It’s been seven months since I sold the Stormtrooper 4Runner. It was my first true road-legal project, my first that really felt like a nonstop commitment. It was in my care for two years and change. Certainly enough time to get to know it, and more than enough time to love it dearly. And now, it’s been gone long enough to start missing it. Long enough to reflect on the project as a whole. And long enough to know what I did right…and what I did wrong.
All-in-all the project was an incredible experience, and an incredible learning experience at that. My first full-size off-road project (ATVs not counting here), the 4Runner taught me a lot. And it gave me a good sense of what it takes to keep a vehicle in the kind of condition it needs to be in for its intended purpose.
My first project was a bit smaller, figuratively and literally: a 2007 Kawasaki Brute Force 650i. A four-wheel-drive ATV with dual carburetors, no power steering, and thousands of miles of abuse racked up on it. With the Kawi I taught myself many now-second-nature maintenance, repair and modification procedures. From oil changes to tie rods to CVT belts to suspension bushing, the Brute was my gateway to working on vehicles in a meaningful way. And in turn was my gateway to full-size 4x4s.
Luckily some of that translated to the Stormtrooper 4Runner. Basic mechanical ability meant it was easier to do things on the Toyota than it otherwise would have been. And for that, I’m thankful I bought this and not something like a Land Rover. Still: I learned a massive amount from the truck. From buying it, owning it, wheeling it, and everything in-between. Here’s what I learned.
First, importing a vehicle from Canada is totally doable. It’s also provides a great experience that is likely to never be forgotten. Buying a vehicle far away is a means to seeing someplace new and that might otherwise never be seen. I had never been to Ottawa before and it is a truly fun city. Purchasing the Stormtrooper 4Runner not only have me a new truck, but also a new city I’m happy to have visited.
The drive up and back was also foreshadowing: a labor of love is still a labor. If it’s a vehicle you care about, time and finances will be invested. You might enjoy it every step of the way, but at some point it will be tedious. I didn’t realize it at first but the Stormtrooper 4Runner would absolutely prove to be so. It was time-intensive to keep alive and to in the condition it needed to be in for off-roading. And, crucially, a full-on project will eventually become financially intensive even if it isn’t right from the start. Plan accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to keep in mind your goal for the project in question. I bought the truck to build it up, go off-roading, and eventually drive cross-country to go wheeling on the mecca trails out west. Here I hit my roadblock: with the local trails being ~4 hours away, getting there was a difficult and infrequent occurrence. That’s how I came to realize that 4WD is only fun if you use it. The 4Runner was a fantastic woods vehicle, capable and comfortable on the trail. And, it was properly good home-base for off-road trips. But when making these trips is rare it’s easy to lose sight of the project’s purpose. That only makes it easier to lose drive and dedication to the project as a whole.
This led me to understand that there’s a time stamp/timeframe on every project and vehicle. Eventually it hits a wall, or you hit a wall. That can be fun or financially dictated by enjoyment and/or cost levels. Accepting that you’ve mentally checked out of a project is big as starting it and selling it. The turning point means it’s time to move on.
As I mentioned, everything is fun and games until your wallet (inevitably) gets hurt. If the vehicle purchased for said project has a low entry cost or already needs work, triple your expectations for how much you will spend. Even a pre-purchase inspection that reports a good, clean starting point doesn’t rule out all of the variables. The 4Runner wasn’t a money pit, but it became expensive in a way I didn’t expect.
On the topic of a PPI, it’s critical to vet the vehicle’s history prior to purchasing. That, and it’s best to familiarize yourself with one’s own threshold for where the end of the project is. You might not need to do major work immediately, but you have to come to terms with what you are or aren’t comfortable having to do to it.
And when work is needed it’s best to follow the old adage: do things once and do them right when it comes to repairs and modifications. If you’re doing the work yourself then don’t cheap out on parts. And if you’re not, vet the shop that’s doing repairs even if recommended by “a friend.” Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. As for mods themselves, even “all the research” might not be enough. There’s a massive quantity of information on the internet but it might not be everything. I extensively researched and subsequently installed a few things on the Stormtrooper 4Runner that didn’t pan out exactly as intended. No fault to the manufacturers of the parts, but there’s always variables you can’t account for everything.
Last but not least, a project can be a great learning experience about vehicles and about yourself– but it’s only as good as the people you share it with. Whether that’s driving the project vehicle in times of dire need for diffusing family health situations or whether that’s installing oxygen sensors with one of your best friends since childhood, the memories that last are those that involve others.
All in all the Stormtrooper 4Runner was an amazing learning experience and a ton of fun (and, yes, frustration). All of those emotions were extremely important in the makings to become one with a project. And eventually those feelings pass: projects don’t have to be forever and it’s okay to move on when life dictates you have to. Hitting that point with the Stormtrooper 4Runner reflected the drastic changes in my life from the time at which I bought the truck. But start-to-finish, the Canadian Toyota will always be my absolute favorite of my personal project vehicle’s…so far.