What’s the purpose of a project vehicle?
Each enthusiast may have their own interpretation of the actual reason for said secondary (or even further-down-the-ladder) means of transportation in one’s fleet, but to me that purpose is to put a smile on my face. If absolutely nothing else, a project vehicle needs to make me smile. Simple as that. Happily, I can say that the Stormtrooper 4Runner is doing so – it induces a big ‘ol grin not just when walking up to or away from it, but when driving it as well.
All that fluffy lovey-dovey nonsense aside, the truck isn’t perfect by any means, which is something I’ve found out by spending time in and doing some basic work on it. It’s not the major stuff that needs attention but more the minor nit-picky things, those which you only notice by getting more comfortable and familiar with a vehicle you’ve just recently purchased. Not that I was surprised by the need to invest additional time and money, being that it comes with the territory of buying any used vehicle (and especially a modified one at that), but I’m doing what I can to be pro-active and to get the Stormtrooper 4Runner into as good shape as I deem appropriate for its intended duty. So, what’s been done in the time since I bought it?
Read on to find out.
First things first I had the truck inspected and did an oil change. The previous owner claims to have changed the oil about 3,000 miles ago but fresh fluid is never a bad thing and it also serves as a reference point for my own maintenance going forward.
Before driving it to and from work I removed the roof-rack mounted awning. It’s utterly unnecessary for daily use and, due to the ultra-low clearance of the parking garage at my apartment building, could jeopardize the truck fitting at all. Being that the awning attaches via four bolts, re-installation will require no more than ten minutes.
Next up was to update some of the front-end components. It was evident that many of the parts that were originally installed by Toyota upon initial production were still on the vehicle, so remedying this was necessary. Involved in fixing what immediately needed attention were wheel bearings and tie-rod ends. All relatively normal wear items, so nothing major here.
Knowing the installation of tie rod ends and/or the whole assemblies themselves usually means misalignment, and especially not wanting to have to replace the tires anytime soon, I brought the truck in to have the front end squared up. Apparently things were off by quite a bit, but after the shop corrected everything it drives straight as an arrow with no hands on the wheel at 70 MPH. The wheels/tires need re-balancing, but they’re not horribly out of balance. To be dealt with later.
Then after work one day I did a bunch of upkeep that was an easy way to freshen up the truck. I started by removing any unnecessary items from the interior (sleeping platform included) and vacuuming it to the best of my ability. Turns out the carpet is in pretty great shape, something that was nearly shocking to find given how much time the vehicle has spent off-road. After cleaning the interior and wiping it down with a basic detailing product, I used Meguiar’s Air Re-Fresher to make it smell like a truck that hasn’t spent so much time off-road.
While the air freshening product was doing its job I washed the windows and applied Rain-X, and found that the bracket that holds an old and in-need-of-replacement passenger side windshield wiper on the arm has an affinity for shattering in your hand. I also changed the cabin filter, which is undoubtedly the first time that’s been done on this truck (see the picture above for evidence of how badly it needed replacing). After spending a couple hours doing basic cleanup, I drove over to the local auto parts store and replaced the windshield wipers; not knowing how old the one remaining wiper was, and fearing it breaking off like the other did, a new set was an easy way to have not only definite improved visibility in rain and snow, but also to know that there’s a new set as of right around the time I bought the rig. Reference points, if nothing else.
After all this I signed up for my first “sanctioned” off-road trip, which I’m indescribably excited for and think about every day. It should be an absolute blast and, even though I don’t plan on running any super-difficult trails, will give me a good idea of where the truck and I am in terms of abilities. Not only that, but it also gives me an opportunity to check out an off-road park I still haven’t been to despite having ridden thousands of miles off-road on my ATV. Off-road adventures are the best, and I’m hoping this sticks to that theme.
A few days later I took the truck on its first “adventure,” a Sunday trip to a hiking spot that’s only accessible by driving a couple miles down a dirt road. You can absolutely take a normal car there, which I’ve done with the Subaru, but bringing the 4Runner added a new sense of excitement and also took away any worry that comes with the territory of driving a low-slung car on a crater-ridden, muddy and rocky pseudo-road. I even had to put the truck into 4WD, having parked in a muddy rut that the truck sunk about 6” further into over the time we were in the woods, and it worked flawlessly. Great success.
All that said, a lot still needs doing:
- Skid plate: needs to be re-attached on the passenger side.
- Seafoam, spark plugs and wires: the engine runs well but I’m hoping to improve MPG.
- Suspension: not imminent, but will need to be replaced by summer.
- Sway bars: the previous owner removed the sway bars entirely, and it could certainly use a set for road-going purposes. Cornering is… interesting. A setup with quick-disconnects would be ideal.
- Passenger side upper ball joint: about half-way through its life, needs attention in the coming months.
- Driver seat: needs to be re-stuffed.
- Rock slider surface rust: needs to be sanded and re-painted.
- Shift knob: spins freely.
None of the above catastrophically hampers the truck’s functionality, but completing the items listed above will improve its capability both as a comfortable daily vehicle and an off-road companion alike. And yet, despite the updates and improvements it needs, the Stormtrooper 4Runner is already proving to be a great vehicle and one that I love more than I thought I would. Now… time for adventures.