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Techline: Your Top 4x4 and Off-Road Tech Questions Answered Here

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on December 4, 2017
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Toyota Repower

I have an ’85 Toyota shortbed 4x4 pickup truck. It was my first truck. I got it when I was 15. I am now 37. Unfortunately, I rolled the truck when I was 19. The truck became a farm beater. I replaced the body, but it’s still a beater. Now I think I want to fix it up. I’m thinking about installing a Chevy drivetrain. I would like to hear your thoughts. My factory 22R engine has been rebuilt, but due to abuse and neglect it doesn’t run good at all.

Via forums

There are generally only three main reasons for a 4x4 enthusiast to make an engine swap. These include more power, improved fuel economy, and the usually incorrect idea that an engine swap is less expensive than replacing or rebuilding the factory engine. So let’s get the misinformation out of the way before we dive into your swap options.

An engine swap in any 4x4 will usually be many times more expensive than simply rebuilding or replacing your factory engine. The engine you are swapping in is often the least expensive part of the swap, so it’s easy to understand why someone might think an engine swap is cheap and easy. Many other components need to be considered. These include the radiator, coolant hoses, fan, front accessory group, fuel system, exhaust, flywheel or flexplate, clutch or torque converter, transmission, transfer case, adapters, motor mounts, electronics, wiring, driveshafts, and so on. All of these components need to be upgraded or addressed when making most engine swaps. Many swaps become far less cost effective when the actual parts and labor come into play.

Engine swaps being made primarily to improve fuel economy will almost never pay for themselves. The average number of miles a vehicle is driven every year is typically 10,000-12,000. Most swaps like this would take 10-15 years to pay for themselves with the improved fuel economy. By then, the rest of the vehicle has likely long since worn out.

The only engine swap that makes sense is one where you simply want more power and you are willing to accept the costs of such a conversion. Having said all that, if rejuvenating the factory Toyota 22R four-cylinder engine is not an option, you have plenty of other engine choices. Some will make more sense than others. Swapping to the popular GM V-8 will open up a whole Pandora’s box of other problems including overpowering your factory drivetrain, or whatever’s left of it after the swap. Sticking with a more modern and powerful four- or six-cylinder will make more sense if you don’t plan on swapping out the axles.

If you want to stick with a Toyota engine, you could dump the 22R and install a 2.7L 3RZ-FE engine out of a ’95-’04 Tacoma. Companies such as MW Team Yota ( specialize in this swap as well as others. The 2.7L can be installed in place of any ’80-’95 20R, 22R, 22RE, or 22RET pickup or ’84-‘95 4Runner engine. The single overhead cam 95-110hp engine is replaced with a newer 3RZ-FE double overhead cam engine that produces 150 hp. The swap also upgrades your vehicle to the newer OBDII engine management system. The factory transmission is retained, but new motor mounts need to be welded to the frame. The new engine wiring has to be integrated into the factory wiring harness. When the swap is complete, all of the factory gauges and lights will work, in addition to the OBDII diagnostic port for ECU scanning. It requires custom exhaust work to route the exhaust back to the driver side of the vehicle and a newer OBDII-compliant catalytic converter. This is really the only swap that makes sense if you want to retain the factory transmission.

If your transmission is operational, Advance Adapters ( offers adapter bellhousings that will mate a GM engine to any ’84-’95 factory Toyota transmission. This includes the G52, G54, W56, and G58 manual transmissions. The bellhousings are available for both the 153-tooth GM flywheel (part number 712560) and the larger 168-tooth GM flywheel (part number 712560V). They are not designed to work with GM LS engines. I generally would not recommend going this route if you plan to use the truck aggressively off-road, yank your buddies out of the local mudhole, or tow a trailer. A modern V-6 or V-8 will make two to three times the horsepower of your factory four-cylinder engine. Beating on the factory Toyota transmission behind a V-6 or V-8 with careless driving could result in catastrophic transmission failure.

Advance Adapters offers several different transmission adapters that fit the popular Toyota transfer cases, including the 21-spline transfer case found in the ’79-’95 Toyota trucks. This will give you the ability to utilize a GM engine and transmission combination. The GM 4.3L V-6 is a great swap candidate for the early Toyota solid-axle 4x4s. The easiest transmission to use with the 4.3L would be the GM TH350 three-speed automatic transmission. If you want an Overdrive gear to keep your Toyota more highway friendly, the 700R4 or 4L60E four-speed automatics can be adapted. If a manual transmission with an Overdrive gear is more to your liking, Advance Adapters offers adapters to mate your factory transfer case to an NV4500 or NV3550.

Off Lift

I have a ’94 Chevy K1500 and would like to install a 4-inch suspension lift. Are there any kits that don't require cutting anything off in case I ever want to return it to stock height? Any information or advice on lift kits would be greatly appreciated.

Via forums

Unfortunately, all of the 4-inch lift kits for the ’88-’98 GM 1/2-ton trucks will require some type of cutting. Some kits require frame cutting and some require both frame and differential housing cutting. The cutting is necessary to accommodate the upper A-arm drop brackets and the dropped front differential. After the lift, the front driveshaft will want to be located in the same space as the exhaust. The factory exhaust will need to be cut and rerouted for all 4-inch lift kits.

Some of the lift kits can be more easily reversed than others. The Pro Comp ( 4-inch lift kit (part number K1053B) requires very little trimming to the frame with no trimming necessary for the aluminum front differential. It would not be too difficult for a shop to weld the pieces back into the frame so you could return the truck to stock height.

Now, having worked at an off-road shop and seen these kits installed for many customers, including several customers who were worried about the ability to return the truck to stock, I have never seen someone actually remove the lift kit. Admittedly, it might be more of a commitment than you think. A 4-inch lift kit will generally allow for a 305/70R16 tire. Under most conditions, the tires will fit fine. However, many people want to step into 33x12.50 or even 35x12.50 tires on a wide wheel, which will require fender trimming to keep the tires from rubbing at full steering lock. This type of modification is much more difficult and expensive to reverse than rewelding the frame bits back into place. I think that once most people went down this path, they simply didn’t see lift reversal as an option. You might want to consider a smaller leveling kit and smaller tires if lift removal needs to remain a viable cost-effective option.

4L80E Upgrade

Can I modify a ’96-and-earlier 4L80E four-speed GM automatic transmission to make it the same as the ’97-and-later 4L80E?

97 flyer
Via forums

No, the ’91-’96 4L80E cannot be converted to the much more desirable ’97-up version. The early ’91-’96 4L80E is known to have a low-quality connector that passes through the case, although most have been upgraded by now. There are several internal differences that do not interchange between new and old 4L80E transmissions. The biggest difference is the lubrication. Both cooling lines are behind the bellhousing on the older 4L80E. The ’97-’99 4L80E has an improved lubrication system where one of the oil cooler lines is located behind the bellhousing and the other is farther towards the back of the transmission. The ’00-’03 4L80E is the same as the new-style 4L80E, except it has the LS bellhousing bolt pattern and the ’04-and-up received some valvebody changes. Ultimately, if you want a better 4L80E, your best bet is to locate a good used ’97-’99 core to have rebuilt.

Sprinter Rolling Stock

I have a ’12 German factory-made Sprinter 4x4 van with dual rear wheels. Does anyone know where I could source an 18-inch aftermarket wheel kit?

Via forums

The Mercedes Benz Sprinter 4x4 has a lug pattern of 5-on-130mm. Unfortunately, I don’t currently know of any aftermarket dual rear wheels for the Sprinter 4x4, much less 18-inch-diameter wheels for that application.

However, there are lots of 16-inch wheels and even 17-inch wheels for the single rear wheel Sprinter 4x4s. Method Race Wheels ( offers the 301, also known as The Standard in a 17x7.5-inch size for the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4. They are available in matte black or machined aluminum finishes.

Even if they are available somewhere, you might want to rethink the 18-inch wheels. Stepping into an 18-inch wheel would decrease the sidewall height on an already short tire, making pinch-flats more of a concern in the dirt. If you plan to use the Sprinter off-road, it would be better to stick with 16- or 17-inch wheels. The additional sidewall will help protect the wheels and let the tread better envelop the terrain and off-road obstacles. The smaller diameter wheels will allow your Sprinter to roll more smoothly both on- and off-road too. The only plus side to running a larger diameter wheel on your Sprinter or any 4x4 would be crisper on-road handling at speed.

Ford F3 4x4 Swap

I’m restoring a ’49 Ford F3, which when finished will be my everyday driver. For this reason I’m converting it to four-wheel drive. I’m putting a Ford 9-inch in the rear and a Dana 44 up front. My question is which is better for an everyday driver, the solid axle Dana 44 or the TTB Dana 44? Remember, I will not be off-road with it. I’m only installing four-wheel drive for the snow and ice in the winter.

Zach Harmon
Via forums

The axle assembly you choose will depend on your personal suspension preference, your fabrication abilities, and which transfer case you plan to use. The Ford Twin-Traction Beam (TTB) axle and steering assembly will require more careful measuring and much more fabrication for installation into the Ford F3 chassis. The ride will depend on the springs and shocks you choose, but generally a TTB suspension will roll over bumps more smoothly than a solid axle with a comparable suspension attached to it. The downside of the TTB is the unusual tire wear that comes with it.

If you are considering the ’80-’96 Ford fullsize TTB Dana 44, I’ll assume you have a driver-drop transfer case to match the driver-side differential of the TTB axle. There are several driver-side differential Dana 44 front solid axles that can match the width of your Ford 9-inch rear axle, assuming it came from an F-150 or fullsize Bronco. If so, the ’74-’86 fullsize truck Ford 9-inch is about 64 inches wide at the wheel mounting surfaces and came with a 5-on-5.5 lug pattern. The obvious solid front axle to swap in would be the high-pinion Dana 44 from a late ’70s 1/2-ton Ford 4x4 truck or Bronco. It matches the width, differential drop, and lug pattern you need. However, these can be difficult to find, and when you do find them they are usually not very affordable. The low-pinion Dana 44 from a ’80-up Jeep J-truck or Wide-Trac FSJ Cherokee meets most of your needs. It can usually be found for far less cash outlay up front. It nearly matches the width of your Ford 9-inch rearend and can be converted to the 5-on-5.5 lug pattern with a spindle, wheel hub, and brake rotor swap.

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