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.
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 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.
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.
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.)