2011-05-04

Jack the truck

So, a while ago Jess and I bit the bullet. I'll have to write a post about it at some point, but basically... renting got annoying, and for a host of somewhat surprising reasons. We'd been toying with getting a truck for some time anyway. We wanted a vehicle that:
  1. we could sleep in
  2. could carry 4 people
  3. could carry a decent amount of additional gear
  4. got ~20mpg or better
  5. was relatively offroad capable - since we're using it primarily to get out to trailheads and such.

After hunting around for some time we found a [deep breath]:
2003 Toyota Tacoma 3.4L 6cyl SR5 TRD extended cab manual standard bed pickup, with the two package.
Translation: a truck with 2 real seats, 2 little seats, a big engine, and stick shift. As Jess says, it goes VROoM!
Basically - this car: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/noframes/18949.shtml

Last weekend I got a cap installed on it. The cap has "windoors" (the windows open upwards like wings), they also slide. It also has a raised roof, and a rack mounted to the roof. The plan is to build something (conceptually) like this in the back: http://www.swaygogear.com/articles/truckcamping/default.html

Looking at this vehicle it was clearly designed for going off pavement. So I was looking up some information about that, and I discovered that the truck we have not only is pretty good at it... it's one of the best. Turns out this model won a competition in 4-wheeling magazine a while back for best stock off-road vehicle. A Tacoma was also the first truck to reach the north pole, and same for the south pole. It's even a popular stand-in military vehicle in African militias.

So then. We have this truck that can go offroad. I'm the type of person who will use a tool for what it's made for, and I know darned well it's a matter of time before I find myself driving Jack down some trail in the wilderness. In fact, the first weekend we had the Jack we took him up to Tahoe. I ended up using 4-wheel both high and low, and even locking the rear-diff to get out of a drift I'd stuck us in. So, I figured maybe I should learn about how to do this beforehand, and get the right equipment now.

Additionally. It's my first car. I don't like having things I can't fix and modify myself. I fix my laptops myself. I make my own shoes. I modify clothing. If you read this blog I'm sure you've noticed a trend. So, after getting Jack some initial tuneups, I set about learning about cars, and getting the basic tools to do work myself. I want to be able to fit ALL the tools in the car with a ton of other gear, so I want to keep it as small as I can. So I purchased a few obvious things, but have left some others out until I need them.

So far I've acquired:
  • 150 piece socket set
  • vacume pump (for doing hydrolics. I purchased this for changing the brake fluid alone)
  • high-lift jack (I got this for getting unstuck, since I know I will)
  • gas tank (so we can carry extra when we're heading far out)
  • tire repair kit (including compressor)
  • tow straps (combine with highlift to create an ad-hoc winch, and we can pull out other cars directly... Jack has a 5k lb tow capacity)
  • D-shackles (they go with the tow straps)
  • D-shackle hitch (ditto)
  • OBDII -> bluetooth doohicky (this lets me see what the computer is doing)
  • 1 set tire chains (needed for tahoe, useful for mud)
  • Locking pliers
  • electrical pliers
  • wire strippers
  • hack-saw
  • WD-40
  • Crescent wrench and a few other random tools
All of this is living in the truck in addition to:
  • 10x12 ft tarp (ad-hoc shelter, and 100 other uses)
  • various power adapters (to power cellphones etc.)
  • my 3-channel Ham radio (emergency help, can do CB as well)
  • small hatchet (hammering things, and clearing trees)
  • folding bow-saw (clearing trees - say one falls behind you while your out)
  • zip ties
  • duck-tape
We still want to add everything we need for sleeping and cooking meals. And if possible, we want to fit this in the spaces around the wheel wells, leaving the rest of the space under the sleeping platform free for camping gear and similar.

Last weekend Jack got his first real test. I took him down to Hollister off-road park to practice some of the techniques I read about. The book was right... don't touch the clutch. Using 4-wheel low and 1'st or 2'nd I could crawl slowly up and down 100% grades without any problems and with a lot of control. I'd give it a little gas going up, just to keep it from stalling, but even on a fairly steep grade it could climb in idle. Going down you just use the brake to add a bit to the engine braking.

Despite getting on some relatively hairy trail (blue ratings at Hollister), Jack came back completely undamaged. The passenger window wouldn't roll up, and I had to yank on it a bit to get it to stay on the correct side of the seals - but that's not really related. On the way out the battery contact fell off the battery. It had corroded to the point that it was loose and wouldn't stay in place. I flipped it over for now and the truck is running fine (I plan to get a new connector soon). And the check engine light turned on (apparently a misfiring piston) but that's likely due to the injector cleaner I added.
I also got Jack new headlights earlier last week - though I need to learn how to focus them. I have the repair, wiring, and owner's manuals on order.

So, we're exploring the world of trucks. Jess has been rather busy with her own projects, so mostly the truck has been my project lately. It's a lot to learn, but how can you just *own* something like that without poking at it :D.

I have so many ideas. The next step is to build the platform into the back, we want to do it as two boxes, one on each side, about the size of the wheel-well with doors on top, so we don't reduce practical space. Then a set of boards that sit on those and span the space in-between creating a flat shelf.

I'm also toying with adding a second battery and redoing a bunch of the electrical - I'll need the wiring manual first though. There are few things so rewarding as making, fixing, modifying, and maintaining your own stuff though :).

Pictures coming soon.


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a lot of fun!

    One suggestion:

    If you're going to carry a spare tank of gas, remember that gas has a shelf life of ~2--3 months. If you don't empty that tank frequently (or plan to stow it in the garage indefinitely in between trips), put a few drops of STA-BIL in the tank, which will keep it good for a year.

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