The words "it's a great trail rig" and "this is my daily driver" are not typically part of the same conversation. Making any vehicle perform really well on the trail is something we all want, but doing it without sacrificing the way it tackles the duties of daily street driving can be difficult. In the past we've built and witnessed many 4x4s that quickly cross that threshold of very streetable to trailer rig with just a few mods. Those large, luggy tires and trail-centric mods work great on the hardcore stuff but can have an adverse effect on-road. But what if you could actually find the zone where road and trail were both managed not just adequately, but fluently by the rig? With new tire technology, well-designed and -built stock-type steering boxes, and a winch that has your back if the going gets rough, we were on a quest with our 2004 SAS Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4 to find that on-/off-road harmony.
Leaky Sector Shaft Seal
We've been wanting to make the jump to 37s for some time to drive a more trail-worthy and proportionate-looking Toyota Tacoma, but the last time we took that route on a Toyota 4Runner from 35s it turned into a rig we had to haul to the trailhead on a trailer. Times have definitely changed, though, as we're now in a 20-year-newer truck with a front three-link, dual-rate coilover suspension. Our moment of knowing it was time to make the jump to larger tires came when driving back from an off-road event and the power steering box sector shaft seal started leaking badly. We seized the opportunity to replace the steering box with a stout unit, install the 37-inch tires we've been wanting, and make any necessary body, bumper, and other mods it would take to clear the larger meats as they stuffed into the wheelwells. We also felt this would be a good time to mount a more reliable winch since we would now be venturing onto trails where having a stout winch might mean the difference between getting out of a bad situation easily or breaking something trying to get unstuck.
New Steering Box, Tires, Winch
Our first call was to Eric Hansen, owner of Yotamasters, to get the lowdown on the best replacement power steering box for our SAS Tacoma. He quickly pointed out that a Toyota power steering box from Yotamasters would work great on the trails we venture on, so we ordered one to replace the leaking unit. Next, we looked to General Tire to get a set of Grabber X3s in the model's largest size of 37x12.50x17 LT. As a bonus, this size allowed us to use our existing wheels and keep costs down. We like the General Grabber line as it has a great reputation in the off-road industry. Among other things, the tire has durable sidewall construction and excellent tread wear. The X3 tread pattern is a mud-terrain design that also works well in a variety of other conditions with a low level of road noise on the highway. Completing the upgrades is a Warn M8000-S winch. Having used an M8000 many times years ago on another vehicle and knowing something is going to work every time when you need it most sits well with us.
How We Did It
Since the steering box was in such bad shape we immediately tackled that portion of the install in our driveway. Once the steering was addressed, it was time to head over to see Mike Duval at Duval Offroad Designs in Newbury Park, California, to utilize his expertise with the bumper modifications for the winch installation, mounting and balancing the tires, and assessing some tire clearance issues. Follow along as we show you the major steps to swap the steering box; fit, fabricate, and mount a winch to our existing bumper; and the modifications the Tacoma needed to run the 37-inch tires.
On- and Off-Road Driving Impressions
After the installation of the new steering box, tires, and winch along with some trimming and relocating of the wiper fluid reservoir pump plug and tubing, we hit the trail for some testing. We wanted to flex the suspension to its full capacity and also put a substantial load on the steering box to see how everything would fit, work, and hold up to the new General Grabber X3 37-inch tires.
We got quite a bit of seat time at highway speeds on the way to the trailhead, and we were impressed by how stable the truck felt without any wandering, unwanted vibrations, and minimal tire noise. Also, driving on some tight, twisty canyon roads, we noticed the cornering and handling was very similar to how the truck felt when fitted with 35s even though the truck now had heavier tires and a tad higher center of gravity. Overall, the Tacoma performed well both on the highway and on the trail, and our only regret is not initially going to 37s when we first installed the solid axle over 6 years ago.