Editor’s note: This 1996 Toyota 4Runner has been Jason Harbert and his wife Kristen’s trusty companion for years and years. In that time, it’s evolved from an occasional off-roader into a fully built rock crawler with tons of character.
I am a longtime fan of BFGoodrich® Tires, and I think our story is a true testament to the brand. About ten years ago my wife (Kristen) and I bought a 1996 Toyota 4Runner SR5, which we affectionately call Sandy. At the time, we were just looking for a reliable and capable vehicle for occasional off-roading and camping trips. Little did we know that it would turn into a full blown hobby and open up a whole world of new places and friends.
Sandy has taken us all over California, from the mountains in Big Bear and Johnson Valley at the Hammers, to the deserts in Anza Borrego, and all the way across the Mojave. We have been through Utah, exploring Moab and Sand Hollow. We have even had the chance to drive across the country a few times, spending a few years in North Carolina — Uwharrie National Park was a blast.
Long before owning the 4Runner, we had a love for all things automotive. I grew up tinkering on cars, learning the basics from my dad. My first “enthusiast” vehicle was a Honda Del Sol that I modified, followed shortly by a MK4 Volkswagen GTI which I had even more fun with. I upgraded the turbo, transmission, suspension, all the bolt-ons... That thing could move! Even then, I had a set of BFGs on it — g-Force T/A KDWs — and they were nothing short of amazing. But our life brought some changes when I started going full-time to the Fire and Paramedic Academy, so we had to sell the GTI to help pay the mortgage while I was not working during school. That brings us to the 4Runner.
Shortly after finishing school, we bought Sandy the 4Runner so we could go on trips around the California parks and OHV areas with Kristen’s parents in their Jeep. I knew right away that I wanted to upgrade a couple things, so I bought a basic lift, some recovery gear, and a set of 33-inch BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A KO tires. I had great experiences with my past BFGoodrich purchases, and my father-in-law had KOs on his modified Jeep which he highly recommended, so it was an easy decision. Those tires put up with the abuse of rock crawling, desert running, and cross-country road trips for over five years. In fact, we moved coast to coast (CA to NC, and then back again) on those KOs, with all kinds of road trips and off-road adventures in between. They still had some life left on them when I decided I was ready for a bigger size.
To keep up with my father-in-law’s Jeep, I upgraded the front and rear differentials with lower gearing and lockers. On the suspension, I went to a mid-travel coilover setup, along with armor and a winch. I also came across a steal on some used 35/12.5/16.5 (yes, 16.5!) Mud Terrain T/A KMs, which worked really well until I discovered that they were far too old to be off-roading with. I can’t remember what their year stamp was, but I do know they were almost as old as the truck itself. Three out of five of my tires blew out on a Death Valley trip, so in order to get home, we took the back seat out of the in-laws’ Jeep to make room for five wheels and tires, and booked it over to Las Vegas.
I wanted to get some KM2s to replace my KMs, but the tire shop didn’t have the size I needed. So I got my second choice, some 35-inch KO2s, which I have had for two years. Like my truck, the KO2s are a perfect balance between all conditions: desert pre-running, rock crawling, and on-road comfort and longevity.
On a trip to Moab earlier this year, I stalled at the top of an obstacle on Hell’s Revenge and rolled Sandy down a steep hill. Nobody was hurt, but the truck needed some major repairs. In classic Toyota form, the truck finished the trail and got us all the way home from Utah back to California. Then we were faced with the decision on what to do with it. Since we couldn’t bring ourselves to part with old Sandy, we decided to take her to the next level and install a long-travel kit on the front, King shocks all around, and upgrade all of the front end components that were damaged in the crash. It was a long four months of wrenching and wishing we were on the trails, but in the end it was worth it. Through all of our ups and downs with Sandy the family wagon, those BFGs have been tried and true. I am looking forward to trying out the new KM3s next!
Here’s a full build breakdown of Sandy:
- 1996 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4x4 in Desert Sand Dune Metallic
- 3.4L V6 5VZFE, automatic transmission
- Original motor and trans with 190k mi
- High clearance radiator
- External trans cooler
- Oversized alternator and battery
- East Coast Gear Supply solid bearing (replaces needle bearing)
- Yukon 5.29 ring and pinion
- Spartan locker
- BTF Fabrication CV joints (+4.5in), 300m shafts and modified Tundra joints
- DuroBumps diff bushings
- Yukon 5.29 ring and pinion
- Aussie locker
- BTF Fabrication +4.5 long travel kit
- King Shocks 8in coilovers with external reservoir
- DuroBumps dual-durometer bump stops (prototyping)
- Total Chaos spindle gussets
- Front Range Offroad full rear link kit
- Old Man Emu 861 springs (intended for Land Cruisers)
- King Shocks 10in shocks with external reservoir
- FOA 2.0x2in bump stops
- BTF Fabrication QuickLinks (sway bar disconnects)
Armor and Recovery:
- Addicted Offroad front and rear bumpers
- Addicted Offroad sliders
- Factory skid plates, ‘custom’ bent
- Smittybilt 9.5k winch
- Factor55 ProLink
- HiLift 60in tractor jack
- Gaia mapping on iPad Mini
Body and Lighting:
- SRQ Fabrications retrofit headlights
- SRQ Fabrications turn signal filler panels
- McNeil Racing front fenders
- Homemade grille with ‘raptor style’ lights
- SXMA 5in LED lights x2
- TJ Racks full-length roof rack
Wheels and Tires:
- MB Razor 16x8in wheels, painted with bedliner then Rustoleum Aged Copper
- BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2s, 315/75R16