On A Clear Day :: The Wanderer Build

The Wanderer Build Factory fresh, this is what my plain-Jane truck looked like brand new, out of the showroom. Already a very capable and good looking off-road vehicle, read on to see the transformation.

Rock Sliders One of the first modifications was a pair of custom-built rock sliders. I didn't like any of the commercial offerings available so I had these made to my specifications. I'd give the engineer a plug but customer service was abysmal.

Snorkel Not so much for deep river crossings but for cooler air intake and sucking it in fresher, higher off the ground for less dust to clog the air filter. Installing it myself was a very satisfying experience. I made sure all holes and cuts were precise and metal filings completely caught and removed. Also took great care to prime and paint all exposed metal as well as waiting for paint to dry before continuing with the installation.

On-Board Air Compressor Quite often, soft sand and boggy mud are best traversed with the tyre pressures reduced considerably. The advantage is a wider and longer footprint so progressing through the obstacle is much easier, the disadvantage is having to pump them back up for the bitumen.

It's less of a chore with this twin-motor air compressor complete with an 8L tank. In its original plastic case it was heavy to handle and always seemed to be in the way of other storage needs so it was always tempting to leave it behind. That's not going to happen now that it's out of the way and bolted down.

110L Auxiliary Fuel Tank The FJ Cruiser has a 4.0L V6 engine which is very powerful and as a result isn't the most frugal on fuel. The standard factory tank limits the range somewhat and I don't like carrying jerry cans so the best solution was an added fuel tank.

The only visible sign is the auxiliary fuel gauge which I've mounted neatly on the centre dash panel. Besides increasing the range to around 1300Km it's handy to have for stocking up when fuel prices are low.

Winch 9500lb (4309kg) I resisted installing this accessory because it's a big expense and to be honest, I had rarely found the need for one with my previous vehicles, however I was recently finding myself in situations where the likelihood of needing one was high.

After much research I discovered the Runva offering, at a very reasonable price which included synthetic rope (stronger and lighter than steel) and a wireless remote.

Pictured above are my modifications to the standard install:

1. A dash switch is always handy, much more responsive than the wireless remote and no tangles as is usually the case with the cable controller. The red light indicates the isolator switch is active.

2. I moved the solenoid/control box to a less conspicuous place under the bonnet so I installed a socket in the grill for the cable controller.

3. The top of the bull-bar looked untidy with lots of holes, especially one gaping hole for access to the winch clutch so grommets took care of those.

4. The solenoid/control box neatly out of the way, and an isolator switch near the battery gives peace of mind ensuring the winch electrics are not able to be activated accidentally.

The bull-bar looks complete and the winch is a valued addition to the recovery plan. Above are some of the other items required for safe and effective use such as: a snatch strap or two, a pulley block, a tree protector, drag chain, extension strap, equaliser strap, bow shackles...

TyresThe stock tyres were brilliant on the road and acceptable off the bitumen until things got wet, then they were scary! I invested in a set of Coopers S/T Maxx and the difference is incredible. I was concerned about road noise from such an aggressive tread pattern but it's only very slight and only if you listen out for it.

The grip on rocky ground is very good, muddy and sandy tracks are easy especially with reduced air pressures and seems to extend the footprint longways with less side-bulge.

Lighting Long distance and off-road driving presents enough challenges and hazards, these are added to at night.

1. The Great Whites auxiliary driving lights are both spread beams. These are ideal for close to medium range illumination, drawing only 6.3 amps.

2. The fog lights which are an option on the ARB bar don't impress me at all and are marked for replacement.

3. The small rectangular units either side of the fog lights are LED daylight running lights. These replaced the redundant parking/indicators. Very popular on European cars and now also making their way onto other models. I find they work well in helping increase visibility. A nice touch is the incorporation of a delay unit, after the engine is started, the unit waits ten seconds before activating the DRL circuit to protect it from spikes.

4. There's a pair of small roof lights just visible above, see close-up below. I find that rough tracks at night under lights often present shadows making it difficult to discern bumps from holes so added light from above can make a difference.

5. There's also a pair of small work lights at the rear.

Of course all wiring is carefully routed, complete with relays, cable protection and fuses and to ADR specifications (mostly).

Switch Panel The stock centre panel had quite a few unused blanks, but now all spaces are used. The illuminated red toggle switch is to isolate interior and door lights, handy when a door is left open while camping especially at night so the mosquitoes aren't attracted.

The lower row from left to right: Roof Lights, Daytime Running Lights, Aux Driving Lights and Fog lights.

The red LED indicates the alarm is active. The small push-button on the far right allows the power windows to operate without requiring the ignition to be on.

Two-Inch LiftThe standard off-ground height of the FJ Cruiser is considerable, however when fully loaded with gear and camping equipment, ground clearance is reduced. So a 2" lift kit was installed. The kit included new springs and shock-absorbers and the resulting increase to the clearance height was closer to 3" however in time, the springs will settle down to the stated 2" which is ideal for my needs.

Recovery PointsYou'll notice the rated recovery point, one of two which are useful if the vehicle is to be towed out of a situation, used as an anchor for recovery of another vehicle or as a return point for pulley-assisted winching.

Fixed Awning Some comforts may be a little overkill but no matter how much you love the outdoors, preparing meals and just relaxing can be more comfortable shaded from the blazing sun or incessant drizzle.

Dual Battery System An ongoing concern on extended trips, especially in remote areas (aren't they all?) is for the state of the battery. Will it start the car in the morning? Lots of demand on it such as a fridge, electronic devices charging, night lighting so an essential addition is a second battery.

1. The factory main start-up battery.

2. The Auxiliary deep-cycle 100-amp battery squeezed into a space and bolted down securely.

3. The CTEK smart charger. This unit ensures that the main battery is at a healthy charged state before it turns its attention to charging the auxiliary unit. It has a temperature sensor which ensures optimal charging voltages at all temperatures. It also has the option of managing a solar panel, coming soon!

Peace of mind even if the main battery fails, jump-starting from the auxiliary is always an option and you only need one cable!

Storage System It's a never ending battle to organise storage space in a limited area. I've resisted installing drawers because, although they help organise, they take up space themselves.

I found commercial offerings way too expensive. The drawer slides used, although nice and smooth in operation, add considerably to the weight as well as taking up horizontal space so I decided to make my own. To utilise every bit of space and minimise weight, I used light-weight timbers, did away with the conventional drawer slides and used teflon runners under the drawers instead. Covered in waterproof marine carpet they look good, work well and don't rattle!

Want more details and photos of the storage drawers?

Underbody Armour Extra protection underneath from sharp things wanting to do damage.

Custom Wheels This is the only modification without any real practical purpose, simply an addition to enhance appearance. It gives the vehicle an "attitude" which reflects its purpose and perhaps a victory for vanity?

ScanGauge II A very useful addition, used many times every trip. This gadget connects to the OBD2 port under the dash, the same one the service technician uses to get information from the vehicle's electronic data unit. It can be set to read out many tidbits of information, currently showing is fuel consumption, both litres per 100 kilometres and overall average. The current speed which is much more accurate than the analogue speedo on the dash and distance to empty.

The display is updated in real time so, the 5.2LHK is only applicable to the current conditions, most likely downhill with a tailwind!

Fold-Out Shelf Commercial offerings were unsuitable so I built my own. The width and depth are as big as space allows. Magnetic fasteners hold the marine-ply shelf closed, strong and flexible straps hold it when open. An LED light makes it easy to find the handle in the dark and a piano hinge ensures it stays flat without warping.

Current Look What she looks like today, even more capable than the original plain Jane.

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