The Toyota 4Runner is a staple in the off-road realm, renowned for its versatility and praised for being the last of its kind as a body-on-frame midsize SUV. All too often, the rugged looks of modern SUVs are nothing more than aesthetics, with their unibody frames limiting their prowess to the pavement. However, that’s not the case with the 4Runner, and it has consistently proven its chops as a rugged adventurer long after the pavement ends and the dirt road begins.
As a result, the 4Runner is a hot commodity among off-roaders. Toyota has done an exceptional job of adding to the 4Runner’s appeal with off-road-oriented trims like the TRD Pro, but that’s not all that makes the 4Runner such an exciting prospect to own. It requires little Toyota service beyond routine oil changes and tire rotations, and it’s one of the easiest rigs to modify and customize to your needs.
With a plethora of genuine OEM and aftermarket parts available at your fingertips, upgrading the 4Runner, especially a fifth-generation model, has never been easier. Moreover, many of the most popular upgrades are incredibly affordable and can be done from the comfort of your garage. What are some of these must-have, garage-friendly mods for your 4Runner?
#1 – Ditch the Grille
The 4Runner TRD Pro is every off-roader’s dream, but it’s not always in the budget. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a fortune to add TRD Pro features to your 4Runner. For example, you can swap your 4Runner’s factory grille for the more aggressive TRD Pro grille in minutes and at a fraction of the TRD Pro sticker price. Do you want something other than the TRD Pro grille? Don’t worry, there are tons of aftermarket options available.
Most grille options are plug-and-play installations, meaning no additional modifications are needed, and you don’t need a ton of mechanical knowledge. Even more complicated kits are easy to install from the comfort of your garage. Start by opening the hood of your 4Runner, and removing the grille clips and the bolt in the center. Afterward, you can remove the grille and the bracket, securing it to the new grille and aligning it with the housing. Once aligned, you can prepare and attach the garnish before completing the installation by securing the grille with the upper clips and rethreading the bolt.
#2 – LED Lighting
LED lights are slowly becoming an industry standard, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without them until you buy your next 4Runner. Instead, you can easily replace the 4Runner’s old incandescent bulbs with LED lights. You can even add LED exterior lighting, like fog lights and light bars, to enhance your visibility on the trail.
As far as replacing the factory interior lights, it’s affordable and straightforward. Your owner’s manual outlines the recommended replacement bulbs and the proper installation methods. For example, you’ll likely have to open the cover on the front map lights to access the interior bulb. The same is true for the rear dome light, trunk lights, and courtesy lights, which you can gently pry open with a plastic prying tool to access the housing.
#3 – MOLLE Storage
One of the fastest modifications you can make to your 4Runner is adding MOLLE storage. MOLLE is a grid-like web that’s incredibly versatile because it can transform the interior of your 4Runner by adding functional and accessible storage. Moreover, MOLLE components come in all shapes and sizes.
MOLLE seat covers are easy to install, fitting over the front seats before being secured with small tethers or velcro attachments at the seat’s base. These covers can extend the life of your upholstery but also add storage behind the front row and give you faster access to items like flashlights, first aid supplies, and other necessities you need to keep within reach. In addition, since MOLLE pouches come in various shapes and sizes, the opportunities to customize each panel are endless.
Off-roaders with additional cargo-hauling needs can install MOLLE panels in the back of the 4Runner, under the rear windows, or on the tailgate. Aftermarket brands offer modular storage panels and shelving that feature a MOLLE design and extend the length of the 4Runner’s cargo area. Since installation doesn’t usually require drilling or modifying the vehicle permanently, the panels can be easily adjusted, and you can attach your gear with straps, zip ties, or other attachments.
#4 – Onboard Air Compressor
Adjusting the air in your tires is critical to how your 4Runner performs on technical terrain. Most drivers stop to air down before hitting the trail and rely on portable air compressors to “air up” when they’re ready to head home on the pavement. However, an onboard air compressor is an essential upgrade you can add to your 4Runner to streamline the process, avoid those worrisome moments of leaving the air compressor behind, or struggle with a game of Tetris as you try to fit the compressor in with the rest of your off-roading gear.
Adding an onboard air compressor is straightforward and usually only takes a few hours once you have the necessary parts and tools. Generally, the process starts with installing a mounting bracket, wiring the switch and unit, and testing it before positioning and securing the wires. Once secured, you can connect the power and switch wires to the compressor, install the bracket to hold the compressor in place, connect the power and ground, and install the hoses and couplers to complete the setup.
#5 – Tire Carrier Upgrade
The 4Runner tailgate is one of the most overlooked areas you can upgrade to add versatility and functionality to the SUV. While many off-roaders turn to DIY modifications that allow them to add fuel cans and recovery equipment, plenty of ready-to-go aftermarket options exist. Some of these unique aftermarket products are incredibly easy to install because they are hitch-mounted.
One popular option for 4Runners is a swing-out tire carrier that makes it easy to access the rear hatch and keep your gear within reach. Unlike the stock underbody spare tire mount, a rear tire carrier can support larger tires and is much simpler to use in an emergency. Other modular aftermarket additions can allow you to add must-have off-road equipment like a Hi-Lift Jack and mount, a camp table, fuel containers, and any other accessory you can imagine.
The Mods Are Endless
The 4Runner’s popularity is deeply rooted in Toyota’s reputation for building reliable vehicles that last. It’s not hard to find a decades-old 4Runner with plenty of life and adventure left to offer. Among off-roaders, those are the 4Runners with incredible stories to tell and memories to make.
Beyond Toyota’s reputation, the 4Runner’s popularity is also due to how easy it is to modify. Its long history over the last four decades has given the industry plenty of time to build a massive array of aftermarket parts that meet every aesthetic and performance need. From snorkels and bull bars to aggressive front bumpers, LED lighting, MOLLE panels, and tire carriers, 4Runner modifications run the entire spectrum and go as far as your imagination and ingenuity will allow. You can even make most of these modifications from the comfort of your garage, adding appeal and convenience to this ever-popular trail runner.