I’ve been a car enthusiast since the ’80s. Ever since I’ve been driving, I’ve been moddin’ and making mistakes here and there. But, I finally got better with things, learned from mistakes and then started to do more DIYs.
I’ve owned many vehicles over the years and many were Japanese models. I did have two BMWs (E90 and E30) prior to the Tacoma and both of them were having major issues. I needed something I could drive daily and reliably and the only “real” truck in my opinion that’s an import is the Tacoma. Luckily, I was able to reserve the only 6-speed manual in SoCal at the time. I actually talked about it in my YouTube video and went over the three things I love about my Toyota Tacoma which were its reliability, resale value and safety.
I’ve always been a fan of Toyotas. Back in the day, the car to have was the MK3 Supra Turbo. This was way before the Fast and the Furious movies made it popular with the MK4 Supra Turbo. Toyota Corollas were a big thing in the ’80s, and I dug them too. I actually liked the mini truck scene and seeing the slammed Yotas back then. Of course, Marty McFly’s Back to the Future truck was cool, too. My mom actually had a Toyota van and a Tercel. I ended up with a Honda, but I knew that Japanese vehicles were the way to go back then as far as reliability.
Since I had a lot of cars that I’ve modded and spent a lot of money on, I told myself I wouldn’t do any major mods and I preached that on YouTube for a good year. I started off with sensible things, such as ceramic tint to cool things down in the inside, Clazzio leather seat covers because I knew cloth seats weren’t very protective especially since I had kids, and just smaller low-cost mods. But then I had an opportunity on purchasing a TRD Pro Bilstein suspension, which I installed myself. I did a video, of course, and that actually helped grow my channel even more, surprisingly. And now here I am.
I do 99% of the installs with the help of my oldest son, Jesse. I’ve taught him how to use tools, and now he’s handling a lot of things. You can see how much he’s grown and learned on my YouTube channel. He’s now 12 and taller than his mom. All the work is done in the driveway, literally rain or shine and even sometimes at night. The 1% of the time, my friend Nathan, aka “Botchuschopshop” on Instagram, helped me with the heavy leaf packs. I’m getting too old to lift something like that. I also had a few friends muscle the Relentless Fab steel bumper and winch when I got one. The struggle is real.
The purpose of my Tacoma, which I have called Hard Shell Taco, was to travel to any destination with my family safely. It hasn’t failed me yet and it’s reaching 40,000 miles. The first main mod and the biggest are my lights from Baja Designs. I was looking for reliability and quality with this build, so I decided to go with Baja Designs and I’m very happy with the product. Off-roading at night is challenging and there are places where there are no street lamps, so having an array of bright LED lights is important.
My Decked bed storage is another highlight because when you’re traveling, you need to have some security. Unfortunately, because some people are opportunists, you want to make sure your stuff is safe. I had a thief take some ammo cans of recovery equipment, so I now know better and have started locking valuables whenever possible.
Wheels and tires are the biggest form and function upgrade I’ve done. Visually it just makes your truck stand out and having taller tires with an aggressive tread pattern gives you that extra clearance and traction when off pavement. I’ve had a few different setups, but currently I have Volk TE37Xs which are probably the lightest and strongest wheels out there that I’ve paired with General Grabber ATs.
I’m an 80s kid so the retro stripes was a must for me. I love the look and I did a video about it and how I was inspired by the ’80s pickup trucks. I wanted my modern version of it and I’ve seen people actually mimic the style and you know what they say – imitation is the best form of flattery.
Most of my trips out are day trips because it’s hard for me to be out there camping with everyone with work and other obligations. But my most memorable trip was earlier this year when I went to Big Bear with my entire family. My plan was to go with my friends, but when I mentioned it to my wife, she decided she wanted to go. This was actually the first time that she and my daughter went with us to go off-roading. It was pretty cold and there was some light dusting of snow while we were up there. It ended up dumping snow by the time we left and it was heartwarming to see my family enjoy it all.
My favorite local trail used to be Holy Jim because it was a place where you can go to drive leisurely on dirt roads and just relax and get your quick off-road fix. Or you could try to go to some spots and flex your driving skills over some rocks. It’s unfortunate that some crazed lunatic that lived there decided to set someone’s house on fire, which caused that huge Holy Jim Fire in the Inland Empire last year. It’s been closed for some time now, but hopefully it’ll be open soon. There were a couple of local Toyota meets there, so I’m hoping that we can do it again once it opens back up.
The most technical trail I’ve done was on a trip that my friends and I did to Berdoo Canyon in Joshua Tree. I have a video up on my YouTube channel that shows us going up and down the mountain on some really rough terrain. We had to be really careful up there because it’s pretty easy to break parts and equipment in that type of terrain. It’s already difficult enough maneuvering on the trails during the day, but trying to do it at night complicates things even more. Having bright LEDs to light up the trail and friends to serve as spotters on dicey sections of Berdoo Canyon tempered my white-knuckle experience and gave me the confidence that I’d make it home without unforeseen issues. The original plan was a turnaround day trip to Joshua Tree, but it ended up being an all day and night adventure that started at 6 A.M. and ended on the following day at 1 A.M.
I don’t go on off-roading trips alone. I’ll also go online and E-scout to see all the possible routes and what people are saying about it. YouTube is a great resource to get an idea of what the trails look like so I can replicate it if possible. As far as preparation for day trips, I like to make sure I have enough water and snacks. I also have SPF handy or some type of hat to keep the UV exposure to a minimum.
Also, rig prep can’t be overemphasized enough, especially if you’re going on a long trip. Grab a torque wrench and start finding every nut and bolt to make sure they’re tight. I double check all fluids for leaks and I bring some extra tools just in case. I also take with me a weBoost, which helps improve your cell phone signal. It’s great to have in remote areas so you can almost always have a signal and be able to communicate with someone. I have power banks charged for all my devices, so I can keep things going and get a signal if anything happens.
I decided to create a YouTube channel a few years ago, and it was about the mods I’ve done. There are a few videos of my kids but basically I just give people information about my Tacoma, trips and the like. These videos help inform others of what to do or what not to do because I definitely made mistakes. It’s amazing to see the kind of feedback you get and to me it’s mind boggling to see how many views some of my videos get. I’ve met a lot of people through there and a lot of Tacoma owners are moms and dads, so it’s great to be part of that.
I say this a lot and it sounds cliche at times, but I truly believe the off-road community is one of the friendliest and most helpful around. We all of course take pride in the makes and models we own but when someone needs help, people are there. There’s a lot of people who gather to help with recovery when a rig has an unfortunate mishap, gather for trail clean-ups and just go on trails ensuring others get home safe.
I just had my Rigs n Kids meet in South Orange County and the attendance was amazing! There were rigs that traveled well over 100 miles to attend this event and I am appreciative and humbled that these folks came down and brought their families to meet me and share their passion for their vehicles and the off-roading lifestyle.