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My Bed is All Cracked Up

August 17, 2022.

On our first day of the trip to Plumas National Forest, on our way down to Poker Flat, we heard a new banging noise. It reminded me of the noise I'd heard when I'd broken a leaf spring, so I was out of the truck quickly to look for the problem. I wasn't able to isolate it entirely, but I was pretty sure that I found where the bed had split (more than in the past) in the passenger front corner. Luckily, it only seemed to rattle around on significant downgrades with rocky conditions, and I knew the bed liner would mostly keep things together, so we ignored it for the rest of the trip.

This isn't the first time I've had problems with the bed cracking. The first crack I noticed was back in 2019, under the front, driver-side leg of the bed rack. It started where I'd drilled a hole to secure the bed rack and had already worked its way around to the outside of the bed side, slowly extending with each bumpy road.

Securing a couple hundred pounds to the bed rails and then driving down bumpy roads leads to trouble.

My attempt to stop the crack with a hole has been entirely unsuccessful.

Around the same time, I noticed that the front passenger side corner of the bed was cracking as well.  Since that was covered by the bed liner and wouldn't require color-matched paint (and clear coat), I tried to repair it by cleaning up and welding the crack, and then prevent it by designing - and building - a new bed rack that would reduce the stress on that part of the bed.

A sign of future problems.

Well, once we got back from Northern California and I was able to get the bed off, it was immediately apparent that the sound we'd heard was the bed rattling against itself. The entire corner had split.

It appears that my weld didn't hold, and that even a newly designed bed rack could only prevent the inevitable for so long.

Knowing that I needed to get things patched up more permanently, I considered my options. In my mind, there were three(ish), but they all required me to remove the bed so I could access the corner from both the inside and outside, so that was the first order of business.

Thank goodness for the garage hoist. Though I rarely use it, it makes it easy to remove the tent and bed rack.

The rear bumper was next. This is something that I could have skipped if a few buddies were over to help me lift the bed over the bumper, but ... they weren't.

Finally, I removed the six bolts securing the bed, and with that, I was able to rotate the bed enough on the frame - without removing it entirely or messing with the fuel neck - to achieve the access I needed for a repair.

As I was saying, I had three options:

  1. Because the piece that had cracked was a flange on the front bed panel - that secures it to the bed side - I could buy a new (used) front bed panel. This would mean finding one in good condition, getting it painted, etc., so I really didn't want to go this route. Plus, it'd be expensive.
  2. I could weld the crack - like I had when it was much smaller. That obviously worked well, so I was totally excited to do it again - with a much longer weld of the thin sheet metal. No thanks.
  3. My final option was to put some sort of reinforcement in place. The piece that'd sheared off had originally formed a 90-degree angle between the front and side of the bed, so I hoped I could replicate that in fabricating a repair.

With access to the front of the bed, I could remove the three bolts that secured the - now broken off - flange of the bed front to the bed side.

Initially I thought I'd be using a piece of 1.25" angle to make the bracket that would attach the two panels. I wasn't thrilled with this, since I thought it'd mean a 30-mile drive to the steel yard for a measly 16" length of material. Luckily though, I found that Lowe's Depot carried something that would work even better: the bracing that's used to hang garage door components.

At a little more than 1/16" thick, with lots of holes, and galvanized, it was perfect for my needs. I picked up a piece and marked which holes aligned with the existing holes in the bed side, and where I'd need to drill the bed front to accommodate the other face of the angle.

A nice find at the local home center.

Naturally, when I picked up the material, I forgot to pick up hardware to secure it, but I was able to find a few stainless steel fasteners in my pile that would fit the bill just fine. And so, after drilling three holes on the bed front, I bolted it up.

This fix won't even be visible once the bed is reattached to the frame and the bed liner is reinstalled.

I even used the original reinforcing plate that had cracked off on the inside of the bed to spread the clamping load. I don't know if it'll help, but it probably won't hurt.

With the bed back together, it was a simple matter of reattaching it to the frame, resecuring the rear bumper, and getting the bed rack situated in place.

Putting everything back together.

And now, we wait. I'm sure it won't be long before I discover the next issue I'll need to address with this bed!

More Bed Cracking Maintenance

14 Comments

  1. Greg von Buchau
    Greg von Buchau October 2, 2022

    A scintillating “bedtime” story.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 2, 2022

      LOL, nice one Greg! 👍

  2. Greg W Weirick
    Greg W Weirick October 2, 2022

    Hi, my 09 taco had nice bed HD bed stiffeners/support brackets in all four cornets when bought the truck. Even have holes for tie down straps.
    No idea the brand, but guessing yours isnt the first bed to have corners crack.
    Bet your fix works, but youve got three more corners. Best of luck.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 2, 2022

      So far I've been pretty lucky with the bed. Where a lot of folks have obvious widening happening in the rear corners, my bed sides are still pretty straight there. Of course - as you probably know - a 1st gen bed is a lot different than a 2nd gen ('09) bed, since my bed (and bed sides) are all steel vs. having composite parts, so I'm sure that helps a bit. Regardless, I'll certainly be keeping an eye on everything, and adding bed stiffeners, if necessary, in the rear!

  3. JOHN MORAN
    JOHN MORAN October 2, 2022

    First, I studied engineering in college back in the 1960's, designed bridges, learned strength of materials (concrete, steel, etc.), stresses, etc. So, I've always looked at things from a design & strength perspective and thought about what is and is not possible.

    And that brings me to something I've wondered about for a few months looked at bed racks similar to yours. Pickup truck beds were not designed for certain types of stress and I figured there were going to be stress fractures since the forces would NOT be directly from above. I noticed it could also be a problem with much larger trucks (dumps and similar trucks) which is why they build them differently, different shapes, and external bracing. So, I'm not surprised & your experience is the first proof I've seen. I like to be proactive before there is a problem so I looked into stress, loading, etc., when looking into mounting a rooftop tent on top of the shell on my pickup truck. All the weight is directly from above and spread evenly. So much for that.

    I've noticed that the smaller foreign trucks use much light materials in the beds (I had an old Courier many years ago) that in the heavier U.S. (and older) trucks. FYI - Some newer ones have aluminum beds, very bad idea and it's showing up in problems now. I could ramble on a while about the experiences we had working on old trucks in my youth with friends, flathead engines, body work, etc., but we learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. These days things have to reinforced when modifications are made. Look at Matt's in Utah building a recovery wrecker almost from scratch! WILD!

    Your use of the drilled steel from Lowe's made me chuckle, just because I have built (in the past couple of weeks) a hoist system so that I can install/remove my tent since I don't want it on the truck all the time. I used SuperStrut steel and their fittings plus some 2" square steel (heavy duty) tube left over from a carport project we did some months ago. It can hold a load far heavier than my 100 lb or so tent. The SuperStrut is very rigid and works very well as does the square steel tube which is also available at Home Depot. When I lived down in Burbank there was a huge company (Industrial Metal Supply) that had anything you could think of in metals, structures steel, aluminum, etc. And I often pick up high strength metals/fittings from them when doing some staging design/construction work. Unfortunately, out here in the desert, there isn't anything available like that and it's 70 miles to Burbank. But, I can tell you that there are an amazing amount of specialty materials and fittings available for projects.

    Hopefully your solutions will work for you and everything will stay together for as long as you need it. Nothing worse than getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere and something goes wrong. You know (springs, etc.) and I know from experience. My friends and I have broken axles, u-joints, burned up generators, etc. I take them as lessons to be smarter, stronger, and better prepared in the future! LOL. I have to admit that my neighbor (young Jeep guy) get a kick out of the recoveries that Matt in Utah does and wonder what people were thinking when they got themselves into the mess they were in! We also enjoy reading/seeing your adventures, the excellent photos and stories about places we'll probably never be able to visit! THANKS!!!

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 3, 2022

      Hey John, You're definitely onto something with the forces from bed racks like mine - though as you know it's even more complicated than just the "resting" force not being entirely down from the top. Let's see if I can explain, since I've had the opportunity to see quite a few bed failures with the folks I hang out with, hahaha! Most of this is stuff that's going to be old hat for you, but your comments made me realize that it's a good bit of info to share for those "young Jeep guys" who might come along and read through the comments. Or even the middle-aged guys like me who still have a lot to learn. 👍

      With that...onto the forces at play.

      So of course, there is the desire for as much "resting" force as possible to be top down. A topper is better for this than a bed rack, as it is wider. As such - and even though a topper weighs quite a bit more (which will come into play later) - there's much less horizontal pushing going on when the truck is just sitting on level ground, or travelling along "relatively smooth and flat roads."

      Really though a pickup bed is fine for a long time - even with a bed rack - on "relatively smooth and flat roads." The problem comes when the roads get rough and the truck is swaying from side to side (bumping on rocks, off-camber situations, ruts, etc.)

      In those cases, it is the truck - under the bed rack or topper - that is pushed a given horizonal direction, and the bed sides must then push the bed rack or topper in the same direction. In doing so, the bed rack or topper generates momentum, which the bed sides must then arrest once the truck stops moving in the same horizontal direction, effectively having to apply force in the exact opposite direction. It's a vicious cycle to be sure!

      Note: There are also some horizontal forces that are created by flexing of the bed rack or topper, since none of them are 100% rigid, even as the truck bounces up and down vertically. The more the bed rack or topper (and anything attached to them) weigh, the more of this flexing there is, causing them to spread slightly as gravity pulls the weight down and the bed sides force the weight back up.

      At any rate, it's these horizontal forces from bumping around that cause bed side failures, since the bed sides are the "part of the truck" that both initiate and arrest the horizontal movement.

      There's no way to totally eliminate those horizontal forces, but there are certainly ways to try and mitigate them. Bed stiffeners - generally installed into each bottom corder of the bed can help to support the bed sides. Cross-beams on the bed rack or topper - across the bottom - can close the geometry and essentially eliminate the weight-generated-flexing (and subsequent forces on the bed sides). In fact, I modified my bed rack to try to eliminate some of this. And, while I'm sure it helped, it could have been even better in reducing flex if the cross-brace was closer to the legs of the bed rack (but that would put it "in the way" of using the bed, so I made a trade-off.

      In the end though, the only way to completely (for all intents and purposes) eliminate bed splitting issues is to add a bunch of structure (and weight) to the bed. And that's a trade-off in itself, because hauling around a bunch of extra weight is never a good thing either, and can cause problems with other components.

      And so - as you mentioned - the hope is that I can keep the weight and reinforcements right around the minimum necessary to keep the Tacoma going for "as long as I need it," there's no point in having it continue on into eternity (as much as I might like that idea)!

      • JOHN MORAN
        JOHN MORAN October 3, 2022

        Agree with you! In General Engineering we also had to study physics. Big difference between STATIC & DYNAMIC forces and stress changes dramatically when something is in motion and bouncing all over the place as with off road. Something I had to consider when installing a tent on my "topper." And something else we have to consider, as you know, is practicality. The perfect solution would require more horizontal bracing which is not practical (access & other problems), and everything flexes a certainly amount so we have to compromise on weight/rigidity and be pragmatic about what is possible. And, we have to remember that NOTHING lasts forever, even giant concrete and steel structures have a limited lifetime. My mantra, "we do out best with what we have!"

  4. GiddyupTruck
    GiddyupTruck October 3, 2022

    Doesn’t bode well for a 2020 model with a composite bed, even though bed stiffners would help.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 3, 2022

      Totally. As I alluded to in my reply to Greg, I'm glad to have a steel bed on this trusty 1st gen! Still, I'm sure I'll eventually have something a bit more modern, and I'll certainly be doing what I can to reinforce the bits that need a little more support, so that I can still use it for getting out to explore!

    • JOHN MORAN
      JOHN MORAN October 3, 2022

      Yep, these days auto makers are focused on using lightest materials possible to conform to government MPG requirements and safety regulations which doesn't bode well for longevity. Somewhere out there my '58 Chevy Bel Aire may still be running, it was a tank (maybe 10 mpg) but today's vehicles have plastic bumpers, lightweight aluminum, thinner/lighter glass and metals, not built to last, built to conform to regulations which puts a lot of restrictions on us from the start with a new vehicle. My wife doesn't see why our new wonderful little car (gets 35-45 mpg) with plastic bumpers gets damaged from hitting the curb or other immovable objects! LOL

  5. James Czubak
    James Czubak October 4, 2022

    My 2002 4x4 Taco has been a gift from God for years. Never any problems until......I was on a incline when the 4x4 dash light went out and the magic stopped working. Months of research and different fix-it advice from the net got me nowhere. Horror story's relating to dealer costs of searching down the problem and fixing it has kept me away from them. So now she's a scary clean and very capable pre-Runner with rear lockers with a computer by pass switch for those lockers (That I haven't tried yet). I sure miss my 4X4 Tacoma. If you ever run into this exact problem (Light goes out 4x4 stops working) Please let me know how you fixed it. P.S checking the fuse was my first step!

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 4, 2022

      Oh man, what a bummer about 4WD! I've got a few questions that might help to narrow it down whenever you go searching for the problem...

      1. Sounds like this is an automatic transmission, and that the 2WD-4WD is done via a button on the side of the shifter? (vs. a j-shift lever)
      2. Have you checked to see if the connectors on the transfer case are getting the appropriate signals when you switch into 4WD?
      3. Likewise, have you checked to see if the ADD actuator (that engages the front CVs) is getting a signal when you go into 4WD?

      My guess is that you've got a bad wire to the transfer case, or the actuator on the back of the transfer case has failed. Again, assuming you have an electronic 4WD switch. If you have a j-shift, then it sounds like the ADD actuator.

      Hope that helps. My other recommendation would be to ask on TacomaWorld in the 1st gen section; there are guys there who diagnose this kind of thing all the time! Of course, whatever the issue ends up being, it still might be a few hundred bucks to fix it.

      • James Czubak
        James Czubak October 4, 2022

        A Couple hundred $$$$ would defiantly be doable. I've pulled all the connectors to make sure their kosher and clean. (They actually look new) It's a two shifter setup with auto trans. Most of the sites lead me to the front diff actuator. Not the problem. Replaced it, very expensive part. Nobody including Taco World talked about the 4x4 light going completely out and the system not working. Everybody talks of the light blinking then the system does not work. Which has many fixes. So like you I'm leaning towards the transfer case actuator being the problem. Because of a snap ring inside the case that holds the actuator in place. The entire case has to be puled and disassembled to get the suspect part out. No one actually knows how to fix the actuator (Even at the dealers). They are very complex with a clock spring inside that's not resettable. We are talking thousands of dollars bench time here. So now she is a Prerunner with rear lockers. The conversion switch for the lockers was expensive also. I never abused this truck, always being gentle in 4x4. Super clean ex-cab strong engine no other issues except this giant one. If anyone you know has this light go out no 4X4 problem and knows the fix, drop me an email. I would owe you!

        • turbodb
          turbodb October 5, 2022

          Well, the "good" news - if you look at it that way - is that if it's a problem with the transfer case - it doesn't have to be all that expensive. You can buy a replacement transfer case for a few hundred dollars and just swap it in. Will come with the actuator, and you might be back to 4WD. In fact, I had to replace my transfer case - when the pilot bearing went out - and I wrote it up here: Swapping the Transfer Case. The hardest part of the whole thing (whether you're replacing the case yourself or having a shop do it) is finding the correct replacement case since there are so many varieties. For that, this Step-by-Step Replacing the Transfer Case on a Tacoma guide has all the information you'll need to look over your existing case and then know what to look for when sourcing a new one (from a junk yard). For me, that entailed finding cases on car-part.com, and then going to look at them, since they are rarely identified correctly on the web site. Good luck!

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