Armor is important to me because I want to come home. A lot of expedition driving is done in remote locations and things do break. You should have spare parts with you (or with your group) if you are in the back of beyond. That's why there is armor. The armor will get scuffed and won't look as pretty as new if you use your rig, but it will help bring you home at the end of the day.
My Selection Criteria
- ARB with Bull Bar was selected based on the rugged nature of the construction, the practical nature of the design, and the proven concept put into action. No, I don't anticipate running into kangaroos, but it's not unlikely that I'll smack into a deer at one time or another. Hopefully the front end will survive the impact and allow me to continue my trip. It mounts the Warn winch effectively and allow me access to the winch while wrapping it in steel. The minimalist concepts of bumper design don't appeal to me and the weight differential isn't terribly important. I haven't had many problems with approach angles on the front end and when I did, I screwed up the "ARB spacer plate" that rests between the bottom of the bumper and the top of the BudBuilt front skid. Answer - Bud built a steel skid to fit in the gap and powder coated it red for me.
- I upgraded from stock to a Fab Fours rear bumper. It was a horrible mistake (and an expensive one). While the bumper itself was stylish, the swing-arm sagged horribly and dangerously. The locking latch broke after I'd had it for two weeks. I patched it but was never happy with it. Finally I convinced Jason DeMello to fabricate an "ultimate" rear bumper with swing-out and have been EXTREMELY happy with the results.
- BudBuilt are my choice because they provide maximum coverage to the belly of the FJ Cruiser. I have heard others praise "minimalist skids". To me "minimalist skid" is an oxymoron. I want the bottom protected in the most effective way possible. I have beat the heck out of my BudBuilt skids time-and-time-again and they still maintain their shape, their coverage and while I am amazed, I am continually happy that I selected Bud as my skid-maker. Bud rocks on rocks.
E-Locker Motor Skid
- I like the Inchworm skid to protect the E-Locker Motor. Without a skid, your motor can be taken out by a rock and then you have an expensive repair and no locker on the rear. After looking at a couple of options, I found Inchworm to be the best. You need to buy new attaching bolts since the Inchworm doesn't come with them, but otherwise, it's an easy installation. There are other options that require you to "grind and fit". Why would I buy that?
- I have ARB sliders and slider skid plates. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought DeMello sliders. It isn't that the ARB skids don't do the job. The ARB sliders are strong, they have held up very well (almost too well because I won't replace them until they are beat beyond recognition). The DeMello sliders protrude from the side of the FJ and provide additional protection while offering a step to passengers who may wish to get into the passenger compartment.
RealWheels Tail Light Guards
- People talk trash on tail light guards and say they're bling and don't protect the lights. Wrong. I have had 3 saves so far (12/07). They're worth the money and they do protect those protruding rear lights from getting smashed. Update: Five saves later, they gave up the ghost. Real Wheels has increased their price - way too high IMO and I'm considering Manic as a replacement.
Misc. Skid Parts
- When I was new to FJ ownership and had very little experience with vendors, I did buy a couple of parts from All Pro. Never again, but there are some small bended pieces of All Pro metal on my rig: protecting the trailing edge of the rear lower control arm and the lower edge of the rear shock absorber. I think these are important to protect your rig but there are places to buy them other than All Pro. The rear portion of the rear differential is thin enough that it's important to add a plate there to protect your differential from rocks when you're backing up. Again, I bought a steel plate from All Pro and welded it there.
---There is no armor against fate.
- James Shirley
Helpful Hint #1
: Don't over-drive your FJ Cruiser. There are things that you must to at times that strain the vehicles capabilities. We all understand that. All that aside, try and keep within safe operating limits. It's not a sand rail, it's not a rock buggy, it's an FJ Cruiser.
If you do expedition driving you or somebody in your party will get in a position where they'll need help getting out of a mess. Sometimes you run onto somebody on the trail who is stuck. You need to help if nothing else because of karma. The next time it might be you up to the axles in mud. My choices for recovery equipment reflect an interest in coming home at the end of the day. Expedition driving is an exercise in teamwork. Recovery is a team effort.
- I selected the Warn XD9000 (built for the ARB bumper). Warn is the most trusted name in winches. They've been in business a long time and they build a rugged winch. The 9000 lbs. winch is sufficient for the FJ Cruiser. Yes, there are other brands of winches but I only really considered the Warn.
- The first thing I did when I installed the winch was to spool out the steel line and install Viking Kevlar Winch Line. Synthetic line does not hold kinetic energy and is MUCH SAFER while imparting considerable force to the effort of winching. I have used it a number of times since I installed it and I love it. I have a safety thimble on the front of the line because it's safe and I use shackles as connectors not a hook. Winching can be dangerous if a line parts under a load. Best to take all precautions.
- I part company with my friends who use synthetic line and don't use rollers on their fairlead to protect their synthetic line. I use Delrin Fairlead Rollers and wouldn't do it any other way. It's about protecting the line.
Straps, shackles, ARB snatchblock, etc.
- I don't want to go into the use of a snatchblock here. There is a section you can reference (above) on this thread through a hyperlink. It's important to have one, but know how to use it before you practice with it on the trail. Yes, you should always use a tow strap and heavier shackles are better than lighter ones.
- If you've modified the suspension, the OE jack is near worthless for trail repairs or even tire repairs on the street (sorry). I am NOT a fan of the Hi-Lift jack. There are amazing things you can do with a Hi-Lift and the BELLYDOC has done some very cool write-ups on it. I do have and use a Hi-Lift jack because they are the only thing on the market that does what they do. (again, it doesn't mean I love them). If you have a Hi-Lift jack and sliders, you need a WabFab slider attachment so that the jack won't slip from the rig, damaging it - easily. The Hi-Lift might still slip from where you've attached it, but the WabFab means that it is less likely. I also have the ARB Bushranger X-Jack. It's safer than a Hi-Lift, and works very well, using the rig's exhaust to inflate it. Or you can use CO2 from a tank or air from your compressor to inflate the X-Jack. ARB makes excellent products and I keep this with me in addition to the Hi-Lift because there are a number of places where a Hi-Lift doesn't work well, especially in mud or in off-camber situations where the X-Jack excels.
- If you need to winch, you need something to attach the winch to. If there are no giant rocks or heavy trunked trees handy and your friends aren't there to pull you out, the Pull Pal anchor works to help extract you from the horrible place you've found yourself. It's a proven piece of hardware and it's essential for an expedition.
- I haven't found a lot of need for sand ladders, but bridging ladders are another matter. Somebody in your party needs to bring them along on the expedition. Notice that I don't equivocate. Your party should have them available because there are occasions when you absolutely need them to bridge a bad place. They can also serve the same purpose as sand ladders - but sand ladders aren't any good for bridging. They're not heavy enough.
---An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Benjamin Franklin
Helpful Hint #2
: Parts will break. Do what you can to prevent it, but have the skill sets in place to effect likely trail repairs and have the tools and parts with you/your party to do the work. If all else fails and you need to walk out, have water, flares and communications equipment with you. If it's too cold to walk out, have enough fuel, food and warm clothing to support yourself until help arrives. Always let others know where you are going and when you expect to return.
SUSPENSION AND TIRES
- There is an ongoing controversy over which tire size, which manufacturer, A/T or M/T and it rages on. I went with the 305/70R17 (34") Nitto Terra Grappler because I thought it was the best all-around tire for the sort of driving I do. If I lived on the Eastern half, or the Pacific Northwest portion of the US or Canada where there's a lot of mud driving, I would have gone for a mud tire. The larger, wider tires (34x12.5 inches) provide for a greater air-down capability while maintaining maximum clearance. I chose the 17 inch wheel because of more balancing options with more wheel space to put led on.
- The Walker Evans Beadlocks are written-up (above) in this thread. I have a wide ring because of rocks and to provide more support for the wheel and tire. If I drove in clay mud a lot, I would go to a narrow locking ring. The WE Beadlock allows me to air-down to near run-flat levels while maintaining support for the tire.
- Donahoe Racing suspension was my choice for several reasons. Their factory is physically located very close to me, they have a great reputation and a wonderful warranty philosophy and they are a RACING company that runs what they build (hard) on the Toyota FJ Cruiser
. I have DR shocks, DR coils on the front and OME heavy duty coil-overs (OME-896) on the back, supporting the auxiliary fuel tank and the Fab Fours bumper. My front upper control arms are also made by Donahoe and I have augmented my suspension with Light Racing jounce shocks replacing the stock bump stops. I am running custom after-market lower control arms, modified by Currie. As a package, I have a great street and trail ride with the ability to manage extra expedition weight effectively.
---spinning tires=broken parts
- My Father
Helpful Hint #3
: Only part of it is what
you drive. The key to success is with the driver (and a spotter you can trust when you need it). If you can't wheel the rig, you are going to get into trouble eventually.
- The Midland 75-822 Handheld CB Radio with Vehicle Adapter is certainly not the best Citizen Band radio n the market. It's one of the least expensive but my use for the CB Radio is very close range trail use. You could attach two soup cans with a string between FJC's and get essentially the same results that I need. I've gone through five antenna's to date on the FJ (in about 9 months), lost to trail damage primarily from cedar branches. As of this writing I've dropped my antenna length from 5 feet to 4 feet and now I have a 3 foot Firestick. Who knows how long that will last?
Two Meter Band Radio (HAM)
- I bought my Yaesu FT-1802 M/E 2 meter transceiver (65 watts output) from a Forum member who decided to upgrade. I selected Comet 3D5M mobile mounting hardware and the Diamond NR-770HA 2M/70CM 3/5.5dB Mobile Antenna
- There are a lot of options out there and it's an expensive piece of equipment to buy and use just for the FJ. When you're out there and well beyond cell phone range, a SAT Phone isn't a bad idea. I chose the Iridium 9505A Satellite Phone because it is lighter and more resistant to water, dust and shock than Motorola's original Iridium satellite phone. Iridium coverage extends worldwide and I also use it for work.
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
Helpful Hint #4
: The ability to communicate while on the trail will get you out of a lot more trouble than it will get you into.
- Overhead I use an N-Fab Light Bar forward and use 3 Acro X1870M modified beam pattern lights. From the ARB bumper, I use Hella six-inch Black Magic driving lights (arranged in a fog light pattern)
- I've got just about 360 degree coverage from 2 40 B/U PIAA Flood Lights forward on the forward N-Fab light bar and 2 40 B/U PIAA Flood Lights on the rear-facing N-Fab light bar.
- Airflow Headlight Covers protect my headlights from foreign object damage (FOD).
- I installed an LEDQUAD LED Strobe Light Bar on the rear N-Fab light bar. It's bright, it lets people know if you've stopped on the highway and it keeps other FJ's off your tail in heavy dust trail conditions.
- They're one of the least expensive modifications I've made and on trips, one of the most useful. I bought 2 Puck lights from Home Depot for about $6 each and attached them by pulling the OE headliner tabs in the back of the FJ, putting the tabs through the hole in the back of the Puck light and slapped them back in. When you're on the trail and you plan to sleep in the back of the FJ, they work great as overhead lights.
Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you.
Helpful Hint #5
: Is there any such thing as "too many lights"? For an expedition rig, you should have 360 degree flood light capability. It helps when you're camping and it helps when you're on the trail at night trying to negotiate a tough turn or when you find that you need to back up.
OTHER EQUIPMENT ADDITIONS/MODIFICATIONS/SUGGESTIONS
Lowrance Baja 540C GPS
- After extensive research, I settled on this GPS as being the best for my expedition use. It's flexible, has great coverage available outside of North America and is easy to see and use when mounted. I added Freedom Map Chips F103EX-S and F104EX-W and may add more later as needed. It's mounted where the rear view mirror used to be with the aid of the Shadow GPS Rear View Mirror Adaptor Mount.
- It's something that many of us take for granted, but needs to be mentioned to make my section complete. It's difficult to over-maintain your FJ Cruiser. The vehicle is robust but the most well built vehicle needs regular, scrupulous maintenance. Changing the oil in the transmission, front and rear differentials, the crank case, inspecting hoses and belts - replacing as necessary - will make your expedition a lot more worry free. Things might still break, but there is a far smaller chance of that happening if you "over maintain" the rig. If you think that you can squeeze another ten thousand miles out of the hoses, change them now.