How can you safari…

…in a rental Kia Picanto? Or VW Golf?


The key word is “rental”.

Seriously, Natasha and I first went to the Kruger National Park in South Africa on our honeymoon. We took the Kia Picanto that we’d rented for the Joburg portion of our trip to South Africa. It as a small car. Really small. And, it was quite scary to stop anywhere near hippos, rhinos, etc. in.


Two years later, we went again; this time we ended up with a VW Polo. Kind of a cool car: manual transmission, roll down windows, very basic. It wasn’t as small as the Kia, which was better, but you still are low to the ground in one. And I worried about the street tires on gravel and dirt roads (there aren’t difficult trails in the areas of the Kruger for self drive safaris). It was slow though. SLOW.

VW Rental

Funny how they’re similar colours…

We’re headed back to South Africa in a couple of weeks! But this time, we’re renting a Toyota HiLux! Yes, it’s diesel, has a roof top tent, camping supplies… safari ready. Now granted, we wont do any hardcore driving, it is the Kruger… But it’ll be nice to sit above the grass, and to be able to say in the campgrounds in a RTT…

Stay tuned for rental information and pics of the truck and, of course, South Africa in the near future!

Lenses for Otis!


This little 4Runner, Otis, came to our family in really  good shape… A little dirty, and needing paint, but straight and complete otherwise.

Then, Zoe came home one day with that look: tears welling up, sad face. She told me she had really hurt the truck. I thought: “Oh, no, she must have really messed up.”

No, not really. She just did one of those things that make you wonder about teenage brains. On her way to school, she regularly cut through an alley after stopping for snacks at a grocery store. On that day, she found her way blocked by an open door of a storage container; she slowly pushed it closed with her bumper… only to have her left park lamp busted out by a piece of metal.


Then, not too long after, she was parked in downtown Seattle and came back to the truck to find the left rear light broken out.


These are the kind of things you have to fix; if you don’t, the truck will look shabby and it seems other things will go wrong..

Zoe ordered replacements to match OEM. The rear taillamp lens is all one piece. And the front corner lamp is all one unit with a bulb included. The feel and look of these two lenses are good. It’s hard to tell if they’ll match OEM pieces though; that’ll take a lot of time and weather to know.

The rear lens fit absolutely fine. It was a straight bolt on.


The front one, however, wasn’t as easy. It did take some fiddling around, pushing, and pulling. We finally got the bottom screw in, and I pushed on it to line it up the other two holes and she ran the screws and got it all bolted up.



A little cosmetics goes a long way; now the truck is back to where we had it after a few improvements.

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Now, on to the next things!

“The pedal suddenly goes to the floor.”

“And it’s really scary when stopped on a hill…” Zoe says while we’re watching TV.


Nice. And she was so calm about it.

The symptom made it really easy to diagnose, but we double checked anyway. It was simple: start the truck, put my foot on the brake, and wait… There would come a point where the pedal started dropping to the floor.

Master cylinder.

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Zoe picked up a stock replacement from O’Reilly’s and we had her wrench another repair on her 1987 4Runner. Putting a new master cylinder on a simple vehicle like this little truck is the perfect project for a beginner:

First, unplug the lead coming out of the master cylinder cap and then disconnect the brake lines from the old master cylinder (we used a bottle under them to catch leaking brake fluid). Find something to cover or plug them so that no contaminants get in. Zoe used some plastic wrap.


After that, simply remove the four nuts holding the master cylinder to the brake booster, and remove.


Here is the cool part: the directions for the master cylinder give you the step by step procedure on how to bench bleed it. This involves placing the new master cylinder level in a vice or other clamp on a bench, filling it full of brake fluid,  and running tubes from the fitting for the brake lines back into the reservoir. You then use a dowel to push the cylinder in and pump the air out of master cylinder.

But, I don’t have a vise or other way to hold it.

We used the truck as our “bench” by bolting the new master cylinder on to the truck without attaching the brake lines. Then, we copied the bench bleeding procedure by filling the reservoir with fluid and let some drip out. Next, we fitted the green fittings they supplied, attached the plastic hoses, and ran them back into the reservoir:


Zoe pushed the brake pedal down slowly while I held the hoses in the fluid. I had her repeat the procedure until no air bubble were present (there were a few really big ones right away, but they disappeared quickly. We didn’t even try to get all the very tiny ones out). At this point, we quickly pulled the green fitting out, put the brake lines back on, topped off the fluid, capped the reservoir, and plugged it in. Done.


It was that simple. And by “bench bleeding” the master cylinder this way, we managed to get zero air in the lines. The brake pedal feel was firm right from the start, and braking performance greatly improved. We’ll still bleed the entire system just to make sure…

Easy project and Zoe saved quite a bit of money by doing it herself.

A couple of notes though:

Buy a set of flare nut wrenches that are appropriate for your vehicle. They’ll make working on fuel and brake lines so much easier.

And! Tie back your hair. I didn’t think about it while we were doing this, but when I looked at the pics I saw it: Zoe should’ve had her hair tied up and out of the way. If this would’ve been a project on a running vehicle… yikes.


review: Front Runner Wolf Pack

Banana boxes worked great for our camping/overlanding organization. Free. Light. Quiet. But, the best thing about them was that they allowed us to learn what we needed to pack, and what had to be left behind, before we spent money on storage. Of course, the dampness of the Pacific Northwest meant that we replaced them often and the lack of a lid made stacking them difficult if their load stuck out.

As our packing and camping became more streamlined, we decided to go with Front Runner Wolf Packs:


They are based on South African ammo boxes; they are plastic, well built, and are stackable. They do lock together, which means you have to lift them off of each other (if you’re just after one box); they do have good handles to grab. I am not sure if it was something that was part of the design, but the bottom shape and the plastic they are made of doesn’t allow them to slide at all on the carpeted top of our drawer system.


After a few trips, these things have proved their worth. We love them and they’ve made the back of the Land Cruiser so much more organized.

Our only complaint is the plastic latches them come with. To open, you lift the tab on the bottom of the latch; to close, you push in the middle of the clip. Easy. While packing them the first time, one of the clips broke off. It was easy to live with a box with only three clips, then  a second one on the same box snapped. Ugh.


Front Runner does have a fix: metal clips. The second one was nice enough to break while we were at the Northwest Overland Rally, so we stopped by Defenders NW booth to pick up two packs. The swap was simple: gently pry out the plastic ones, squeeze in the metal clips:




The one thing I notice about the metal clips is that it’s best to gently lift the bottom loop to open, and I close them with two fingers (one on each side of the wire). It takes a little bit more thought to open/close than the plastic ones. Also, I saw quite a a few other Front Runner Wolf Packs at the rally, and ours were the only one that had a broken clip…

In conclusion, we can’t say how much we like these. Packing and unpacking is so much easier with these boxes. The size and shape is perfect.

And they look more “overland” than banana boxes.

Devil Horns!


3:00am. First night of the Northwest Overland Rally. I can’t find the zipper fast enough. The tent won’t open. Finally, I get the door unzipped and fireman down the ladder of our roof top tent.

Actually, I don’t remember going down. I only remember my feet landing in the wet grass.

I ran to the driver’s side and put the Land Cruiser’s keys in the ignition and turned to “On”. It didn’t stop the sound: full on horn blast. Stuck. Blasting.

3:00am. We’re surrounded by tons of other rigs and campers. And our horn is stuck full on for no apparent reason.

I popped the hood and grabbed the negative cable and yanked. It didn’t come off. For a split second I thought about getting my wrench roll out of the back of the truck. Just a split second. That would’ve taken too long. I twisted and pulled the cable and made it come off.


It was too late. Everyone around us was awake (how could they not be). Dogs were barking.

We were those people.

The next morning, with help from other overlanders, we pulled the horns and tested the circuits with a volt meter. One of the two horns has a short in it’s plug in. The horns are wired in a series, so they both blasted.

Thanks Land Cruiser. Even the Land Rovers at the rally were better behaved.

Collapsible jack stands: a review


I do have a fear of being crushed by a car while I am under it working on something. In a shop, that isn’t too hard to avoid; you’re on a flat surface and you can use solid jack stand. But, out in the field? That gets a little bit more tricky.

If you’re forced to do some kind of repair out on the road that requires a wheel to be off (anything from a rock in between a brake pad and rotor to bad wheel bearings and more…), you might find yourself with only your hydraulic jack to work with. They aren’t the best option though, as they can loose height as the vehicle sits. They also have a smallish base so they’re aren’t super stable either.

You can pack a jack stand, but those are a bit heavy and take up valuable space. After reading about collapsible jack stands in SA4x4, I looked forever for some in the States and finally found some TUV Product Service stands on Amazon.

They are rated at 2000kgs (4409lbs) and stand at 10.75in at the shortest setting and 14in at the tallest. The base is a triangle that is about 7in sides (measured at the center of each leg) when unfolded and folds down to about a 5in circle. When stored they’re  about 12.5in long. Two of them fit nicely in our tool drawer in the back of the 100.

I did use them when we did the brake pads. They were super stable and had more than enough height to hold up the Land Cruiser with LT285/75R16 tires (33×11.50).


These are a great thing to have and beats trying to come up with some plan to keep the truck off the ground in the field in case of an emergency. I would suggest using a shovel of course to level the ground where the stand will sit and using a board as a base plate if necessary.

If you’re a Land Cruiser guy…

…don’t drive a Jeep. Don’t do it. Even if it’s a rental. Or an emergency.

The Land Cruiser Gods don’t like that.

(This is me asking for forgiveness)

You see, Natasha and I went to Charleston, SC and then Savannah, GA for vacation (and to explore places for future adventures) and our rental car ended up being a Jeep Patriot. Oh no.


Then we came back and one of the first things I do is replace the rear brake pads on the 100. It was a pain in the ass and far harder than it should’ve been. Because of that, I didn’t get the photos I wanted for a good write up.

To make up for that, here are Toyota’s instructions on how to replace the rear pads (assuming your rotors are within spec and you dont need to do any of that) from the Factory Service Manual for the 100 Series Cruiser:


Read that. Print it. And then follow these tips:

It is hugely important that you get the piston fully depressed. I think there is a special tool to do that… On one side, I held the caliper up against the frame while Natasha pushed the piston in with the tire iron; we reversed positions on the other side. No, we didn’t have to let any brake fluid out of reservoir.

New anti-squeal shims and pad support plates are recommended. Mine didn’t hold the pads in place very well, so I held the caliper in position while Natasha fit the pads in. It took an extra set of hands, but if they would’ve  stayed up, it would’ve been a lot of easier.


Take pics, draw a sketch, do whatever you have to do to remember what pad support plate goes where. The factory manual and the instructions with the pads from Toyota aren’t very enlightening with those and they are different and go into different spots.

Buy a factory manual, paper or e-copy for whatever truck you have. They’re worth their weight…

And, if you do end up driving a Jeep, please pay your penance (get your truck out in the dirt, bathe in its gear oil, something…) before you wrench on your Toyota.