Pan-Am Highway "Expedition" Build - 2015 TRD Tacoma

bootstobirks

New member
ExPo: I've been lurking in the shadows for the last 4 years, stealing inspiration for our build and how-to's when it came to taking apart the truck. Thanks! The build is done, we're on the road, and I want to share it with the community here to help inspire the next builders!

So we'll start with: What, Why, and How Much Did It Cost? 🚗+💰+⏲=🏠

One of our plans with our blog and IG account (bootstobirks.com and IG@bootstobirks) is to show that anybody can do what we're doing. When planning/building the truck, I found it so frustrating that people loved to share their rad photos but nothing about what it cost or how long it took. So, to be completely transparent, we're blogging and posting on here an overview and then details of our entire build.

Over the next few months, I will have 12-ish posts that will go into detail on each component of the build. It's really important for me to share why we did things, how much it cost, and what we would've done differently. The blog redesign is still a work in progress, but we're getting there! ⁣

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The Truck Build: Concept
Designing and building the truck did not differ too much from buying a house. We first needed to figure out what we were planning on doing with the truck (i.e., established campgrounds, rock crawling, solo backcountry expedition travel, driving mostly asphalt, dirt, or a combination of the two, etc.) which then lent itself to our wants vs. needs. If we satisfied every want, we would have used our entire travel budget before leaving the garage. However, if we did not satisfy our true needs, we would end up “surviving” in our living situation for the next 24 months.

Expected Use – How did we envision using the truck?
  • 50k(+) miles of continuous overland travel: We planned on driving over 50k miles without access to our original “home base” or “garage”. Therefore, everything needed to be designed to last two years. Any wear and tear or broken components would likely result in having someone else fix it in their shop… ($$$).
  • Mix of paved and gravel roads: It’s silly to think that we’ll never hit a four-lane highway, but we want our main route to be mostly secondary roads, logging roads, BLM/National Forest access roads, and hard packed gravel up north or in rural areas. Because of the 50k+ miles without going back to a home base, we never intended to do much hardcore off-roading, rock crawling, or anything of that nature.
  • Full-time residence: No weekend trips here, we needed to be able to live out of the truck full time for 24 months. Obviously, we’ll take every warm bed/hot shower that comes our way as we travel, but we can’t rely on them!
Constraints – What were our wants vs. needs?
  • Stand up inside the living compartment: The only thing that truly sucked about living in Mushu, our 1993 Subaru station wagon from New Zealand, was that you could never stand up. On a sunny day that’s not a problem. On the other hand, if it’s raining for 3 days in a row, you end up laying in the back of a 2 person coffin trying not to kill each other. To do this trip for 24 months, we NEEDED to be able to stand up in our living space.
  • Longevity: We couldn’t afford to have expensive repairs every couple of months nor did we want to regularly breakdown on the side of the road in a country that we didn’t speak the language. The truck had to be in good working order and built to last.
  • Stay on budget: Based on early projections when we first started discussing the concept of this trip in 2015, we wanted to keep the budget under $50k. This meant doing much of the work ourselves and making sure that every purchase we made matched our expected use (to the best of our knowledge at the time).
End Result – What did it cost and how long did it take?
Total Cost: $55,135
$29,000 – 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road (new)
$26,135 – Modifications and Buildout

Planning Time: 3.5 years
Build Time: 6 months (primarily nights and weekends spread across 2016 to 2018)
GVWR: 6,900lbs (loaded for 5 days with extra fuel/water)
 

bootstobirks

New member
Part I: Bumpers, Sliders, and Skids

Goal: Add some “armor” on the perimeter of the soon-to-be expedition truck that gives added protection from road conditions, animals, and other drivers. Too much armor, and you’re just adding weight and spending money on a truck that is never supposed to be doing any “rock crawling.” Too little armor and the deer that you hit on the highway is going through your radiator and/or window. Plus, they all help you look cool.

Build Time: Approx. 30hrs
Cost: Approx. $5,250

Front and Rear Bumpers:
Front bumpers are basically mandatory if you think you’re going to be a cool overlanding truck. ESPECIALLY if you’re going to put it on Instagram! Yes, they provide a useful function… but obviously, that’s secondary.

We went with a Pelyfreybilt aluminum front bumper with a standard mounting bracket for a Warn winch and 20” light bar. The lightweight benefits of aluminum far outweighed the added cost, as we knew early on that every added pound was going to matter. Wanting to prevent damage to the truck from animal impacts, we went with a full bumper with lightbar hoops. A little “louder” than most, but the thought was to have as much protection as possible.

Installing the front bumper itself was as easy as could be. The factory components that needed to be removed were mostly all plastic molding held on by clips that we broke half of trying to take off. The new bumper bolted to a set of studs that formerly held the aluminum crush bar, which initially protected the radiator from a head-on crash. With the bumper on the frame studs, getting it situated took a bit of precision. Leveling the left and right sides of the bumper to both the ground and the body took more time than any of the prep, and if it were not for wiring in lights and a winch, it would have been a quick half-day job. The lighting made things a bit more complicated, which you can read about in a couple more weeks!

expedition overland truck build bumper installationexpedition overland truck build bumper installationexpedition overland truck build bumper installation

The rear bumper also came from Pelfreybilt and went on a few months after the front. [Side note: our rear bumper shipped about 2 weeks before they declared bankruptcy and reneged on all orders/deposits. Phew!]

We wanted to have a conceptual design of the living compartment before buying a rear bumper to avoid functionality conflicts. Not wanting to carry reserve fuel in temporary storage inside the living compartment (fumes, fire risk, etc.), we went full-on with a swing arm steel bumper and bracket for the spare tire and two 5-gallon jerry cans. Like most products from Pelfreybilt we bought, there are no complaints from me with this bumper. Everything works as billed, including the lock system for the jerry cans and latching mechanism for the swing arm. The only problem is weight; both the steel base and swing arm are HEAVY, not to mention it’s a lot of weight sitting four feet behind the rear axle.

Installing the rear bumper was only slightly more complicated than the front. Because of the swing arm blocking its view, the backup camera needed to come out of the tailgate. A quick YouTube video and 30 minutes of work had the camera dangling from its wiring harness. Since the tailgate wouldn’t be needed with the capper on, we ditched it into the “sell pile” soon after the bumper install. The disassembly started with removing the factory trailer hitch and chrome bumper, which was just a few simple bolts to pop out and reuse for mounting the Pelyfrybilt steel bumper. The license plate bracket and swing gate assembly was relatively intuitive, which was good because we lost the instructions at some point mid-installation. Carefully packing the bearings made for the only time-consuming part of the entire rear bumper process. All-in-all, it was about 6 hours from start to finish for a badass (albeit heavy) swing arm rear bumper.

expedition overland truck build bumper installationexpedition overland truck build bumper installationexpedition overland truck build bumper installation
expedition overland truck build bumper installationexpedition overland truck build bumper installation

Sliders:
Rock sliders were a new concept to us when we started planning the truck. In theory, they are load bearing “running boards” that stretches between the tires outside the body panels. They allow the tires to fall off of rocks when crawling and prevent the truck from landing on a rock with the weight on the frame rail or body panels.

We bought the sliders for a slightly different purpose, as we never intended to be doing any rock crawling. They make a good step up into the cabin and more importantly, protect the exterior of the truck. I never saw any research or stories validating my assumption, but heavy-duty steel pipe welded to the side of the frame should undoubtedly reinforce the truck when it comes to collisions. Whether we were to get sideswiped or a full on accident, the hope is that sliders will provide enough armor to prevent significant injury inside the cabin or to the body.

There are two types of sliders: bolt-on and weld-on, and, at the advice of the crew at Pelfreybilt, we opted for the weld-on variation. After a little bit of prep work to sand off some paint, the installation was a pretty easy two-person job. One person held the slider in place, and the other ran the welder. Easy peasy!

expedition overland truck build rock slider installation
expedition overland truck build rock slider installation
expedition overland truck build rock slider installation


Skid Plates:
Low cost and hopefully, high reward. Steel skid plates are designed to let the truck slide off rocks when you’re doing technical off-roading. Aluminum skid plates are designed to protect the undercarriage but can puncture or deform when impacted.
We installed one aluminum skid plate to protect the oil pan from a front impact. The idea is that if we ever run into anything that hits the skid plate, it will protect the oil pan from puncture. If we’re bouncing rocks off the oil pan, it’s time to turn around and find an alternate route, as the wear and tear on the truck wouldn’t be worth it!
Installation only took about an hour, especially with everything already off for the front bumper. A few 18mm bolts were really all that we needed to take out to swap the factory stamped steel plate with the Pelfreybilt aluminum skid.

expedition overland truck build skid plate installation
expedition overland truck build skid plate installation


Thoughts looking back:
Despite being out of business, I can’t complain at all about the products from Pelfreybilt. It’s a shame they are gone, as they really make a great product. The truck is heavier overall than we wanted it to be by about 750lbs and the armor is heavy. Fortunately, the front bumper is aluminum, but the rear bumper with a swing gate and sliders is a lot. We probably could have saved money and weight by not going with heavy duty sliders – although they are handy to step on!
 

Fren

New member
Subscribed. Enjoying the build thus far. Like the narration, makes sense and easily followed. Care to elaborate on the tacoma?
I'm stuck, want to use a first gen tundra, 4x4 v8 lb...add a slide in camper, then no lbs left for gear etc
 

bootstobirks

New member
Hey Fren,

Thanks for the interest. I figured I'd reply to your message here in case other people had similar questions. Obviously, we're about 1,500lbs over the factory GVWR which is considerable for a mid-size truck. We were meticulous about budgeting the cost of components and didn't think too much about weight. Looking back, I should've thought more about weight to be closer to 6,000lbs. In my opinion, weight is going to affect two things - drivetrain and suspension.

Suspension:
The weight we have in the truck now would put the factory springs on the bump stops, permanently. I have a whole post dedicated to suspension coming up, but we went with the OME Dakar heavy spring pack. The BP51's seemed to be an excessive cost, as we needed the truck to be stiffer, not run through the desert (decisions tailored to the original constraints). After an 8 week shakedown, we ordered a set of Firestone airbags for the rear springs to reduce wear and tear on OME leafs, as it was still pretty heavy and squatting them down. The last thing we wanted to do was crack a leaf somewhere in El Salvador.

We asked a couple more experienced people about ball joints, bushings, etc. and they said they don't worry about it. You'll wear them out a little sooner than a stock truck doing the same activities, but it's a 10% shorter life not a 50% shorter life.

Drivetrain:
Power - We're definitely down on power, but gas mileage isn't that bad. Driving between 60-65mph w/average wind and we can do 16mpg. We rarely drive 70+ because it really starts guzzling gas and working the truck pretty hard. We have a friend who looked at a supercharger stock from Toyota (so it doesn't violate warranty), but I think that's a WANT, not a NEED.

Components - I'd think about transmission temps if you're an automatic, as a heavier truck is going to be shifting a lot. We're a 6 speed and can cruise up the hills at 50mph in 5th gear with the semi trucks. We're not in a hurry to get anywhere, so we're not mashing it up the mountain passes. The trucks are designed to pull a fair amount of weight, so I'm not worried about u-joints or gears. If you're going to beating the snot out of it doing a lot of 4-wheeling, it's probably a more significant concern.

Braking - we added slotted rotors and high-end pads to the front. We left the rear stock. We can use the transmission to slow down though, so that's an added benefit to the 6-speed. A friend who did some pro driving for Jeep and Camel Trophy said after our mods that the pads were a good idea. Rotors drilled and slotted just gave us a more expensive part to break, haha!

---------

In your message you said you would be about 750-1000lbs over GVWR... for a Tundra, I'd see if you could keep it under 750lbs for components (because extra fuel, water, food, etc. all adds up unexpectedly) and just send it.

You can also run your weights by a company that has built out trucks before. I highly recommend the folks at OK4WD, where we bought the AluCab tent. Their shop Tacoma weighed about the same as ours and had no issues with OEM components after beefing up springs and adding air bags. I'd assume a Tundra would be similar, but I'm no expert like they are.
 

billiebob

Well-known member
Your Toyotas brakes are engineered to stop 5500#. 6900 is a lot of extra stress. And 50K miles will be more like 75K miles with that much weight. Something might break just from hitting a pothole. I think you will regret being over weight.
 

crazysccrmd

Observer
Thoughts looking back:
Despite being out of business, I can’t complain at all about the products from Pelfreybilt. It’s a shame they are gone, as they really make a great product. The truck is heavier overall than we wanted it to be by about 750lbs and the armor is heavy. Fortunately, the front bumper is aluminum, but the rear bumper with a swing gate and sliders is a lot. We probably could have saved money and weight by not going with heavy duty sliders – although they are handy to step on!
The bumper with swingout is only about 40lbs heavier than stock, it’s a pretty good trade off with weight for an relocated or extra spare tire and fuel storage.
 

MTSN

Explorer
Your Toyotas brakes are engineered to stop 5500#. 6900 is a lot of extra stress. And 50K miles will be more like 75K miles with that much weight. Something might break just from hitting a pothole. I think you will regret being over weight.
That’s a bit extreme. Many builds go far above GVWR and for better or for worse it’s not a problem in the real world as long as people adjust to how the truck is different. I know a couple of people with 200 builds that exceed GVWR by almost 2,000 pounds and while not ideal, they get around just fine and wheel pretty hard.
 

bootstobirks

New member
That’s a bit extreme. Many builds go far above GVWR and for better or for worse it’s not a problem in the real world as long as people adjust to how the truck is different. I know a couple of people with 200 builds that exceed GVWR by almost 2,000 pounds and while not ideal, they get around just fine and wheel pretty hard.
That's kind of what I was thinking. I mean, yes, I wish the truck was 500lbs lighter and as I go through the build, if not just for gas mileage and "in-a-pickle" performance. Putting it on a diet and planning weights better will be a reoccurring theme for what I wish I had done differently. The stock components have got to be designed to take more than the GVWR, especially considering we are not towing anything. We know we're decreasing the life of OEM components by being heavy, but a lot of breakdowns can be avoided by not driving like a jerk. We speed up and slow down slowly, don't take corners at breakneck speed, etc. With that being said, I completely expect to wear out bearings, ball joints, bushings, and the like quicker than if it were stock weight. As long as they last another 45k miles, we're good to go! (We should get back home with 100,000mi on the truck)

Interestingly, there's only a 1,300lbs difference between curb weight and stock GVWR. My wife and our dog add 430lbs, or 1/3 of the available weight. Our 1,400lbs "overage" includes us and full food/water load, too.
 

nickw

Adventurer
That's kind of what I was thinking. I mean, yes, I wish the truck was 500lbs lighter and as I go through the build, if not just for gas mileage and "in-a-pickle" performance. Putting it on a diet and planning weights better will be a reoccurring theme for what I wish I had done differently. The stock components have got to be designed to take more than the GVWR, especially considering we are not towing anything. We know we're decreasing the life of OEM components by being heavy, but a lot of breakdowns can be avoided by not driving like a jerk. We speed up and slow down slowly, don't take corners at breakneck speed, etc. With that being said, I completely expect to wear out bearings, ball joints, bushings, and the like quicker than if it were stock weight. As long as they last another 45k miles, we're good to go! (We should get back home with 100,000mi on the truck)

Interestingly, there's only a 1,300lbs difference between curb weight and stock GVWR. My wife and our dog add 430lbs, or 1/3 of the available weight. Our 1,400lbs "overage" includes us and full food/water load, too.
Out of curiosity why did you choose a Tacoma over some of the other options with higher payload? Cool truck - any plans for a re-gear?

That’s a bit extreme. Many builds go far above GVWR and for better or for worse it’s not a problem in the real world as long as people adjust to how the truck is different. I know a couple of people with 200 builds that exceed GVWR by almost 2,000 pounds and while not ideal, they get around just fine and wheel pretty hard.
2000 over is sketchy no matter how you slice it.
 

bootstobirks

New member
Part II: Springs and Airbags

Goal: Add a little more clearance, stiffen up for adding weight during the build, and not blow the budget in the process. There are so many options for upgrading suspension while downgrading your wallet that it was almost overwhelming. We went back to the principles of the build, how the truck was to be used and didn’t get too exotic with any of this!

Build Time: Approx. 25hrs
Cost: Approx. $1,750

Front and Rear Suspension:
I think suspension might have been the most stress-inducing decision of the build. So many options to choose from, and it can quickly spiral into a mountain of cash! The crew at OK4WD confirmed my initial plan, and we bought the basic Old Man Emu 2” kit with heavy duty Dakar rear springs which gave us an increase of 220lbs-300lbs capacity in the back.

We divided and conquered the install and Lindsay took the front end while I dealt with the leaf springs in the back. At this time the truck was only a year old, so we, fortunately, did not have to deal with any sort of rust issues. The front end is straightforward with just a replacement of your struts and springs. The responsible thing to do is install the springs with a spring compressor and a vice. I can, however, confirm, that two people, a floor jack, and some redneck ingenuity can complete the install by using the truck as a counterweight to compress the coilover.

Suspension install overlanding toyota tacomaSuspension install overlanding toyota tacomaSuspension install overlanding toyota tacoma


The rear spring install went according to plan as well, and there are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube so I won’t go into details here. One thing to note – make sure you read the instructions on which bushings you replace and which ones stay on the truck. Instructions ARE essential, otherwise, you lose 3 hours of your afternoon for no reason…

The heavy springs with an additional leaf are STIFF so be prepared for a new truck. You’re basically putting 1-ton springs into a Tacoma, so the ride is a bit different! To be honest, though, the stiffness actually led to a better handling truck on pavement, as long as you are okay with slowing down on rough roads or otherwise risking some dental work.

Air Bags:
We didn’t make it more than 300 miles from home on the initial shakedown before we realized that the truck had a little too much junk in the trunk. With a full load of water, fuel, food, and ski gear we saw that our OME rear springs were as loaded as we were comfortable. The last thing we wanted was to break a spring on rough terrain because of weight. The first mission was to redistribute some weight from behind the rear axle to the cab until we could get home to put the airbags on.

The Firestone Airbag system is pretty idiot proof and would have been about a 2-hour install on a stock truck. The thicker leaf pack of our heavy rear springs added a little complication, but honestly, it was still pretty easy. I traded the OEM grade-2 bracket bolts (basically a u-bolt) for longer grade-8’s and modified the bracket that goes under the leaf pack. As long as you have access to a grinder, you can take the brackets from the box and repurpose them without compromising their strength.

If you install these, DON’T RUSH THE AIRLINE INSTALL! Everything is great until you crack a fitting and have to refill one side every 24hrs. Take your time and do the airline install correctly. And if you’re like me, you will still inevitably break something, so I’d recommend going into it with a spare fitting for the airbag. After taking apart the driver’s side airline system a 3rd time and being very careful with reassembly, we can now go several weeks without losing more than a couple PSI.

Suspension install overlanding toyota tacoma
Suspension install overlanding toyota tacoma


If anyone wants more detail on installing the Firestone airbags with heavier rear springs, just send us a message, and I’ll send you detailed photos.

Leveling Jacks:
Want to know the least “overlanding” thing about the entire truck? We have two RV scissor jacks from Camping World under the rear bumper. So uncool for hammering the trails… yet so much more comfortable to sleep!

We actually bought these in the first week of the shakedown to take some of the weight off the rear springs when we were all piled into the bed of the truck or in the tent. When the center of gravity of your bed is 4.5 feet above your spring hangers, coughing (not to mention...) will make the truck rock side to side. With the jacks down we can save some wear and tear on the suspension AND actually sleep through the night without wondering if rolling over in your sleeping back is going to tip the truck.

The first 8 weeks had us doing an acrobatic performance of cranking the jacks up while trying to balance with one leg on the ground and the other on top of the jack to keep it from tipping over. What a pain in the ass. Therefore, Getting them mounted to the truck was a high priority when we did the refit for the long trip. Now they are bolted to the frame with a scrap piece of 2×2 angle iron from the initial build, and there’s no more losing balance and falling down in the desert when you’re trying to set up your house. They might look silly, but they are one of the best investments we made!

Suspension install overlanding toyota tacoma
Suspension install overlanding toyota tacoma
Suspension install overlanding toyota tacoma


Thoughts looking back:
The only thing I would have changed was to not put heavy springs on until we were ready to build the truck out. Because of a change in our work plans, the bumpers and springs went on about a year before the rest of the build out. That had us bouncing around New England in a light Tacoma with the suspension of an F350… plenty of capacity for firewood though.

The setup from Old Man Emu was precisely what we were looking for, didn’t need anything more. The only problems with the airbags were self-inflicted, and the leveling jacks are money. 10/10, would repeat all three again.
 
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