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Can Truckin Make a Toyota Highlander Cool? The Final Chapter!

Finishing up our three-day build by splurging on a Pioneer head unit, custom glass tint, and a Jet Performance module.

Read More on This Toyota Highlander Project!
Day 1
Day 2

We finally made it. After weeks of planning and three days of hard work, we're bringing you the final chapter and big reveal of our quarantine experiment. Could we take this bone-stock, low-mileage 2001 Toyota Highlander 3.0L V-6 4WD and quickly and cheaply build it up to the point that most hardcore Truckin fans would think it was cool!? We've had the idea to do these sorts of experiments on a variety of vehicles that would be on the fringe of what we consider Truckin content, and the recent stay-at-home orders sealed the deal, so we tore into this crossover SUV, not knowing if we could even pull it off.

On the first day, we installed strut spacers that resulted in a 1.5-inch lift, followed by 16-inch Toyota steelies wrapped in 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.

The second day, we concentrated on getting the exterior up to our standards. We coated the grille black instead of Vintage Gold, and we replaced the yellowed headlights with some fresh ones. Then we ditched the weird louvered panels on the front bumper for a set of the factory foglights. In the rear, we deleted a couple of the badges and made the rest of them black to match the front. Finally, we installed a roof rack that mounts directly to the factory crossbars. Like we explained, the original thought was to attempt to do it in 48 hours for under 1,000 bucks, and while you're the true judge, we're pretty sure we pulled it off 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.

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. We were already in the home stretch of making the little SUV cool, and actually be able to take it out on some trails, but we had a few more tricks up our sleeves before calling it done.

On the final day. We did some running around and performed three final mods that have more to do with comfort and drivability than looks, but we deemed it all necessary to present a complete package once the Highlander build was complete. First, we went and saw Andy and crew at AP Sounds and Customs in Westminster, California. We knew they would have an upgraded head unit that would meet our needs for a good price, and we also wanted to get the front door glass tinted to match the rear glass. They knocked out the installation of both in just a couple hours. Our last stop before we took our final photos was to Jet Performance in nearby Huntington Beach for one of their Performance modules. This is a 19-year-old vehicle, so there's not a ton of easy performance options left on the shelf. We jumped at the chance to quickly and safely gain some pep in acceleration and a few ponies at the top end. And with that, we were calling it done.

All in all, we transformed the little egg-shaped SUV into a worthy driver and light off-roader with three days of moderate labor, and came in just under 1,500 bucks! Check out our process below, and let us know what you think! What should we apply our talent and resources to next?

Jet Performance Products was one of the very first companies to offer out-of-the-box tuning capabilities for computer-controlled vehicles. And luckily for us they still had a part number on the shelf. The V-Force module (PN 67029) was exactly what we needed to add some pep to the Highlander's step.
Our other big purchase for the day was a new head unit from Pioneer. The AVH-210EX is an entry-level double-din receiver that has all the bells and whistles you'd expect like USB and Bluetooth capabilities, minus Apple CarPlay. It even still plays CDs if you have any left! The price was tough to beat.
AP Sounds & Customs in Anaheim, California, has helped us out many times in the past, with simple head unit installs like this to full-blown big-bass audio systems. We knew they would have the right head unit for us and get it installed fast.
The crew made quick work of getting the center section of the dash unplugged and out of the SUV. Then the factory head unit was removed and the pioneer unit was mounted in place with the help of an install kit.
Soon we were returning the center section back into the dash with the new connectors plugged in. We powered it up and began programming it even before that!
Soon we were fine-tuning the sound and making the Bluetooth connection to our iPhone.
We were even able to get the colors adjusted to match the other dash lighting. It was nice to have the Highlander's cabin updated with modern conveniences like Bluetooth and USB connections.
While we were still at AP Sounds, we decided to tint the front door glass to match the rest of the glass on the SUV. Andy has the specs for every vehicle known to man, so he just punches in the vehicle specs, loads in the 50 percent shade roll of ceramic tint, and the plotter does the rest.
The film is first applied to the outside of the already-cleaned glass, and then a heat gun is used to create the contour in the film to match the glass.
Then the film's backing is peeled away and the film is transferred to the inside of the glass, where heat and a squeegee is used smooth it out flat on the glass.
We have never liked how the glass varies from door to door. But once it's uniform, it really cleans up the look of any vehicle.
Our next stop was Jet Performance in Huntington Beach, California, where we picked up a performance module to try to extract a few more ponies from the 3.0L V-6 engine. First, we had to run the harness through the fender and into the cab. Then we had these connections to contend with.
We found a safe spot for the harness to pass through the door jamb into the door seal, where it could travel up to the top of the dash.
Back under the hood, we disconnected the battery and then we popped off the fuse panel cover to attach the power wire to a 12-volt constant power source. We used a fuse tap to make the job easy.
We found a handy ground bolt on the strut tower to add our ground wire to.
The next task was to remove the plug from the throttle position sensor and locate the black and white wire; that's the one we tapped our brown wire into as per the instructions.
We located the red and yellow wire coming out of the mass airflow sensor plug and cut it in half.
Male and female connectors are added to each end, and the corresponding wires from the harness are connected. We like that if you wanted to return the tune to stock, you can simply plug the original wire back together.
Finally, we reconnected the battery, turned the key, and checked out the various display screens on the monitor. There's no program to install. The module simply adjusts the air fuel mixture and the throttle position. The beauty is in the simplicity.
We installed the mount on the windshield and took the Highlander for a victory lap because we were finished with this three-day build! We felt an increase in power all the way up to freeway speeds, but the low-speed acceleration was where we felt the biggest improvements.
Finally it was time for a quick detail and some photos (and maybe a little urban wheeling!). It's hard to believe what a difference a few days can make to a run-of-the-mill SUV like this. The rear of the Highlander saw some debadging as well as the blacking out of the remaining badges (we didn't want people to forget this thing has a V-6 and 4WD)! We also added a TRD license plate frame to get people to scratch their heads a little.
Up front, we blacked out the grille and added fresh headlights as well as the previously deleted foglights.
Even though it's just a 1.5-inch lift, the stance is what really improves the profile of the SUV. The benefits of the door glass tint are evident here, too.
The roof rack was the cheapest one that we could find that had the right measurements and not look cheap. We were actually impressed with the quality, and it helped us out a bunch in the looks department.
Our used wheel and tire combo were both great finds. We were insistent on finding factory Toyota steel wheels, as they reminded us of the wheels found on FJ Cruisers.
We really like how this thing came out. We hope you do, too. Frankly, it exceeded our expectations, and all the double-takes we get from people while driving it says it all.
Speaking of driving, we've pretty much been driving it nonstop since we finished it. It's been a blast. But now it's time to get back to our other projects. On to the next one!

Day Three:

Pioneer head unit: $170
Window tint: $100
Jet Performance module: $280
Day Three Total: $550
Day Two Total: $420
Day One Total: $510
Grand Total: $1480

Source Box:

AP Sounds and Customs
714.808.1612
ap12volt.com

Jet Performance
714.848.5500
www.jetchip.com