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Rig Review: Death Valley x2 - What worked and what didn't?

December 1, 2020.

There've been a few tweaks to the truck, and two trips to Death Valley since the last rig review, so it's a good time to take stock of how things are going. First, in case you missed the trips, check out:

My Headlights are Too Dim Update

TL;DR - the headlights are better, but I still have work to do to make them work well in inclement weather.

I tweaked the headlights in several ways after returning from The 3C Trip - I replaced the headlight bulbs with LEDs, upgraded the Hella 700s with HIDs, and fixed the interaction between the Hellas and DRLs when the hi-beams are switched on and off (see HIDs and LEDs - Finally, I Can See Again! and *Fixing* My First Mod - Really Disabling the Daytime Running Lights). I'm very happy with two aspects of this work: first, the HID upgrade for the Hella's. The light output from them now is simply amazing - it's like running in daylight (ok, not really, but it is SO bright). Second, the DRL/Hi/Low/Hella interaction is now perfect - the Hellas come on when the hi-beams are on, and are off at all other times.

What I'm not so happy with are the new LEDs, and that deserves a bit more explanation - because it's not for the reason I thought it would be. My review of the BEAMTECH H4 LED Headlight (9003 Hi/Lo) is actually a mixed bag. In good weather, they actually seemed quite nice - significantly better than I'd expected after I'd seen the bright white light they emitted when I'd first turned them on in the garage. In fact, after about 8 hours of night driving on the first trip down to Death Valley, I was pretty sure I was going to keep the LEDs.

  • While the light is a little white for me, their brightness is so much better than the stock bulbs that I actually REALLY liked them when we were driving for hours and hours at night and the weather was good.
  • The cut-off seems really good. I never got flashed by oncoming traffic when the low-beams were on. Even with the cut-off shield, I was worried about whether it would work, and I'm really glad that it seemed to work well.
  • The hi-beams seemed just OK. This surprised me bit - they were not dramatically brighter than the lows (though perhaps this indicates how good the lows are).

On the way back from Death Valley, we hit bad weather - snow. Heavy snow. Even though they didn't perform as well as they had in good weather, this wasn't enough to change my mind on the LEDs.

  • The low-beams were darn good in snow, even the heavy snow. I didn't get too much glare and yet still got enough light to see well. We ran this way for nearly 12 hours on the way home - essentially from Bishop, CA to Eugene, OR.
  • The hi-beams on the other hand were terrible. The light scatter with them on made the snow blinding - I literally couldn't see more than about 10 feet in front of the truck. Part of this was due to beam pattern, but a big part of it was due to light color. A yellower would be a lot better in this situation.

So, overall I was quite happy with them from a light performance perspective - happier than I thought I'd be, even with the poor weather, hi-beam situation. After all, I knew that I wouldn't be able to use the Hellas in the snow, and hi-beams seem somewhat similar.

But then - something I totally didn't expect. I noticed on the way home that when the headlights - low- or hi-beams - are on, my ham radio "busy" indicator is always on. Like full on. On both channels. So, the ham thinks that it's receiving a transmission all the time. So, the RFI the headlights put out is terrible. I don't think they are shielded at all. And, they are on a completely separate electrical system (air gapped) than my radio, so there's nothing I can do to fix it. ...And for that reason, I'm going to at least try some other non-LED bulbs.


ADS 2.5" Coilovers - Need Limit Straps (resolved)

TL;DR - why didn't I install limit straps earlier. These things make the suspension so much more enjoyable.

After the trip to Colorado, I installed some Kartek limit straps, to protect my shock towers from the enormous changes in force I knew they were experiencing when my suspension fully unloaded over certain types of terrain. The difference on the trail was more dramatic than I could have imagined - this is perhaps my most favorite suspension upgrade of all time. It used to be that over whoops, or dropping down from large rocks/shelves, I would hear the front suspension unload, the coilover fully extending and a "clunk" as the control arm movement was limited by the length of the shock. Because I knew this wasn't good for the shock tower, I would frequently find myself slowing down significantly over terrain that I knew would cause this behavior. Even then, I'd still get a handful of "clunks" a day, and I'd cringe every time.

With the limit straps, that problem is gone. No more clunking, ever. Because the limit straps are transferring the force to the frame, rather than the coilover transferring it to the shock tower. So that's a great thing.

Or is it? On our trips down to Death Valley, I found that I was able to travel much faster than "normal," because I was no longer worried about the front suspension. But, I'll need to be careful - that faster travel will move stress to other parts of the truck, and that could mean cracking of other components. Damn you limit straps!


Relentless Skid Plate Attachment (Again)

TL;DR - The middle two mounts on the mid skid broke off again. I need to come up with a new way to secure the mid-skid at the crossmember.

Back when we ran the Whipsaw Trail, I had some issues with the Relentless skids, which I addressed in the Rig Review. Two of those issues have been resolved for some time - the front mounts were re-drilled and tapped, and I added rivnuts to the rear-most mounts for the mid-skid to keep the bolts from ripping out of the thin frame. But the third issue - that the crossmember mounts keep shearing off - is the one that is still a problem. I've welded those mounts back onto the skid three times now, and over the last few trips, they ripped off again.

Time to find a different mounting strategy - perhaps some bolts that go up through the crossmember. Ultimate design TBD.


Front ADS Coilover Spherical Bearings (again)

TL;DR - The spherical bearings were completely shot again. And, it happened after only 10,000 miles this time.

I've replaced the spherical bearings several times now, so I'm getting good at it. This time, though they lasted 4 months and 5 trips, they lasted only 10,000 miles. I'd taken a different approach than with previous sets, not directly pressure washing these, but it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference.

I've already replaced the bearings, but I've also ordered some stainless steel versions. Obviously I won't get to test those for a few more months, but hopefully after this next set wears out, I'll end up with a set that last much longer.


Seemingly solved from previous Rig Reviews

  1. ADS 2.5" Coilovers - Need Limit Straps

Unchanged / Still an issue from previous Rig Reviews

There are some things that have been featured in Rig Reviews that are - as yet - unchanged from when I originally reviewed them. Rather than highlight those things again, I'll simply link to them here.

  1. My Headlights are Too Dim
  2. Oil Leaking from Transfer Case
  3. The Windshield Has Seen Better Days




Check out older Rig Reviews









    CURTIS BLEVINS January 27, 2021

    Cheap and crappy LED drivers emit RFI and it will be a challenge to find one that is less noisy/better quality. I have truck lite headlamps brand headlamps which are not noisy but I do not think they make a headlight replacement for Toyota.

    • turbodb
      turbodb January 27, 2021

      Yep, I agree Curtis. I was most concerned about cut-off prior to installing the LEDs, but after doing so, I realized that RFI is now the bigger concern (since many LED manufacturers are now adding shields for cut-off (a good thing). You can see my solution to the RFI in today's post, if you're interested: Out with the LEDs, Back to Halogen Headlights.

      • Curtis Blevins
        Curtis Blevins January 27, 2021

        Since you went back to Halogen you might want to check out Daniel Stern Lighting. He builds custom wiring harness/ relay packages to help you get the most out of your lighting as factory wiring is not optimal. I saw a package for Toyota on his site, I got one for my jeep to bypass the CAN bus pulse-width modulation nonsense that Chrysler uses that causes flicker with led headlights.
        He has some informative info about lighting on his sight

        • turbodb
          turbodb January 27, 2021

          Thanks Curtis. I agree that you need a better harness for higher wattage Halogen. You'll note in the post that I linked, that I added a custom harness with more than enough oomph! ?

        • Curtis Blevins
          Curtis Blevins January 27, 2021

          I see you made your own wiring harness. ?
          Daniel Stern's site is worth looking at anyway.

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