliability, and you have a pretty competent wheeler. Prices for used examples of the breed have held high over the last couple of years but are beginning to taper off enough that a mid-mileage unit can be had for reasonable fare.
Like bacon and eggs, pancakes and syrup, and various other breakfast-based analogies, a lift kit and bigger tires is a match made in heaven. This Boss Performance kit from Toytec Lifts provides much improved off-road performance and raises the FJ 3 inches. Combined with the (roughly 34x11.50) 285/75R17 Toyo Open Country M/T tires, which are 2 1/2 inches larger than stock, total lift comes in 5 1/2 inches.
FJs were sold until 2014 and over their lifespan were offered in two iterations. The year break between those occurred in 2010, and later vehicles got a revamped engine with a slight power and fuel economy bump and a stouter rear axle with a ring gear measuring 8.2 inches and with larger spline counts on the pinion gear. There were a few other differences, but they are subtle and not deal breakers if the price is right.
Back to this ’Yota at hand. With nearly 80,000 miles on the clock it was time to elevate its status in life. The plan for the build was to add reasonably priced upgrades, beginning with a 3-inch lift from Toytec ($2,436.86 including SPC control arms) and a set of 285/75R17 Toyo Open Country M/T tires. The ultimate goal was a competent off-roading overlander with enough traction, gearing, and capability to get out of a sticky situation, and the just enough gear for moderate creature comfort. Follow along as we tackle the first part of that goal.
Out with the old, in with the new. The first step toward upward momentum was removing the old strut assembly. There are three bolts on top of the shaft and one large bolt on the bottom.
Removing the sway-bar endlink makes for much more working room. Detach all of the 10mm bolts holding the ABS brake cable in place. It’s even better practice to unclip the cable and temporarily tie it somewhere safe. We learned the hard way that it’s a fragile, fickle thing. If disturbed, it will light the dash up like the Griswold house on Christmas Eve.
Unbolt the upper control arms. This is a 12-inch-long bolt that passes all the way through the arm’s pivot points. It slides out toward the battery and, due to its length, is a snug fit to remove.
Disassembly on the front is pretty straightforward. Shortly we found ourselves ready to install the Toytec Boss Performance coilovers. They feature a nitrogen-charged, 2 1/2-inch body with a floating piston design. A threaded adjuster allows the included 600 lb-in springs to be adjusted for ride height, and spherical hemi joints at both ends permit maximum wheel travel.
The Toytec coilovers install in exactly the same way as the OEM struts, making them a quick install into the chassis.
The top hat of the Toytecs installs in the factory frame cup with the brass fitting facing outward. This is the fill point.
On the bottom side of the coilover, the factory bolt slides through the spherical joint and is reused.
The Toytec lift does require aftermarket control arms, which is not a bad thing given the factory piece’s stamped origins. We used Special Products Company (SPC) units, which are made from much stronger forged steel. They feature xAxis sealed flex joints and greaseable ball joints and offer an improved 80 degrees of articulation.
The SPC arms install directly in place of the factory arms and, in addition to strength, have significantly more camber and caster adjustability built in. The ball joint assembly slides fore and aft and can be clocked to relocate the wheel for alignment and additional tire clearance.
We installed the SPC ball joint into the spindle and torqued the ball joint nut, securing it with a cotter pin.
We reinstalled the sway bar and ABS lines, and verified that all of the new hardware was good and tight.
The SPC ball joints come ungreased, so before operation they will need to be filled. We took the opportunity to grease all of the other fittings on the car, including the driveshaft and U-joints.
Two steps remain before the front suspension is complete. On 2010 and newer FJs, the radiator core support needs to be dropped, using the supplied spacers. This prevents interference with the sway-bar brackets, which also needs to be lowered (on all model years). Toytec supplies simple yet effective spacers to do that job.
With the front completed, we moved to the rear, supporting the frame on jackstands and using a floor jack to support the axle. Disassembly here is very simple, requiring only that the ABS line (for good measure) and rear shocks are removed allowing the axle to fall so the springs can be removed.
Talk about used car problems! Our FJ had a different shock at each corner. No wonder it was so squirrely on the road.
Toytec provides two Superflex coil spring options with the BOSS Performance lift. We opted to go with the Superflex HD springs, which provide 3 inches of lift but are also stiffer to accommodate steel bumpers and the weight of the camping cargo we plan to carry. Note the difference in height between the Toytec spring (right) and factory spring (left).
A rubber spring seat/locator inside the original coil springs is reused when the Superflex springs get installed. We ended up unhooking the track bar to get the rear end to drop a smidge more. Installing the springs is an exertion, and our axle certainly made us sweat to get them properly located.
Perspiring and victorious, we finished the spring install and used the floor jack to lift the diff back into place.
In order for the bumpstops to function properly and prevent frame-to-axle collision or over-compression of the shocks, Toytec provides a billet aluminum spacer. This installs where the bumpstop used to reside, and the bumpstop bolts below it.
We opted for Toytec’s Boss 2.0 remote-reservoir shocks. These have more oil capacity than a conventional monotube to prevent fading over prolonged travel on rough terrain. They install exactly like an OEM shock with the exception of one mounting hole to support the reservoir. We drilled a small hole on the frame and mounted the reservoir bracket, which was then secured via hose clamps.
The next, and equally important, piece of the puzzle was a set of Toyo Open Country mud-terrain tires. This 285/75/R17 size can be mounted on factory FJ wheels. The overall diameter spec’d in at 34 inches. Their aggressive tread pattern and extremely thick side walls make them ideal for aggressive off-roading. Highway noise is on par with many all-terrain tires.
Our Toyo Open Country spare was just a hair too big and rubbed on the bumper after mounting. A simple fix was to redrill the mounting pattern on the tire carrier. Each of the four holes was moved about 3/8 inch upwards, which allowed the whole carrier to be remounted with clearance to spare!