Bringing home a used 4x4 often requires a lot of undoing and repairing things that the previous owners cobbled together, deemed good enough, or completely overlooked. Once you get those issues out of the way, you can start in on the improvements to a new-to-you toy. Our 1997 Toyota Tacoma pickup is more of an adventure 4x4 for us, so for now we’ve skipped over the hardcore off-road products like solid axle swaps, huge tires, lockers, and so on. This truck will mostly see unimproved roads and long highway jaunts away from civilization to the outdoors. However, we still need to cover the basic on- and off-road fundamentals. To do that, we addressed five important areas of our pickup. These upgrades are simple modifications that can be made to almost any 4x4 over a lazy weekend.
The original shocks had 145,000 miles on them and were long overdue for replacement. For a smooth controlled ride on- and off-road, the Bilstein 4600-series monotube shocks are hard to beat. The 4600 shocks come in direct bolt-in applications for many different 4x4s. More aggressive drivers should consider the bolt-in 5100 series remote-reservoir shocks where applicable. Factory coilover shocks, like those on our Tacoma, will require a strut spring compressor for installation. We found this one at the local Harbor Freight store (PN 43753).
Up front, we replaced the stock shocks with Bilstein PN 24-022842. To accommodate our lift kit out back, we had to use Bilstein PN 24-184908 T-100 rear shocks with PN 2202G 3/4-inch bushings.
There were several factory parts that needed attention on our truck. One of the CV boots was in bad shape and flinging grease. Once contaminants get into the CV, it’s done. We replaced this entire halfshaft with a new one from the local auto parts store. It’s not fun, but it’s a simple repair that can be done with common hand tools.
Our well-worn brakes were marginal at best. The EBC Brakes S7 kits are a quick bolt-in brake upgrade for any 4x4 and can significantly increase braking performance. The kits include Orangestuff Jeep, truck, and SUV pads and BSD slotted rotors.
The EBC Brakes BSD rotors are made from a unique material known as discalloy. The machined slots in the braking surface help to remove hot gases and dust during hard braking. This keeps the pads running flatter and the brakes cooler. The black coating prevents corrosion and is designed to wear away from the brake surface as you bed in the brakes.
Our factory front rubber brake lines were not only overextended from an aftermarket lift kit, they were cracking and coming apart from age. If your brake lines look anything like this, they should be replaced.
To complete our brake install we added Pro Comp extended stainless steel braided brake lines (PN 7213). The new lines are several inches longer than stock to accommodate lifts and are much more durable than the factory rubber lines. In some cases you’ll even notice a firmer brake pedal after the installation of stainless brake lines.
Stock-replacement wet lead-acid batteries are notorious leakers when used off-road regularly. The shaking and abuse of off-roading can also cause the battery to come apart and fail internally. AGM batteries like those from Optima are far more durable and cannot leak. The acid inside is actually a paste. We prefer the Optima YellowTop deep-cycle batteries because they can be drained down by a winch, stereo, or off-road lights and then replenished more times than the RedTop starting batteries. Our Tacoma uses a reverse terminal group 35 battery (PN 8040-218 D35).
Every 4x4 should have front recovery points. Someone had removed the factory hook from our truck. We found a used replacement online. If your 4x4 doesn’t have front tow hooks, you can check with your dealer to see if there is an optional kit you can add. Otherwise, you may need to find a way to adapt aftermarket tow points.
Our truck had no tow points out back. We added an aftermarket tow hitch and stuffed it with a U.S.- made Factor 55 aluminum 9,500-pound-capacity HitchLink 2.0 and Crosby 3/4-inch shackle. To make sure our fancy clevis mount stays with our truck, we secured it with a Bolt receiver lock that is programmed using the Toyota ignition key.
We often say tires and wheels make the truck. This is not only true for looks but performance too. We capped off our wheel ends with 31x10.50R15 General Grabber MT tires mounted on Pro Comp 15x8 69 Series polished aluminum wheels. The new General mud tires needed very little weight to balance out and seem to hook up well in a variety of wet and dry on- and off-road environments. Currently, sizes are limited, but we’re told more sizes are on the way.