Project Car SOTU 2016: Toyota 4Runner Mall Crawler

The annual-or-whenever-we-get-to-it Hooniverse Project Car State of the Union is upon us. The last time I discussed my family truckster here was back in March when I ended up on the side of a busy highway with a flat tire. At the time I developed some plans for a summer road trip. In preparation for this trip I would outfit the 4Runner as needed – nothing ridiculous, mostly just functional improvements. I needed tires, wanted some wheels, had plans to improve lighting, and needed to be able to carry more cargo, perhaps slightly modify rear suspension so it wouldn’t sag as much with weight.
While the summer road trip never came to fruition for many reasons, the rig did get some upgrades.

4runner sotu tires


It all started with tires, as that is what I needed at the time. My friends at Ace Performance installed a set of factory-sized, 265/70-17, BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2s on my 2010 4Runner. Pricey rubber, at around $800, but a significant improvement over the previous version of that tire in terms of noise and ride comfort. Right away, however, I wished that I ordered one size bigger, 275/70, a common 4Runner/FJ Cruiser upgrade, if for no other reason than looks. Then again, that may have caused rubbing issues, who knows.
The overall height of these tires is actually ever slightly lower than the stock crap tires that come on these cars, but the BFGs are way wider. Combine that with the 1.25″ wheel spacers I installed before, the overall stance (y0!) is rather different from stock. Personally, I think it looks the way it should have looked from the factory. Visible in pictures are also the Slee Off-Road rock sliders, which also function as steps and help getting into the rig.
At the time I was also thinking about maybe refinishing the stock wheels in dark gray, replacing them with steel wheels or the cool new TRD Pro wheels. In the end I chose to leave them stock. It was purely a financial decision.


Improving the cargo space was the next thing. My 4Runner is equipped with the optional third row. While I only have two kids, we often drive other people’s kids around, hence the need for the third row. When the third row is up, however, the cargo area is pretty much reduced to nothing. Because we live in the city, like many other people here, we kind of use our vehicle as storage. The best solution for that was hard roof-mounted cargo box. Roof baskets look cool but lack the security of a box. I used a cargo-bag once and it sucked, so this was a simple decision. Selecting the right cargo box was not an easy decision, however.

Thule Pulse Alpine Rooftop Cargo Box – 11 Cu Ft – Matte Black 11 CF 25.5″ 88.5″ 12.5″
Thule Force Alpine Rooftop Cargo Box – 12 Cu Ft – Matte Black 12 CF 24.5″ 81.5″ 17″
Thule Force Alpine Rooftop Cargo Box – 12 Cu Ft – Matte Black 12 CF 24.5″ 81.5″ 17″
Yakima SkyBox Lo Rooftop Cargo Box – 15 cu ft – Black Carbonite 15 CF 36″ 92″ 11.5″
Yakima SkyBox 12 Rooftop Cargo Box – 12 cu ft – Black Carbonite 12 CF 24″ 92″ 16″
Yakima SkyBox 16 Rooftop Cargo Box – 16 cu ft – Black Carbonite 16 CF 36″ 81″ 15″
Yakima SkyBox Pro 12 Rooftop Cargo Box – 12 Cu Ft – Onyx 12 CF 24″ 92″ 15″
Yakima SkyBox Pro 16s Cargo Box – Titanium 16 CF 36″ 81″ 15″
Thule Force Medium Rooftop Cargo Box – 13 cu ft – AeroSkin Black 13 CF 34.5″ 65″ 16″
Thule Pulse Medium Rooftop Cargo Box – 14 cu ft – Matte Black 14 CF 35″ 67″ 16″
Thule Pulse Medium Rooftop Cargo Box – 14 cu ft – Matte Black 14 CF 35″ 67″ 16″
Thule Sonic Medium Rooftop Cargo Box – 13 cu ft – Glossy Black 13 CF 34″ 73″ 16″
Thule Force L Roof Box 36″ 74″ 16.5″
Thule Force Alpine 623 12 cf 24.5 81.5″ 15.4″

Both Thule and Yakima offer many styles of these boxes and none of them, of course, were ideal for me. I wanted a box that could carry and store skis in the winter and something that will swallow up odd-sized summer vacation crap. My other requirements were that it would fit the factory cross-bars, not obstruct the hatch (4Runners have a big spoiler on the hatch) and not totally block the sunroof. After endless research and search I created the chart above. Manufacturers of these boxes like to mess with people by constantly changing their names, but each rendition has subtle upgrades.
These boxes vary by how they mount to the vehicle, their finish, and aerodynamics. Aerodynamics are important not so much for the gas mileage as for the wind noise they create. The open baskets tend to be the louder. Finally, these damn things get pricey rather quickly. In the end I chose the Thule Force Alpine 623 which after a long search I found on CraigsList for about 60% of its original cost. It fits right, has the right clearances, and I can still add a bike mount on the side of it.

4runner sotu thule


The stock halogen headlights and fog-lights are kind of wimpy. My idea was to order some replacement LED bulbs as I have read a lot of good things on them. HIDs kits are out of the question for me – too much wiring, mounting of ballasts, and trimming of the bezels. And HID bulbs probably do not last as long as LED bulbs. I would perhaps do the interior lights at the same time. Unfortunately I never got around to either of those.
What I did get was a Rigid Industries Lower LED Grill. This grill allows to install two Rigid Industries D2-series lights. I like this set-up because aside from the chrome hardware that Rigid uses on their grills, the whole thing looks rather stock. There is no big bar, nothing to bolt on, nothing that sticks out past the bumper. From what I have read the quality of Rigid Industries lights seems top notch. I have to call Rigid as I don’t know which of the D2 lights is best for my application, which is that of driving at night in desolate White Mountains.
4runner sotu rigid industries led light grill
Pictured above is the Rigid Grill grill placed over stock grill. I have not installed it as I don’t have the lights yet. It is metal and seems well designed and well made. I intended to paint the chrome bolts black. Other than that, I kind of wish that I had the LED taillights of the 2014+ 4Runners and the blacked-out headlight bezels of the Trail Edition models. But like the fancy wheels, this isn’t something that I am willing to spend my money on.


I always hated the chrome on the 2010-2014 4Runners. The only chrome-less 4Runners are the Trail models which I could not buy because they were never available with third row seating. Updating the body trim on the SR5 to the Trail is possible, and has been done, but at what I think is a significant cost. So instead I started experimenting with Plasti Dip. I blacked out the chrome grill trim and fog-light bezels. I want to do the door-handles next. Ideally I would have them in the body color like they are on the 2014+ cars. While there I removed the side SR5 badges.
4runner sotu mall crawler front
My 4Runner did not come with a nav system, which is fine by me as the 2010 nav system was not that great. I was thinking of upgrading to a nice aftermarket head-unit but then I remembered that I really hate aftermarket radios. Properly integrated and installed, such unit would cost at least a grand. The factory one is super easy to use and has the two things I really need – Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth connection. As for the nav, I bought a dash mount and used double-sided tape to attached my old Garmin to it. I still have to hide the wire.
4runner sotu mall crawler nav garmin
Overall, in my one year of ownership the truck has been solid. We only put about 8000 miles on it as both my wife and I have incredibly short commutes. It throws an occasional CEL, but then it goes away and no fault codes are stored. If there was one thing, it’s that I wish that I spent the extra money on a 2014+ model. Its looks, even the squinted headlights, have grown on me, and other other little upgrades may have been worth the money. I love this 4Runner thought, and I’m not done with it yet. In the future look for:

  • Lighting updates, as mentioned above.
  • Rear suspension upgrades – front has height adjustable Bilstein 5100 shocks.
  • Lower molding and splash-guards, original was removed when sliders were installed.
  • More Plasti Dip fun!
  • Rust protection!
  • Stuff needed for actual off-roading.

4runner sotu mall crawler bro

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  1. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    I dig. Always liked these, and keeping them rather simple but with subtle upgrades seems to be the best way to own one.
    Love how a more aggressive tire than stock can set off a vehicle as well. Just the right amount of attitude…

  2. Professor Lavahot Avatar
    Professor Lavahot

    I can’t wait to get one of these in 20 years when they come into my price range!
    Seriously though, they are very cool. Probably the closest remaining thing to my dear departed Pathfinder.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      They don’t seem to depreciate! I almost bought a new one before I found this one.

  3. Craig Avatar

    Really like how you made the vehicle look. Looks like a badass stock 4runner with a nice cargo box.
    Question about your alpine box though…
    It fits well in the back? No issues clearing the antenna fin in the back of the roof with factory crossbars?