I’m looking forward to confidently traveling the next 200,000 miles in my Tacoma exploring the dusty, muddy, and rocky roads looking for my next adventure.
I’m looking forward to confidently traveling the next 200,000 miles in my Tacoma exploring the dusty, muddy, and rocky roads looking for my next adventure. (Andrew Aughenbaugh photo)

Every cowboy needs a trusty steed. Mine is a 2013 Toyota Tacoma V-6 Automatic 4X4 access cab. Last week I proclaimed the build of the perfect adventure vehicle complete. Well, if such a thing is ever really done.

There is always that one more little thing.


A year and a half ago, I purchased the slightly used 2013 Toyota Tacoma with only 16,800 miles. Since then I have been saving money and planning the build. Like with most things in life the build journey took a little longer, but she's now ready for adventure.

The truck was built on the theme, "everything I need and nothing I don't."

The Tacoma was built to increase its' off-road capability without sacrificing on-road worthiness, without the extra bling that may increase the wow factor at the mall parking lot but serve little in the real use of the truck. The plan was based on building a truck able to comfortable travel long highway miles and confidently transverse the rough trails to the best camping, fishing and hunting locations.

Why a Toyota Tacoma?

When choosing what vehicle to purchase and build, I believe it is important to honestly assess the intended use of the vehicle.

-4x4 was a must. I travel off road way too often and would be stuck way too quick without it.

-Track record of reliability. If Toyotas are anything, they are reliable.

-Pickup truck vs. SUV. I once owned a highly modified Jeep Cherokee. She was a beast when it came to rock crawling. However, I saw the interior degrade from hauling hunting, fishing and camping equipment. From the sharp edges of tree stands to the mud from decoys the interior took a real beating.

-Access cab vs. Double cab. The majority of my driving is either solo or with one passenger. Not very often do I haul more than two people. In trade the larger truck bed gives me more space to haul my gear. The access cab has seats for two more riders if needed and allows me to carry things like a sleeping bag or clothes that I don't really want to toss in the back of the truck bed.

-V-6 vs. 4 cylinder. More power, need I say more?

-Automatic transmission vs. manual. I prefer an automatic transmission when off-roading and when dealing with Washington, DC commuter traffic. I can still down shift to control downhill accents and when crawling over a rocky trail a two footed driver with an automatic is always a smoother driver.

-Mid-sized truck vs. a full-sized truck. I spend a lot of time driving tight trails through the woods and I am able to fit the smaller truck in places a full-sized truck simply would not fit.

The Upgrades

-Leer 100R cap. For dry storage of the camping and other adventure gear, I turned to Leer and purchased the base model cap with one major upgrade. I added side opening windows. The side opening windows provide full access to the bed of the truck without resorting to crawling around inside the bed. And of course I installed a Yakama canoe/kayak rack on the roof of the cap.


-ARB Front Bumper and Warn M800 Winch. When I began to research for a front bumper, the path always seemed to end at the same place. The ARB bumper is the standard that all other bumpers were compared against. I kept thinking, why get a bumper that claims to be as good as an ARB? Why not just get the ARB bumper. Other bumpers may cost less, but the ARB has the best fit and finish and is airbag compatible.

A few years ago, my old Tacoma teetered on the brink of rolling off a mountain road ledge deep in the Alaskan forest. The winch on the truck saved the day. But in doing so, it was then I realized a winch is not one of the items to go cheap. When you need it, you have to be able to rely on its dependability. Warn Winches may cost a few dollars more than other winches but they are notorious for their reliability. The Warn M-8000 is the basic model and the workhorse of the Warn winch line up. For myself, I don't need upgraded options like faster line draw, I just need it to work when I ask it to.

-BudBuilt Skid Plates. Avoiding breakdowns and protection from damage is the foundation to any vehicle build. While my Tacoma is not a beasty rock crawler, the 1/8 inch steel plates bolted to the frame protect the vulnerable underside of the truck against damage and costly repairs, not to mention possibly being left stranded far from help.

-Old Man Emu (OME) Suspension. For my intended use of the Tacoma, I needed a suspension that would handle the rough terrain, the increased weight of the truck and raise the ride height. I turned to OME because of their expertise with Toyotas and their proven track record in the Australian outback. I replaced the front coil springs with OME 660-pound rated springs and replaced the rear leaf springs with the OME Dakar heavy pack. The shocks were replaced with OME Nitrocharger Sport 4×4 shock absorbers. The suspension upgrade included a 3 degree shim for the rear springs and a spacer for the driveshaft carrier bearing to keep the correct driveshaft alignment and eliminate any possible driveline vibration. To finish the suspension, larger progressive bump stops were installed on both the front and rear of the truck.

-Tires. Cooper Tires had the tread design and size I knew would best fit the Tacoma. The Discoverer S/T Max is a commercial grade tire with super tough construction and a modern tread design that provides good off road traction while maintaining pavement stability and isn't noisy on the road. Cooper is also one of the only companies that offer their tires in the perfect Tacoma size, 255/80R17. So far I have driven about 5,000 miles on the Cooper's including some very muddy and rocky trails and the tires have performed flawlessly.

-Small things. Beyond the major changes to the truck, some of the easy and quick things like adding LED backup lights, extending the rear axle breather tube, relocating the trailer plug, mounting a 10-inch IPad downloaded with maps in a cab of the truck complete a vehicle that I feel confident to take anywhere and return home safely.

This weekend as I take a long weekend road trip to Nashville, Tenn., the odometer will turn past 50,000 miles.

I'm look forward to confidently traveling the next 200,000 miles in my Tacoma exploring the dusty, muddy and rocky roads looking for my next adventure.