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Can Truckin Make a Toyota Highlander Cool? Day Two!

Continuing our 72-hour build with a roof rack and front-end treatment.

If you've been following along, you know that we may have been going a little stir crazy here at home and decided to scribble a little outside the Truckin lines and see if we could take an ordinary egg-shaped crossover SUV and make it cool. In other words, we wanted to bring this low-mileage 2001 Toyota Highlander 3.0L V6- 4WD up to our standards to the point that most hardcore Truckin fans would think it was cool and maybe even wouldn't mind having it in their driveway! The original thought was to attempt to do it in 48 hours for under 1,000 bucks, and while you're the real judge, we're pretty sure we accomplished that task by the end of this installment. But our minds are always racing, so it wasn't long before we decided to make it a three-day event and up the ante to $1,500.

Day One saw the Highlander get strut spacers that resulted in a 1.5-inch lift, 16-inch Toyota steelies, and a set of almost new Toyo Open Country A/Ts that measure 29.5 inches tall. We also used a set of hub-centric billet wheel spacers to keep from rubbing and get the look just right.

Moving into Day Two, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We needed to do a whole bunch of busy work to get the exterior looking the way we wanted it. We wanted the grille to be black instead of Vintage Gold, but you can't just buy a black grille because the side sections still need to match the paint. We also needed to replace the yellowed headlights with some fresh ones. This model also had a weird louvered piece where the foglights should be, and even though we would not have time to get them wired up, we wanted to fill the holes with the correct lighting. In the rear, we wanted to ditch a couple of the badges and make the rest of them black to match what was happening up front. Finally, we put together and installed a Rola roof rack that mounts directly to the factory crossbars. And we had to do all this in time to get back to New Century Tire for an alignment. Check out our process below, and see if you can guess what else we have in store for this little SUV on Day Three. We feel like we got it looking good, now we just need to make it a little more fun to drive!

As you may remember from Day One, our subject started out as a stock, low-mileage 2001 Toyota Highlander 4WD with a 3.0L V-6 with an automatic.
The front end is where we were going to spend the majority of the day. Some simple replacement parts and good old-fashioned elbow grease will make a huge difference.
We put up the hood to begin the removal process, then remembered we picked up a &N filter for our low mileage 3.0L engine.
So naturally, we opened up the air box, and ditched the dirty stocker for our new one.
To remove the grille, we pulled the plastic push clips that reside along the top edge.
There is another clip on each side that has to pop out, then slots along the bottom edge that will then slide out.
Then we pried off the Toyota logo from the center of the grille, being careful not to snap it in half.
Next, we taped off the small side panels that needed to remain gold. We used a leftover can of Eastwood's Elastiwrap; it would give us the matte black look we wanted, and it was removable in case we changed our minds about the grille in a few days.
Several light coats are recommended, so that's exactly what we laid down.
While the grille was drying, we swapped out the yellow and cloudy factory headlights with some fresh ones from Amazon. After the two top bolts are removed, the top of the bumper cover needed to be pulled out to access this bracket, which the directions said needed to be removed to get the light out. On the driver's side, we figured out you could skip all that and sneak the light out.
Headlights always make a great side-by-side comparison.
We moved the plugs to the new light, slid it in place, and fastened it back down. For cheapo replacements, they fit pretty well.
These louvered filler pieces bothered us from the fist time we noticed them. So we ordered up a set of factory-style foglights, hoping we could get them to light up before our 72-hour deadline.
We found the factory harness before we snapped the foglights in place. But a little research taught us that we needed a different turn signal arm to get factory results. The other options are to wire them to work full time when the headlights are on, or wire them totally independently using a switch found in the same era of Tacomas. We'll probably go for option three, but that will have to come later.
When everything was dry, we peeled the tape, revealing the gold sections of the grille we retained.
We painted the center badge in semi-gloss black just to get a little contrast on the grille. We used a little super glue to secure it in place.
The refurbished grille was slipped back into the bumper cover, the side clips were snapped back in, and the top clips were reinstalled. Of course, we were hitting everything with rubbing compound as we worked, so at this point the front end was finished and looking good!
In the rear, there wasn't a whole lot we could do, but we ditched the Toyota script on one side and the Highlander badge on the other.
Then we painted the remaining logo, V-6, and 4WD badges black. We might have confiscated a TRD license plate frame from an old project and bolted it up, too!
We picked out the Rola roof rack for a few simple reasons. At 160 bucks, it was the cheapest rack we could find that fit our dimensions and didn't look like garbage. When we opened up the box to examine it, we were actually fairly impressed with the quality.
The first step of assembling the rack was to combine the two ends and attach the set screws, then these runner covers hide both the seams and the screws. Simple but effective, just like everything else we're doing to the Highlander!
From there we attached the three-part clamps around the Rola rack and the factory crossbars, then cinched all four clamps down tight. Finally, we attached the air deflector with four more screws and decorated it accordingly.
We were happy with the front end at this point. The simple improvements actually made the 2001 Toyota look several years newer!
Again, there was not a lot that could be done out back, but we feel we cleaned things up a decent amount. But there was no time to waste before we jumped on the freeway from long Beach to the OC.
New Century Tire came through, just as they did the day before. This time with a precision alignment. We were the last customers of the day! Check back soon for the exciting conclusion of Day Three, where make one final push to make this little crossover SUV into a respectable ride!

Day Two Totals:

Headlights: $80
Fog lights: $80
K&N Filter: $50
Roof Rack: $160
Alignment: $50
Day Two Total: $420
Day One Total: $510
Grand Total: $930

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Source Box:

New Century Tire
714.901.1337
newcenturytire.com