Toyota Prado J120 soft overland build ( The european version of the Lexus GX 470)

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leeloo

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
Hello, I live in Brussels and I am an IT guy by trade, married with 1 kid .
I want to present the work I did on the car, maybe someone has similar goals/expectations and can learn from my mistakes and experience.
So the story started in August 2018, when I bought the car, with 294.000 km on board, it is an 2009 Prado 120, last year of manufacture and hopefully with most of the early issues fixed. It is a 3.0 L D-4D - diesel, 177 HP and 410 Nm@1600 rpm.
I love this engine, is setup specifically for off road, it idles trough any obstacle, because of the low end torque.

For those who are not familiar with it, it has a Low transfer gear, and lockable central Diff and stock about 21 cm of ground clearance ( about the same as a Jeep Cherokee for example ) . Some of them had also stock lockable rear diff, but not mine. Mine has a thing called A-TRAC, seems to work fine for me. It sits on ladder frame chassis, similar with the one found in the Toyota 4runner.

It was top spec, so it has the air suspension on the back, wich I love, and all the "luxury" options at the time, like heated seats, navigation ( useless now ), moon roof..electric folding mirrors.. etc..
It replaced a Subaru forester, which was a very good underestimated car but could not handle the weight I was putting in it with all the camping gear for 3 people extended trips, specially when I was off-roading. Empty when off road, was doing great. Because of the weight I had a lot of issues, the car was bouncing heavily and also I had even brake fading on a very steep descent, lucky I was off road and doing like 15 km/h..

So learn form this, do you homework and estimate the weight of your gear and you passenger than buy the vehicle :)

Just because it has a big trunk, does not mean it can take the weight :)

This the car when I bought it.
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From the service history I saw it had some work done around 270.000 km, all the wheel bearings replaced. I also did the timing belt kit, the interval is every 100.000 km so at 300k km it was due. I also replaced the front brake rotors, they were not looking so good, despite the fact the car passed the inspection. I took to a Toyota dealer just to make sure there are no hidden issues, and they replaced a 5 Euro wheel nut. So far no other mechanical work except normal maintenance like fluid changes.


My goal with the car is to be able to take long trips, and be able to wild camp 2-3 days in a row, without moving to charge batteries, and be able to tackle medium difficulty tracks, just to be able to get to the nice spectacular wild places..

I won't be able to do more than 2 "longer than a week" trips /year, for sure some short week-end summer trips so in my case at least it is not worth to do a very complex setup similar with the needs of some one living in the car 3-4 months / year minimum in very remote places.
To get to where I'm going ( did a 2 week trip in Portugal during the Easter holiday for example ) sometime I need to do long stretches of highway , even 2000 km sometimes, in the summer I will have to do 3000 km just to get there ( Albania off road tour ) and the Landcrusier is a very confortable car to do that, sound insulation is very good, the ride is great and the climate control works :)
First thing that went on it were some Yokohama Geolandar 015 AT tyres, had them on the Subaru and I was happy with them. Because of the long stretches of highway I do I opted for some less aggressive tyres.

When I had the Subaru I had a ground tent, but it was a lot of work to pack up when I was moving camp, and since I was moving almost every day it became a real pain in the but..
So next I went for an RTT, I got an Autohome Columbus, the biggest version of it, L x l 210 x 165 big enough to accommodate me, my wife and out 12 year old kid. It sits on some Rhino rack heavy duty bars .
Below some pics when I bought it, at the dealer's yard in Netherlands.

IMG-20190223-WA0002.jpeg155877-539f95d3a2473fb3890d6952d0164856.jpg

If you buy a non- standard size tent and it is a Hardshell, you need to be aware that the bars need to be as wide as the tent, or you risk cracking the shell and void the warranty.
My roof bars were standard size, most of them are up to 1.4 meters, and my tent was 1.65 m wide. So I had to buy another set of roof bars , luckily I was able to reuse the feet, so this mistake was a bit cheaper.

In 4 min form the moment I stop, the tent is ready , chairs and table out and I can sit with a cold one in hand.. :)

Next I had to tackle the food storage issue. I was lucky and I found a Snomaster 35 L fridge/freezer on sale at a french online shop. It was the cheaper plastic version, the so called travel series . Overall it was not cheap, but only less expensive than the overland version, with the sale price was still around 480 euro. Snomaster is a south African producer with a good reputation in the over landing community.
I think the overland version was about 700 euro if I am not mistaken, wich is honestly ridiculous.
It is big enough to store food for our family for about 3 days. In Europe I think it is impossible to be more than 50 km away from some kind of store, so it is fine. It is not big enough to hold all the beer I drink when camping, so I have to rotate them all the time... that is the only issue I have..
Of course it failed at the second trip I took. In front it has a fuse, near an USB port that sits on a very small metal bracket on the chassis of the fridge. The metal bracket failed ( not sure why, it was really strange ) and the fuse disconnected from the support. So I crimped some wires directly and mounted another fuse holder. Is not pleasing to the eye but it works.. :) . No issues since than. It has the same internals as his more expensive brother so it draws very little power.
Next I tackled the power issue. But that will follow in another post.
 

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leeloo

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
If you are not bored to death already, part 2 ..

So since I did not trust my electrical skills so much, I bought one of those portable power packs, with the intention to charge it via the 12 V socket present on all cars. I went for a Suoaki 400 Wh that also had a 300 W
inverter and was very light and compact.
I was able to power the fridge for a full 24 h period . The issue was it was very slow to charge . you had to drive like 9 hours to charge it back. So this was not acceptable. I am not sorry I bought it, it is still a good back up source, it has the inverter, and it can also boost the car to start it if the main vehicle battery fails.
So I had to make proper auxiliary battery system. In most west Europe if you go to an specialist the price is out o this world, so I bought a 110 A AGM deep cycle and wiring kit, of appropriate wire size, cut to length, professionally crimped , and I also went for a DC-DC charging system from C-TEK, the CTEK 250 DS, and a battery box.

After 2h of work, I connected everything the bloody thing would not charge to save its life. I spent another 2h diagnosing every wire and connection with a multimeter. I had the booklet with what lamp is on at error X, nothing.. the only indicator light on, was not described in the manual....

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This of course happened like 2 weeks before a trip. I sent it back to the supplier, but it was not enough time to for them to check if the unit was faulty so I ordered a much cheaper 60 euro VSR ( voltage sensing relay )
It has been 3 months since I sent the bloody thing and I did not receive word and I asked for reimbursement that was approved.

When the voltage drops below 12.6 it disconnects the main battery from the auxiliary one, to avoid discharging the main one and leave you stranded.
I was mounted in the exact place and connected the same as the DC to DC charger and it works like a charm for the past 3 months since than. If I will not add solar power, it will stay, no need for an expensive DC to DC.
When traveling is done, and summer is over, the AGM is removed and sites in storage connected to a battery maintainer.
With the money saved on the converter I bought a Rhino Rack Sunseeker awning :)
The AGM battery is quite heavy and I have some straps around the battery box to hold it in place.
I also mounted on the box a small cheap plug system with a 12V socket 2 USB plugs and a voltmeter, and ofcourse a fuse box, every in and out of the battery has fuses on it rated properly.

The only other thing I did on the electrical side were some off-road lights . Cheap from amazon, about 80 euro, IPS 67 rated, with a 20 euro wiring kit and 5 euro Landcruiser on-off button that fitted perfectly in the dash.
IMG-20190213-WA0002.jpg
They have some platic caps that I keep on all the time, they are so powerfull that if I turn them on by error while on normal roads I might provoke and accident.
Never used them so far. Glad I did not spent much on them.. they are there just in case..
Unless I will add solar, for me the electrical work is done. I want to keep everything as much as possible stock and simple for reliability .

next post will be about GVM, protection, suspension and recovery. ..
 
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leeloo

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Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
Protection. It has factory engine skid plate but is very weak, so I bought a proper engine skid plate 4mm steel. Also some rock sliders are foreseen, but not yet, no time before the trip.
Suspension
Enemy number one of any over landing setup is weight.
With my setup I try to stay under the GVM. You might be able to get uprated suspension for you vehicle but the drivetrain at least will not be reliable. weight and bigger wheels. This might be a problem if you take short trips, but if you go to Africa, for it will. So my money goes weight saving things rather than beefing up the suspension. I also try to get as many dual purpose things as I can and I also check if what I take with me is not used at least once per week than I can live without. That being said, I dont plan any kind of lift. Because I have air suspension in the back, the car is level even when fully loaded. The airbags are stil OEM ones and no sign they will give out soon and the OEM ones are not that expensive. When I need more clearance I can also lift it with the push of button. It very confortable as well on and off road.
IN my opinion a lift is not need it unless you go over GVM and you don't have air suspension to keep the car level, just get to the ground clearance you had before .
Will a lift make you life a bit easier ? it might. Most people get stuck and bogged down in mudd or sand, and there no amount of lift will help you. I can go stock on 99 % of the trails that people do. If you travel in Africa and Asia you will be surprised what kind of cars people use on very rough rods. 99 % of the time, if you goal is not extreme off roading , your stock 4x4, if it has a central diff lock will be overkill already. I have seen people crossing peaks in the Alps at 3000 m altitude with fiat pandas.
Best offroad mode you can get is not lift but tyres. either AT, MT, aggressive, lighter.. it depends on the application, but there don't go cheap and buy a good brand.

Recovery
So far I only have a pair of maxtrax and a shovel. I can get out of anything with those except a river. More work for sure than with a winch, but is good enough for me. had to use times only 2 times in 2 years , once with the Subaru, I had to make some kind of bridge because of the back overhang, and with the Landcruiser I got stuck in some kind of clay 10 cm deep. All wheels spinning with 0 traction, I could not believe my eyes.. Did about 100 m in 20 min using the maxtrax. .
If I decide to get a winch it will only be after I finish the rest and measure the vehicle fully loaded on a weight bridge. If GVM allows, I might change the springs in front with something stronger and get it, just for peace of mind, since I mostly travel alone.
 
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leeloo

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
I started my trip towards Albania. First stop in Bulgaria, in site I found on the iOverlander app
IMG-20190724-WA0000.jpg

we continued towards North Macedonia next daty. No issues with border crossing, the police only wanted to check our fridge

Macedonia is all mountains, very beautiful, friendly people, worth exploring more, but our target was Albania. Diesel is very cheap, 1 euro/l. roads are bad and very narrow in many places 2 big cars like ours would not fit, so you need to slow down a lit at every bend.
Next we crossed in Albania after some trouble at the border
 

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leeloo

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
a few more picIMG-20190728-WA0005.jpgs from Macedonia
typical road there
IMG-20190728-WA0003.jpg

IMG-20190728-WA0010.jpg

Next on to the border. with Albania.
We wanted to take the scenic road towards the border, crossing the Galichica National park. It is a gorgeous road, right up there with the best ones in the Italian or Austrian Alps. Will post pics after I download them from the camera
Because we took the scenic road we arrived on much smaller border post in Stenje. If you gave a green insurance card it is valif still in Macedonia, but not Albania. We were told you have to buy it at the border. It is 49 euro for 2 weeks . At big border crossings they make it on spot. Not the case here. The boss there spoke english and he found a solution. He called a company, sent over copies fron the car registration and ask a guy he knew to make the insurance with the promise he will pay it. 1h later we had a copy emailed that the guy printed . He gave us his phone number in case the police gave us trouble because we do not have the original. He did not ask for anything, just the money for the insurance. This kindness saved us many hours of driving . So far first impression of Albania.. great people
pics with the road near the border towards Moglice, our first stop.IMG-20190726-WA0010.jpg

IMG-20190726-WA0004.jpg
IMG-20190726-WA0012.jpgIMG-20190726-WA0005.jpg
 

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leeloo

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Belgium
First Name
Mihai
Last Name
Doros
got back from the holiday, but barely ..
:)


The EGR valve got cloged up, now, when I was on holiday, with no sign of fault in the 20k km I did before .. god sometimes diesels are such a PITA ...

So basically 100 km from the border with EU was impossible to get any parts for a Landcruiser in less than a week. They did not even had CV boots in less than 4 days..
So this legend with availability of spare parts all over .. maybe a few years ago.. but not anymore.. they have like 3 centers around the world and ship from there..
If it is something a bit more exotic than an alternator or some of the more common parts, basically unless you can limp home like I could, you're screwed.

The new engine skid plate is good, but took some o the ground clearance because of the shape, so it got used a lot..

Front shocks are almost gone.
Good news is the while on holiday I got a job offer in Luxembourg. That means I will no longer be forced to sell the Landcruiser because of the LEZ ( low emission zone restrictions ) yayyy.......
:grinning:
:grinning:
:grinning:
:grinning:
:grinning:
., so I can get serious on it.

Because I lost some ground clearance and the front shocks are done, I will swap for an OME 2 inch lift. I was an idiot for not keeping the original engine shield, thinner as it was. The car now is in a shop to have the intake cleaned and EGR valve changed. After that it will go to a 4x4 specialist here in Belgium to have the suspension changed.
I also found a summer deal on a redarc BCDC charger , only 380 euro with shipping from UK. The VSR worked really well but if I am camped 2 days in the same spot, is not enough, I need to add some solar so that is why I need to switch to a BCDC.
Because I will loose the air suspension, it means I can switch to only one starter battery and move the auxiliary battery in front.
That means I can lose some weight and gain some more space in the trunk.
I saw that drawer systemes are getting chepar, so maybe next year I will install one.