Beginnerís Guide To Building A Toyota 4x4

For those beginner’s out there that want to build a real toy to play with. Or even those that already have a Toyota 4x4 and just want to add to it and make it better. Then here are some ideas that can feed to your brain to get you started in the right direction.

So you are interested in building a Toyota for some serious fun on the rocks or to make a muddy mess of? Well this simple straight to the point article will give you some direction as far as different options to look at and an idea of the parts cost involved. If you will be needing a mechanic or professional installation, then you will need to think about this heavy cost as well. I always like the idea of reading, learning, and doing it yourself. It’s a lot cheaper and if you break down on the trail then there’s more of a chance that you’ll be able to fix it (be it temporary or permanent) and get back home. Plus it can be really fun building it and you will enjoy your new sport a whole lot more.

One of the first things you might want to buy is a book by John Muir's called “How to Keep Your Toyota 4x4 Alive for the Complete Idiot”. A friend of mine showed me this great book last year and it has lots of information and a comical outlook for those non mechanical or beginners. Muir tells it as is and is not so "dry" in doing so. Also if you need a good FSM (Factory Service Manuals), then check out TTORA.

I will mainly be talking about the basic information on what it takes to build a decent trail rig for Rock Crawling and getting there on the road with it. Your just starting out here so you don’t want to be building a rock buggy just yet, although for some it can be pretty tempting. You want a good rock rig and/or daily driver to start with. But if you’re wanting to build a rig for pre-running, or other driving then you will need to look elsewhere for your build. The will mainly be for a rock crawling/daily driver and a little touch on the subject of mudding.

I’ve learned a lot about what to get and what to stay away from when I first got into this hobby. Sometimes the hard way of spending money on items that I needed to spend more money on later or just having to replace when upgrading. Something might be cheaper now, but will not always be cheaper in the long run. Trust me, spending a little more now and you will be happier in the long run.

To start with you will need to decide what you plan on using your new toy for; Daily Driver, Rock Crawling, Mudding, or a mix of the three. For a Daily Driver you of course want it stable and road worthy. For a Rock Crawler you’ll want to lift it and make it flex for the trails you plan to concur. For Mudding you’ll want some lift, but will probably want to look more at gears then suspension.

Let’s get started. Here’s some food for thought.


All Toyota 4x4's are extremely capable to being killer four wheelers, however some are more desired. In a nutshell, the 79-85 trucks and 4runners are the best place to start. Just a matter of picking the body style you like. Although these days a lot of people are switching their 86 and up IFS (Independent Front Suspension) to a solid axle. This way they have a nicer ride, a little more comfort and/or the power from the V6 and extreme off road capability. The drawback, more money spent on other things you could have spent it on. Not to mention, you really need to know what your doing on a axle swap otherwise you’re in for quite the treat or maybe even a visit to ER.

For a look at what is involved in a SAS (Solid Axle Swap).


The type of rims don’t really matter much, but remember that you will be thrashing these against the rock. Best though to stick with a good set of steel rims. 8X15 or 10X15 are the most popular sizes to get.

Price $30-45 each

No doubts about it, you will need larger tires to be out on the trail. I won't BS anyone here; most people are running 35's. And some are even still run 33's with great luck, whereas some are going to 37's and bigger as well. Just remember the larger the tire, the heavier the tire; the heavier the tire, the more strain on your axles, steering and frame; the more strain produced, the more breakage. Get it? So you can go bigger if you want, but plan on upgrading more drive train components to handle the tires. If you don’t then your new saying will change to “Go big or stay home… and repair what you just broke”

Some popular tires to consider for ALL ROUND driving and great off road traction:

  1. Big O XT
  2. Goodyear MTR
  3. BF Goodrich AT or MT
  4. Supper Swamper TSL

Price $130-200 each


Q: Body lifts puts too much stress on the frame. Is this true?
A: No, a 1”- 3" body lift is very common and is not a problem with stress to the frame.

Body lifts are often necessary to keep big tires (fat tires as well as tall ones) from rubbing the fenderwells. Suspension lift alone—no matter how tall--will not keep tires from rubbing.

Here’s why: When the axle reaches full up-travel and hits the stock bumpstop, tire-to-fenderwell clearance is the same if not less than on a stock truck. It could be less because the more the axle droops on one side, the higher the tire goes into the fenderwell on the stuffed side—because the axle pivots on the bumpstop.

As far as tire-to-fenderwell clearance is concerned, suspension lift height means nothing when the axle hits the bumpstops. You’re left with stock clearance or less. And if your tires are 35 inches or larger, they’ll rub on just about anything but a street-only trailer queen. To cure the rub, you either have to lower the bumpstops (which limits articulation) or raise the body.

Price $70-$85


You can spend less for suspension but you get what you pay for. Besides, the money you save you will need to pay the orthodontist to put your fillings back in after a day of wheeling. Let’s face it, your suspension take a lot of stress when wheeling for a whole day. If you choose stiff springs, you’ll have to make the decision on being more pissed about the springs or the time and money you wasted putting them on. Not to mention there’s that “articulation” thing, which may just become the newest word in your vocabulary that you’ll use the most often throughout the rest of your life.

There are many different choices to go with here. People have being messing around with making different kinds of spring packs for years. The easiest way to go is with all four new spring packs, but another one that requires a little bit more work and some fabrication skill is new spring packs up front and 63” Chevy springs in the rear.

How much lift? Well I’m glad you asked. Look here to get an idea on your Lift to Tire Size. To start off with you don’t want to get too high, it may look cool but trust me, it’s no fun on the trail when you’re constantly almost tipping over. The goal is to keep your center of gravity at a decent level. Getting a 3”-5” springs is a good starting point if you feel like lifting it higher later when you’re use to a way it handle then you can do that by using longer shackles and/or adding a front spring hanger.

Price $450-$1000 a set of four (depending on your options)
A U-bolt flip kit might be a good thing to get to ($50)


When it comes to rock crawling, they’re not shocks unless they’re Bilstein, but a couple other good shocks are Walker Evans and Fox.

Price $ 40-150 each

New shock mounts aren’t always necessary, but are a good idea to think about. $50-$60
No one seems to make rear shock mount anymore, but they’re pretty easy to make for less then $20


A lift up to 3” is ok with the stock steering set up, but more then that you need to make some changes. For 4” or more you could just add a drop link ($110). Although the best thing to do is to change over to a Hy-Steer (aka X-over steering). This is one of the best mods to do. It works a whole lot better then the stock steering, on or off road and you’ve got a 99% chance over the stock setup of not braking anything.

Price $360-$430


The only modification you will need to do is replace your brake lines with longer ones. Make sure they’re DOT approved. If you don’t you can stretch out your stock brake lines and snap them in half.

Price $85

If you’re going to be driving it on the street then changing it over to Vented Rotors might be a good idea for better stopping. Along with the rotors you will need to get new calipers and change your master cylinder over to a 1” or larger bore.

Price $315-$385


Most Toyota people these days are running 5.29's or 4.88's in their differentials. This will dramatically restore lost power due to those large tires you are pushing. Going with higher gears such as 5.71's may result in breakage, as the teeth are smaller and thinner, although some people have ran them successfully. You can get a ring and pinion gear set for about $100-$200, plus a install bearing kit for another $130-$200, but then you still need to have them installed which can cost you $150. Now to really burn a hole in you wallet the prices are per 3rd member, so double the prices then pull out your hair.

 If you have never installed gears before or don’t know someone that can install them for you, then you might think about buying a full pre-assembled 3rd member with the gears you want. It will cost a little more, but it will save you the time of finding a good quality mechanic that really knows how to install them right. It takes special tools and they need to be set up just perfect or else you’ll chew a lot of things up and this will cost you big time.

Price $600 and up (depend on what you want in them)

Go here to check the best Gear Ratio for the tire size you have or plan to use.


Now it’s always seems to be a toss up between lockers and a dual transfer case when it comes to rock crawling. It’s all kind of a preference thing, but both are great things to do to your rig. For mudding on the other hand, lockers are the way to run.

Lockers make the difference between night and day. However, this is one of those things that should be done with the ring and pinion gears unless you don’t plan on doing lockers or will have a lot of drive time between gearing and locking the axles. There are many different options out there as far as lockers go, but here are the most popular.

  1. Lock Right (cheap and easy to install but make noise and have been known to snap) $250
  2. Detroit Locker (stronger then the Lock Right by far) $430
  3. Spool $160 (never put in the front axle or your axle will become scrap metal)
  4. ARB Air Lockers ($650 plus compressor at $200 plus professional install up to $500)

NOTE: The Lock Right and the Detroit lock up from the momentum of the axle. The Spool is always fully locked. The ARB works off compressed air and a switch in the cab to lock and unlock them.

For a look at installing an Assie Locker.


Well seems like that hole in your wallet wont hold back any more money, so you might want to put one of these on your credit card because they are well worth the money. You have some different options here for a transfer case modification.

  1. Add a dual transfer case kit
  2. Add lower gears to your existing T-Case
  3. Or add both for the ultimate set up.

NOTE: You will need to lengthen your front driveline and shorten your rear when adding a additional t-case. Most places will charge $120-175 to do this if you bring the drivelines in. You also might need to do a Top Shift Mod form a Forward Shift to the existing T-case to accommodate the dual case.

Price Range $400-$1400

Go here to read a Dual Case Review.


Do you really need to rebuild your engine to make it fun? No you don’t. The only reason you may need to ever do a rebuild is if your engine is weak and/or worn out. Believe me nobody likes being behind a stinky smoking vehicle on the trail. Will you need the extra power? Probably would be nice, but not really necessary with the right gearing. I have run many rigs with little or no engine mods done on them and still been able to out wheel some big blocks. I do have a few things I’ve done to get a little more get up and go out of the engine.

  1. K&N Filter, $35
  2. Header with 2 1/4" piping and Flow Master muffler $200-300. (going with larger exhaust pipe you will loose too much back pressure resulting in torque loss)
  3. Stage 2 Cam $100 - 200
  4. Jacobs Electronics ignition $300 (the only problem I’ve found with this is that it requires a secondary switch ($50) that seem to go out every 2 years.


NOTE: Think about the muffler you buy. Yes you can get something that sounds cool, but this might also give you a migraine after being on the trail all day long.

Go here to look for more on Performance Tips to keep your engine run well.



Now that you have your rig all nice and set up, you need to consider protection and tow points. If you will be seeing any type of trail, you might want to get some of the following to help preserve both you and your rig.

  1. Rock Sliders (not cheap Nerf bars) $250
  2. Front & Rear Bumpers with tow points $200 - $400
  3. Roll Cage $250-$700

NOTE: You need to have some good solid tow strap/winch points on your vehicle. Even if you don’t feel comfortable pulling someone else out of a jam, but also for someone else to help pull your ass out of whatever you got yourself into. Don’t make people hunt for something under your rig to strap on to.




  1. Extra Birfield axle’s,($50 used if you can find them) - These would be good to get to know well and how to change them on your own. Might even think about upgrading to Supper Brifs. So far, they are being proven to be the most reliable on the trails.
  2. A Fire Extinguisher ($20) - Good cheap insurance that you can hope to never need to use.
  3. Tools! - Always bring them with you on the trail! This should be common sense.
  4. A good Tow Strap - once again a common sense item
  5. Fluids – Oil (gear and engine), water, coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid are all good to have.
  6. A decent First Aid Kit and Emergency Blanket – more good cheap insurance that you can hope to never need to use.



You can have the nicest built rig in the world and still not know what the hell you are doing. Take the time to learn and feel your rig. Don’t be afraid and set a side your pride and ask for a "spotter" and or advise on a obstacle if you don’t know what to do or how to tackle it.

Getting to know your rig is crucial in understanding it’s capabilities and limits. If you want to have fun, don’t try to impress anyone, go out and have some 4 wheeling fun.

Need some more help? Feel free to post a question on the "tech" section of our Bulletin Board. We will try to help you.
Thanks, good luck, and have fun.



Marlin Crawlers
All Pro Off Road 
Inchworm Gears
Trail Gear
Randy’s Ring and Pinion
Advanced Adapters
LC Engineering
Engine Builders
Longfield Super Axles




The information provided above was submitted by a visitor to takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information above., it's owners, or Toyota Motor Company deny any liability for actions taken based on the information in this article and will not accept responsibility for damage incurred to any vehicle, parts, or person, based on those actions. As always, encourages its visitors to seek the advise of a professional before attempting any modification to any vehicle.

Always wear your seatbelt, drive safely, and keep your wheels down.