2004 Toyota Sequoia - Building a Family Snow Cruiser

jpeterferrell

New member
I am stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I've been into cars for decades, but mostly sports cars and German sedans. I've done everything from engine swaps to ground-up rebuilds of mid-90s sports cars. I find myself now with a new kid (10 months) and stationed in an area near some of the best skiing in the world - but a 2.5 hour drive away through some pretty terrible mountain passes either way you go. I also find myself with both in-laws in town frequently. My wife and I each drive 5-passenger SUVs (I drive a Macan, she drives an RDX). We can't fit the kid, in-laws, and ski gear in a single vehicle, and driving two vehicles is problematic - most ski resort condos only come with one parking spot, and overnight parking is $$$ (think $30-$75/night).

So, I bought a used 2004 Toyota Sequoia, Limited, 4WD. It's got a lot of miles (260k) but was extremely well maintained by the prior owner (eg, timing belt done within the last 3k miles). It's already got Bilstein front shocks, but that's about it for modifications. I want to turn this thing into our beater, indestructible, snow destroying whole-family transport. I want to drive this thing when we travel all around Colorado - we aren't big into hiking or camping but will do a bit of that in the summer - but primarily I want it equipped to make it through the worst of the snow and ice Colorado can dish out with 4 adults, 1 kid, everyone's luggage and kid-supplies, and at least 4 pairs of skis.

I'm in the process of doing all the basic stuff - zeroing out all the maintenance items, I got some 2017 Tacoma 16-inch take-offs to put winter tires on, and I'm otherwise cleaning it up and doing some minor rust-busting underneath the vehicle. But I have never really built up something for this purpose. I need advice on things like do I need to lift it at all, what's my best option for ski storage (box or rack), should I upgrade the rear shocks to Bilsteins, will I get any benefit from larger tires (snows, obviously), do I need to do something like a bull bar with lights, etc. My goal is for this thing to be bulletproof reliable, transport the people and gear noted above comfortably, and be able to rip through any kind of blizzard/snowstorm/etc. If the road is open (even if it's chain-law only!) I want to be able to make it to the resorts.

Thanks for any advice you guys can give me! I lurked a long time on this forum before I made the choice to get this vehicle and start a new adventure in automotive construction. I know you all will have great suggestions, and probably things I never thought of!
 

highwest

Active member
I prefer ski box box to ski rack in order to keep the road grime out of the binders, edges, and bases, especially when spending that much time on the road getting to the skiing. It pulls double duty in the summer as a dry place to put lightweight gear - sleeping stuff and camp chairs for us.
 

gatorgrizz27

Active member
Sounds like a fun project. I have very little experience with hauling skis around or driving in snow, but some stuff is applicable to any bad weather vehicle.

For starters, I’d add a battery tender plug or Anderson connector to allow it to sit on a battery charger, ensuring it will start after not being driven for awhile. A jump starter pack, tow strap (and recovery points if needed), set of traction boards, and emergency blankets/food/water/chemical heaters should all be added before the first trip.

Going up from there, I’d include some sort of GMRS or HAM radio, a PLB, and then other mods. Fog lights (amber, mounted as low as possible, a good brand like Hella), serious snow tires plus full sized matching spare (not sure if studs are a good idea on extended highway trips), and possibly a multi-mount winch if a front receiver is available for that vehicle. The general rule is 1.5x the loaded vehicle weight, but for snow and ice, or just sliding off the road into a ditch, less will typically do the job.


As far as ski storage goes, it seems like it would be nice to have a box mounted on one side and a clamp type mount that can attach either inside the box or on the roof bars next to it. That would allow you to store luggage in the box on the way to/from resorts, and skis out in the open when they are clean. Once you get there and unpacked, the ski rack can go inside the box to keep them from getting frozen up being hauled back and forth, and possibly even allowing you to leave them on the vehicle overnight rather than lugging them in. I’m sure some sort of heater on a timer could be rigged up inside the box if needed to defrost everything.

When it comes to packing everything in the vehicle, you’ll just have to play around with it. Some type of rear platform to throw duffle bags on and the stroller, pack and play, etc underneath it might be worthwhile. If the wife or inlaws tend to bring too much junk, a popular method is handing them a duffel bag that you know where it can fit with everything else. If it goes in the bag, it can come, if not, sorry.
 

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NoDak

Member
Does it have air suspension in the rear? Bilstein doesn't make a shock that will work with the rear airbags. Not enough dampening. Might explain why it only has fronts.
 

jpeterferrell

New member
No air suspension in the back - not quite sure why they didn't swap all four at the same time, but that's one of my first items! Great suggestion on the battery tender, and the emergency pack (blankets, water, food, etc). I'm going to try and assemble something for the front where I can mount amber fog lights and the winch. Up top I think I'm going to go with a Yakima 18 or 21 size box. Great suggestion on the matching full-size spare - I need to pull the spare that's under there right now and see what kind of shape it's in.

This weekend I get underneath it and bust rust/paint! I also think I may pull the factory running boards in favor of some more compact nerf bars - I can see the factor running boards getting snow plugged all up in various crevices those have. !
 

rnArmy

Adventurer
Do they make true tracks (a gear driven limited slip) for your vehicle? If so, at least one in the rear. I'm assuming you're open front and rear right now.
 

jpeterferrell

New member
Do they make true tracks (a gear driven limited slip) for your vehicle? If so, at least one in the rear. I'm assuming you're open front and rear right now.
Yep - open rear open front. The vehicle does have a VCDS/VTC function, but I know that's not a substitute for something like the TrueTrac. They actually do offer one that will fit the rear of this thing - I'm going to look into that right now!
 

rnArmy

Adventurer
Excellent. They work awesome - you will be pleased. I was stationed at Ft Carson from 1983 to 1985. They got a lot of snow out there.
 

rayra

Expedition Leader
Weathertech floor mats. Not being facetious. Gotta keep all that muck out of the carpets. In fact treat those too.
 
Boxes are great for protecting gear...try to fill all the nooks and crannies with lightweight extra stuff...but be sure to check the height of your vehicle. We ran a box on top of our Suburban without issue but some condo garages are barely 7’ clearance and you could easily tear the box and factory racks off of the Sequoia. Traditional ski racks typically sit lower on the roof.

Rayra is right on with the floor mats (Husky also makes a good mat) but if it were me that’s the only thing I would purchase right off the bat. I wouldn’t put any additional work into it (other than baselining the mechanicals/ fluids which you are currently doing anyway) and take a couple of ski trips with it to find out what you are missing. A trip with the kids and in-laws will quickly show what you need...don’t ask me how I know. 🤦‍♂️😂
 

jpeterferrell

New member
I got a box - a Yakima Skybox 18. Fits great, seems to suit the Sequoia well. I will definitely need to see what the clearance is on some of these resort parking garages though, I know they can be a tight fit. I've zeroed out all the fluids/filters/mechanicals, changed the expendable stuff (wipers, etc) and swapped the bulbs that were burned out here and there. The only things I have left are to put the new tires on (Kumho Road Venture AT51s) and get the rear shocks swapped out for the matching Bilsteins. I'm also going to do the steering rack bushings (they're a grand total of $30...) and get it aligned after all that is done. I think the fuel gauge sending unit may be going out, but that looks like an achievable home mechanic thing on this one (dropping the fuel tank doesn't look terrible hard).

It seems like the next step (if I were to want to keep building it - essentially for the fun of building it) is to look into LSDs for both the front and the rear (rear first, of course). I also might look into a replacement front bumper that gives me a bit better approach to the big snow piles than the factory one (and the factory one is cracked), which would then get a set of very amber fog lights!
 

calicamper

Expedition Leader
My factory bumper was easily fixed by a local body shop twice. Once from someone backing into it and once after I clipped some road debri on the highway. The shop welded the abs and repainted $600. I looked into a built one we had a guy about 3 hours away building beautiful bumpers for Tundras and Sequoias but I skipped it after the stock bumper fix was 1/3 the price.
Don’t go crazy on big tires or lockers. Its actually quite good in stock form and the front Tcase isn’t super happy about bigger tires.
I had a 07 with the 5spd and HP bump. My dad bought it from me recently and I have 19 Expedition now.
 

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jpeterferrell

New member
My factory bumper was easily fixed by a local body shop twice. Once from someone backing into it and once after I clipped some road debri on the highway. The shop welded the abs and repainted $600. I looked into a built one we had a guy about 3 hours away building beautiful bumpers for Tundras and Sequoias but I skipped it after the stock bumper fix was 1/3 the price.
Don’t go crazy on big tires or lockers. Its actually quite good in stock form and the front Tcase isn’t super happy about bigger tires.
I had a 07 with the 5spd and HP bump. My dad bought it from me recently and I have 19 Expedition now.
I decided not to go crazy on tires - just one size up (265/70/17s vice 265/65/17s). I'll see how the front bumper holds up over the next little bit - not very high on the priority list. I think all I have to do now is tackle an annoying exhaust leak (95% sure it's the manifold..helloooo headers) and re-securing a bunch of the interior plastics. I'm also going to pull all the seats and get the inside deep cleaned, and then get those Weathertech mats!

Fun fact - I was going to take the first test trip this week (from Colorado Springs to Keystone)...and then they shut all the resorts down. Just my luck...!
 

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heehawhardy

Adventurering
Great looking truck there. Just picked up a 2006 last month myself.

Just recently installed the Energy Suspension steering rack bushings and installed Bilstein 4600's on the rear of mine (my factory rears where original with 196,00). Does yours have the adjustable 5100’s on the front (silver/polished housing) or the

For front fogs I would go with BajaDesigns, they have a plug and play kit to upgrade the factory to LED kit. I agree with the all weather mats BIG TIME, it’ll save the floor interior from excessive wear. Could also look into Molle system for back of front seats/sunvisor for other storage solutions for unused space.
 
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