Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BlaZuk - Installing Blazeland arms and a Zuk mod rear coil on my leafs!

After weeks and weeks of research, I've decided I'm going Blazeland and Zuk mod.

I'll be the first trying to get 4" of lift out of the Zuk mod, we'll see how that goes! 

When I buy parts, I prefer to go with the guy who gives me their good price first, not the one who I work down the most. Quoting me MSRP is the fastest way to get me to move on, no matter how good their end price will be.

I always prefer to work with people who are willing to set a price which makes them a decent profit, have great customer service (I will pay more for this), and a solid reputation.

I bought the arms used from a YotaTech inmate, and everything but the springs and some of the balljoints from Dave'z Off Road PerformanceHe and his team really know their stuff, were super competitive from the get-go, and have a great reputation. Dave and his team also had a great sense of humor while we worked through the purchase process, and they had no problem throwing me a quote and then waiting for me to come back when I was ready.

They won my business. Disclaimer - just a satisfied customer with no other relationship to Dave and his team.

My parts should be here over the next week and I'm excited!

How to disconnect the front sway bar?

Since the lift I'll be going with doesn't have a good swaybar option, I'm going to start to focus on how to put a swaybar on it. Here's some details on the disconnect mechanisms available, and why we need it.

In fast offroad sweepers, or when coming into a corner on the brakes, the rear of the 4Runner wants to come out and has to be caught. Last weekend, in a sand wash doing about 30-40, we spent a lot of time sideways - much more than was intended or preferred!

Its on-road manners are similar, and oversteer is the least desirable trait for onroad driving. Car manufacturers generally dial in understeer when they deliver their vehicles; it's the safest of the available choices.

From the details below, you'll see this means the front is too soft. So we'll need stiffer springs or swaybar. And that means less flex. Which means we need to be able to disconnect it.

Ok, so we know we want to disconnect the front sway bar. How does one do that on a Toyota?
This gentleman put together a very comprehensive list of swaybar disconnect options, and also walks us through his DIY efforts. Unfortunately,  like so many other great pages which have been around a while, links to other sites/pages are broken. So I'm going to use a common practice and copy some of his content here in case his page goes away.

At one point, his prototype broke, leading to this comment:
"Originally I constructed these disconnects out of 3/8" hardware. After crossing up the vehicle off road with the disconnects I was able to snap one side. For the street the 3/8" hardware was strong enough but if you wheel with the disconnects installed they will break. Hence, I built bigger ones shown above. You can also see the difference in hardware size from the other picture below. "

Can you imagine what would happen if you were in a fast sweeper and the front sway bar link broke? Front swaybars keep the rear from coming out. I borrowed the bullets below from the Ozark Porsche Club's suspension document
  1. To induce oversteer because your car won't turn in quickly enough:
    1. Stiffen the rear of the car with bigger springs, shocks, anti-sway bar, or some combination of these or. . . .
    2. Soften the front of the car with smaller springs, shocks, anti-sway bar, or some combination of these
  2. To induce understeer because your car is "tail happy", reverse the above:
    1. Stiffen the front of the car with bigger springs, shocks, anti-sway bar, or some combination of these or. . .
    2. Soften the rear of the car with smaller springs, shocks, anti-sway bar, or some combination of these
Breaking a swaybar link offroad flexing across a rut means it was NOT OK for the street, it was in fact dangerous, risking an accident.

Ok, so we want a strong and safe part. :) Some of the other things to consider:
  1. Disconnects work by making part of the link that connects the swaybar end to the truck or suspension part removable. This often requires that you have a zip tie handy to tie your swaybar up. Somehow, much of the market is OK with these solutions. The product I used on the Blazer included a frame mount where you just reused a pin to lock the swaybar to the frame while you wheeled. No zip ties.
  2. Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if I could do this with a button in the cab?
    1. This fellow has done it, but has provided very little detail on the parts he used. After a surprising amount of searching, this looks to be a device found on a Nissan Patrol GQ or Y61. MSRP appears to be in the $1,000-3,000 range depending on the unit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Improving offroad capabilites. Starting point... Flex!

As we saw when I was stretching the 4Runner out to see where the new tires hit, my truck exhibits very low levels of flexibility in it current configuration.

With open differentials, keeping both the left and right tires on the ground makes an enormous difference to how far you can make it offroad. Open differentails provide power to the tire with the LEAST amount of traction (e.g., the one in the air spins, the one on the ground does nothing)

To the right is my truck, fully stock except with larger tires, fully flexed out.

The red box shows the truck is relatively level, but down in front a couple inches. The blue line shows what the height difference from the bottom of the front tire to the bottom of the rear tire. If the truck were fully level, that means it only has about 14-16" (the wheel is 16" in diameter) difference from front stuff to rear droop. I didn't bother with the other pics and doing the math, this was depressing enough. LOL

Left to right flex in the front was definitely nothing to write home about either. It's a few inchest at most.
The rear did a lot better.


Compare the pictures above to my Blazer at its pinnacle, from a suspension perspective, with 32" tires. Huge flex. It's not even fully stretched out yet and can do better. The top of the rear tire would be almost even with the bottom of the front tire at full flex. That's around a 32" differential. Much better than what the 4runner is seeing now.  This is one reason solid axles are a frequent conversion option for IFS trucks.

Here's my Blazer on 36s in a similar situation to the one the 4Runner is pictured in at the begining of this post. Same suspension setup as the Blazer pic above, just bigger tires. The sway bar is connected. Any further up the rock and the right front tire started to come off the ground. This is how good it was in street trim. :-D

Obviously we can't leave the 4Runner like it is! Off to Google to learn more about what this truck can really do! Here's a great thread showing various YotaTech IFS trucks' capabilities when it comes to flex. Some are stock, some are modified

To improve offroad articulation, disconnecting the sway bar is the first change to make, and can yield substantial results. Offroad.com has a good overview of the parts we're talking about.
Sway bars work by keeping both tires relatively level, from side to side. As one side gets compressed in a corner, the sway bar pulls up on the other side. There's an awful lot more to engineering a good handling car than that but, in rough terms, is how a sway bar works.

While my passenger tire in the pic above is stuffed in the fender, it's not quite as far as it can go. And it's pulling the driver's side tire up via the sway bar. And the driver's side tire is pulling the passenger tire down. Great in a corner, not great offroad when crossing uneven terrain.

With the swaybar disconnected, my driver's front will droop lower, and the passenger front will stuff up even more (which, I'm sure, means more tire clearancing activities as we take this step).

A surprising number of folks recommend removing a swaybar entirely. That's really not recommended and I would hate to be in an accident and have that come up as a possible reason. I need a vehicle to handle well on pavement at all times. My car is a BMW M3 and it is just flat out phenomonal on curvy roads. While I don't expect similar performance from an SUV, it is important that it is above all else safe for any of my family members to drive. Predictability is a critical component of "safe".

So... the swaybar stays. And, given its current road-handling manners, the truck probably will get a beefier front and a rear sway bar added at some point since current handling still leaves a bit to be desired.

Next - what options do we have?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Baby gets new shoes, finally!

Edit May 9, 2011 - added highway noise videos to bottom

Given the 4Runner would be used offroad on a regular basis, I wanted to get an aggressive tire. I've always loved my BFG MTs, but that tread pattern is no longer available. The Goodyear MT/R has also been quite interesting.

About 4 months ago, I scored some 2010 4Runner takeoff wheels and tires (245/75R16 Dunlop AT20) from the local Toyota dealer. Wheels, tires, lug nuts, center caps.

As you can imagine, a tire that looks like this really doesn't turn out to be exactly good offroad. :)
I've already racked up 800 miles on these tires. And chopped a 2" gash through the inside cords of the RF tire playing Ivan "Iron Man" Stewart on my way home from an offroad trip (we were late for SuperCross). I smacked a rock at speed, bending the steel rim. I still can't fathom which rock. :) It still holds air, and it got me home (slowly!!),  but the bubble extends from the tread to the rim. It's non-repairable. The wheel banged out quite easily.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, truck tire prices have gone stratospheric. 10 years ago, I could buy a 265/75R16 Bridgestone Dueler H/T for about $70 or less. The same tire today is over $200. And that's just a road tire.

My daily driver is a BMW K1200S motorcycle. The rear tire is a 190/50R17, speed rated to 186mph. It's the size of a car tire. It has an immense amount of technology in it (compared to even just 10 years ago, this tire is better in every conceivable way). I run Michelin Pilot Sport IIs, which are both a premium tire, and dual compound. Yet, it somehow "only" costs $136 for a rear tire.

All other tires prices have gone up. Offroad tire prices have gone stratospheric.

The 285/75R16 Goodyear MT/R has a best internet price of around $238/tire, the BFG KM2, in the $220 range. Plus shipping in many cases ($65 to $220 for four).

For 4 Goodyears, I came up with about $1070 for 4 tires, delivered to my door, ore over $1200 locally (installed).
Try as I might, I was unable to find a prices I was comfortable with for what is, arguably, mostly a toy.

But then I found TreadWright. I was able to get four 285s for under $600 delivered to my door, on sale (about $12/tire less).

Long ago, I learned that spending extra for a good product is nearly always the better investment. I've had particle board. I've had real wood. My Bentwood bedroom set was fanstatic and looked as good more than 10 years after we bought it as the day it came home with us. I still miss my nightstands.
The other is that no matter how good the product, it may have issues. How the company backs their products is just as important. One of the benefits of the internet age is you can find out how a product/company is treating their customers.

I found almost no issues with  TreadWright products, and the one or two I found were related to tread chunking.  TreadWright sent one guy a whole set of tires because one tire had a problem. As you can imagine, he was an avid fan.

But I wasn't able to find anyone I knew who had run a set, or someone they knew personally who had run a set.

For ~$500 in savings with few findable issues and what appeared to be great customer service, I went ahead and ordered up a set of 285/75R16 TreadWright Guard Dog M/T tires for the 4Runner. They were on backorder, so I had to call them to order. I ordered Goodyear casings since I wanted to try them. I wasn't in a rush, I had great tires and my list of lift parts wasn't complete yet.

After a few weeks, they called me and let me know my tires were next up, but Goodyear casings were hard to come by - did I want BFG casings instead? Since I was mounting these black side out, I didn't really care, so I agreed.

Before, 225/75R15 stock wheels and tires (the rears are Nittos and were old enough to be originals!)

After. Man, they look good.

With no lift, they fit. Sorta. :) Here's the driver's rear at full stuff. It's just touching the bolts that hold the rear mudflaps on.

The LF hits the back of the fender when turned 1/2 way to the left and with any bump. Since the metal wasn't going to cut the tire, and wasn't well supported, I let it self-clearance.
The RF just touches the back of the fender.

Pics as I figure out how to resolve this.

Here are a few more pictures of the 4Runner in action.

As you can see, I was eager to try them out. The old tires are still in the back, we didn't even make it home. :)

Check out how they sound on the road! 
Couple of videos. #2 has me speaking in a normal voice for reference.
At this point, I have about 250 miles on 'em and I am quite pleased.