For the past few years we have made the trip to Ouray Colorado for FJ Summit or to be near the area to catch a bit of “Summit”. FJ Summit is an annual event that brings in 300+ Toyota trucks to a little town in the middle of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with some of the best mountain pass roads in the United States.
This year… Complete madness at work had left me in a position where I was not sure I could plan a trip to the grand scale of years past. Adding to the confusion… My kids were not cooperating either. One kid was graduating High School and the other had a social agenda that was hard pressed to spend time with “Dear ole Dad”.
Never fear… Other Trail Team trip members were making sure that something was going to happen this summer. Three families were making plans with our without me being along for the ride. When the smoke cleared… Two Trail Team Dad’s, Don and Jake, had grabbed their daughters and started a trip to Ouray by way of the Rimrocker trail in Moab Utah. If I hustled… I could meet up with them in Ouray for a long weekend of camping pre-FJ Summit.
When the time came to take flight and catch up with the others out in Colorado… I was lucky enough to have my newly graduated Daughter along for the trip. We headed out early from Central Illinois to make the rendezvous for camping near Ouray. Pekin to Denver is a 14 hour trip. Ouray is another 4 hours past that. We stopped in Denver after the first day of driving.
There were a 100 different combinations of drivers, co-pilots and kids that could have shown up this year to Colorado. Ironically… The other trucks, like me, had all come in 4Runners with their daughters. The trip could have just as well been 4 dads, 4 kids and 4 4runners… On the 14 hour ride out to meet up with Jake and Don… It started to fall into place. Three Dads… Three Daughters…. And Three 4Runners. Serendipity? Kizmit? Who knows. But it was a great trip vibe starting and a great tag for Instagram.
The third and final day on the Mojave Road trail was an idyllic morning. I had woken up around 6AM and could feel the presence of peaceful air from inside by ground tent. Not a breath of wind was to be heard and the brightness on the outside of the tent meant that there must not have been many clouds either. I unzipped by door shade and revealed the cloudless, crystal clear blue sky that I was hoping for.
I unzipped the door and let the cool air flow into my tent. It was so quiet and perfect that I curled back up into my sleeping bag and dozed off for a bit longer.
It was brisk, 50 degrees or slightly better. But experience told me that a few hours later we would be up to the mid 70’s. Today being our last day on the trail meant a small breakfast, a few hour drive to the end of the road near Zzyzx. To this point on the trail, I had been wearing jeans/pants and boots for the uncertainty of the trail. What if something went wrong? I can’t be recovering a truck in sandals!
This morning had all the signs that it was time to relax. I put on the one pair of shorts I had packed and pulled out the Sanuk flip flops and pretended today was a beach day. The morning was uneventful. I broke camp and took down my tent, sleeping pad and cot in a slow pace as to make sure everything was packed correctly for the ride home. I then took the portable toilet setup and headed off a few hundred steps to have a relaxing view of the landscape. I parked the seat up near some black volcanic rocks that had some old coyote holes burrowed into them. We had scouted them before, and they appeared empty.
Everything was right with the world… Until it walked into camp… A Tarantula
The day before when we arrived at camp, one of the other campers, Mike, had been out looking for the hairy spider lairs. We found holes in the ground that might have been the home to giant arachnids. Don, our resident desert expert said with some authority that the Tarantulas were not going to be active during our visit. This was enough affirmation for me… Nothing to worry about here.
Well… Our new friend with 8 legs wasn’t listening to Don. This 4″ or 5” spider was gingerly walking into the middle of camp. He appeared out of nowhere under a truck and then started heading towards our fire-ring. We took a few pictures of the guy as he was moving along. He did seem to be at a slow pace because of the temps. As he was halfway across camp… Orin, another of our campers, used a small stick to interfere with his route. The spider didn’t care for this one bit. I swear that he jumped 2 feet and started hustling his pace.
I don’t know what happened to our spider from that point forward… I stopped caring about him and started thinking about self preservation. Immediately, I looked down and my flip-flopped feet and bare legs and realized that I might be unprepared for more spiders. I turned back to the open field behind the campsite in fear that I be looking upon view from the film “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Arachnophobia”. Wave upon wave a newly awoken Tarantulas crawling out of their beds to visit our band of squatters set up in their territory. Nothing yet… But they could be preparing a calculated raid.
I then started thinking back over the morning… I had slept with an open door to the desert… I had been on my knees in the sand rolling up my tent and bedding materials… My open air bathroom visit earlier was also fraught with peril as I had not been looking over my shoulder at any point during the day. There were countless opportunities for a hundred spiders to have murdered me in the Mojave.
As it turned out… We only had one tarantula visit our camp (that we know of). But this was enough for me to realize that jeans, boots and some form of Kevlar are your best protection out in the desert. Also, I don’t know if we have a snake bite or spider bit kit… But it might be something to pack for future trips!
When you are driving 1000’s of miles… Even in a newer car… You have to be ready to deal with a sudden failure. We drive Toyota’s for a reason… More reliability on or off the road no matter where we go. But even with the best of odds, you can have a one small problem turn into something that will ruin the best laid plans.
This last trip our west had us dealing with a fluke event. A 2017 TRD Edition 4Runner started leaking oil while on the way to Mojave California.
Somewhere outside of Kingman Arizona… Libbie started smelling burning oil while driving her 4Runner. We stopped our three car caravan to check and see what it was. At first glance… It would have appeared to have been the oil filter housing. The leak was all over the skid plate and the engine was soaked behind the filter. Immediately, we were ready to blame the guy who changed the oil last. (I can tell you as the service manager that I was seeing red!)
With the TRD Skid on, the filter is nearly impossible to reach. I was able to touch it from the passenger side, and did not feel anything out of order. The oil was still topped off, so the decision was made to try and get to a town with a quick lube or any service station that could get us in to check the filter. We hit the road again.
After a few miles of being in the chase vehicle to keep an eye on the situation… Oil spatter was covering my windshield. I used the three wipers and it just smeared oil all over my FJ. We pulled over again and this time found an area where we would remove the skid plate ourselves and check the filter tightness.
After getting everything pulled apart… It did not appear to be the filter. But honestly, I am not a tech. I was pretty sure it was something else but felt better with a second opinion. I called our Master Tech, James, and asked for remote assistance!
With the help of pictures and videos… James and I deduced that the leak was coming from the oil pressure sender on the side of the engine… Right above some coolant lines that run near the filter housing.
This was a fresh leak, and it was doubtful it had been doing it for very long.
We called the local truck repair shop at our exit, they said they did not work on smaller trucks like this, but referred us to a shop called ADAN in Kingman Arizona. We called them and explained what was going on. They said to “come on over.” This was already going better than expected.
As we pulled out… I saw what I can only describe as a “gypsy” sitting on the curb with a gas can. She looked to be 100 pounds. I thought she might be hiding from the law with the giant sunglasses and wig she was wearing. Her kids were decked out in footy pajamas and looked like they had been sleeping on the desert floor all night. And their van… Oh my… It was something. An older Chevy conversion van with handwritten messages of “love everyone” and “peace” told a story of spending lots of days and nights at gas stations!
I asked her if she needed money for gas. (She was holding a gas can) She said “yes”. I said “I need all the Karma I can get” as I handed her a ten dollar bill, she said something unintelligible and took the money. I like to think it was a Gypsy blessing. Because luck was starting to fall into place.
As we pulled into Kingman… I was getting bigger puffs of hot oil smoke and I knew that we could not keep up a drive with this truck spitting out more and more. While on the road, I called the local O’Rielly Auto Parts store and told them what I needed. An oil pressure sender for a 4.0L Toyota is not a common repair item in our shop… I was praying that the store would have one, or be able to refer me to where to get it. Even so, if I had to drive to another town… We may have been looking at three plus hours for a return trip with the part. Nothing is close in Arizona.
O’Rielly had one! I told the others to head to repair shop with the truck while I headed for the part. Once in the store, I inspected the “sender” and verified it was correct. (Believe it or not… Sometimes parts stores say they have something… And its not correct! Shocking right? )
My Gypsy luck was holding.
ADAN had checked in the truck and was getting ready to lift if when I pulled in. They were very firm about a $100.00 rack fee and said they would not be responsible if my diagnosis was wrong. We were just fine with those terms. The techs at ADAN went to work on the repair.
An oil pressure sender is something that could be done with the small amount of tools we had in convoy, but it was much easier to do on the lift in a shop. The $100 fee was a small price to pay versus doing it ourselves on hot Arizona pavement.
We started the truck after the repair. No leaks.
We ended up being 2 hours late to our meeting point with another truck outside Ft Mojave later that day. But, the alternative was far worse. 2 hours is small potatoes when weighed against getting a hotel room and being stranded.
Some say you make your luck. Traveling with tools, experienced staff and having a master tech one phone call away dampen the chances of failure on the road. I still say a little old fashioned luck never hurts and I’ll thank the Gypsy for her help as well.
As I was getting ready to share the Mojave Rd files from last weekend… I figured out that I have not shared anything from GSMTR or SCC… Shame on me for putting on everything on Facebook and forgetting this spot!
Oh sure…. you are reading the headline, and are ready to call my bluff…. what can you get for 8 cents?
This past July while on our Colorado Expedition with the Trail Team, I developed a small problem. It all started while making the trek to the top of Mosquito Pass. My 2010 4Runner, which has performed flawlessly across any obstacle I ever asked of it for the past 4 years, decided to get a little hot.
Nearly ¾ of the way up the trail to the 13,185 foot pass…. I got a whiff of something hot. Thank God I smelled it, because when I looked down at my dash I could see that my engine temp was a good 80% towards the top reading. I quickly cranked up the heat on the truck and rolled down the windows. Within a minute, the temp started falling as I sat and idled.
This was a big shock to me…. The day before, I had been in gridlock traffic in Denver, and the temp was nearly 100 degrees. Even with the AC blasting… I don’t recall seeing or smelling anything unusual. Before that, I had driven over 500 miles from central Illinois.
With the heat on and the windows open, I was able to creep up to the top of the Pass. We took pictures of the trucks in the caravan and I popped the hood. I was dreading a low coolant level, as I was not sure if this probably had been going on without me noticing. The coolant was completely full in the overflow. That was a great sign. I kept the heat rolling for the trip back down…. by the time we hit the halfway down mark…. I was in the clear.
The mechanics and educated drivers out there probably know what happened. After some inspection later when the engine cooled off…. Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, found that the cooling fan was spinning freely at the end of the crank. Unlike cars, thr 4Runner does not have electric fans at the radiator. The viscous fan clutch fully engages when the temperature in the engine increases. From what we could tell…. This fan was idling at a lower speed even when hot, thus. not removing heat from engine as quickly as designed. Low 4 climbing with its higher RPMs and the the higher altitude had created a bad mixture that led to my hot temps on the Pass.
Now…. what to do about it? The nearest Toyota dealer on our route was in Montrose. We gave them a call and found they did not have a part on hand. But, they were willing to expedite one that could be in sometime the next day. That sounded pretty good, but a call to Autozone gave us better news…. They could have it by noon, guaranteed. We ordered the autozone part and prepared for a repair the next day. We could get into why I didn’t get the manufacturer part… But as a dealer, I know that the possibility of not getting a part exists in this neck of the woods. We have the luxury of getting parts nearly within hours in Central Illinois… Whereas these dealers in the western states have to have parts dispatched out of Dallas Tx and rely on FedEx.
Ah-hah! We busted you Eric, this repair was more than 8 cents! Yes, but you have to read on… This is not the repair in question.
The part arrived on time to Montrose. We grabbed the box and headed to our campsite in Ouray looking over the town. For the next 90 minutes we proceeded to make repairs. In order to make this happen, we decided that pulling the shroud and taking off a radiator hose would make it easier. This called for some improvisation. Coolant is not something we take lightly to spilling, so we ended up making a funnel out of camp tin-foil in order to direct the flow into a catch bucket.
From past experience, I have been witness to aftermarket parts that do not look the same as their factory counterparts. This visual helps me understand why I am paying more for OEM. This fan clutch is no exception. The ribbed heat diffusers on the Autozone part are a much smaller surface area than the factory part. You have to wonder if it can do the same job. When we made a turn on the shaft by hand to feel the tension in this new part versus the factory part… It was obvious that this new part was working correctly. The old part was nearly “free-wheeling”. We were feeling much better about the diagnosis.
We had the new part secured and installed pretty quickly. After that, we reinstalled the shroud and topped off the coolant with the fluid we removed. It all looked great. It sounded great as well. If you have heard the difference in an engaged fan clutch versus one not working…It becomes audibly obvious. Unfortunately, its a sound you become tone deaf too as it slowly fails. After idling… We took another look. Hmmm… Something didn’t look right. The fan blades appeared to be a little closer to the engine than we remember. So much so that they were eerily close to the black rubber hoses coming off the front of the engine. Coolant hoses. We had spun the fan blade and inspected the clearance. It was not much. 1 to 2mm?
1 to 2mm might be spec? Hard to say looking at it while making a repair at 9000 feet where we were camped. We fired up the truck… It looked fine. I drove around the campground and we made more inspections. All clear.
The next day, we headed up to another trailhead to make a new campsite. After we had that done, I took another quick look at the fan. Better safe than sorry right? My worst fear had started showing itself. The hoses had probably expanded a bit when we moved the new campsite that morning. In doing so, they had started making contact with the fan blade. You could see the smallest trace of black debri and dust on the fan.
This is where the OEM part would have been far superior. This Autozone part was probably made to Toyota SPEC… But it was shorter than the factory part.
Our options included:
Gambling and hoping that it will be ok? (Never the best option)
Cut off parts of the fan blades that are rubbing? (That plastic is hard!)
Remove the inner hose and chop it down about a quarter inch? (Would require a lot more coolant being handled)
Shim the part from autozone? (Might create a balance issue for the fan)
Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, came up with a better idea. The fan can be removed from the new clutch… We could attempt to shim it at the front. While that sounded great… We were pretty far removed from town. We started looking for washers or some way to space out these bolts. It couldn’t be anything too big, as we had limited threads to work with. We were at the point of removing bolts from the expedition trailer when Dustin started asking for loose change. Coins? There was not a vending machine for miles, what was he up too?
He started with 4 pennies. 4 pennies stacked in a vice grip and drilled with a small bit turned into 4 perfectly matched washers. After taking a look at the end results.. We decided that another 4 cents would probably give us a bit of insurance. Everyone dug through their cupholders. (For folks worried about defamation of currency, see link at end of the article)
We figured out that draining the coolant was not completely necessary to make the repair a second time… We loosened up the fan shroud and installed 2 pennies on each bolt holding the fan to the clutch. The end result pulled the fan away from the hoses that were risking being ruptured.
Upon firing up the truck… We could see that we were free and clear. Disaster averted!
For just 8 cents we had improved the Autozone part, and it would handle the rest of our trip without incident.
This is the third time we have seen a fan clutch fail on the trail. One time we witnessed it on the trails at Southern Cruiser Crawl. Altitude was not an issue… But a mud soaked radiator and low speeds with a high idle are just as potent of a mix. A second time, while only 4 miles into the Mojave Road. Both of those previous times, we had to grab an aftermarket part.
I would like to tell you that there is an interval that you should start paying attention to the replacement on this item… But we have seen it on new and old trucks alike. I would recommend at 100,000 miles that you pay attention to the sound of the fan and keep an eye on the coolant temp whenever you are in a high engine temp situation. I would also recommend cleaning your radiator out vigorously after any wheeling trip… A dirty radiator can enhance this problem.
Unfortunately, since we don’t use L4 until we are at the trailhead, you may not know till you have a problem until that moment you are looking to have a little fun with your truck.
I had taken some pictures of the repair in action… And a few people quickly became concerned that posting the pictures may put us in a position of an illegal operation. Currency mutilation. It was a fair question as none of us are experts in currency laws!
I did some research and found various statutes and legal speak. The most common concern was regarding the machines at tourist attractions that smash a penny into a souvenir.
What we can take from the law is this. If you deface these coins and then attempt to parlay them into a transaction… You are breaking the law. You should not mutilate currency and then try to spend it. That would be illegal.
Working in a car dealership with a bunch of car and truck loving guys and gals means that we routinely tell tall tales of triumphs and failures of our auto exploits.
We can tell you stories of a Sales Manager going off the pavement and spinning out in our brand new SCCA FRS… We can also tell you all about the trip where our 2010 4runner that we call “Treehugger” got its name. But one of our favorite stories to tell is of our technician, Dustin Harper and his adventure on “the Wall” with our “shop” truck called “300”. The telling of Harper’s failure at the “Wall” on Poughkeepsie Gulch, Colorado usually results in raised voices and accusations of poor driving or poor spotting. All we know is that watching Harper’s blood pressure rise during conversation ensures that this story will be around for many years to come.
It’s been four years since our initial foray into off-roading and overlanding in the great state of Colorado. We started off with a few “stock” trucks and made our way to FJ Summit 8 for a crash course in mountain passes and some of the most scenic views in the United States. One trip to the mountains and you are hooked. Prepare for many more visits in your future.
Since that first expedition… Our little group of three trucks has grown. We have had as many as 8 trucks with us at TLCA events near and far from our home base in Pekin Illinois. Inevitably, when we are around a campfire with friends or strangers, this story about 300 at the “Wall” comes up.
The Battle of Poughkeepsie
It all started on our second venture to FJ Summit 9 in 2015. Our group of travelers had grown to 5 trucks and now included a few technicians along with an advisor and the Service Manager. Dustin, one of the techs, had worked countless hours on our shop truck, “300” it get it prepared for the long journey to Ouray. This young tech had taken a broken down 2000 Toyota Tacoma, with the help of other techs in the shop, created a formidable 4×4 trail rig. We dubbed the 300,000 truck with the name of “300”. We even duplicated the movie logo for the fenders of the truck.
300 made its way to Ouray Colorado and proceeded to chew up trails all over Summit 9. It would appear that the Wheeling Gods had blessed this little truck conquer every obstacle in its path.
Until a fateful day at Poughkeepsie Gulch that would go down in infamy for Dustin and 300.
Our small troop of trucks made an unscheduled run to the top of a trail called Poughkeepsie Gulch. PG is known as one of the toughest trails in the Ouray area. Not because of the trail itself, but because of its famous final barrier, ominously known as “The Wall”. The wall is a two jagged slabs of rock faces that are divided by a large fissure that can gobble up wheels and make “The Wall” nearly unbeatable. On this day in 2015, we watched a 3rd gen 4Runner roll down on its side and brake all of its windows. This is not a walk in the park by any means! (Also of note, in 2015 the “go around” was not available as it is now)
Our small group of 4Runners and FJ Cruisers had made it past the obstacle. Some easier than others… Style point matter little on this hill. All that was left was for 300 to run up to the top like it had all week everywhere else.
What happened next is a story that might be best told by the “Spotter” or the “Spotted”. “Woody” from Ih8mud.com had donated his time that day to help out all the trail runs from FJ Summit on their spotting needs while trying to run the Wall. Spotting an obstacle like this is a thankless job and anyone who takes it probably doesn’t do it two years in a row. It takes at least a year to forget all the grumpy drivers who can’t handle being told that they are holding up the line and cannot make it up without being “winched”.
Harper setup “300” on a line that Woody pointed him too. Once set, Harper floored it. The truck didn’t make it up a ¼ of the way. It wasn’t a spectacular looking attempt, in fact, you might call it underwhelming Woody called out and asked Harper if his “locker” was on. Harper said that it was… He retreated backward to make another attempt.
Getting up the Wall at Poughkeepsie is also a great opportunity to do some mathematics about altitude and horsepower. At sea level when it was brand new the 2000 Tacoma made 190 hp. 300’s stock 3.4liter engine with 320,000 miles (Never overhauled) was probably a few ponies down from age. Use the factor of 3% loss for every 1000 feet above sea level and you have a 36% loss of engine power. Even when new… That means the truck would have been sitting at 121 hp. Add some oversized tires that have been deflated to 15 psi… And you have the recipe for a “dog”.
But that’s Ok… In the game of mountain driving and wheeling… Slow and steady will win the race. FJ40’s are some of the biggest dogs on the trail and are known for their trail prowess. Rarely do we need to have raw power at the top of a mountain. This spot is the exception. The Wall demands you get a little momentum on the rock face.
Attempt number two did not end much differently than the first one. Harper had followed Woody’s line, but he was still not making it up the rock face. Harper started to ask for a different line but Woody refused and told him that 300 was going to need to be winched.
It didn’t take long before you could feel the the seething and hatred pouring out of the cab of 300. Too the defense of both individuals… A lot more was going on beyond the Spotter and the Spotted.
Harper was an experienced driver with a truck that didn’t look like much on the outside. Even to the studied eye of Woody, “300” looked unprepared for the Wall. Harper had the knowledge and experience that he probably should have been given another shot on the line he wanted. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Harper could not see what Woody saw behind “300”… a growing lineup of trucks waiting their turn. To complicate the situation, the overcast sky started spitting rain. A little bit of moisture on these rocks can make this hazard flat dangerous and far more time consuming if everyone needs to be winched up. Woody was making a call that took every driver into consideration. It’s the kind of call that loses popularity contests!
This is where the story sat for the past two years. Harper and 300 had to be pulled up “The Wall”. Constant ribbing and laughs have been pointed at Harper from every driver that has made “The Wall”. Even folks who had never seen the rockface knew that this was one of Harper’s biggest regrets from our trips out west. Bringing this story up with Harper induces flashbacks and repressed memories that will start a flood of obscenities and excuses of what happened that day.
Since then, Harper has taken 300 to countless off road events and parks. In 2017 he traveled all the way to the Mojave Desert in the little truck that will not quit… He has also run about every obstacle in Moab (Including a hot tub or two). He knows this truck.
This past summer the Fort’s Trail Team once again made its way out to Colorado with several trucks. At this point, we now bring customers with us as well. The planned run to Poughkeepsie Gulch was obviously the most anticipated stop of the trip. On July 18th we made our way back to the scene of the past failure. There was an audience in tow with 300 that were looking for a front row seat to a redemption… Or a serious personal meltdown. Either way… Everyone was sure that they would be entertained.
A couple trucks in our caravan this time around were sporting V8 engines and led the way… Even at 12,000 feet, those high powered trucks made “The Wall” look more like a traffic hump. A couple V6 Gen 5 4runners were next… It was a little more struggle, but ATRAC proved its worth and they were up and over with little drama. Now came the defining moment of Harpers off-road reputation. Was Woody right? Was this obstacle too much for 300? Would Harper make it on his own line?
Golfers lining up their puts take take less time than Harper when he finally got his chance to set up. He was out of the truck several times making sure he liked the “line”. Nobody but Dustin was going to make the call on what approach to take.
In and out of the cab…. Setting it up just perfect… And then…. Just a few seconds later, a momentous roar came up from the peanut gallery. 300 loped and flexed its way up and had bested the rockface. The audience cheered a hero’s welcome. Harper pulled the truck to a clearing and hopped out.
The glow that exuded from Dustin was nearly blinding! For years he had waited for this moment. While he had the confidence in his truck and his ability to get the job done, sometimes gravity and physics have their own barriers that faith just cannot break through.
Dustin’s grin was nearly contagious. Everyone, and mean everyone, adults, kids, friends and complete strangers felt the electricity of the moment. It was high fives and reviews from everyone about how well he and the little truck had done. This was worth the drive from Illinois by itself!
It would a slight fib to say that we dont enjoy giving grief to Dustin anymore about the past failure. Even a couple months later its still exciting to see him grin and talk about this moment of personal accomplishment. We can consider this story now closed with an appended, happy ending.