CODE 4x4 Jeep Automotive Truck Customizing Repair Maintainence Service
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Toyota Tacoma "TAV" Buildup
The Ultimate Trailhead Rig

Outdoorsy folks such as hunters, climbers, backcountry skiers and snowboarders need reliable and effective transportation to backcountry trailheads. Toyota trucks are an excellent choice for such use, but they still need a few tweaks to be truly effective. Here is a buildup we call the Trailhead Approach Vehicle, or "TAV" for short.

by Louis Dawson -- photos by Chris Overacker, Lou and Louie

Toyota Tacoma for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
The vast backcountry of the American West is webbed with access roads that require a truck or high clearance SUV for safe and reliable driving. The Toyota offerings are fine choices for this type of travel, especially the TRD Off Road Tacoma shown here.

Using a 4x4 for trailhead access is a fact of life for many, if not most North American backcountry skiers and riders. Europeans have a vast network of aerial tramways, ski lifts, and public transportation -- automobiles optional. We Americans are blessed with vast reaches of sparsely populated land, with occasional trailheads accessed by roads that are frequently rough, and may not receive regular maintenance.

Chris Overacker fabricating at Code 4x4.
Master fabricator Chris Overacker readies another stick of tubing for the bender. Our Tacoma with completed front bumper in background.

More, parking areas may be rough and not snow plowed, making 4-wheel-drive a necessity for worry free parking. A stock 4x4 SUV may be all you need if you drive such roads only a few times a year, but tackle trailhead approches or long distance rural driving much more than that, and you'll welcome modifications such as better tires, beefy bumpers, rally lighting, and more.

We purchased a new 2003 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4, and with the help of CODE 4x4 built it to be the Trailhead Approach Vehicle (TAV) of our dreams. Check it out!

Dealer Options
Toyota dealers pretty much force you into buying trucks with more options than you might want (you have to wait months for "strippers" with fewer options), but the available packages worked for us.

The truck we picked came with the TRD off road package, which consists mostly of hype and a sticker on the left rear quarter panel, but provides a rear differential "locker" that makes a huge difference in off-road traction by sending power to both rear wheels. (Even when a truck is in 4-wheel-drive, normal axle mechanicals only send power to one wheel each, meaning that in 4-wheel-drive you still only have two wheels providing traction -- with a locker in the rear you get three traction wheels and it makes a big difference.) A driver selectable locker is an an expensive aftermarket mod -- but in my view an essential for a truly reliable TAV 4x4 and thus nice to get in a stock truck. (The TRD package also includes so called "heavy duty" shock absorbers, but we had to swap these out anyway for adjustable Ranchos, as "heavy duty" was still too soft for highway driving with a load.)

Our Tacoma also came with electric windows, automatic door locks, AC, and more. Its other life is as a highway cruiser and wife's daily driver, so such amenities are welcome. Ditto for the automatic transmission, which is not my preference for mountain driving, but makes the truck much more useful as a commuter, and does have its place for crawling rough roads or busting snow. We skipped Toyota's expensive tow package as our custom rear bumper would provide a receiver hitch, and I would could add other towing necessities myself.

Thanks goes to Marc Grandbois at Bighorn Toyota for making our buy go so smooth, and the price was right too!

Our first major modification was designing, building and installing state-of-the-art custom "pre-runner" style bumpers. I turned the bulk of this work over to our 4x4 guru Chris Overacker of CODE 4x4 ( I've become friends with Chris while working on his website, and gained a huge amount of respect for his engineering instincts, incredible design creativity, fabrication skill, and aesthetic sense. More, he lets me do some welding on our projects.

(PLEASE NOTE: CODE 4x4 receives many inquires about these bumpers. CODE is now in the business of installing pre-made aftermarket equipment and will be happy to recommend and install such a bumper for your truck. Many fine ones are now available.)

The completed front bumper is a thing of beauty created by Code 4x4!

A few thoughts about bumper design philosophy: At first glance, light-truck bumpers appear to be cheesy damage prone ways for the manufacturer to save money. This is true to a small extent, but more importantly, stock bumpers on modern light trucks are not really "bumpers." Instead, they are an aerodynamic integrated part of "crush zones" designed to absorb energy when you hit something -- or something (like a 100mph drunk) hits you.

If you replace a stock bumper with one significantly stronger and more rigid, in a serious accident you'll simply suffer a harsher more injurious jolt to your neck and spine, and while your bumper may suffer less damage than a stocker, the force will be transferred to your truck frame and you may end up with more expensive repairs than if you'd sacrificed your stock bumper. Conversely, in low speed accidents or wildlife collisions, your stock bumper crush zones may suffer more damage than necessary. That gets ugly and expensive.

Tacoma stock front bumper and cowling is trim and good looking, but impractical for real-world backcountry use. We easily sold ours while still in new condition.

Thus, if you're traveling four-wheel-drive roads where you might tap a tree or rock at low speeds, or driving rural roads and possibly hitting deer, a stronger after-market bumper can be useful, but such a bumper must be engineered to deflect or crush in a high speed collision.

Moreover, while stock bumpers may act as part of your truck's collision safety system, they lack functionality. Mounting after market lighting on them is tough. While recovering a stuck vehicle, stock bumpers provide little to nothing in the way of jack lifting points or tow anchor points, and have zero ability to push another vehicle, or be pushed. And finally, the painted plastic and chrome of stock bumpers start suffering cosmetic damage the moment you drive off the dealer lot, and such damage is difficult, if not impossible to repair.

Designing aftermarket bumpers that address the points above is an imperfect art, but possible with the right materials and a bit of thought. Experience counts. Chris Overacker of CODE 4x4 has seen plenty of bumpers after deer encounters, and knows what kind of forces a bumper needs to endure while low-speed 'wheeling, so we trusted him to come up with the right thing. We are very happy with the finished product and highly recommend his services.

Tacoma front bumper under construction at Code 4x4 in Rifle, Colorado.


Fitting up the bumper, no deer hoop yet, but one of the aluminum panels is on, with cutout for turn signal grommet light.

The basic structure of our custom bumpers is bent mild-steel tubing. This material provides a good strength/weight ratio, is easy to repair, and provides "crush" in a serious accident. The bumpers are coated with Hammerite basic black "bomb can" paint. After a winter of driving, rock chips and parking scrapes are easily repaired with a few moments of sanding then a squirt of paint from a can on the shelf in my garage. Top decks and filler panels are made with common and easily worked 6061 grade aluminum plate, coated with clear acrylic to prevent corrosion from Colorado's now ubiquitous calcium chloride road salt.

The biggest challenge with the front bumper was how to attach it in a strong yet "crushable" way, rather than simply making it part of the truck's frame. Chris opted to use the existing mounts, leaving space for movement, and not going overboard on beefing up the attachment points. It appears this will work well in a full frontal impact.

The classic pose for a 4x4!

Yet an ongoing concern is that unlike the stock bumper, this one extends about two feet from the lower attachment to the top of the deer hoop. Thus, in the event of an upper impact, the bumper will become a lever arm and may exert excessive force to the mounting points. The remedy for this is to install a set of down-arms that triangulate from the upper portion of the bumper back down to the truck frame, but including these is extremely difficult and time consuming, so we opted out. Perhaps later -- projects like this never end!

A hitch receiver tube is built into the center of the front bumper. This is useful for maneuvering a trailer and works as a tow/winching anchor point, but also serves to mount a portable winch (since we built this low profile bumper with no winch deck). The factory tow hooks were re-mounted when the bumper received its final install.

Another view. It looks so good I can't quit taking photos. Click for enlarged version.

The stock turn signals were sold on E-bay and replaced with the economical and easily replaced amber "grommet lights" used on millions of commercial vehicles across the nation. In the middle panel we added two center running/parking lights for close in illumination. These can be turned on without the headlights, and are incredibly useful for night runs when your headlights are blinding a spotter. They're also nice for setting up camp. (See the lighting section of this article for the rest of the front bumper light story.)

The rear bumper Chris built is a true work of art. Our neighbor owns a Tacoma, and we noticed that his rear quarter panels were both bashed from parking mishaps, so our first requirement was that our custom bumper would wrap around the Tacoma's rear corners to prevent such.

Tacoma rear bumper corners
Detail of rear bumper return that passes through dimpled hole in body work, then to bracket on frame. Black area on body is undercoated to prevent damage from flying pebbles while running Baja 500.

Our other big need was for the rear bumper to include an integrated class IV receiver hitch that didn't hang down and reduce our off-road departure angle. On both counts Chris filled the bill. More, he built curved corners that will serve as spindles when we add a swing-out spare tire carrier. The rear bumper deck is another slice of basic 6061 alu, but extensively dimpled by Chris so it's a safe place to step when slimy. Perhaps the coolest detail is the way the corner wraps return back to the frame through holes in the body work. These are so nicely done they appear to be OEM factory features.

Rear bumper during construction fitup. Note corners are a spindle ready for swing-out tire carrier. Beefy returns protect the Tacoma's lean but vulnerable butt cheeks.
Rear bumper completed, aluminum top deck is a traction step.

Lift -- or lack thereof

I'm calling this a buildup, but we didn't go "up." While we stuffed slightly taller tires under our Tacoma TAV, we opted for no body or suspension lift. The truck drives superbly at highways speeds, and lifting a truck can severely compromise highway handling. Bear in mind that this purpose built 4x4 is not intended for extreme trails, but rather the "moderate" jeep trails one encounters while accessing climbing, backcountry skiing, and hiking areas in North America, especially in the west.

Adding lift and significantly taller tires has its place, but also opens a can of worms and starts a nearly endless cycle of modifications (bigger tires need re-geared axles, while added torque and tire weight may break components -- thus requiring expensive and complex modifications such as complete axle swaps -- and on and on.) That said, as our TAV ages and gets used for more brutal trails and less highway driving, I'll probably add a moderate 2-inch body lift so I can move up another step in tire diameter.

Rocker guards
Also known as nerfs or rock sliders, rocker guards are essential items for almost any truck, on or off road. The simple fact is that in any larger vehicle, there will come a day when you turn into a passenger side obstacle that's low and invisible until known by the rasping clunk as it puts a big expensive dent in your passenger side door or the panel below.

Chris Overacker starts rocker guards for 1004 Toyota Tacoma
Chris trial fitting the foundation of the rocker guards. This section of beefy 2-inch tube is located under the pinch seam in the body, and welded to beefy stand-offs that are then welded to the frame. It will act as a rock slider if necessary, and adds a huge amount of side impact protection in an accident. Standoff "nerf" hoops will go on later, after he gets these perfect.
The finished product.


Power and Fuel Economy Mods
Many truck owners spend tons of cash on power mods such as after market ignitions, air intakes, and what have you. On some trucks this stuff can reap huge rewards, but Toyotas are so well designed the aftermarket bang-per-buck is usually not there.

After studying a huge amount of Internet fact, rumor, and outright fantasy, I realized there are at best a handful of basic and cost-effective ways to gain more power and fuel economy with the Tacoma and its 3.4 liter V6.

First is to do a reasonable break-in period, during which you use normal (not synthetic) oil, and don't wind out the engine too aggressively. This should last around 10,000 miles and is a huge reason to buy a new truck, as most new vehicle owners put very little effort into doing this correctly. After that you change over to synthetic oil for a small gain in power, fuel economy, and engine longevity. Ditto for both differentials, which you change over to synthetic gear lube after the break-in period. Synthetic oil is more expensive than normal oil at the checkout counter, but ultimately equal in cost because you can extend the change interval enough to cover the added expense (instead of the 3,000 mile or less interval, I change mine at 4,000 or 5,000 depending on style and location of driving).

ISR  mod
Our Tacoma TAV air intake tube with silencer assembly removed and replaced with straight pipe (red). Airbox to left, throttle body to right. This is known as the Intake Silencer Removal "ISR" mod.

A combustion engine uses power to suck air -- the easier it breaths the more power you'll have at the wheels, and the better your fuel economy. Unless you are driving at high revs, using a good quality paper air filter in the stock air box allows enough flow, but switch to an easier breathing filter if you like to wind up the motor frequently, as that's when it's gasping for air. To help with air flow at all RPMs, removing the Toyota intake silencer assembly may be a worthwhile mod, if for no other reason than it cleans up the engine compartment, and may result in a small economy and horse power gain.

Toyota airbox deckplate
Above shows our air filter box with custom easy-breathing opening formed by installing a 4-inch marine "deckplate." This has a screw-on cover so the mod can be taken back to stock if necessary. Screen inside hole is to keep bugs and leaves out of airbox. Only downside of this mod is increased engine noise above 2,500 RPM.

Adding a breathing hole to the
front of the engine intake air filter box is another low cost modification that may add a small amount of power and fuel economy, but must be done in a way that can be closed off if you're driving in wet conditions (so your engine doesn't suck too much water). By installing a marine "deckplate" this mod only takes an hour or so, and the hole can be closed off using the cover that screws into the deckplate.

Another effective power mod is to upgrade your exhaust system to an aftermarket high-flow setup, but this is only cost effective after your existing exhaust has done a few years duty and in need of replacement because of dents or rust.

A few months after doing the deckplate mod, I realized that while it breaths easier, it inhales hot air from the engine compartment, especially at slow speeds on the trails. Hot air is less dense than cool air. If an engine breaths cooler air, it gets more power and possibly slightly better gas mileage. More, by observing the stain pattern of muddy water that splashed into the engine compartment, I realized that a simple airdam system would also block most of the water that splashes up from the front wheels (it splashes up through the space between the airbox and fan shroud). I built an air dam water shield using mud flap material and a few stainless sheet metal screws. It works well. Detail shots below, click to enlarge.
First step was fastening a piece of mudflap rubber to the side of the airbox, and wrapping it under a few inches. I removed the airbox to do the final assembly. Next, I screwed another hunk of rubber to the front of the airbox, above the deckplate mod, then fastened the two pieces together. I also placed a foam seal under the airbox. The rubber is high enough to be within 1/2 inch of hood when it's closed. To shape it, I used a needle gauge to make a pattern. It didn't end up perfect, but makes a huge difference.

Thanks goes to folks at for help with my engine mods and light wiring.

Fuel economy

It's a law of physics that when you add weight to a real-world automobile, it burns more gas. We were very careful with our bumper design to keep them as light as possible -- they don't add as much weight as would appear. More, while our pre-runner front is certainly not as aerodynamic as the factory configuration, it's not terrible either. Fully loaded, on a highway trip from Colorado to Utah, we got a true 23 miles per gallon. I'm not complaining -- that's excellent mpg for a truck full of people and their whole junkshow. With synthetic oil and no load, our loaded TAV might even hit 24mpg with a tailwind. My wife gets between 24 and 25 mpg during her commute here in Colorado because it's mostly slow and steady driving, and she's not carrying cargo. Recently, with extremely careful featherfoot driving, she clocked 32 mpg for a tank! While driving around Salt Lake City and up and down the canyons our mileage dropped considerably, but we were skiing the Wasatch Mountains, so who cared!

Topper loaded for a day's adventure. The double cab bed is small, 180cm skis have to go diagonal, but it's still nice to pile the junkshow in a pickup bed rather than the rear area of a hatchback. Out of sight, out of mind. 150 cm skis easily fit left/right.

We picked a basic cab-high Leer that integrates nicely with the truck bed, both in color and shape. The added option of a "windoor" on the driver side allows us to step out on the trail, open the window, and reach in for gear. Other options are a dome light, beer window, and factory installed hardpoints on top for a rack or cargo box.

Ever notice how the rear door gasket of most toppers wears the paint off the tailgate? I added aluminum protection in this area when I installed the tailgate protector.

Aluminum to protect paint from topper door weather strip.

Cargo Rack
We added a custom cargo rack to the topper, and also a huge Yakima cargo box. Details here.

Tailgate protector and work surface
The Tacoma tailgate is a cheesy piece of junk. When I got the truck back from the topper installer, I noticed that the workers had made a bunch of dents when they stood on the gate to work on their install. Not their fault -- a tailgate should support a standing human without denting! Rather than whine, I ordered up a custom bent sheet of aluminum to cover the inside of the tailgate and wrap over the top edge. Aftermarket pieces of this sort are available, but all are made of diamond plate aluminum, one of my least favorite materials in terms of aesthetics, and a crumby work surface as the bumpy diamonds make it hard to clean and uncomfortable to sit on. Speaking of gates and beds, I've been asked why we didn't opt for spray-in bed liner. I like bed liner in some situations, but did not see the added weight and cost as being necessary for the type of use our truck bed would receive. Instead, I'll probably just cut a hunk of carpet remnant to fit the small area of exposed bed. That'll protect it and keep things from sliding around on the slick paint.

Tailgate protection.
Our custom tailgate protector is a smooth surface for cooking and what have you. Fasteners are countersunk flush, whole piece is coated with clear acrylic to prevent attack from the chloride slime monster.


Auxiliary power and lighting
For the style of driving we do during mountaineering trips and family camping (lots of 2-lane, along with night 4x4 runs and camp setups), a ton of aftermarket lighting might be the most important part of our TAV. Such lighting is complicated and prone to glitches. It has to be done right. To that end, every after-market wire run in the TAV is protected by wire loom, while nearly every connection is soldered and protected from corrosion by dielectric grease, silicon caulk and/or shrinkwrap tubing. All our lighting and aftermarket electrical is controlled by nicely finished black aluminum panel located over the ashtray opening on the center console, with power sourced from a Painless Wiring aftermarket fuse block located in the engine compartment. More, every accessory is powered by a relay, rather than running the full amperage through the control switch.

Toyota Tacoma aux swith panel.
Installing the 6-toggle auxiliary panel was worth the pain, but next time I'll space the switches a bit farther apart so the wiring is easier! Switch labels are on the white label below. All switches have indicator lights.

In most cases, while we ran dozens of wires to all manner of locations, you'll never notice a wire or accessory that looks anything but "factory" or better. We added so many lights and more, I'll list them one at at time:

-- Parking lights. As mentioned above, we added auxiliary parking lights to the front bumper center panel "skid." We also added two small parking lights to the rear wrap-around bumper corners. All the parking lights can be lit without the headlights being on, a useful feature for setting camp, working with a trail spotter at night, etc.

Tacoma driving lights
Cornering light visible at lower left, aux driving lights upper middle.

-- Cargo lights. Above the topper rear door we mounted two 55 watt halogen driving lights pointed rearward. These are controlled at the cab control panel, and provide light for camp setup, trailer loading, or backing up. They can also be flicked on while you're towing a trailer at night, to check your load on the fly.

Behind the rear seat are 3 relays that contol the rear lights and power. Black box at lower right is Toyota towing electrical converter. Expensive but probably worth it.

--Topper interior dome light. To prevent dead batteries this only works with accessory or ignition on and parking lights on. It's bright and useful, provided by Leer as an option.

--Third brake lights. The topper has a nice LED third brake light that's wired into the factory tail light wires. I disabled the brake light behind the cab so it wouldn't reflect red through our rear window at night.

--Rear power points. In the rear of the bed I mounted an enclosure with 3 cigarette lighter style 12v power points. These are controlled by an on/off switch on the cab control panel. We use this power for an AA battery charger and a boot dryer, among other things.

--Backup lights. A pair of clear grommet lights are recessed in the rear bumper. These are controlled with a cab panel 3-way switch that manually turns them on and off, or sets them to automatic mode so they go on in reverse gear. These low mounted bright lights are perfect for hooking up a trailer or towed vehicle. Two small grommet "marker" lights in the bumper corner wraps also go on when the backup lights are on. I put those in just for fun.

Aux backup lights are low and recessed, perfect for hooking up a trailer or setting camp. Marker light on side is visible to left.

--Tow connection. I mounted a beefy RV style trailer electrical connector in a protected location, with standard tow wiring and a few extra wires in case we ever want any electrical accessories in a trailer.

Fuse block
All our auxiliary power is sourced at this aftermarket Painless Wiring fuse block we installed in the engine compartment on this custom aluminum bracketry. According to the service techs at our Toyota dealer, using such a block, combined with relays, keeps the do-it-yourselfer from voiding the vehicle warranty.

--Driving lights. Two flame-thrower Hella driving lights are mounted on the front bumper deck. These are controlled with a cab panel on/off switch, but will only ignite when the headlights are on and the high beams are on. Essential anywhere there is wildlife on roads.

--Daytime running lights (DRL). These things come stock and are a nightmare. They make wiring aftermarket lights a tough job, wear out your headlights 'cause they run all the time, annoy spotters on the trail, annoy other drivers, and annoy you when you're doing custom electrical work. They even use a small amount of extra gasoline! That said, driving with daytime lights can add safety on 2-lane roads, so they have their use -- whether automatic or turned on by the driver simply switching on their headlights.

Thus, first order of the day with the DRLs was to install an on/off switch to make them optional. This was easier said than done. I found some info on the web that was not highly accurate, but led me to the DRL relay under the dashboard. By wiring a switch into one of the DRL relay wires, I was able to add a DRL on/off control to the switch panel. Below are some hero shots of our DRL mod. Why this is not a stock option is a mystery of the ages. Probably government regs or something...

Beefy 120 V hardware store toggles work great. Cover the metal with rubber covers sold at same store. First I dug out the DRL relay, in this 2003 Tacoma it is buried in the dash left of the stereo. A total PITA! Unplugging the relay to make room for wire work and so it doesn't get fried. Battery disconnected of course.
The moment of truth, wire clippers. I cut the wrong wire first try. DRL toggle switch installed and ready for panel install. The back of the infamous switch panel, more room next time! Lesson learned.

--Deer lights. Also known as cornering lights, these are simply el-cheapo 55-watt wide beam fog lights mounted on the front bumper to the outside, and pointed a bit sideways. They are controlled with an on/of switch from the cab panel. Very useful. Along with illuminating the critters, they make it easer to see the edge of ragged Colorado roads,and can be handy for setting up camp. At $16.00 from Wally World they get replaced when rocks smash 'em, and can easily be upgraded to "real" foglights if we enter the Paris Dakar rally or Baja 500.

Snow tires for backcountry skiing.
Sharp lugs, infinite siping slits and tons of studs make a snow tire that actually works! Don't run 'em too wide, and keep your tire pressure a few pounds low if you're driving lots of ice and snowpack.


We don't drive our trucks aggressively, so all the better quality known-brand-name "LT" rated tires work fine for us on pavement. But WARNING: the stock OEM tires the Tacoma comes with are lame. They're about as strong as tissue paper (you can practically poke a pencil through the sidewalls), and the tread pattern is so meager it does virtually nothing on rocks or mud. Honestly, we tried to run the OEM tires to get our money's worth out of them, but after six flats in eighteen months (several in the backcountry), we gave up. Most of the flats were from rocks on improved dirt roads cutting through the tread! Incredibly bad! Thus, if you use your Tacoma for any off-road travel, you'll need to immediately buy set of stronger thicker tires with slightly more aggressive tread, with perhaps a slightly taller profile (you'll need a body or suspension lift to fit tires that are more than an inch or so larger than the stock diameter). We've been very happy with the Toyo Open Country LT tire, but any quality LT rated all terrain tire with at least 6 plys will work.

We're still partial to running snow tires when the white stuff starts to stick here in Colorado. We've found It pays to shop for snow tires -- not all are equal in performance. Our favorite snow and ice tires are studded, and combine plenty of big sharp lugs with lots of "siping," meaning the tires are cut with hundreds of small slits. Tread compound is also a factor -- soft and designed for ice and snow is best. We keep 'em skinny as well. Wide fat tires may look cool, but lack the contact pressure to really dig and grab when you need it. We store our snow tires during summer and run regular rubber.

Oil filter relocation.
Our relocated oil filter. Home oil changes now take all of 10 minutes and are the easiest of all our vehicles.

Oil filter relocation
I do my own oil changes because the quick lube charges too much for synthetic oil. Home changes are easy on our other vehicles, but painful for the Tacoma. Mean little gnomes must have designed the stock oil filter location. If you don't have arthritis in your hands, you will after you contort your digits to spin off the Tacoma filter a few times for oil changes. Solution: install a relocation adapter and bracket -- somewhat of a project but worth it in the long run. An added benefit of this mod is increased oil capacity because of the huge Napa 1515 1-quart filter and extension lines. More oil capacity means I can go slightly longer between changes, and the engine receives slightly more cooling as the extra oil flows through the lines and large filter.

60,000 Update on Filter Relocation

Since we used fuel line and hose clamps to connect the remote oil filter, along with other 60,000 mile maintenance I figured we'd better replace the relocation oil lines. While removing them I found that the adapter they connect to on the engine block had come loose, and the O ring gasket in the adapter was totally trashed (compressed and hard). I'd noticed a bit of oil seep in that area, but couldn't tell if it was from a hose leak or the adapter gasket. Now we know.

After installing and using a number of these basic oil filter relocation kits on various vehicles, I've concluded they're of inferior quality and not recommended. I removed mine and took the vehicle back to stock.

I'm still a fan of oil filter relocation, only it has to be done as a factory grade project or better. How? Lines must be the best quality stainless steel braided, connections should be the AN type, not hose clamps. Engine block adapter should be a high quality unit made for auto racing, and must be attached using high temperature epoxy such as JB Weld.

A proper install of this sort on a Tacoma requires a full day of work, as well as several hours of research for parts ordering. To access the filter boss on the block and install the remote as shown above you need to remove the vehicle battery, alternator, and skid plate.

As the oil filter location on the Tacoma V6 engine is so hard to access it should probably be reported to the United Nations as a human rights violation, I'll be installing another relocation. Only this time it'll be bomb proof.

Unless Toyota sends us a check, we have no desire to drive around with their decals hanging all over our ride. Ditto for Leer. And ditto for those big 4-wheel-drive badges on the mud flaps. I mean, do I really care if people behind me at a stop light know that my truck is four wheel drive? It took the family a few hours to strip every decal and logo off our Tacoma, but we love that "sano" look. Along with that, we relocated the license plate from the stock rear bumper to an aluminum billet machined holder/light mounted on the tailgate. This makes room for the receiver in the center of the bumper, and is less prone to parking and trail damage. Thanks goes to Chris Overacker of CODE for suggesting the license relocation -- a much better way to go than trying to build a plate holder into a custom bumper.


We've kept the cab pretty much bone stock other than the switch panel. Under the back seat is a Club anti-theft device we use for public parking -- after all this work we don't want mister Taco to go missing. We leave room In the glove box for a full set of road maps for the western U.S., along with tire warranty, travel Bible, and other assorted paper. We keep our CDs on the driver side visor in one of those fabric holders with a bunch of slots. All the seats are covered, the back with a beefy kid-proof Cordura nylon fabric cover my wife built, the front by Wally World el-cheapos.

In the back under the topper and behind the rear window is a large lightweight plastic truck box (you should have seen me heating this with a propane torch so it would mold down between the wheel wells -- the pyro within me is alive and well!)

Tacoma truck bed.
Large lightweight plastic box was heated and molded to wheel wells, then bolted in with stainless steel fasteners. It provides security for valuables, as well as a stash for seldom used tools, etc. The 55 watt cargo lights are visible at top of photo. They shine through the glass door when it's open.

The box is bolted in and serves as secure lockable storage for guns, video equipment, or what have you, and is a place for lesser used junk such as jumper cables and recovery gear. The storage box also creates a shelf under the rear window, thus adding storage space that a passenger in the rear seat can easily reach.

A 10 lb. fire extinguisher is mounted on the passenger side bed wall. On driver's side bed wall, under the windoor, we mounted a long mesh cargo bag similar to the stock one that is behind the rear Tacoma seats (highly recommended for any TAV, available from Toyota dealers). In here go small items that would otherwise get lost, or things we need to access from the windoor. We keep oil and other fluids in a small Action Packer that floats around in the back, and probably should be lashed down.

Mesh storage bag inside topper can be reached by opening windoor.

I also added a switch to the door open/close sensor so we can disable the driver-side door chime -- useful when you've got the engine off but the door open and don't want to keep jerking the key out of the ignition to stop the ceaseless dinging. If you need this mod -- you'll know it! But warning, the Tacoma computer uses the door open/close sensor for a variety of functions, such as the automatic headlight cutout, so use this mod with discretion. Why not just add a switch to the actual chime, or pull it out? It's built into the interior factory circuit panel in such a way that modifying it is difficult -- but perhaps I'll try some day.

In all, we are delighted with our 2003 Tacoma TAV, and we're happy with all the mods and improvements. It's a joy to drive. The bumpers give us much more confidence while parking and 4-wheeling, while the extensive lighting and electrical improvements add a huge amount of safety and functionality. It's easily the best vehicle we've ever owned, and will probably keep that status for quite a while. And thank you Code 4x4 for all your wisdom and hard work! Now let's go skiing -- or driving?!     Yotatech Forums

Somewhere near Moab, Louie Dawson III tests the radical 3 inch upward suspension travel of the stock Toyota Tacoma IFS front end.
Did she or didn't she?
Metal Masher? Only her rocker guards know for sure...
Four wheel drive, a rear locker and a wheelbase longer than a bicycle -- everything you need for slickrock fun!

(Author Lou Dawson is our CODE4x4 webmaster and a well known Colorado outdoor writer who's first drive was his dad's flatfender Jeep. Article copyright Louis Dawson, )