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Building a Hilux 4x4 tourer on a budget

By James Secher, 17 Mar 2020 Reviews

Toyota Hilux budget-build part 1 feature

Jimmy picked up a cheap secondhand Hilux, and he’ll keep us updated on the trials and tribulations of building a 4x4 tourer on a budget.

Introduction: Budget build

While the guys down in the Melbourne office have been playing around with their shiny new Ford Ranger, throwing every accessory possible at it to build the ultimate tourer, I thought it would be a bit of fun to see what could be achieved with a bit more of a budget-conscious build.

I’ve started with a tried and true Aussie favourite in the form of a KUN26 Toyota Hilux 3.0-litre turbo-diesel manual dual cab. To keep costs down, the vehicle was purchased sight-unseen from an ex-fleet auction for $10K. Admittedly, this was a bit of a risk, but fortunately once the car arrived and we gave it the once over it turned out to be a solid purchase, with a good service history and only minor cosmetic wear and tear.

With 150,000km showing on the odometer, the Hilux’s engine required a timing belt change, and the wheels and tyres have definitely seen better days. The Hilux ticked all the boxes when it came to starting with a good platform to build a solid tourer on, and I reckon it will give Matt’s Ranger a run for its money at a fraction of the price.

APAC 4x4 on the Sunshine Coast has graciously offered its workshop and will be helping with all the fitment and advice throughout the build, and they’ll also build a custom tray for the Hilux. The team at APAC 4x4 offer complete vehicle fit-outs, custom fabrication services and have been manufacturing high-tech systems for the defence, energy and telecommunications sectors for many years.

There’s a shedload of accessories available for the popular KUN26 Hilux, and we kicked things off by fitting a heap of EFS equipment including an Adventure Stockman bullbar, a 10,000lb Recon R10 winch, nine-inch Vividmax LED driving lights, and a 19-inch Vividmax LED light bar.

4x4 history: 50 years of the Hilux

With a quick trip up to the Glasshouse Mountains to give the Hilux an off-road shakedown, it soon became clear why this model has been a staple for off-road enthusiasts for many years. The engine provides decent performance and the Hilux offers a great combination of off-road capability and on-road ride comfort.

On our example, braking performance is questionable, ground clearance is on the low side and the suspension has seen better days, and after driving a few rutted-out hills it became evident a rear locker would greatly aid off-road capability. And despite the reasonable performance on offer, the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel could always use a power upgrade.

There are plenty of other upgrades for the Hilux on the agenda, including a TJM suspension kit, the aforementioned APAC 4x4 custom tray, a TJM Pro Locker, a Yakima LockNLoad roof rack system, new wheels and tyres, and a performance upgrade.

The complete ownership adventure on 4x4 Shed

4x4 Shed Log 1: Toyota Hilux budget-build 
Current mileage: 150,000km
Date acquired: August 2019
Price: $10,000
Mileage since last update: N/A
Average fuel consumption: N/A

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Update 1: Springs & Boots

Out with the old and in with the new, as Ginger the Hilux gets a much-needed suspension upgrade and fresh ‘used’ rubber.

After its first shakedown trip to the Glasshouse Mountains, it became clear after only a few kilometres that the Hilux’s suspension was in dire need of an upgrade.

While it wasn’t absolutely terrible on the road, there was still a noticeable amount of unwanted body roll, and the rear-end felt a little loose when cornering. The situation was similar off-road, and the suspension bottomed out a few times on bigger hits and became increasingly noisy. The service history of the car indicated the current kit had at least 100,000km on it, and upon inspection the rear shocks were found to be leaking.

There’s a laundry list of accessories you can throw at any older 4x4, but a quick and easy way to breathe new life into one is to upgrade the suspension. I opted for a tried and proven TJM XGS Series 4000 40mm suspension lift, and I’ve had experience with the XGS range before and find it to be a good all-round kit.

Running N2 charged twin-tube shocks with a 20mm larger diameter piston rod and 40mm large diameter piston, TJM claim the XGS Series 4000 delivers lower internal pressure for shock durability, faster damping response for improved body control, a smoother, more comfortable ride, and improved on-road handling and braking ability with reduced noise and vibration.

The guys from APAC 4x4 leant a hand in fitting the new kit and found the Hilux’s suspension bushes were either extremely worn or almost non-existent, so these were also replaced.

The Hilux’s 225/75 R16s had also seen better days and were definitely undersized for the type of touring planned. I found a set of 16x8 King steelies with generic 265/70 R16s on my local ‘marketplace’ for less than $800, so while the Hilux was up on the hoist for the suspension upgrade we swapped over the wheels.

The vehicle looks the part now, but I’ve got my doubts on the longevity of the tyres. I will be putting a lot of thought into the correct tyre for the type of touring I have planned and will be fitting them prior to any long trips.

It was immediately evident on a quick road trip to settle in the new suspension that the ride, cornering and overall vehicle dynamics were greatly improved. I’m looking forward to putting the new XGS suspension through its paces on- and off-road and will provide a full review of the upgrade in an upcoming issue.

4x4 Shed Log 2: Toyota Hilux budget-build 
Current mileage: 150,000km
Mileage since last update: N/A
Average fuel consumption: N/A

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Update 2: Breathing Easy

A focus on longevity and reliability are key in the most recent upgrades to ginger the Hilux.

When I first took the Hilux on a test drive around the block the one thing that stood out was the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine’s lack of grunt, and I knew that would have to be rectified at some point.

There are many go-fast bits for the Hilux – upgraded exhausts, diesel chips, turbo upgrades, throttle response units and more – but before heading down the path of trying to squeeze every bit of power out of the engine, I wanted to start with a snorkel and a catch can, and an upgrade of the intercooler. As the Hilux already has more than 150,000km on the clock, it makes sense to invest in items that will reduce the risk of further wear and premature failure, while also increasing engine efficiency.

I spoke with the guys at 4x4 Mods Australia on the Gold Coast regarding the most suitable intercooler setup for the Hilux, and they suggested a TerraTuff front-mount intercooler kit. Intercoolers are designed to increase performance and improve reliability by reducing inlet temperatures and engine running temperatures, and shifting from the factory top-mount intercooler to a front-mount intercooler increases airflow and helps with heat exchange.

The guys at APAC 4x4 on the Sunshine Coast installed the intercooler and fitted a Sherpa snorkel at the same time. While we had the airbox out for the snorkel install, we had a good look around to see if there had been any evidence of dust making its way past the air cleaner.

Ginger is an ex-fleet vehicle, so I don’t really know how it’s been treated in the past, but thankfully there was no evidence of dust in the intake downstream from the air cleaner. While at APAC 4x4, the guys fitted a new set of brake discs, which provided a much needed and significant increase in stopping power. They also replaced a torn CV boot.

The 4x4 Mods Australia crew suggested I fit a TerraTuff SEPR8R Catch Oil Can to increase the engine’s longevity and reliability. Oil catch cans/oil air separators prevent oil from entering the intake manifold and mixing with the carbon from the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system, which can clog up components and increase wear and the risk of premature failure. The separator eliminates the chance of oil vapour contaminating the intake system and helps keep the internal components of the intercooler clean and working at optimum efficiency.

The TerraTuff SEPR8R Catch Oil Can kit is a direct bolt-in system and it looks the business with its billet alloy finish and stainless steel laser-cut brackets. At $375 it’s a relatively inexpensive investment that increases efficiency and decreases the potential for engine wear.

Since these mods I’ve put some decent highway and off-road kays on the Hilux and it has not missed a beat, performing all-day long on challenging off-road tracks, before getting back on the road for several hours of highway driving, with a steady engine temperature and no decrease in performance and reliability.

The next upgrades on my list include a rear locker and some better off-road rubber. I’m pretty happy with how it performs on the road now, so I’m starting to question whether I’ll need to make an investment in any go-fast bits.

4x4 Shed Log 3: Toyota Hilux budget-build 
Current mileage: 150,000km
Mileage since last update: N/A
Average fuel consumption: N/A

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Update 3: Lock and Load

Ginger the hilux gets up-armoured courtesy of new side rails and side steps from efs. plus, a locknload platform lands up top. 

GINGER the Hilux got some much-needed side protection this week, via a new set of EFS side rails with matching side steps. Plus there are now extra storage options up top, with the addition of a Yakima LockNLoad platform.

Following a few off-road trips that resulted in bush pinstripes, as well as an altercation with a barbed-wire fence, I decided some brush bars would be a welcome accessory. When I first fitted the EFS Stockman bullbar, EFS didn’t have matching side rails or side steps available.

The EFS Adventure Series side rails were released in November this year and are just as solid and well-thought-out as the Stockman bullbar. Made from 2mm-thick steel, Black Endura coat finish and with a 63mm tube body, the side rails complement the bullbar and attach through a very neat single-point mounting and not the common clamp design seen on most other bars.

The Hilux’s standard side steps had seen better days when I first bought the vehicle, and they aren’t looking any better after some rocky off-road adventures, so I fitted a new set of EFS Adventure Series side steps with the side rails. Made from the same 2mm steel, 63mm tube as the bar and side rails, the side steps are a lot stronger than the Hilux’s original aluminium steps and match the entire EFS front and side protection set-up. The checker-plate top stands out a bit against the black rails, so I will eventually powdercoat these black to tone down the bling.

To increase load-carrying ability and versatility, I’ve added a set of Yakima LockNLoad roof racks and a LockNLoad platform on top of the Hilux. I’ve been a big fan of the Yakima range for years, as the fit, finish and innovation of its gear is at an extremely high level. Plus, the integrated bottle openers really ticked the box for me.

The robust LockNLoad platform is made from corrosion-resistant, powder-coated aluminium and features an additional e-coating: a process best described as a cross between plating and painting, for added strength. Unlike other racks I’ve fitted in the past with roof channel mounting points, fitment was relatively quick and easy, and it’s obvious Yakima put a lot of thought into the quality of its product and the fitment process.

The east-west orientation of the slats suits the way I prefer to tie down items, and every slat incorporates a 21mm accessory slot. The perimeter also features a top slot on all sides, for mounting accessories such as a high-lift jack, an awning and a shovel.

Aside from the build quality, one of the main reasons for choosing the Yakima LockNLoad platform was the amount of accessories available and the ease in which they are incorporated. I’m still working out exactly what I want to permanently carry up top, but it would be good to have a set of MaxTrax there full-time instead of randomly throwing them in the tray when leaving for a trip.

A spade mount, a quick-release awning bracket and an eyebolt kit for easy tie-down points also makes sense, leaving a decent amount of room up top for soft and light cargo like swags, chairs, tents and sporting equipment.

The Yakima platform is rated to 100kg, but you should check your vehicle’s roof load capacity, normally found in the manual (this will include the weight of your rack set-up in the total). Initial road tests show no added aero noise, but this may change when adding some permanent accessories.

The LoackNLoad is definitely not on the cheaper end of the scale when it comes to racks, but you get what you pay for. I’m looking forward to adding more accessories from the Yakima range to the platform and will be reviewing them individually in upcoming issues.

4x4 gear prices

EFS Adventure Side Step: $799 (each)
EFS Adventure Side Rail: $498.99 (each)
Yakima LockNLoad Crossbar: $571 (pair)
Yakima LockNLoad Platform: $1218

4x4 Shed Log 4: Toyota Hilux budget-build 
Current mileage: 161,000km
Mileage since last update: 11,000km
Average fuel consumption: N/A

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Update 4: The Dirt Locker

Jimmy’s Hilux gets serious with a TJM Pro Locker.

After one of our off-road trips to the Glenreagh region north-west of Coffs Harbour, it became evident on more challenging, rutted-out hill climbs just how much the Hilux and I were relying on momentum rather than utilising the torque and traction that would be available if running a locking differential.

When off-roading on uneven terrain, it is quite common to have either a front or rear wheel lose traction or even lift off the ground. When this happens the power will always take the path of least resistance and head to the tyre that is losing traction or in the air, leaving the opposite tyre, which is actually the one needing power, with limited to no power.

This is where diff locks come in handy; with a flick of an in-cabin switch you can lock the differential, forcing both wheels across an axle to rotate at the same rate to deliver equal power to each of them, but more importantly delivering power to the tyre actually planted on the ground.

There are a few types of lockers (mechanical, air and electrical) and all essentially perform the same task but are engaged either through mechanical means, via an air compressor or via an electromagnetic mechanism. In most cases of lost traction you will generally have at least one front wheel and one rear wheel firmly on the ground, so either a front locker or rear locker is going to add significant traction by locking either axle.

There is great campfire debate about whether a single locker should be in the front or the rear. The more weight you carry over an axle increases the traction available when locked, so if you carry significant weight in the rear this could be your best option. There is also the push/pull debate when comparing front and rear, with the belief it is easier to pull the vehicle up over challenging terrain with a front locker compared to pushing from the rear.

The most relevant point to this Hilux build is the stress placed on the more complicated front drivetrain when the diff is locked. As the Hilux came to me with more than 150,000km already on the clock I didn’t want to place further stress on the front diff, CV joints and steering components that I don’t have a solid history on, so I opted for a rear Pro Locker from TJM.

TJM’s Pro Locker is an innovative air-actuated locker running a unique one-piece cross shaft (instead of the usual three), hardened thrust washers and large pinion gears. It’s a solid bit of kit at $1499 and is covered by a five-year warranty. The Pro Locker comes with a small dedicated air compressor ($229) for engaging the locker, and we mounted this in the cabin behind the rear seats, running the airlines under the body and the switches up front.

APAC 4x4 on the Sunshine Coast fitted the locker in half a day with no issues. At the time of writing the weather here was on the wet side, with a lot of flooding around my favourite proving ground, so the locker is installed but I’ve yet to take it out and put it through its paces.

The Hilux will be getting some long overdue new wheels and rubber by next issue, and hopefully some time on my favourite uphill tracks. Now that it’s equipped with its new Pro Locker, I’ll let you know how it tackles some of the more challenging climbs where it’s struggled in the past.

4x4 Shed Log 5: Toyota Hilux budget-build 
Current mileage: 166,000km
Mileage since last update: 5000km
Average fuel consumption: 11.27L/100km

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WITH THANKS

www.efs4wd.com.au
http://tjm.com.au
www.yakima.com.au
www.4x4modsaustralia.com.au
https://apac4x4.com.au
www.sherpa4x4.com.au

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