While staying at home, most of us have projects in the garage or driveway, and for some of us, there might actually be some time to work on it. But for a lot of us, having the excess cash lying around to take the next step just might not be an option right now. Depending on where you are with that project, goods and/or services may be temporarily unavailable as many businesses big and small are temporarily shut down. These are all things that smart
humans would consider before taking on a new project. Unfortunately, that's not how our brain works.
Recently, we were tasked with selling a vehicle for a family member. No big deal, right? We've done the same for many a family and friend over the years. We were handed over the keys to what turned out to be a low mileage and well-maintained 2001 Toyota Highlander
with the 3.0 V6 and full-time 4WD. After driving it around for a couple days, we decided to have some fun with it before we sent it down the road.
Now there's a few things to consider here before we go any further. First, by our own definition, this is not a truck. You may have noticed that 99% of what Truckin covers is body-on-frame design. While that will remain true, we have had the idea for a long time to throw in the occasional "oddball," which we knew would consist mostly of crossover-type vehicles, and the Highlander was one of the first of the genre. Also, we're stuck at home, and you have to "run what you brung." We don't have a ton of options while on at home, and this Vintage Gold, egg-shaped grocery getter was sitting out front, staring us in the face, begging to be modified.
| Our wild idea began with a 100 percent bone stock 2001 Toyota Highlander 4WD in a Vintage Gold hue. It's a 3.0L V6 with an automatic, and that's about it. But its very clean inside and out, and the biggest bonus is that it has very low mileage.
The next area where we strayed from the norm was our parts acquisition. Normally, we work with trusted partners and advertisers for our tech stories. It guarantees the parts are correct and reliable for the application—and there's someone to answer for it if they're not. Since we're at home and under the gun, we threw caution to the wind and made all of our purchases for the entire build off of eBay and Amazon in a matter of an hour or two.
Finally, we did have to do at least one thing at a shop in each of the three installments we're about to lay on you. Luckily, our friends at New Century Tire in Westminster, California, were open for business to mount some tires and save us with us a couple of other times along the way. Due to social distancing, there weren't a lot of photo ops available, so we're thanking them in advance for their contributions.
We originally had the dollar amount set at $1,000 and the timeline at 48 hours, but we ran into a snag immediately that cost us the better part of the first day. And, as we were wrapping the second day, we decided that in addition to making the truck cool, we also wanted to make it a little nicer to drive, so a new total of 72 hours and $1,500 was allotted.
For day one, we installed the strut spacer-style lift kit, along with some custom wheel spacers and a simple but effective wheel and tire combo, which together made the biggest improvement to the Highlander of all. But check back soon, because we've got a whole bunch more to do to this little SUV before we hit out time and dollar limit!
| Can we make this little egg-shaped crossover SUV cool for under $1,500 in three days? The first and biggest improvement would be to add a little clearance and replace these factory aluminum wheels.
| Our first internet purchase was these 1.5-inch Tema strut spacers. They included longer studs for the struts. There wasn't much info on lifting Highlanders on the web, but we did learn that at least one company makes springs that also lift the truck 1.5-2 inches. That increase is truly the limit for the Highlander suspension unless you want to do custom fabrication.
| Online classifieds yielded us these 16x6.5-inch Toyota steel wheels. We liked them because they reminded us of the factory steelies that came on the FJ Cruisers. It would give us the rugged look we wanted for just $100.
| These ZY 1-inch anodized billet spacers were about to come in handy to keep the tires from rubbing on the strut. It's a common problem on crossover-type vehicles, we're told. They're also hub-centric, which helps retain the most strength possible when using spacers.
| And we started by scrubbing all four of the wheels in the sink, first with a scrub brush, then with red Scotch Brite pads. Once dry, they all got a fresh coat of flat black rattle can paint.
| We scored these barely-used Toyo Open Country A/Ts with 245/70/16 measurements. We later realized probably could have stuffed 30s on here, but we were plenty happy with our awesome score. We had them mounted and balanced over at New Century Tire.
| The next two days would be spent here in the driveway. We got the Highlander up on stands and removed the stock wheels.
| Upon inspection of the front end, we could see that the struts, axles, and brakes had all been replaced recently. Another score!
| The first step was to remove the three mounting nuts at the strut tower.
| Before the main strut mounting bolts come out, the brake line mounting bolt and the sway bar end link must be removed.
| Now the two mounting bolts could be buzzed out and removed from the upright.
| From there, the strut assembly could be removed from the vehicle.
| The process was repeated in the rear, and plastic covers in the cargo area were removed to gain access to the upper strut mounting bolts.
| We thought we could muscle the stock studs out and pound the new longer studs in, but because we had to go get the tires mounted anyway, we decided to let the New Century tire guys do it on the press. They actually removed the springs to make the job easier. That ate up a good portion of the day, but we still had plenty of time to get the truck back on the ground.
| Since the kit came with larger studs in the rear than what was stock, we had to drill out the holes in the body slightly. It took longer to find the right drill bit than it did to finish the job.
| The spacer simply slides over the new studs, then the strut slides back up through the body.
| We slipped the nuts on from the cargo area and left them hand tight until the truck was on the ground.
| Then the rear upright was returned to the strut and the two mounting bolts were snugged down.
| We repeated the process up front by popping on the spacers and rehanging the struts in the body.
| The mounting bolts, along with the sway bar end link and the brake line mounting bolt, were all remounted to the strut.
| At this point, the front end was ready to set down, but we had a few more items to address.
| Later, on the ground, we snugged up the upper struts.
| Before we bolted up the wheels, we removed the little mud flap things from the front and rear. There were also some valance pieces up front that we got rid of.
| Because we didn't have any sort of cap for the wheel centers, we simply painted the area with some cast iron paint.
| At that point, we were happy with the mods and were ready to button things up.
| We bolted up the black anodized spacers, making sure they were torqued to spec.
| Finally, we bolted up our wheel and tire combo and we were done with day one. Check back for day two right here, where we dress up the exterior!
Day One Totals:
Tema Strut Spacers: $150
ZY Wheel Adapters: $70
Used 16-inch Steel wheels: $100
Used Toyo 245/70R16 tires: $140
Strut Stud replacement, Tire Mount & Balance: $60
New Century Tire