Trick or Truck — Jordan’s TAV Gets Altitude

Post by blogger | October 26, 2012      
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The way a truck should look -- muddy and wet. Click all images to enlarge.

I’m sitting here in the waiting room of Slee Offroad in Golden, Colorado drooling over the toys and accessories. They have ARB refrigerators for the back of your truck, piles of Hi-lift jacks, air compressors, rooftop safari’esk tents, winches, skid plates, rock rails, 4 wheeling books, and just about anything else you can think of. While all these toys make me imagine how capable of a TAV (Trailhead Approach Vehical) I could come up with, I’m just here for a bit of a lift.

Recently, while driving off-road trails around Colorado I’ve noticed the front and back end of my 2008 Toyota Tacoma getting a bit soft. Since driving my truck off the lot four years ago, I’ve dreamt of boosting its handling and offroading capability for backcountry missions. 95,000 miles later I have finally made the final payment on the bad boy. What to do, what to do? Get a lift! I am by no means a big 4×4 enthusiast, but I do enjoy offroading, and I do use my truck to get to a lot of trailheads that may have more than one rocker panel eating rock along the way. The factory skid plate on the front of my Taco presents more than enough evidence to validate these concerns.

I settled on a 3-inch lift, Old Man Emu kit. At three inches you don’t feel like you are driving a rock crawler to work, but it gets enough boost to put 33’s on, making it more of a 4 inch lift from stock. Not bad. I was never into the idea of coil spacers or levelers after hearing stories of them breaking. On top of all that, every opinion I’ve read or heard says the truck drives considerably better with the upgraded suspension. More on that later. I’m still in the shop.

I’m invited into the back to check out the project and I find that all of the wheels were off the truck and the front struts and coil springs out, and they are in the process of taking out the rear leaf spring assembly.


Mr. Taco missing some parts. You can see the old leaf assembly in the rear and the front suspension is missing all together. Wish I had the opportunity to get the pressure washer in there while the extras were missing.

One of my biggest issues with my Tacoma so far is how soft it is in the back. A couple years back Toyota added a leaf under my warranty, and it helped a little bit, but it was still softer than I wanted it to be. Answer? More leaves. Coming with this kit are Old Man Emu Leaf Springs. The factory set of leaf springs had 4 in the package, the new OME has 7. It certainly helps to have the tools and expertise for the job, but it is a bolt-on install, or it was supposed to be. Two of the bolts were pretty stuck, but didn’t seem to slow the boys in the garage down at all. Out comes the grinder and out come the old leaves. Four bucks a pop for the new bolts and back on their way. The next time I’m invited back it is all installed. This should drive better on rough roads, the highway, and with loads such as camping, skiing, climbing gear, or towing around the snowmobiles in the winter.


The new leaf package ready to go. That's a lot more support under the backend.

The OME leaves are coupled with the OME Nitrocharger Shock, a nitrogen gas charged shock. The idea here is to improve the flex off road and drivability. Also necessary for the install are new OME U-bolts to accommodate the larger spring package, and shackle bushings for the springs.

Along the way the boys at Slee noticed that my brake pads are below the acceptable level as well as my front rotors are going. Visual inspection confirmed this. One thing about Colorado backcountry skiing access — you need good brakes for all those hills! Instead of going with standard rotors and pads, we added the drilled and slotted version and ceramic pads, all within a few $$$ of what the stock version from Toyota is.

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The high performance rotors before they get installed.

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The new front strut and coil springs installed, old rotors still in.

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Rear Nitrochargers and 7 leaf packs installed.

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These tires are 32's, already one size up from stock. I should be able to use 33's without any rubbing making the total lift around 4 inches. Oh, and those running boards...they gots to go.


Before I know it, my truck pulls back around the front and they are done. It was supposed to take until 3 pm, it's 11:30 AM. I guess two mechanics are better than one!

I’m out the door after paying my bill. Amory lets me know that I need to re-torque the nuts on the leaves after 500 or so miles. It’s time for a bit of a test drive!

Just driving out of the parking lot of Slee Offroad I notice a substantial difference in how the front and back ends feel more rigid. As promised by Amory over at Slee, the truck corners better. It is more responsive and less “rolly” than before, not to mention it feels a bit more leveled out. The truck doesn’t look like it got an oversized lift, but it looks and feels more stout than before. I think new, bigger tires will help even more. The next morning I drop it off at the dealer for an alignment and I’m good to go.

What would all of this talk about test driving be without some good old fashion Colorado backroad action? As I make the turn onto Lincoln Creek Road from Independence Pass outside of Aspen and hit the first pot-hole I am stoked! Toyota’s factory suspension is good for grocery getting and offroading with an empty bed, but add even just a cooler in the back and you feel the back end bottom out if you hit an unexpected pothole. Not the case here. I drive a little faster to simulate unexpected bumps. The new suspension handles them like a champ. We are having so much fun we just continue driving all the way to the old mining town of Ruby, with plenty of offroad obstacles along the way, including downed trees, water crossings, and a few pretty bumpy sections.


My newly lifted Taco just above the town of Ruby, Colorado. Dreaming of ski trips.

I have no complaints. And neither do my passengers, save for my sister who thinks it is now harder to get into the truck, but hey that just comes with being 5’3″….

(WildSnow guest blogger Jordan White finished skiing all 54 Colorado fourteeners in spring of 2009. He’s a committed alpinist and ski mountaineer who always keeps his eyes on the Seven Summits. Jordan blogs here.)


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7 Responses to “Trick or Truck — Jordan’s TAV Gets Altitude”

  1. Joe October 26th, 2012 10:53 am

    Great lift! I have the same one on my Landcruiser, after about 2k the lift really settles in and handling/articulation will increase. Did you happen to notice where the lift kit was manufactured?

  2. Jordan October 26th, 2012 2:25 pm

    Hey Joe,
    I can’t say I noticed. But I think Old Man Emu was Australian made originally wasn’t it?

  3. Scott Nelson October 26th, 2012 3:33 pm

    In retrospect I wish I would have gone with OME for my Taco. The Bilstein 5125 shocks ( Toytec coilovers/rear shock package ) I installed puked their shock fluid after about 20k, rendering the shocks useless in my opinion, and that was with pretty mild offroading, like lead king loop type stuff. Hopefully the OME stuff lasts a lot longer for you. I’ve always heard great things about Slee Offroad.

  4. Carl Dowdy October 26th, 2012 4:25 pm

    Truck looks good Jordan. I took my Land Cruiser to Slee through the life of the vehicle for maintenance since it’s only a few miles from home and always thought they were really straight shooters about what needed to be done (and they’re obviously quite knowledgeable). Next time you’re in town lets grab a beer.

  5. John Gloor October 26th, 2012 5:18 pm

    Good modifications Jordan. I put a 2″ OME lift with supplemental airbags on my 99 4runner and it handles a lot better than stock, even with the lift. I went with just enough lift that chains do not hit the fender well running 32″ tires. For gas milage I opted out of going with 33’s.

    I had a Slee Offroad set of rock sliders put on for panel protection and to work as a step for accessing the roof. They are way better than nerf bars. The only problem is that the mag chloride here has wreaked havoc on the powder coating

  6. DRS October 26th, 2012 7:38 pm

    Yet another result of cheap gas here in the US. Everyone thinks they need a truck, but want it to perform like a car. If gas cost more only people who needed a truck would absorb the decrease in mpg. The result…trucks that are no longer trucks. You pay more for your truck, then you have to pay again to modify to make it actually useful for either hauling or offroading. Ever since I had an 85 4wd toy (4 “trucks” later now) I’ve learned to calculate the price of modifying for real use into the purchase. The exception is 3/4 and 1 ton trucks, their has been real advances in both drive-ability, capacity, and to a lesser extent mpg. Good thing I enjoy modifying my trucks.

  7. Biggsie October 29th, 2012 8:41 pm

    It’s painful: the weekly commute to Tahoe from SF takes us through Sacramento which is littered with super high-end monster trucks, none of which will see true offroad time. Not to say I wouldn’t mind borrowing one for some serious east side action but…

    Nice upgrade. I’ve only upgraded suspension a couple times but am always surprised how it can fix the gripes we’ve had with our autos for years. I have an aged audi allroad and recently swapped everything out. Magic.

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