I just finished my first FJ build and thought I’d share the experience. My thinking is that some might relate.
It all started one fine day when I abruptly realized I had all this great recovery gear but nowhere to attach it to on the front end of my stock FJ. Let’s face it, Toyota provided nothing for us in that regard and the wimpy loops welded to the front of the frame are merely shipping tie-downs rated to nothing even close to the loads encountered in a recovery.
The previous sense of security I’d had in my gear, although admittedly an arrogant and foolish perception, instantly evaporated. I considered bolt on frame brackets, etc., but ultimately decided to get a good off road front bumper with recovery points and thought this would solve the problem. Besides, I wanted a brush guard and I’ve heard it’s only a matter of time before the Toyota plastic gets torn off on the trail anyway. Brackets et al won’t address this.
FJs have a considerable rake to them. It’s typical of Toyota vehicles and over time I’ve formulated the opinion that Toyota engineers did this so the vehicle could be brought to it’s maximum weight without the rear end sagging. Of course that’s pure speculation on my part but the best I can come up with. Knowing bumpers like I’ve described weigh 100+ pounds, it dawned on me that adding one would increase my rake to a ridiculous angle. Alas, some type of front end lift would be required to compensate.
I’d already intended installing a 3” lift at some point in the future so I decided to take the hit now rather than later and justifying that expense to myself by reasoning it would be cheaper in the long run to install the 3" lift now rather than installing a front end solution only to discard it later on when I eventually installed the lift.
This is the precise moment the lid on my precariously bulging can of worms suddenly burst open. Suspension lifts come in quite a variety of configurations based not only on how the vehicle is being used and the type of duty it will see, but in good part on how much weight has been, or is being, added to the forward and aft ends of the vehicle. "Oh, crap", I said as the implications flooded over me. Only, I didn’t say crap.
I said crap a few more times for good measure.
There were a number of things I was planning on adding to my rig in the future and they all added significant mass. My wallet shuddered. Once again, the little red guy with the pitchfork on my shoulder argued that it would be ultimately cheaper in the long run to get all these interrelated things taken care of now rather than in stages. And you know what? The little bastard wearing the white gown, halo and wings on my other shoulder didn’t say a word. Dilemma solved.
The decision making process of a madman is a wonder to behold. But I digress.
Which lift I would install was simple: 3” OME. The various shock and coil options I would need to choose would be determined by the rest of the equipment I was adding so that would sort itself out. I’d planned on eventually including a rear bumper and winch, so I added them to the burgeoning list. I then proceeded with my search starting with the front bumper.
I must’ve looked at hundreds of bumpers. I searched until my eyes felt like they were full of sand. I searched until my vision blurred in Pavlovian response to the mere mention of the word “bumper”. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. In case you're wondering, there are a couple things I personally don’t like about the ARB bumpers hence my long search to find something comparable. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re fantastic bumpers. They’re just not for me.
I eventually settled on a Warrior bumper. Ironically, I initially crossed it off the list because the bottom edge of the brush guard appeared to interfere ever so slightly with the top edge of the headlights. I’m not interested in anything that diminishes the performance of something else, especially head lights.
A couple days later it dawned on me that the light cast downward by a headlight is being reflected from the TOP half of the curved lens reflector and the light cast upward is being reflected from the BOTTOM half of the lens reflector. DOH! As such, the Warrior brush guard is blocking nothing.
The bumper I previously discounted became my choice. I was looking for something with a winch mount and brush guard that didn’t have ghastly holes in it for fog lights or in the shape of a logo. It had to be indestructible yet light weight and not obnoxiously huge. It also had to be a drop-in installation without modification and utilize the existing bumper mounts. This particular model seemed to satisfy form, fit and function. I settled on the matching Warrior rear bumper.
Clearly there are a lot of crazy cool mods than can be made to one’s suspension, all of which I can add later if I want. However, I felt that at a minimum I needed to replace my UCAs to get the alignment back closer to spec. Total Chaos became my choice. This search was a surprisingly painless process compared to finding bumpers. The winch was also a no-brainer. The Warn VR10 has a capacity almost double my GVW and, let’s face it, it’s a Warn. It also mounts nicely in the bumper I chose.
During my bumper search, I discovered one of the issues with off road bumpers and Fjs is that they pretty much all expose the windshield washer reservoir. That huge plastic Toyota bumper used to hide a lot of stuff. Now it’s gone. To make matters worse, the pump is at the bottom of the washer bottle. Painting the stock plastic reservoir black and allowing the pump to hang down and make intimate acquaintance with the first rock I encounter would be asking for trouble.
There are a lot of fixes for this out there but the best one I found is the relocation kit offered by Schrockworks. It’s well constructed and mounts to existing hard points on the passenger fender. I don’t plan on adding a second battery so this location is perfect for me. The old pump is mounted onto the new reservoir and they provide an electrical harness extension.
Another issue with off road bumpers and Fjs, I again discovered, is the exposure of the bottom portion of the radiator. I solved this via a front skid plate that spans between the bumper and the Toyota skid plate.
At this point I felt I'd identified everything that would make up my first FJ build and was ready to start. However, although I grew up twisting a wrench, I don’t have the time or resources any more to DIY the thing so I decided to have Desert Rat at Kolb and 22nd do the install for me. Bryan rounded up all the parts i wanted, after which he and Zack did the install over the course of a couple days. A couple "gotchas" were encountered in the process, but they handled it like pros.
Mounting the Warn winch created an interference between the solenoid and the bottom edge of the front grill. Notching out the grill was something I wasn’t even going to consider so Bryan fabricated a groovy bracket that relocates the solenoid on a couple existing hard points on the driver’s fender. He then rewired the whole winch system to relocate it. The location he chose for the winch solenoid is a great spot, affords a short run to the battery, and orients the remote control connector for easy access.
Zack and Bryan at Desert Rat did a fantastic job and I’m glad I had them do the install. And on top of that, they're great guys as well. So, if you’re in Tucson and need mods to your rig, I’m just saying.
By the way, don’t forget the sway bar relocation kit like I did, otherwise you’ll have to wait a few days for parts before you can go wheeling in your new build. It might’ve been helpful if ARB had mentioned that.
That’s the end of my little saga. I’ve uploaded a few pics to my gallery. If you've made it this far through my ramblings then you have my utmost admiration.
...And there was much rejoicing *yea*