2016 SR5 4Runner Build Part 1

To me, 4Runners are like LEGO sets for adults. There is a vast number of aftermarket parts available for just about everything you can think of. They have a proven track record as being excellent  adventure rigs and have that Toyota reliability that isn’t found in many other vehicles.

Once we had our new 4Runner home, I started planning out what I wanted to do and the companies that had the goods to accomplish my plan. Below is the first in a planned few articles detailing what has already been done and what we plan to do with our 4Runner to make it usable to us both daily driver and as an adventure rig.

The Initial Plan

My initial plan had me doing a full build within a two-year timeframe. Pretty aggressive to me, especially considering the cost of doing everything. I also wanted to keep things as local to Michigan as possible. This proved to be tricky with some of the things I wanted to get. However, now that I’ve delayed some of it, I can work with Michigan local businesses to get what I want.

Once everything was planned, and parts were chosen, I set it aside for about a month to think it over. There were still some things I knew I was going to do right away, but the majority of it could wait until I felt I needed those items. My first run plan included the following items:

  • Victory 4×4 Front Bumper
  • Victory 4×4 Rear Swing Away Bumper
  • Victory 4×4 Roof Rack
  • Victory 4×4 Ladder
  • Victory 4×4 Under Armor
  • BFG KO2 Tires
  • Method 702 Wheels
  • Boss Strong 4Runner Storage Drawer
  • Roof Top Tent
  • Refrigerator and Slider
  • Genesis Offroad Dual Battery System
  • Vehicle Wrap

After laying everything out in a spreadsheet with cost, I started to decide what I would go with. That began to change the plan overall. This 4Runner still had to be my daily driver and get around town vehicle, so I started to wonder if having so much weight in bumpers and armor was going to be a good idea. I decided to go forward with a few things just to get started.


First on the list was a lift that made the 4Runner 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.


The rear of the 4Runner does sag down some when fully loaded as I found out. It doesn’t change how the vehicle drives too much, but it is noticeable, at least it was to me compared with how it drove unloaded. It wasn’t alarming or concerning, but it’s certainly something for me to keep in the back of my mind.

Wheels & Tires

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.

I planned to get an offset wheel to push the wheels out a bit. In the end, I decided not to do this to save on potential wear and failure points. I also did not want to do a body mount chop at this point. I stayed with the OEM wheel and went with the largest tire size I could fit, which was a 285/70/17. 

Internal Storage and Organization

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. I also had a discount code to use for one via Fieldcraft Survival. This brought the price down to the point that was well below anything the competition could have offered. Short of building my own setup, which I am not prepared to do, this was the cheapest and best option to get me started.

I also picked up a Rago Fabrication center console panel set and an Expedition Essentials 4Runner specific mount. Both of these have been great to have. They both offer mounting options for all of the radios, phones, and tablets we end up using while out in the woods. Both are relatively easy installations, and I would highly recommend looking into them.

Vehicle Protection

The last bit of expensive stuff was to determine what sort of paint protection I was going to go with. This might seem silly, but I still like my vehicle to look decent. Plus, scratches everywhere would drive me nuts, especially on a newer vehicle. The plan upfront was to go with a vehicle wrap of some sort. The problem with this one was the cost to do it and the likelihood that it would get ruined by tight forest trails.

After doing some research, I came across Go Off-Road Armor Tech. Their solution was a simple one that I had seen done with Jeeps in the past. GOAT offers magnetic panels that cover the side of the vehicle from front to back. And the cost was well under what a vehicle wrap would cost at just over $500 for a full set. I’ve got a short write-up and review on it. You can check that out here.

Sleeping Situation

The last item I picked up this year was an unplanned one but well worth the expense. I managed to snag a Freespirit Recreation tri-layer rooftop tent for well under what they run brand new. I’ve only had one chance to use it this year, but it was much better than a ground tent option or even hammock camping.

This is just the beginning of getting this 4Runner set up for adventure. I’ve still got some more items to hopefully knock off the list over winter and before Spring hits.

Carista Adapter and Application Review

Carista exists in a space that is flooded by options. You can get on Amazon and look for an OBD2 reader and easily find one under $20. Pair it with certain applications and you have a way to diagnose what’s wrong with your vehicle at home.

Where the Carista adapter stands out though, is in its ability to let you customize your vehicle. Having upgraded from a 2004 Suburban to a 2016 4Runner recently, this was something new to me. In the past with my Suburban, I simply used an OBD2 adapter to tell me what was wrong with it. Now, however, I can use Carista to change certain options on my 4Runner.

Want the windows to all roll down when you unlock the car? Done. Don’t need the eco fuel economy bar on the dash? Done. The options are plentiful and most of them I have no idea what they do. Some are obvious and some are not. And some are listed that don’t even apply to my particular model.

Installation of the adapter is simple, just plug it into the OBD2 port on your vehicle. Download the required application for either Android or IOS and pair the adapter with the app. Once that’s done you can get some basic diagnostic and customization features. Pairing the adapter and the app takes a few minutes each time you start the application.

To unlock all of the features does require a yearly subscription of $40. This is on top of the $30 for the adapter itself. You can forgo the $40 subscription part, however, and use the adapter with a good number of other programs that list out vehicle information and diagnostics. I recommend the Torque app, while not the prettiest looking, it does offer a huge amount of information.

The application itself is simple to use and the learning curve is low. The interface is clean and easy to navigate with only three options being available. The tricky part is understanding what each customization option does and that will take some testing. The options for customization only differ from a timed option or a simple on/off option. 

The only other problem I’ve had is using the Carista adapter with the Torque app for live readouts. The adapter works fine with Torque. The problem is re-connecting it with Carista. The adapter won’t play nicely with both applications at the same time. So you will end up having to re-establish the connection with one or the other depending on which application you’re using at the time.

In all honesty, this isn’t something for everyone. If you have an older model vehicle, check the Carista website to see if your vehicle is even compatible. As an example, my Suburban was only able to use basic diagnostics features, basic service features, and no customization options. Whereas our 4Runner has the ability to use all of the options. It’s a great, inexpensive tool to have if you have a year model that works with it.

Pedal Commander Overview

We ended up with a 2016 SR5 4Runner to replace our Chevy Suburban this past September. Not only as my daily driver but also as our primary adventure rig. One thing I read about and was noticeable right away was the delay in the pedal. It wasn’t terrible, but there was some room for improvement. This was the reason for purchasing a Pedal Commander.

The whole Pedal Commander unit and harness.

My usage of the Pedal Commander was done with the vehicle being driven entirely on the pavement. I have not had a chance to see how the Pedal Commander is going to change off-road driving. I do a lot of city driving and use the cruise control every chance I get to try and save fuel.  It’s not a huge delay, but it is noticeable. Is it a deal-breaker on driving a 4Runner? No. Will it cause some problems when you start adding heavy stuff? Probably.

If you don’t know what Pedal Commander is, it’s a small controller box that plugs into the pedal and the pedal wiring harness. Once plugged in, you can adjust the response on the pedal by selecting four different options; Eco, City, Sport, and Sport+. You can also change the sensitivity up or down for each selection as well.

Pedal Commander plugs into the pedal, and the pedal harness plugs into the Pedal Commander.

Each mode makes the throttle response markedly different. I was pleasantly surprised using the city mode to find how much it changed the response on the vehicle. On average, it didn’t change my MPG much from the stock pedal. I was still getting 16-17 MPG in and around the city.

The control box makes switching between settings easy.

I tried the Eco mode for about a week. Pedal Commander claims that it can help save you fuel; however, I would disagree with that. Driving in this mode cuts the response by 50%, which is a noticeable change in the pedal response. I found myself pushing the pedal down more in response to the vehicle not moving as quickly as it would in stock or city mode.

You have to be generous with not having a heavy foot to see any savings. My mileage was almost worse because of this. Honestly, I found that driving in the city with this setting was a terrible idea. If you live in a smaller town or city, then this might work for you. In major metropolitan areas, where people are always in a hurry, this setting is not a good idea.

I briefly tried sport mode for a couple of days. It was considerably different than city mode and is not something I would continue to use. And as far as sport plus, haven’t even given it a thought. Pedal Commander’s instructions on that one state that it should be used at the track. I’m not planning on taking my 4Runner to M1 Concourse anytime soon.

The controller I bought can also be app-controlled from my phone or tablet. The box itself is super easy to use, but the app makes it even easier. Especially if you mount the Pedal Commander somewhere, it becomes non-accessible. I installed the control box where I could get at, but found I was using the app just as much.

If you find your Toyota, or whatever vehicle you drive, has poor pedal control, then the Pedal Commander might be right for you. It’s not a cheap option at roughly $300, but it makes a difference in response time.

Harding Expedition Company Profile

Harding Expedition Company (HEXCO) is a jack of all trades company in the overland space. Their business is a bunch of puzzle pieces that come together to form a single unique entity.

HEXCO is run by two adventure-seeking people who wanted to build a network of like-minded people across the country. The intent with HEXCO was to combine loves of travel, engineering, and aviation into a viable business.

Elijah Aikens, one of the founders, states, “We didn’t want to be just another overland brand. From the beginning, I’ve tried to make our business structure different so we can focus on building a community and better relationships with our customers and affiliates.”

The difference between HEXCO and other businesses is what they offer in their affiliate program. For a flat rate for the year (or a monthly fee), affiliates can take advantage of several options HEXCO offers in the form of a discount for online items, media services, and more things on the horizon.

The products they offer are familiar to anyone into overlanding and adventure travel. Products from recognizable companies like Baja Designs Lights, Tembo Tusk, Black Rhino, GOAT Truck Armor, and many more can be purchased from their online store.

New for 2020 is its media services package. For an additional $30, you can take advantage of the artists they have on staff. Services include photo editing, logo and branding design, Lightroom presets, and photography contracts (local to them and abroad). 

Another arm of HEXCO is Wander Wear You Are (WanderWYA) apparel, which houses soft goods with designs for and by the community. It might be the smaller piece of the larger puzzle but no less critical. 

WanderWYA is where paying for media services can pay off. HEXCO offers branding and logo services with the media package, which can turn into people getting designs for their own needs and apparel.

The last piece is probably the most exciting. We’ve talked with plenty of people who feel the cost of adventure can be too high. Hope Quests is a non-profit that helps adventurers fund what they love doing while also providing money to charity. 

The thing that makes it unique is it is merely not a funding tool. Applicant teams apply to HopeQuests with a charity in mind and compete against each other to raise funds. Fifty percent of the raised funds go to the charity, 40 percent goes to the winning team, and 10 percent goes into a victors pool. The team that wins the funding competition receives the victor’s pool as a bonus. 

Hope Quests is an exciting take on helping people fund their travels outside of the usual routes like GoFundMe. All-in-all, we here at Michigan Overland 100% support HEXCO and like the direction they are going in. They are a small business worth investing in, and at such a low cost to join, it’s almost a sin not to. Check them out at the link below and make sure to jump on board their affiliate program to take advantage of what they have to offer.

Follow HEXCO on Instagram @hardingexco, @harding.media, and @hopequests.

Link: https://hardingexco.com/products/hexco-affiliate-program2020

One Time Discount Code: iliketoread10

GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station Review

In 2015, sometime before we kicked off Michigan Overland as more than just an idea I surveyed the gear I had. One thing that was missing was a good table to cook off of. I did my research and looked at several different variations of tables at varying prices. What I ended up with was the GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station that I managed to snag on sale and with a discount at REI.

Cooking up some tasty burgers at camp.

Eventually I concluded that, while cool, I did not want a table that required a lot of assembly. Something that folded up. Had a low profile. And would pack easily into the back of my Suburban.

The cook station itself unfolds with ease and has four fold-out plastic side tables. The main middle section is made of aluminum, unfolds up, and locks into place. I can say that I have not had any issues with the main section or the side sections folding back down once they are up and locked. There is also a lower section that folds out by itself and can be used for storage.

The GCI Cook Station almost completely unfolded.

Folded up it only takes up about 4 inches of space. It’s till pretty tall folded up at just under 35 inches. It fits in the back of my Suburban behind the third row with no problem, but something smaller might have issues. I will say that despite its weight at 20 pounds it does not feel overly cumbersome. The counter section will hold up to 48 pounds and each side shelf will hold up to 30lbs.

Packed up and ready to be deployed or stowed.

There is really only a few small drawbacks I’ve had with this table. Adding a stove makes cooking easy at a manageable and comfortable height.

However, cutting on the side shelves is a different story. You end up hunched over in an uncomfortable position whatever you are cutting up. Along with that, the shelves feel flimsy when cutting on them. To the point where it almost feels like you are going to slip or the shelf itself is going to collapse.

Overall this has been a solid table and cook station. It packs up easily and is small enough to be out of the way in and out of the vehicle. For the price, either bought on Amazon or directly from GCI, I would recommend this to anyone in the market for a folding cook-station.

Purchase Links: GCI | Amazon