I actually just got the truck the beginning of this year back in February so I haven’t really had it that long at all. I had just sold my wife’s daily driver and had the cash at the house for something new. I’ve always planned on owning a truck or SUV that was set up for exploring and off-roading but hadn’t had the chance to yet. So I was excited to finally be building something for the off-road and backcountry adventures I had always dreamed of taking.
The first-gen double cab Tacoma had been on my watch list for a while as it met a bunch of my needs; most importantly having four doors and room for the whole family, which was key as it’s my daily driver as well. I was lucky and found it only hours after it was posted on Craigslist just one street down from my house. I sent the seller a quick email and road my skateboard over to check it out the next day. It was the perfect find. A single-family had owned it from day one and handed over a stack of maintenance records along with all original paperwork, including the dealer’s window sticker. I paid $7,500 cash with 208k miles on the clock.
The truck stayed stock for all of about 2 hours as I drove straight away to pick up the rear bumper which is installed on it now. I found this amazing rear bumper on Craigslist for just $350, and since the original one had some pretty bad rust, I was excited to make this first improvement. Funny thing is that I ended up buying a set of steel wheels on the truck from this same seller on Craigslist just a couple of months later.
There is just something classic and elegant about a truck built around these principles. We had some old off-road driving school VHS tapes that covered the basics of off-road driving skills and the info and images really stuck with us as kids. I think this combined with growing up in a very outdoorsy household and lifestyle, the truck feels like more of an extension of who I am rather than just a truck built for a single purpose. I built it to further expand my reach for all my outdoor hobbies as well as widen the scope of what’s possible on family road trips! Things like photography, archery, backcountry adventures, cross-country road trips, shooting, hiking, crossfit, athletic events, just plain old off-roading, as well as future backcountry adventures!
The truck is also my daily driver, and I want it to function just as well on a trip to the mountains as it does on a trip to the grocery store. So I try and keep both of these things in mind when choosing upgrades.
The truck’s set up right now is really pretty simple and meant to function as a daily driver and also be ready at any time to hit the trails or an extended road trip. The parts I’ve added have been a mix of great opportunities, like my neighbor getting rid of a roof rack the same week I got the truck, and the need for improvement in a certain area. All the mods are meant to be versatile. The simple LED strip lighting in the camper shell is perfect for loading and unloading groceries from the store.
I added a 12V socket, as well as two USB outlets, on a breaker switch in the rear of the camper shell and this is great anytime we’re hanging out at the rear of the truck or to charge my phone with the car off. I love having the Rotopax on the roof, and have already had the chance to help out a stranded family by offering what I like to call some “roof gas.”
I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “fabricator.” But most of the pieces on the truck, I have modified or used existing parts and repurposed them for something else. A good example of this are the mounts for the rack on the camper shell. Don’t tell my wife, but I raided the kitchen and used our composite cutting board for the material of the mounts.
The Baja-style lights on the roof of the truck are a combination of a used Yakima bar and Q towers and six Oedro 5,500-lumen lights ordered off Amazon for $25 each. The lights are mounted using parts that I found in my garage and a local hardware store.
The rear storage drawer and the sleeping platform is just a homemade setup – nothing special – and im sure very similar to others. It’s inspired by images of similar bed boxes.The rear leaf pack is a combination of my old original leaf pack and used leaf pack from a 2001 Extended Cab I found for $40 on Craigslist.
Typically I don’t start with a specific budget in mind. My first stop for shopping for mods is whatever might be already lying around in the garage! But really, it just depends on the mod I’m doing. There are a lot of small things that are actually cheaper and better quality then what I could build myself. For the bigger ticket items, most are just out of reach of my self-imposed budget, and I start designing and thinking about how I could make it myself or find it used on Craigslist.
I’d say the most unique mods on the Tacoma are the homemade roof lights and leaf pack, plus the lift and tires. But that eBay snorkel is pretty cool, too.
I’ve been blessed and the truck hasn’t been to a shop yet. I do try and tackle everything I can at home, and as my experience grows, the list of things I feel comfortable taking does, too. Having a dad that was swapping engines and repairing our family’s as well as friends’ cars doesn’t hurt either! Although I couldn’t join in because of work, I recently watched my dad and one of his friends do a complete frame swap on 2017 Jeep Wrangler in less than 24 hours! While it certainly helps to have grown up around cars, it’s not a requirement. I want to inspire others to tackle basic repairs and modifications and with tools like YouTube and online forums, combined with a healthy dose of “can-do” attitude you can really save a ton of money. But better than saving money is the feeling of accomplishment you get from a successful fix or improvement!
After driving more than 12,000 miles in the last eight months since I’ve owned the truck, there are three things that I think would increase my enjoyment and capability of the truck the most. First would be front and rear-facing cameras. The rear camera for safety with kids in the driveway, and the forward camera for better line selection and because lots of my trips are just my son and me. It’s often unsafe to leave the truck mid-drive and try to find a new line. Second would be proper skid plates and sliders which will help us push deeper and explore more. Third is a supercharger because I like hearing the whine of the blower; the daily enjoyment of that is well worth the cost to me. I’m hoping to either find a wrecked low-mileage Tacoma with a supercharger and maybe just do a full engine swap later on. Down the road I can see a front locker, front bumper and winch as well as onboard air.
That happy camper you see in my photos is my adorable son Christian. He’s only 3.5 years old, but has joined me on the most difficult trails I’ve driven. It’s hard not to bring him along when he says things like, “I love it when you are with me, Daddy,” and “Let’s go off-roading!”
Last month, the whole family drove about 2,200 miles round trip to Portland, Oregon, and back to California in the Tacoma. It was neat to get to make that memory in the truck. While I was there, I got the chance to hit a couple of trails on Larch Mountain in WA, with my older brother as my co-pilot. He and I spent a lot of time on the mountain as kids, so it was really great to get to drive some of the trails together for the first time.
I also just got back a couple of days ago from exploring some of the amazing trails on Bald Mountain near Shaver Lake, CA. My son is my constant co-pilot on almost all of my trips and we were joined this time by my younger brother. We slept in the truck camper, summited Bald Mountain and did a “most difficult” trail section and saw four black bears!
This is a pretty easy trail and doable in a slightly lifted 4×4. However, it does offer plenty of optional routes that range from difficult to the insane. About 200 yards into the trail there is an option for either “more difficult” or “most difficult,” and I looked at my brother and said, “It’s more fun to fail, than to pass through easy.” We headed up a steep, dusty and super rocky climb. About 3/4 of the way up, I was surprised we hadn’t gotten stuck yet. Then we came to a section where it was almost impassable. With my brother acting as a spotter, and Christian safely out of the truck and away from a possible roll, we were able to reverse and make a couple more attempts. With a slightly better position, we picked a better line, cleared the sticking point and made it to the top without issue. It’s amazing how much further a good line will take you than a heavy foot and all the mods in the world.
Right now, I would like to add some longer format videos on my YouTube channel and walk through some of the home-brewed modifications on the truck to hopefully inspire or help others to do the same. I would also like to start documenting my trips with the family, especially with my son. It can be a lot of extra work to film a trip, but I know the reward of watching these later in life will be priceless.
I think with a name like “Overland Underbuget,” people might get the idea that I’m always thinking of the cost and money in a negative way, or that I look down on those who do spend a lot on their rigs. But that is definitely not the case. I just want to inspire others to think outside the box. To be creative and not be afraid to use Craigslist or the cutting board from the kitchen as part of their dream build. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking one needs more mods than just a set of grippy tires and 4WD before they can get outside and have some incredible adventures.