January 15, 2019.
What can I say? It's the end of an era, sort of. Really, it's the end of a transition period for the Tacoma - a time when it was transitioning from daily driver and home renovation hauler to a more dedicated exploration vehicle. It was nearly three years ago that this transition started, one of my first modifications being a new Toytec BOSS lift in order to support the Relentless armor I was soon to install.
Over the last three years, that @Toytec Lifts setup has done everything I could have asked of it. No, that's not right - it's done more than I could have asked. When I installed the setup, I didn't know all that much about off-roading with Tacoma's and I thought that the BOSS coilovers would be my last and only upgrade of the suspension - after all, the OEM stuff had lasted me 16 years...this aftermarket stuff was bound to last longer than that.
I knew at the time that I wasn't getting the best - I wasn't ready to shell out for King, Icon, or Fox. But I also felt like I was getting something pretty good for a reasonable price. And I still feel that way - BOSSes are a great set of coilovers for someone who's getting into off-road adventures but isn't sure exactly how much they'll do. A tester / introductory set of suspension as it were!
Of course in my case, the last three years has been dramatically different for the truck. Gone are the days of simple trips around town and the occasional forest service road or weekend out exploring. Now, a "normal" trip involves 1000 miles of pavement just to reach dirt, and then a week or two of bouncing around, before driving another 1000 miles of pavement home.
So it's time to upgrade the suspension. The Toytec stuff is worn out (understandably) and it's not rebuildable (by design) and frankly it's no longer a good fit for my use of the truck. It's time to step up to the best - or at least, the best class (since everyone will argue that their favorite brand is the real best ;)).
I started with the rear - choosing 10" stroke ADS 2.5" shocks - just because of how my calendar worked out. With those installed and the bugs worked out, it was time to get going on the front. As with the rear, I'd considered all the major players - King, Icon, Fox, etc. before settling on 2.5" ADS coilovers with remote resi's. I'd heard good things about them and I liked the idea of having a consistent setup on all four corners.
But that wasn't all. I figured that while I was mucking around, I should also finally take the plunge on new upper control arms (UCA's). This would hopefully give me more downtravel (droop), and - since I decided to go with SPC 25460 arms - the ability to adjust tire position in the wheel well, hopefully moving it forward just a bit so it didn't rub so much when turning.
And with that, I had all my parts and it was time to get started.
Almost. I also had to gather up a few of the special tools I'd need to make the job easier - specifically to make separation of the upper ball joint from the UCA and upper ball joint from the spindle easier.
- OTC 6295 Front End Service Kit - contains tie rod puller 7503, used to separate the UCA from the ball joint.
- OTC 7249 Ball Joint (and U-Joint) Service Kit - essentially a huge c-clamp used to press the ball joint out of the spindle.
- OTC 38354 Receiving cup for Toyota - needed to capture the ball joint as it's pressed out of the spindle.
My plan of attack was relatively simple - replace the Upper Control Arm first, then swap out the Toytec suspension for the new ADS variant. I had only one real question: should I remove the spindle (extra work) to press out the upper ball joint, or leave it installed (more precarious).
In the end, I decided that with two sides of the truck to do, I'd try it both ways. Experiment for science!
So, with that, I jacked up the front of the truck and got it on jack stands before removing the wheels.
Having decided to remove the entire spindle on the driver side - since it seemed more straight forward, even if it was a bit more work - my next order of business was to remove the various brake and ABS speed sensors from the UCA and spindle.
And then the brake caliper and rotor, which I hung from the spring of the Toytec coilover so as to avoid any unnecessary tension on the brake line.
Then, it was off with the center hub and axle nut, and then finally the four lower ball joint bolts so that I could separate the spindle from the lower control arm. I always hate taking off the center hub - mine is still pretty tight and it always feels like it's extra difficult to get a screwdriver between it and the knuckle to pry them apart.
At this point, things were going swimmingly well I thought - the only thing left to do was to remove the long bolt that secures the upper control arm. Of course, it's just when things are going swimmingly that you run into something unexpected, and this time was no exception. I knew these bolts were difficult to access, but as I looked down into the engine bay I realized that I needed to remove the battery, yellow airbag sensor, and battery wiring harness in order to make room to extract the bolt.
More work, but it could definitely have been worse!
And with that, I was ready to remove the bolt and take everything out as a unit.
Then, I was faced with the impetuous behind this entire ordeal - the upper ball joint connection between the UCA and spindle.
I pulled out the OTC 7503 tie rod puller from the OTC 6295 Front End Service Kit and lined everything up. Everything I'd heard suggested that I could be in for an explosive separation when the upper ball joint stud pushed out of the UCA - so I gingerly tightened the screw while squinting behind my safety glasses and ear plugs.
I eventually got that big explosion - parts and tools seemingly flying everywhere when the tension was released. So, after checking my pants, I reset for the next operation - pushing the upper ball joint out of the spindle using the OTC 7249 Ball Joint Service Kit and OTC 38354 Receiving cup for Toyota. Oh, and a big old impact wrench.
I wasn't totally sure this was going to work - I was pushing on the stud of the ball joint rather than on the rim of the cup - but after a few big impacts with the Milwaukee Mid-Torque, the joint pushed right out. Whew.
A bit of emery cloth cleaned up the inner surface nicely to accept the new SPC insert, which pushed in easily and was secured with a c-clip.
I knew I was on the home stretch now - the only thing left was to lubricate the SpecRide bushings with the supplied "super special™" grease, insert the metal sleeves, and install the arm onto the truck. Of course, there was also the re-installation of the entire spindle assembly - time consuming, but a straight forward process essentially the reverse of removal.
New SPC UCA installed, it was time to tackle the coilover replacement. This would be a similarly straight forward - though a bit shorter - process. I got started by removing the lower shock mount bolt, and the three nuts on the shock tower that secured the old coilover.
With the spring and shock removed, this was the time to check for any clearance issues I'd have with the new UCA setup. If there were any, I could use the SPC patented caster adjuster in the UCA to move the wheel forward up to ¾" - hopefully alleviating any rubbing.
I moved the floor jack under the lower control arm and pushed it up until the bump stop engaged.
Then, I took a look at the situation. It wasn't good - the SPC UCA had moved the wheel toward the rear of the wheel well, and the rubbing was quite bad when the wheel was turned.
So, I adjusted the caster forward as much as possible (setting G) and then lowered and removed the wheel - it was time to install the new ADS coilover! This went much more smoothly than my install of the Toytec BOSS coils - likely because I'm just more familiar with how the truck works - and within a few minutes I had both the upper and lower nuts and bolts in and torqued to spec.
Last but not least, I had a "new part" to secure - the remote reservoir. With only one real place that it fit due to the length of the hose and space in the wheel well, all that stood between me and the finish line was drilling three holes in the frame for the bracket and then attaching the reservoir itself with some band clamps.
And with that, I was ready to hit some bumps. Except that I wasn't - 'cause well, I still had to do the passenger side and get an alignment.
Of course, I won't bore you will all that - frankly, I'm impressed if you've made it this far in the first place - but I will highlight just a couple interesting points with the passenger side install. Because, you may recall that I was going to do it differently - for science - by leaving the spindle installed (to save time).
First of all - I found that getting the long UCA bolt out of the passenger side is most easily done by removing the air intake box as well as the yellow airbag sensor and a couple bolts that secure a brake line that's in the way of the bolt. With those things out of the way, the bolt slides right out.
As far as the experiment goes, there were really only two interesting pieces:
First - separating the UCA from the upper ball joint while the spindle is still attached. This process went easily enough, and I was less prone to needing a change of underwear, knowing what to expect the second time through.
Second - pressing the ball joint out of the spindle. I was able to get the spindle angled out of the wheel well just enough to fit the C-clamp, receiving cup, and impact wrench. However, upon pressing out the ball joint, I actually ended up pressing the stud and ball through the bottom of the ball joint itself!
Luckily, I had the right sized cylinders and whatnot in the OTC 7249 Ball Joint Service Kit to press out the bottom of the ball joint out of the spindle, and hey - on the positive side I got to see the internal construction of the joint! Win.
One thing I noticed was that the cup of the ball joint was deformed in one spot, and this spot corresponded to where the stud of the ball joint had contacted it at full droop. I must have really bashed the passenger side at some point to accomplish this feat - a bit surprising given my standard operating speed of "slow."
At any rate, the rest of the passenger side install went smoothly, and I'd say that the experiment resulted in a truly spectacular result of "meh" - both methods work and neither is significantly better than the other. I guess if I had to recommend one or the other, I'd suggest that if you're working alone, take the spindle out entirely and if you have a partner in crime who can hold it while you position the various press components, you might as well leave it in.
Either way - in the end, you get the same thing: awesomeness.
Oh, and with the new components, I was interested to see how my height and droop were affected. Not much it turns out.
- Lift height measured from ground-to-frame at cab mount: before - 19"; after - 19 3/8", which I'm sure will settle a bit.
- Droop distance measured from ground-to-frame at cab mount: before - 21 3/4"; after - 22 1/2".