Edge of the Earth: Austin Jones’ ’05 Toyota 4Runner

Edge of the Earth: Austin Jones’ ’05 Toyota 4Runner

Story and Photos by Jason R. Sakurai

When you grow up camping, a love of the outdoors becomes second nature, as it is with Washington’s Austin Jones. Not surprising that once he was able to drive, he wanted something to take him out to the woods. A ’93 Jeep YJ came first, a vehicle that began the learning process, from performing maintenance and repairs, to learning to drive off-road, and selecting parts to improve performance, durability, and functionality.

This led Austin to 4Wheel Parts, where he’s been employed for five years, currently as an Assistant Manager. After a few years, Jones bought his first diesel, a 2001 Ford 7.3L F-250. As he did previously, modifying it with a lift kit, tires and wheels, performance additions, and a custom interior, it looked great and was a lot of fun.

A 2013 Mustang 5.0 followed when he wanted to go fast. The Mustang was lowered, wheels and tires were added, a custom audio system integrated, and performance parts installed. Jones later realized he missed a vehicle that could go anywhere, be reliable, and run off-road.



 That’s when a friend and co-worker, Chris Beavers, recommended the 2005 Toyota 4Runner. Why? 2005 was the last year with a V8, and the same chassis as the Tacoma meant parts availability. The body style would also keep safety equipment, camping gear and food items out of the elements.

In 1998, the Toyota 2UZ-FE debuted, with a cast iron cylinder block for reliability and durability. Cylinder diameter increased to 94 mm, using a crank with a piston stroke of 84 mm. As a result, the 2UZ is a low-speed, 4.7-litre engine with aluminum heads. From ’05, the variable valve timing system (VVTi) increased power to 271 HP at 4,800 RPM, and 315 lb-ft  of torque at 3,400 rpm. The Toyota 2UZ has a 300,000+ mile lifespan if serviced properly and protected by a high-quality engine oil such as Valvoline Semi-Synthetic, which he uses.

Another feature leading to the 4Runner’s selection was Toyota’s Active TRAC, which controls engine output and brake fluid pressure so the drive force is distributed to the wheels that have traction. This enhances drivability in extreme road conditions, similar to having a Limited Slip Differential (LSD). Drivability off-road is equivalent to a locked centre differential and an LSD on both axles.

Before a suitable 4Runner was located, Austin sold his truck, Jeep and a trailer to finance his latest build, a rig that would double as his daily driver. In only eight months, Jones’ 4Runner was overland ready.



The ICON Vehicle Dynamics V.S. Series 2.5-in. remote reservoir coilover shocks with CDCV are among the upgrades on Austin’s 4Runner. Vehicle-specific valving provided a sport-tuned feel on- and off-road, improved damping and outstanding ride characteristics across varying types of terrain, while offering height adjustability for use with larger wheels and tires. Remote reservoirs ensure optimum performance, keeping the shocks cooler during heavy use. The ICON CDC Valve allows for external tuning with ten adjustment settings from soft to hard, which he normally has set to 10.

In back, ICON Overland Series 3-in. lift rear coil springs give the 4Runner 1-in. of lift, and the ICON rear billet lower links help the rear axle cycle smoothly without binding, a vast improvement over the stock setup. These springs offer a more controlled ride, are easy to install, deliver a simple, cost-effective upgrade, and are ideal for off-roaders whose vehicles are loaded with bumpers, rock sliders, winches, rooftop tents, and more. Designed by ICON and manufactured by Eibach, these multi-rate coil springs will also help reduce bottom-out if you get a little over aggressive.

Austin chose Pro Comp 5184 Xtreme Alloy Series 17-in. wheels, which can handle a 2,500-lb. load. He paired them with BFGoodrich’s 285/70R17 All-Terrain KO2s that offer increased mud, snow and rock traction, and are also exceptional in aired-down driving situations.

With protection and recovery in mind, an ARB front bumper was chosen along with a Warn winch. A CBI rear plate bumper with a swing away tire carrier follows the Toyota’s contours much like the factory part it replaced. No ordinary nerf bars, the AllPro Rock Sliders feature 1/4-in. plate steel CNC laser-cut mounting plates. Fabricated from 1.75 x .120-in. wall tubing, the outer tube angles upward to provide more ground clearance and door protection. The Rock Sliders extend outward just before the rear wheels to provide extra body protection and protect the rear portion of the cab through tight obstacles. To avoid those barriers in the first place, Headlights NW in Portland retrofitted Austin’s lights for a unique look while at the same time ensuring that they remained waterproof and fully functional. Rigid Industries’ light bar and fog lights deliver auxiliary lighting.

Finding the right rack was another element that took much deliberation. GOBI’s rack allowed the 4Runner to fit in the garage and still keep the rooftop tent mounted. GOBI custom fits each rack to the vehicle, doesn’t require drilling or modifications, and are incredibly strong. Built of 1-in. heavy-gauge tubing, the rack also comes with crossbars that are compatible with Thule and Yakima accessories in addition to rooftop tents. As for the rooftop tent, a Smittybilt Overlander rooftop tent was chosen for its construction, durability and affordability. Available at any 4Wheel Parts store in the U.S. and Canada, Smittybilt’s distribution is why they sell for about half the price of other roof top tents, with no difference in quality or longevity.

Goose Gear, a third-generation, family-owned business with over 60 years in the laminate manufacturing industry, crafts cabinets specifically designed for off-road trucks, SUVs and campers. CNC-machined, Goose Gear cabinets are capable of meeting the needs of the most exacting off-road adventurists. Equipment Jones carries at all times includes: Maxtrax recovery boards, Leatherman Charge ALX Multi-Tool, Benchmade Triage knife, Hi-Lift jack, recovery straps, tire repair kit, fire extinguisher, tarp, electronic flares, first aid kit, propane and torch, bottle jack, SteriPen water purifier, tarp, Gränsfors Bruk axe, 50 feet of paracord, cooking gear, 63-quart ARB fridge, a shower, Arcteryx hard shell and soft shell jackets, Woolrich Gettysburg blanket, Revel Gear camp lights, and various hand tools.



Off-grid communications are supported by a DeLorme InReach, a satellite communicator with GPS navigation which enables two-way text messaging anywhere via satellite, SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring centre, downloadable maps, and preloaded DeLorme TOPO maps. Mounting the InReach to the A-pillar, Austin also affixed an iPad to the dash. A Pioneer head unit with CarPlay rounds out the electronics.

Before hitting the road with another overland vehicle, Jones wanted to commend all the vendors for providing excellent, long lasting products, and to thank his employer, 4Wheel Parts, for the opportunity to work in an industry he clearly enjoys. ‘Living the dream’ is an accurate way to describe what Austin does professionally and for recreation.

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus