One major aspect of the quest to make a properly capable off-road rig out of my 2018 Lexus GX460 has been improving and increasing protection from the things that try to damage it on the trail. With a big, Aussie-style metal bumper fitted up front, the next step was to ditch the stock running boards and add rock sliders to protect the rocker panels. White Knuckle Off Road Products has long been a standout in the world of armoring up Toyota 4x4s, and the company graciously stepped in and sent over a set of its fully-welded DOM bolt-on rock sliders for me to install and test on the GX460.
A few decades back, “rock rails” were designated to the hardcore rock crawlers; few others messed with them. But modern extensive and expensive bodywork has meant a corresponding increase in the need to stick some metal between the front and rear tires, and the rising weight of vehicles has in turn also meant a need for something deliberately designed to slide over rocks rather than get hung up on them (as bodywork tends to do).
My Lexus has a mild Ironman 4×4 lift kit and stands on 285/70/17 Toyo Open Country A/T III tires. It isn’t a marvel of ground clearance, so adding the White Knuckle sliders is all that more important to keeping the truck in undamaged, unharmed running order. Rock sliders are the tool for the job; the big metal tubes span nearly the length of the wheelbase and exist to help the vehicle pivot on, over, or around obstacles like rocks and tree stumps. Rock sliders can also serve as a hi-lift jack point should you need to change a tire or do a trail-side repair, and, at least in the case of those seen here, can be used as a step for getting into the truck.
Beefing up the GX
White Knuckle Off Road Products’ products are extremely heavy-duty (they weigh in the realm of 60 pounds each) and are constructed of a .120” DOM x 1-¾” outer rub rail, 3/16″ thick x 2″ x 3″ rectangular tube main rub rail, and 3/16″ thick x 1-1/2″ square tube legs. The mounting plates are ⅜” thick, and the gussets are ¼” thick. These things are meaty. There’s the option for bare metal or black powder coating as well as the choice of an 11-degree upward angled kick-out or totally flat out away from the vehicle. The set shown here is powder coated and features the “straight away from the body” kick-out as well as the tread plating that allows it to better serve as a step. Worthy of note is that White Knuckle Off Road Products’ rock sliders designed for the 2010-2022 Lexus GX460 also work on the 5th-gen 2010-2022 Toyota 4Runner since they share a platform.
Mounting the rock sliders is by way of huge u-bolts, which allow the job to be done without welding. This makes for a product that can be installed without special tools, which is a huge point for those doing the job in their driveway like I did.
Installation: The start
(I’m going to cover install for a KDSS-equipped GX460; note that install for 4Runners varies slightly). Also, I highly recommend referencing the instructions provided in the kit as well as those available on the product page for these sliders. And while there’s no dedicated YouTube walk-through for install of this brand’s products, watching a few videos of the process for other sliders did help my understanding of what needed to be done. What follows below is a combination of White Knuckle’s instructions paired with my pointers, tips, and screw-ups that will hopefully make the process easier for anyone reading this and installing their own set. Anyways, here’s the overview of the installation process:
- First, remove the factory side steps and the lights attached to them. This is done by unbolting the brackets from the frame as well as from the door sills (you have to open the doors to undo the top bolts).
- Optional: Here you can go about trimming the plastic part of what was just removed so as to make the rock slider appear to sit “flush” with the body. I left the stock rocker panels off the truck as, in my experience, unless you’ve done this countless times and have perfected the art of matching up newly modified body panels, the rock slider will in some capacity contact the rocker panel which will in turn contact the surrounding bodywork. Solution? Keep it as far out of the way as possible, which in this case is off the vehicle. It might not look as “complete,” but it’s less of a hassle in the short and long run. The choice is yours.
Installation: Driver side
- Before getting the slider near the truck, you need to create clearance for the u-bolt towards the back part of the frame rail between axles, and doing so means moving the hard lines away from the frame itself. Here’s what WKOR says to do:
“On the driver side rear mounting position, you will need to unsnap the plastic clip from the frame that holds the hard lines on the top of the frame (this can be done easily with a flat screw driver). Clean the area of the frame where the plastic spacer will be fixed. Expose the adhesive on the two sided tape and attach the plastic spacer between the frame and the hard line clips then secure assembly in original location on frame. This will allow the U-bolt to be pushed through from the back side of the frame.”
- My notes:
- I, and many others who have installed bolt-on sliders of this type, have found this step difficult. The plastic clip is not visible with the naked eye; I was only able to see it by putting my phone between the body and frame and taking a picture of it (which did admittedly help me understand exactly what needed to be done).
- Place the rock slider on jack stands (or a pump jack, which I found to be easier as I was doing this alone and it allowed me to adjust the height as needed). Position the slider in place so that the mounting plates (the flat vertical pieces) stay between the frame and the hard lines and braking cable.
- Begin attaching the slider to the frame. Here’s WKOR’s instructions for the process:
“Start with the front mount by installing the washer and locking nut on the upper U- Bolt leg as this area is more difficult because of the lack of space and may require movement of the slider towards the rear of the vehicle to gain the space needed to install the washer and locking nut. NOTE: Slide the U-bolt up from the bottom against the inside of the frame to insure brake lines, etc. will not be pinched by the U-bolt Figure 3. Temporarily remove the screw that attach the hard lines to the inside frame rails Figures 3 & 4 to allow for more working space. The U-bolt at the rear on the driver’s side (marked with tag) may be difficult to put into place due to the restricted space but we have shortened it about 1/2″ to make it easier to twist into place. Keep it as far to the rear as possible.”
- My notes:
- WKOR recommends not installing this u-bolt until all of the gussets/brackets are in place, but I found it might make for an easier go of the ordeal given the extremely tight quarters up front and relatively enormous amount of space (we’re talking differences in millimeters here) at the middle and back.
- This is where it got really tricky. I had difficulty getting the front lined up and more difficulty getting the front u-bolt over and around the frame. Then I removed the gas tank skid, which made a huge difference and was immediately something I wished I had done from the start.
- Additionally, I wasn’t able to get everything lined up *perfectly* so there was, and remains, some contact between the u-bolt and the hard lines. In order to avoid the two from harming one another, I wrapped the hard lines with rubber fuel hose/line. The stuff has enough cushioning to allow for some give while still preventing everything from making a big mess of the close-quarters situation.
- Add the bolt-in gussets/brackets to the center and rear, then push the u-bolts through.
- Replace the 8mm KDSS hard line bolt closest to the rear slider mounting bracket with the supplied M8 x 30mm bolt and 7/16” spacer (1/2” nut) to be placed between the frame and hard line bracket after the slider has been installed.
- Tighten all of the hard line and parking brake cable bracket bolts. Make sure none of the hard lines are touching the slider mounting plates.
- Tighten everything up evenly.
- Jump up and down on the slider once or ten times to make sure it’s on there good and tight.
Installation: Passenger side
- Do everything you did with the driver side but with significantly more space to work with. Lift up the slider so the mounting plates are along the frame, then position the gussets/brackets in place. Push the u-bolts up along the frame then turn them 90 degrees and slide the brackets through the holes in the gussets/brackets and mounting plates. Tighten evenly.
- Jump up and down on the slider once or ten times to make sure it’s on there good and tight.
- Good power tools are a life saver for this install. I love Milwaukee’s line and used the 18V impact gun and 12V electric ratchet extensively for this job.
- If you can avoid it, I highly recommend not installing these on a paved driveway during some of the hottest days of the year.
- A floor jack is invaluable if you’re doing this alone; just be sure to balance the slider properly or you’ll be picking it up off the ground.
- If your vehicle is from the Northeast (or anywhere that salt is used on the roads to prevent ice in the cold months), chances are there’s *at least* some surface rust build-up underneath it. The frame and suspension components of my Lexus are far from pretty but every bit of rust is solely on the surface. Had it been worse, it would have been beneficial to soak the bolts and screws that need to come off for the job a few days prior in some kind of penetrating oil or WD40.
- Whether you take the gas tank skid off or not is up to you (it isn’t mandatory), but it made my life a lot easier for that driver side front portion.
- Getting the u-bolts in place is difficult. You have to slide them up parallel along the frame, then turn them so the threaded stems run along the top and bottom of the frame for them to go through the mounting brackets/gussets/plates. Especially on the driver side front, clearance is an issue. It takes some effort, but everything does and will fit.
- The “gussets” (brackets) that effectively connect the slider to the frame can be a PITA to get lined up with the u-bolts, but a small hammer and impact gun can help get a nut onto a bolt and get that bolt lined up and on the threads, which can bring everything in line. The “right” way to do it? Probably not. Did it work when I was desperate? You betcha.
- The clearances at the top of the u-bolts are extremely tight. You’ll need an open-ended wrench; I recommend the ratcheting type.
More work than I planned, but absolutely worth it
Now, I must admit that this install wasn’t as easy as I expected. It turns out that the hard lines are in fact hard and hard to work with, so understanding how to leverage them when needed goes a long way. Hell, I used a ratchet strap at one point when I hit my desperation point, and I can’t in good conscience recommend you do the same, but it worked. The entire installation process took me much longer than it would anyone who isn’t documenting the process as they go, and I expect doing this the second time can result in half as long of a process. The same goes for if you have access to a lift, as it would make a lot of the arm and body maneuvering much easier.
My initial impressions of the White Knuckle Off Road rock sliders are strong. The size fits the GX460 well, and the construction makes me believe they’ll be able to take the beating that they’re designed to withstand. Though they add a considerable amount of weight (each slider is about 65-70 pounds), the penalty in mass is well worth the increase in protection. Rock sliders aren’t a modification worth the time, money, or effort unless you risk bashing the rocker panels into something like a rock or tree, or if you don’t anticipate needing to use them to pivot around the aforementioned obstacles. But should you be part of this small group that does use their off-road capable 4WD SUV as the 4×4 gods intended, rock sliders are well worth their weight in gold. Install on a KDSS-equipped vehicle was a bear, but it’ll pay off when the truck emerges from run-ins with relatively immobile objects unscathed.
Note: White Knuckle Off-Road sent me the rock sliders on their dime for testing and reviewing purposes. I intend to fully use them to their limit, and want to thank WKOR for being part of this ongoing project. Also note I am by no means a professional mechanic and everything herein is purely for advice purposes and not meant to be an exact tutorial. For more about this modification (and others), be sure to listen to The Off the Road Again Podcast.