Category Archives: General

Mojave Breakdown, Our Lucky Day?

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.

Long Strange Trip…

This past weekend we had our Open-house and “Hog Roast here at Fort’s Toyota.  We had an amazing turnout of our “regulars” and a bunch of new people stop by the store to check out what we have going on.  At one point, Gabe, a customer that I have known for only six months said, “You guys are the fun dealership”.  That gave me a laugh and I really appreciate that he could see that we are a family store that values relationships.  Something that is harder and harder to do in this day and age of consolidation and corporate ownership of car dealers.  It was turning out to be a great event.

About an hour into the festivities…  I spotted a “Cottonland Cruisers” shirt on a guy who just arrived.  I know this logo very well…  Cottonland Cruisers are a chapter of the Toyota Landcruiser Association (TLCA), and I have spent a lot of time on the trails over the past two years running with this group at their headline event, “Southern Cruiser Crawl” and at other TLCA events.  I didn’t recognize the man standing in front of me, and I had to immediately ask him if we’ve met before.  

“One time a couple years ago… You picked me and my buddy up when we rolled his 4Runner” (At Southern Cruiser Crawl.  SCC for the rest of the story).  Ah!  That moment in time started to flood my mind.  It was like a hollywood movie flashback!

It was SCC 2015 and my first time attending the event.  I had arrived in my 2010 4Runner at Superlift offroad park in Hot Springs Arkansas all by myself.  I was supposed to be with another coworker, but he fell a day behind.  I didn’t know a soul.  I registered and started heading up the main trail of the park solo to see what this event was all about.  Within minutes of hitting the trail…   I come across two guys walking towards me.  “That’s odd”, I thought, “nobody walks at an off-road park!”  I stopped and asked if they needed some help.  The two guys told me that they had just rolled their 4runner onto its roof a ways up the trail.  They noticed I was lacking a winch and were in need of recovery, If I could give them a ride to the office… That would be great.  

They hopped in…  We chatted for a few minutes on the drive and I found out they were from NW Illinois!  What are the odds of that???  It didn’t take long to find help.  Seconds later I was hood to hood with a train of FJ Cruisers.  Based on the gear and mods I could see, these guys looked like they knew what they were doing and I stopped them to see if they could help.  

Bart, was the lead FJ and he made a call on the CB to his fellow trail runners.  The Louisiana Land Krewesers (As I would come to find their name later) were a group of experienced “wheelers” and it sounded like a couple of guys in the group were eager to jump in and help.  

At that point, I had nothing better to do than to watch the recovery.  Frankly, I was alone here and I was happy to have a purpose driving behind these guys on the rescue mission.  Also… If this place “flips” vehicles… I should probably roll in a group!  After about an hour of watching them overturn this 4Runner and get it back to basecamp… I had learned some names and got a feel for the group.  Nice guys and gals.  They let me ride with them for the day and I ended up spending the weekend hanging out with at their base camp with their “krew”.

John, the man standing in front of me at the Fort’s Hog Roast is the tiny snowball that started my avalanche of 4×4 travels and friendships over the next few years.  

Since that fateful day when I “rescued” John and Ryan.  I have made trips to Mardi Krawl, the official TLCA Louisiana Land Krewesers off road event in Alabama.  My Wife and I have met up with other members of the group in Moab to run trails as a small group.  All the while, we hung out together morning noon and night.  At one point, I earned the trust to find myself holding the hand of Jonas’ daughters as we watched from a giant boulder while he worked his FJ up Hell’s Gate in Moab.

I’m not even going to get into all the fun our Trail Team had with Roger and his contingent of LLK guys at SCC 2016.  Ask Matt Wagner about that sometime.

When I went to Cruise Moab this year…  I barely got through the gate before running into LLK member, Kevin and getting a big bear hug…  Then I was handed a cold beer.  

I am not sure it gets any better than that!

This all comes down to John and Ryan rolling their truck!  This is not a fact that is lost on me.  Life takes twists and turns and we can never predict where it’s going to take us…  it’s possible that I may have befriended these guys without running into the stranded guys over that weekend… We will never know.  

Side note…. my coworker made it down the next day and was impressed that I got to know so many people so fast…. I think that’s why he always sends me ahead now!  

Also…  Flipping a 4Runner takes talent… I have yet to see anyone in any of our groups do it, or come close!

Eric Stahl


Wheeling and overlanding are not the only way to make friends… But they are a great way to surround yourself with like minded Toyota aficionados.  

If you are interested in checking out what we do at Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) events or want to camp and “wheel” over at Badlands…  We are fully capable and willing hosts, guides and organizers.  Lets make plans to hit the trail.  Our Facebook page is the best way to stay on top of what we are doing, otherwise, stop in to the service department and see Matt Wagner or myself, Eric Stahl.

The First Rule of Trail Team

Whats the first rule of trail team?  Any guy/gal who watched a particular movie in the last decade will immediately follow that question with the response:  “Dont talk about Trail Team?”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, “Talk about Trail Team…  A lot” is rule number two!

Rule number one:  Your factory stock Toyota Truck is a capable 4×4 right off the showroom floor.  You do not have to load it up with performance parts to enjoy your Toyota off-road”.

That may seem to contradict what the aftermarket industry is pushing.  There are an endless suppliers lined up to make your truck more “capable”.   This may also seem contradictory to the Fort’s parts department, as they offer some great accessory brands.  But this is the fact:  Your stock truck is ready for anything right out of the box.

Your factory Trail Edition and 4×4 vehicles come with world class mechanical parts.  Axles, suspension components, metal skid plates and the technology to back it all up.

Now…  You are probably saying, “You guys have extra stuff on your trail trucks” and you are right.  We did try for a few years to run completely stock trucks when going to Badlands Offroad Park in Attica, Indiana and FJ Summit 8.

Since that time we have found that leading folks on the trails also requires the ability to assist in the case of a recovery.  It becomes a balancing act of adding features that are a complete necessity while not intimidating our “Daily Driver” customers from running the trails with us.

The 2010 4Runner that we affectionately call “Treehugger” (Long story, ask sometime) had some absolutely necessary items installed this past year.  A winch for recovery and a CB Radio.  Those two items can save a lot of headaches when out on the trails.

Again, with the balancing act…  We dont want those bits and pieces added to the truck to scare you away from seeing what your Toyota truck can do.  These additional items are there to assist when needed!

When we do accessories on our trucks… We stick with tried and true brands.  Our guys back in parts carry Pro Comp, ARB, ICON, OME and TRD equipment that will let your truck grow as much as YOU want to.   Cody, Nate and Mason have been helping equip Toyota owners in the Greater Peoria area for years…  All the while keeping on top of the newest gear.  (The temptation is amazing!)  Our Toyota techs;  Dustin, Drew and James have been installing everything in our Toyota shop.

If you want to build up your truck… We can help.  If you want to leave it “stock”… You will never get an argument from us!

All we ask is that you give us a shout if you want to hit the trails!

See Matt or Eric in service for more details on the Trail Team Excursions.





Life lesson via a couple of KOA’s


Most of us on the trail team prefer to camp as part of our travels…  Part of the joy of this aspect of travelling includes visiting new campgrounds and finding cool spots we can share with others.

On our trip to Moab and FJ Summit this year, our first night of driving ended with us in Strasburg Colorado.  We knew this was going to be a stopping point ahead of time and had made reservations.  It’s about 14 hours from home and a great distance to stop driving at.

Strasburg is a little town with tons of cheap hotels along I-70.  Really nothing to write home about (or blog about!).  When we came into town we could see that the KOA was disturbingly close to the highway…   Not just any highway, one of the busiest interstates in the country!   Had it been earlier, we might have tried to skip out of this place based solely on our first impression of location and noise.

We decided not to make a fuss… It was 8PM and we just needed a place to sleep! As we have seen before at other KOA’s, the front desk clerks will leave you check-in paperwork at the front door if they are already closed for the night.  We grabbed our packets to see where we were camping.  Ugh…  This campground had put us on opposite sides of the park.  Not their problem, as we had made different reservations… But it was a bit of drag as they were way apart, not even close.

Just as we were talking about where to go, a man came up in a golf cart wearing the classic yellow KOA polo shirt.  He introduced himself as Scott.  He and his Mom own this KOA and he started running down the amenities.  He told the kids about the pancake breakfast his mom makes in the morning.  I think the kids were drooling for pancakes right then.

Scott figured out really fast that we were together as two trucks and offered instantly to let us use the group camping area so we could be close that night.  That was awesome.  We were thrilled.  We bedded down and other than a few loud motorcycles that sounded like they were doing 200MPH on the nearby highway it was a peaceful night.

The next morning we were tearing down the tents and getting cleaned up super early.  Scott saw me and asked if we were coming to breakfast.  Even though it was before normal serving time, he said we could get our breakfast now.  Awesome.  We loaded up.  4 or 5 bucks a head for a full plate of food, juice and a coffee.  It was just what the doctor ordered!

From there, it was off to Moab Utah.

The crew getting ready to leave Strasburg

The next couple of days camping were spent in primitive spots along the Colorado River in Moab.  Amenities were only what you provide for yourself.   To say we were a bit “funky” after a few days out in the wild would be a massive understatement!

Moab Camping

Our next campsite was a KOA in Colorado.  I will refrain from mentioning the location for reasons you will see later.

We checked in around and found a tidy little campground in the middle of town.  The front desk clerk was terse and did not tell us about much at the campground except to say some downtown restaurants were good.  She also was not accommodating when we asked about possibly tearing down our tents around 1PM after trail run the next morning.  No biggie, we thought we would ask.  We were directed to our campsite on the edge of the campground.

After we were started putting our tents down…  A staff member of the KOA came up on a 4Wheeler.  He then proceeded to unspool a hose off the back of the machine and start spraying the grass around us.  Herbicide?  Pesticide?  Who knows.  I am not freak about this stuff, but I had to say something.

“Hey, can you hold off on that?” I asked.

“It says it’s safe in 30 minutes” was his reply.

“I’d feel better if you held off while we are camped here” I said.

He then reeled up the hose and took off.  He had a look of “whatever” on his face as he drove away.

A few minutes later one of my kids came up to me and asked how to get into the bathrooms.  You need a code to get into the door?  Oh, I remember a sheet of paper being attached to our checkin materials.  Sure enough, there were passwords for the bathrooms.

That night, I swear a helicopter took off next door to the campground.  It was amazing how loud it was.  In reality, this was no more disturbing than the motorcylces and trucks we had heard on I70 a few nights before.

We woke to a beautiful day for trail riding.  We packed up camp and started loading up the trucks.  We never thought about breakfast at the KOA as the clerk did not recommend anything when we checked in.

We hit the trails that day and headed off to more days of travel until we got back home.

The moral is obvious.  People make all the difference.

Scott and his Mom did everything to make sure we were settled and taken care of.  Their facility was not the best location, but they make more out of what they have by being hospitable and friendly.  I would stay at this KOA again strictly on the experience I received even with their location shortcomings.

The second location we stopped at may have been caught on a bad day.  Regardless, there was no impression left on us that we should ever go back to that campground.  The real question  for the second KOA staff:  Could they overcome my negative experience if they had a staff like stop number one?  I would say yes.

Now, this is one person’s experience.  If you take that by all the customers who check in and out everyday…  The value is unlimited. Building relationships is the value-add that is not figured into the price.  Some of those customers will become an advocate for your business.

What’s that worth?



Rose Garden Break Down

Jakes FJ coming up Rose Garden Hill, Moab UT.

“Dad, I think something’s wrong with Jake’s wheels”

That came out of my daughters mouth while helping me spot for my friends FJ going up Rose Garden Hill in Moab.  At first, I dismissed it as the inexperienced eyes of 15 year old…  Then I looked more closely at what she was seeing from the front of the truck.

Jake was trying to get his 2014 FJ into position to help winch my 2010 4Runner off giant boulder that had left me high centered.  (In hindsight, I should have had him spotting me on the way up, it might have saved us this whole situation! )  The road halfway up the hill had been a smattering of loose boulders and a few rock shelves.   Rose Garden is rated a 4 on the trail map… Which is an aggressive number.  The people I know that have been there thought I should have no problem tackling it with an end goal of getting to “Top of the world” for the iconic photo opportunity.

Gawkers everywhere... But they were no help!
Gawkers everywhere… But they were no help!

The route to Rose Garden Hill takes some serious time.  We started travelling the Kokopelli Trail from Sand Flats about 9AM and went all the way around the south/east side of Moab to get to this point.  It’s actually an amazing change of terrain and conditions in the short span of a few hours.  Orange Desert to green mountainside in the span of an hour. At about 11 we ran across another group of pre-FJ Summit FJ’s on the trail… The other FJ crew was bottled behind a herd of cattle and we could see them turn around to avoid the traffic jam. With the exception of one truck later in the day… That group of trucks were last vehicles we saw for the rest of the day!

Jakes truck was in a ditch of big rocks. I noticed the camber looking a little off on the drivers front wheel while Jake was turning the steering wheel.  The bottom side of the tire was pushing out and the top was really angled underneath the wheel well.  I held up my hand and told Jake to stop…  Something was wrong!  My kid was right!

When we ducked down to take a look…  It was pretty grim.  The upper control arm was popped over the tire and grease was smeared everywhere.  The lower control arm looked OK as did the axle and tie rod end.  My mind started thinking about every option for recovery.  One of my friends had a Jeep roll into a culvert near a cornfield a few months ago at the cost of nearly $4,000.00 for recovery.  I was pretty sure neither of us wanted to get into that expense.  Insurance companies probably would not fully help out either.  It flashed through my head that we could get the kids out of here and come back later, but it was already 3:30 in the afternoon.  It would take hours to come back.

“We have to fix this”…  “We can do this”…  That was my verbal declaration to Jake, the wives and the kids who tagged along with us.

First step…  Lift this truck up and see what is left of the ball joint.  The FJ factory jack is accordian style.  It is pretty worthless in an uneven pavement situation.  The 2010 4Runner had a bottle jack… Even fully extended it was not tall enough for the lift we were trying to get.  We then stacked rocks and started cranking on the little guy.  It took a few times before we found a rock/jack combination that seemed secure.

Once we were up, it was easy to see an intact ball joint separated from upper control arm.   Somewhere in the caverns of my mind I started to recall a similar situation and repair.

“We can fix this”.

Again… Declaring to everyone that we were not screwed.  This was affirmation for me and I hoped it would be a relief to the families as they patiently waited in the 100 degree temps.  I had NO idea if I could in fact fix this… But I sure was going to try.

We grabbed every ratchet strap that wasn’t tied down and started to draw the ball joint closer to the socket.  Using a combination of ratchet adjustments and Jake behind the wheel, we lined it up. At that point… It was ratchet strap fever…  I locked down 4 straps on varying positions to pull down on the UCA.  It would appear that we were in business!

The hillside repair...
The hillside repair…

All we had to do now get back down the hill. In reverse, down a class 4 trail, with a broken ball joint! Then, drive 2 hours or so to get back to our campsite on the Colorado river. We also still had the little issue of my 4Runner being stuck. The first test on the straps was backing up and pulling my truck free via Jakes winch.  That worked…  So far, so good.

Checking the repair.

Backing down, I spotted Jake and we tried to be as delicate as possible.  When we finally got to the bottom, an overwhelming shot of adrenaline came over me.  Seriously.  My heart started racing and I got tensed up.  I asked my wife how long we had been on the hill, expecting her to say 45 minutes…  She said it had been 3 hours.   I really do believe my mind and body went into some kind of “ass-kicking” mode when we were in trouble.  Time and fatigue were not going to be issues until we solved this.

After we were down… I reevaluated the straps… I figured out that the front torsion bar was the best location to mount a strap.  I had placed a large strap at the bottom of the shock to the UCA, but its movement was loosening the tension. I used two super strong straps on the front of the UCA down to the torsion bar. Those straps held tight for the rest of the trip. We backtracked a ways down Kokopelli and caught another trail toward Moab.  I got out every 15 to 20 minutes and checked the straps…  They were doing great!  We got the FJ back to our campsite without any more incidents.  It was 9PM by the time we got back…  And we were dead tired!  Showers?  Nah!  Beer?  Hell yes!

After the wives and kids were in bed Jake and I talked about it over a cold one.  We both agreed that it could have been far worse!  All the doubts that we harbored about making that “save” today came out.  Its one thing to be lucky, but we probably should not have been there in the first place.   Lesson learned…  Save the hardcore wheeling stuff for the local off road park… Not the family vacation!

The next day we headed to Grand Junction in hopes of a miracle to get this truck fully up and running for a trip down to Ouray and FJ Summit 10.  But, that is another story in itself!

Your author… Back at camp… Hands still dirty!



Summer planning

Trail Teams Representing

This weekend at Cars & Coffee was a great chance to get together with some of the team members and start kicking around ideas for some Summer fun.   (See our Cars & Coffee pictures on our Facebook page.)

Stork Mall Crawling
Stork Mall Crawling

We love the Badlands… Its a great park for us here in Central Illinois. But, its also been our ONLY hangout for the past year. We are throwing out ideas right now… Who would be up for a trip to Flat Nasty or Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR)? Both are south of St. Louis a fair distance… One is nearly to Springfield MO.


A trip to Colorado is still in the pipeline as well… FJ Summit in July may be sold out… But it would still be a great trip if we made it out to Ouray during the festivities. Moab, Leadville and other stops could be lasso’ed in as well.

Comments, questions, other ideas? Lets hear them!