Suspension & Tires
Years ago while taking a business class at The University of Arizona, we did a case study on Toyota Corporation, regarding their philosophy to build the best product the first time around so that customers wouldn’t have to deal with widespread failures in the vehicle they purchased. That stuck with me when it was time for me to purchase my first vehicle after graduating. I had always liked pickup trucks, especially the smaller ones, since I learned to drive on a manual transmission 1986 Ford Ranger. After doing quite a bit of research, I decided the Tacoma would be the perfect vehicle for me. In the fall of 2004, I purchased a double cab 4WD Toyota Tacoma with only 7 miles on it. I immediately drove it from the lot to an area nearby with some challenging dirt trails & water crossings. I was hooked.
Just minutes after purchasing this truck, I took it wheeling.
Over the years I kept the vehicle relatively stock, since it was my only vehicle: serving both as my daily driver and trail rig. With the factory rear locker, I was able to tackle quite a few difficult trails with great success. But the stock suspension was a bit lacking. So when doing some aftermarket suspension research online, I came across Scott Brady’s Tacoma build on his Expeditions West website. His approach seemed to be the most reasonable, since I did not want to build my truck into a rock crawler. After a few email exchanges, I decided to purchase a full suspension from Demello Offroad: Donahoe coilovers in the front, with Deaver leaf springs & Bilstein shocks in the rear. Immediately I noticed a huge improvement over the stock setup while out on the trail, while not compromising the truck’s performance on the pavement. This also allowed for better fitment of a larger-than-stock tire: 255/85 R16 BFG Mud Terrain.
This setup was great over the years, while I used the truck for everything from extended road trips in the U.S., hunting, camping, cutting firewood, adventures in Baja, helping friends move, and more. But in preparation for a much heavier payload on a self-supported overland drive from Arizona to Argentina, a few changes were necessary. With over 60,000 miles on this aftermarket suspension, the Bilstein shocks were done, the Deaver springs could use some reshaping & more leafs added, and the Donahoes (now Icon) were ready to be rebuilt.
First I pulled off the leaf springs, and shipped them back to the guys at Demello Offroad. Initially I only went with an 8-leaf pack since the truck was relatively stock, but decided it would be necessary to upgrade to a 10-leaf. So with the springs serviced and two more leafs added, they were ready to go back on the truck. Now I was ready for a heavier payload (a.k.a. camper), yet still maintain some travel & articulation while on rough trails.
10-leaf spring pack from Deaver
For the shocks I decided to go with some heavy-duty Old Man Emu shocks from ARB. I also had them send some greaseable rear shackles since the rear leaf springs were off the truck. These were slightly longer than the stock shackles, but made of much stronger materials, with the added benefit of grease zerks. ARB builds their suspensions for the long haul, since overlanders in Australia have thousands of miles of rough roads to contend with. I anticipate that these shocks will last much longer than the Bilsteins.
OME shocks, complete with the crash-helmeted-emu
ARB’s greaseable zerk shackles
Last, I contacted Icon regarding my front coilovers. The passenger side shock had leaked out most of its oil, so was in definite need of a rebuild. In addition to rebuilding both shocks, they put on heavier Tundra springs, and swapped out the old Donahoe caps with the new Icon logo. With adjustable ride height, these are now ready for the added weight of a front bumper & winch, as well as perform with a heavier payload in the rear.
Donahoe coilovers rebuilt by Icon, with thicker coils
I really liked the 255/85 R16 BFG Mud Terrains. Not only did they look great on my truck, they performed well on the trail. However, they were a bit larger than necessary for the type of driving that I would mostly be doing, and rather loud on the pavement. So for this trip I decided to buy a full set of 265/75 R16 BFG All Terrains. These ride much better on the pavement, still perform great in the dirt, and are closer to stock size (which my stock gearing is thankful for).
- ARB: arbusa.com
- BFGoodrich: bfgoodrich.com
- Demello Offroad: demello-offroad.com
- Icon Vehicle Dynamics: iconvehicledynamics.com