Bolt on better brakes for your Toyota Tacoma

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    Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

    One of the things we love about Toyotas is their parts interchangeability. You can take the high-pinion third member out of the front of a 1997 Land Cruiser and put it into the axlehousing of your 1979 Hilux. Or mate a Supra six-cylinder engine directly to the transmission in your 1988 4Runner. In this story we are bolting the brake rotors and calipers from the front of a 2001 Tundra onto our 1996 Tacoma. All of the parts necessary are readily available from RockAuto, and the same upgrade can also be performed on FJ Cruisers, third-generation (1996-2002) 4Runners, and second-generation (2006-2015) Tacomas.

    Why bother? Brakes are an often overlooked component that might not be as sexy as coilover shocks or huge, aggressive tires, but brakes (along with steering) are the most critical components on your 4x4. And adding those big, aggressive tires results in increased braking distances due to the added leverage and mass. Brakes operate on the same principle, where larger diameter rotors and bigger brake pads increase braking power. Our 60-0 braking distances decreased from 149 feet to 127 after installing the Tundra brakes. We will sleep well tonight knowing that our stopping distances were cut by the equivalent of a bus full of nuns.

    Other Toyota Brake Upgrades
    If you have a factory solid axle truck (1979-1985) you can upgrade from solid rotors to vented rotors from an FJ60 Land Cruiser along with calipers from a 1986-1995 IFS pickup. Note that V-6 pickups used brake calipers with larger brake pistons than four-cylinder–equipped trucks.

    Brake Pad Bedding
    For optimal performance from your new brakes, the pads and rotor have to work in conjunction with each other. Proper bed-in procedure establishes that compatibility. Bedding in involves a gradual accumulation of heat in the rotors and pad compound. This process will lay down a thin layer of transfer film on to the rotor surface. To bed the pads, make 10 stops from approximately 35 mph with moderate pressure. Then make two to three hard stops from 45 mph. After this, allow the brakes to cool completely. Now you are ready to enjoy your new brakes at their maximum potential.

    RockAuto had everything we needed in stock, and it all arrived on our doorstep two days after we placed the order. We used 231mm-wide calipers (13WL), but narrower 199mm-wide (13WE) calipers are also available for applications with limited space. Plan to eat your core charge when you order the different calipers from RockAuto, but this is still a very affordable upgrade when compared to aftermarket racing calipers.

    The Tundra brake calipers are significantly wider than the factory Tacoma calipers to accommodate the wider brake rotor. We ordered “loaded” calipers, which come with brake pads already installed and ready to run. If you have a particular brake pad preference you can purchase the calipers “unloaded” and buy the pads of your choice from RockAuto.

    The Tundra rotors have the same diameter, bolt pattern, and hub bore diameter as the factory Tacoma rotors, which makes for a bolt-on installation. The difference is in the thickness of the rotors and the 7/8-inch increase to 1 1/8 inches. The thicker rotors are capable of dissipating heat faster for fade-free braking.

    The new Tundra calipers are 1 1/2 inches longer than the Tacoma calipers, so the dust shield must either be trimmed or removed to accommodate the size. We removed the dust shields entirely since we find that they can trap small rocks and debris off-road. Smaller 13WE calipers do not require any modifications to the dust shields.

    Looking down at the brakes, it is easy to see how much thicker the new rotor and calipers are. The rotors we got from RockAuto are also cryogenically treated, which has been demonstrated to decrease wear and increase rotor life. Note that the mounting surface thickness is the same between the rotors, so the lug stud thread engagement length is unchanged.

    Our new brakes fit under some, but not all, 16-inch-diameter wheels. Fortunately fitment was not a problem with our TRD rims. The issue is the width of Tundra calipers more than the height, so proper backspacing becomes critical.

    How tight is the fitment? The wheel weights on our 16-inch rims hit the new calipers, so we will be switching to stick on weights that will clear the calipers We performed before and after 60-0 testing in a controlled environment to quantify the braking improvement. For a modest investment and an afternoon in the garage we were able to significantly improve the braking on our Tacoma both on the road and off.

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