A few years back, I wrote an article about why I chose a 2004 Suburban as my adventure rig. At the time, it was functional for usage as my daily driver and my adventure vehicle. It could haul my entire family to either the grocery store or out into the woods. It had its pros and cons for sure, but it was what worked at the time.
Fast forward to 2019, and my once-reliable Suburban started to have some significant problems. First, we had to have the entire rear differential replaced as it decided to eat itself at some point. At the time, I thought I would keep the vehicle and continue driving it, but I should have invested that money into a new vehicle.
After the differential replacement, little gremlins started appearing all over, and we ended up having to dump more money into several different repairs. After the third round of being in the shop, my wife had had enough and told me no more. She suggested getting something newer and more reliable.
This started generating ideas for what was next. We bought the Suburban because we needed something to transport five people. My older son has his own vehicle now, so that was no longer a factor. A downgrade in vehicle size was going to happen.
I started to write up lists of what was possible in terms of affordability, reliability, and availability of aftermarket parts. Those three things were the primary drivers in coming up with a list of vehicles, with reliability being the most important. Below is ultimately what I came up to start.
- Jeep Gladiator
- Chevy Colorado
- Toyota Tundra
- Toyota 4Runner
- Toyota Tacoma
The Jeep Gladiator was making its presence known in the overlanding and off-road community, but the price was not appealing for me. Also, I’m not a huge Jeep guy, which put it at the bottom of the list. The Colorado was an enticing option until the reliability issues started to appear. Having owned two Chevy’s in the past ten years, I know it’s just a matter of time before problems start appearing.
That left the three Toyota options. We went to test drive each of them at our local Toyota dealership. Luckily they did not have a Tundra on the lot at the time, which probably saved me a considerable amount of money in car payment and fuel costs. Looking back now, it may have been the better option because we want to purchase a travel trailer at some point.
The Tacoma would have been a great dedicated adventure vehicle, and that’s honestly what I had been planning for. The problem we had was the size of the backseat. With two kids still in booster seats, it was definitely not big enough for their little legs. This left us with the option of the 4Runner, something I knew would work for what I wanted plus hauling the family. It also restarted my planning for the vehicle and what I wanted to do with it.
In the end, we rolled out of the dealership with a black 2016 SR5 Premium 4Runner with 56,000 miles on it. The color wasn’t my first pick, but the price and mileage were good, and we didn’t want to pass it up. The other great thing was it was still stock and hadn’t been an adventure rig at any point. Overall, it checked all of the boxes I needed it to check to get it home and start the process of turning it into my adventure rig.
The Initial Build
The planning and research started over after I had been driving it for a few weeks. First on the list was a lift that made it comfortable to drive and would still function off-road. I did not want to break the bank on a suspension, so it had to fall within my price range as well. I ended up going with a Toytec 3 inch Aluma Series Boss Suspension Kit. The only option I did not get with the kit was the heavy-duty springs, something I wish I had done from the start.
After having Expedition Vehicle Outfitters install the lift, tires were next on my list. I did not plan on replacing the OEM wheel with an offset wheel, so just the tires were necessary. We ended up going with the tried and true BFG KO2. They’ve been a proven good off and on-road tire that works well in all circumstances.
The next major purchase was for some storage. Boss Strong Box had just released their single drawer 4Runner specific box, so I jumped on getting one. Their price was competitive enough with other systems that it was worth sacrificing certain options like a split drawer system. Plus, it’s an easy install that requires no drilling into the body, but instead uses the tiedown points in the cargo area.
Why It Works For Us
The biggest and most important thing is Toyota’s known reliability in their vehicles. After having dealt with almost a year of an unreliable vehicle, it’s good to know those types of costs shouldn’t be an issue for a while. We also went through with purchasing an extended warranty that should cover us for most problems that aren’t related to any modifications we made to the vehicle.
Fuel costs are also considerably better—our Suburban average $80-$100 per fill-up versus the $30-$40 for the 4Runner. When you’re using your vehicle as your daily driver, the lower costs make a difference month to month. Initially, the MPGs were higher as well but with a lift and larger tires that have dropped the overall number down a few MPGs.
I’ve been a fan of the 4Runner for some time now. Getting one was always high on my list, but I always assumed I would end up with an older 4th generation because of still needing to meet family travel requirements. I’m glad I went with the newer 5th generation because of its reliability, and I honestly love the styling on it. I think Toyota has surpassed other SUV manufacturers in that they aren’t going with how most car companies are styling their SUVs, which in my opinion, is terrible. I’m thrilled with the purchase, and I’m excited about the prospects of being able to have a build that suits our overall needs.