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My Land Cruiser Prado – Modifying It; Part 1

The 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado that I bought in September was in very good condition. But it wasn’t perfect. In order to make this a reliable daily driver and be ready for the New England winter, I had to perform some maintenance and modifications to it. But before I did that, I did something crazy – I just drove it as it was for a month. Doing this allowed me to set up a list of priorities and filter out issues that I may have missed in my original pre-purchase inspection.

Modification 1: Radio Upgrade

The original 1996 factory radio was impressive. The head unit had an AM/FM radio, cassette, and CD players, a navigational system, and a TV tuner. However, all of this is rather useless in the United States, in 2023. The radio frequency bands do not overlap with American frequency bands. Analog television does not exist. I don’t think that the navigational system used GPS technology. While I may have some, somewhere, I haven’t used cassettes or CDs in over a decade. It needed to go.

My replacement radio is a Sony XAV-AX4000. It has a double-DIN sized screen and comes with wireless Apple CarPlay, satellite radio tuner, remote, a USB-C port, and an input for a reverse camera. I had it professionally installed by Boston’s Sound-in-Motion, but I have to go back for a reverse camera. At the same time, SiM replaced one of the 12v sockets with two USB-C ports, one connected to the radio and one charge-only.

The radio is great when it is working correctly. Unfortunately, the wireless Apple CarPlay does not always connect automatically to my phone. I updated the firmware and it no longer disconnects during calls. However, once it does not connect when the car starts, it refuses to connect later. Pro-tip: get a radio with wired CarPlay.

The new head unit is connected to the factory amplifier and speakers. It sounds fine but a speaker and and amp upgrade would be nice at some point. Maybe one of those small subwoofers, too. But I am in no hurry for that.

Modification 2: Suspension and Undercoating

One thing that became instantly clear on my short pre-purchase test drive was that the shocks were original and very worn. Having looked over the suspension, there were no other issues. All bushings, bearings, tie-rods, and control arms were in surprisingly good condition.

My idea for this Land Cruiser was to just repair things as needed. But I really didn’t like the stock ride height, so I started looking around for lift kits. I figured that the 25-year-old springs could use a replacement, too. But I didn’t want to build another overland-bro-mobile. My first goal was an improvement in ride and steering.

The challenge of finding a lift kit for a non-US market vehicle seemed a little difficult. While a third-generation 4Runner lift kit should fit, I couldn’t find any confirmation that it would. Further, there is a slight weight difference between the Prado and the 4Runner, so the spring rates could be different.

After an extensive search, I decided to go with a lift kit from Ironman4x4. The Australian company would certainly know these vehicles well and their two-inch lift provided the exact height I was looking for. Some say that three-inch lift kits on these vehicles may put unnecessary wear on the driveline and other suspension components. Aside from a little bit of extra ground clearance, that extra inch of lift doesn’t offer much functionality and does not add any extra space for larger tires.

I had a few choices with this kit. The first one was a spring choice: medium or heavy load. I chose medium load because I knew that I wouldn’t be adding many heavy bits. I wish I could I’d have chosen light/stock load springs for a more comfortable ride but those were not available.

The second decision was on shocks: Foam Cell Pro or Nitro Gas. The Foam Cell promised a better ride but I was somewhat skeptical. The second thing that made me choose the Nitro Gas shocks was the cost. The Foam Cell was 80% more. In the end, I ordered the Nitro Gas shocks because of their lower cost and a special promotion where Ironman also included their heavy-duty air compressor with the purchase.

Suspension Results:

I had the suspension installed and the truck aligned. The ride and handling became instantly better. There is less yaw and side roll, and it no longer nose dives at heavy braking. Pothole absorption became a single sturdy impact not a set of harmonic vibrations. But at the same time, the stiffer springs translate more of the impact into the cabin. It drives much better when it’s loaded.

Finally, the subtle ride height increase made a huge difference in the appearance of the truck. It no longer looked like a little crossover but rather something that could actually climb over a rock. The stance has a bit of a proper rake in it, too, as a truck should. Load it up and will be even. I have not taken it on anything other than a dirt road so far but I will in the near future.

Modification 3: Undercoating

Around the same time, I had the vehicle undercoated with this product, Corrosion Free. It came highly recommended and I like the fact that’s clear in color, so when it comes to selling this Land Cruiser in the future, no one can accuse me of hiding things. I have it on my Bronco as well and it seems to be doing its thing.

Futures Mods:

My idea with this vehicle was only to do things that needed to be done. That has not happened. After the suspension, I upgraded the wheels and tires, because I had to. Lifted trucks with small tires look BAAADDD. And then I had some sun-faded paint on the roof and on the hood to deal with. I took a very different approach to that. Stay tuned, as the modifications to this Land Cruiser Prado will keep happening.

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