My 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado has now been on US soil for over a year. For better or worse, it was completely stock when I bought it. It was well maintained but it needed some modernization. After some basic maintenance updates, I began modifying it. First, it received a new radio and suspension. I followed that up with a partial matte black wrap, which covered up the sun-damaged paint. Now, in part three of this series, the Prado is ready for the two things that make the biggest difference on any vehicle – wheels and tires.
The Ironman4x4 lift kit I installed made the Prado ride and drive much better. But it also created an additional gap between the factory wheels and the stock-sized tires. The tires that came from Japan happened to be relatively new and of good quality. I really did not need to replace the wheels or the tires. But also, I NEEDED(!) to replace them, because I am a mentally ill car dork and can’t leave well enough alone.
Modification 4: Tires
My choice of tires was a simple and obvious one – BFGoodrich’s excellent All-Terrain KO2 tires. I’ve had two sets of them on my old 4Runner. I have them on my Bronco. Jeff has them on his Montero. Ross has them on his Lexus GX. A friend of mine has them on his F-150 and another friend on his Defender. When the friend with the new Defender traded it in for a newer Defender, the V8, I advised him that he must swap out the factory highway tires for KO2s, right away, which he did. Every one of us here at Hooniverse loves these tires and we can’t say enough good things about them.
However, there are many people who love to complain about their KO2s. I will now list those common KO2 complaints that I’ve seen on the internet. I will also attempt to explain how those people are wrong, based on my experience:
- Snow traction: I’ve had KO2s for nine New England winters now. We ski almost weekly in New Hampshire and Vermont. I’ve driven through fresh snow, packed snow, deep snow, wet snow, and icy snow. Now, KO2s are not proper winter tires. But KO2s meet the industry’s severe snow service requirements and are branded with the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol. That said, I think they’re great in the snow. I’ve never had an issue of any kind; traction uphill, stopping, turning. It does what it is supposed to do. The big factor here is the driver. Knowing the limits of one’s vehicle and own abilities is key. Yes, a proper winter tire would do all those things better, but the KO2 does them very well.
- Rain traction: when I bought my 4Runner, it came with the first generation of KO tires. That very evening there was a heavy rainstorm. Not knowing the car, I took it very slowly and easily. But in a very short amount of time, those tires proved to be very capable of channeling away significant amounts of water.
- Loudness: People will complain about everything. No, the KO2 is not a loud tire. Yes, the KO2 is louder than the highway tire that will slide on a banana peel. For an all-terrain tire, it’s about average. That’s because it’s difficult to fight physics. But compared to any mud-terrain tire, they are whisper quiet. I’ll give credit to those who say that these tires get a little louder with age.
- Wear: I replaced my first set of KO’s on my 4Runner not because I wore them down but because they became dry-rotted. I don’t know why that has happened. Based on my experience, with proper air pressure and rotations, they should last 60,000 miles. BFGoodrich guarantees them to 50,000 miles.
- Mud traction: This should not be a surprise. The KO2s are rather bad in the mud. What is surprising is how many people don’t understand that. I read a review of the Ford Bronco Raptor, arguably one of the best 4x4s on the market, where the reviewer went to an off-road park, by himself, with no recovery gear, drove into a mud hole, and got stuck there. He blamed the tires, because of course, and obviously not himself. For those of you who want to go mudding, BFGoodrich makes the excellent KM3, mud-terrain tire.
For the mildly lifted Prado, a 32-inch tire was the perfect size. I planned to switch from a factory 16-inch wheel to a more modern 17-inch wheel. Given the wheel diameter and the tire size I needed, the best size fit was 275/70-17. I had them installed with the white letters out, obviously.
The only drawback was that in that size, the KO2 comes only with a load E rating. Higher-load tires are heavier, with thicker rubber, and can carry heavier loads. Those tires can handle higher air pressure, too, with 80psi max versus the typical 50psi max for load C. They’re also stronger and more resistant to damage. But the heavier tires do impact acceleration, stopping, and ride. I love these tires, but at this point, I question if I perhaps should have gone with smaller 265/70-17 load C tires like I had on my 4Runner. 285/70-17 is also available in load C, and I have them on my Bronco, but those are too big for this Toyota.
Modification 5: Wheels
Those meaty KO2s needed to be wrapped around a cool set of wheels. With the same bolt-patter as Tacomas, 4Runners, some Land Cruisers, FJ Cruisers, some Sequoias, and some Tundras, there were many OEM options. But I didn’t want modern Toyota wheels on this old rig, as that can look weird. TRD Pro wheels are all the rage now and that was another reason to ignore them – everyone has them.
I wanted a wheel that was matte or flat black, so it would match the wrap. I also wanted a classic or a timeless design. Finally, I wanted something period-correct-ish, something that reflected the 1990s but also provided a hint of modern. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that the wheels did not extend past the fenders, like on my gym-bro’s Silverado. I wanted a clean look, sort of OEM-plus thing.
I chose Motegi Racing Traillite wheels. They are 17” x 8.5” and the fit was just great. Before installing them, I had them ceramic coated. A set of black Gorilla lug-nuts finished them off. I mounted the tires with white letters out, because of course. I had to make a minor modification to the spare tire holder. There is occasional light rubbing in the front fender liner but it’s nothing that upsets me.
Short of a solid detailing, the exterior is now done. Over time I’ve performed more maintenance and some repairs that will be explained later. The Prado has been a great truck in the year that I’ve owned it. More on that in the near future.