December 28, 2023.
It's been quite a while - eight months to the day - since the last Rig Review, making this only the second review of 2023. That's just pure lazy on my part, but I'll plead "no way to work on the truck since it's been in Las Vegas" most of that time ...and move on with my fingers in my ears and a la-la-la escaping my lips, as though that were the real reason.
With that in mind, let's get down to it, because there is a lot to cover. This Rig Review is the result of living out of the Tacoma during the following trips. Just know that it's most of 2023.
TL;DR - Having the Tacoma in Las Vegas is by far the best thing I've done for exploring, ever. The convenience of not having to drive forever at the start/end of a trip is worth it alone. Icing on the cake is that it's been even cheaper than I originally estimated (which itself was cheaper than driving).
Moving the Tacoma to Las Vegas was the best "adventure" decision ever (for me). Everything I mentioned in my previous review still holds true, but I have a couple updates.
Cost. Previously I thought the cost of driving back and forth (vs. flying) would be about the same, but it's turned out to be significantly cheaper to fly. Granted, this is on Spirit Airlines (which comes with its own set of pros/cons), but the cost has been - on average - about $75 roundtrip, compared to the $250 I estimated (on Alaska). That saves about $700/month ($8400/year), which has cut my overall adventure expenses in half as compared to last year - $15,500 vs $27,924 - with approximately the same number of trips/nights.
Photo gear. Flying back and forth means that I don't have everything at home between trips. In general this hasn't been a problem, but it is rather inconvenient for all my photo gear (both the camera and drone). To address this, I've begun to shuttle my camera and my RF 24-240mm walkaround lens home between trips, but everything else still stays in the truck.
TL;DR - The new OEM headlight housings into the Tacoma are working great with high-powered halogen lamps. This is the way, LEDs are crap.
After my last rig review, I replaced the housings with new OEM housings (left) (right), updated the bulbs to high-wattage OSRAM Super Bright H4 9003 90/100W halogen bulbs (as discussed previously), and adjusted the beams to point in the same place as the originals.
I couldn't be happier.
Old (cloudy) housings (left). | New housings with OSRAM Super Bright Halogen lo-beams (right).
TL;DR - After switching over to a Dometic Fridge, things have been working "just fine." I think I still technically preferred the ARB overall, but the Dometic has a few nice features the ARB did not. And, most importantly, it's actually cooling.
Back in May, I had to get a new fridge when my 7-year-old 50qt ARB stopped cooling. Ultimately - mostly due to price and warranty length - I went with a Dometic. At the time, I had two reservations about the Dometic:
- The latching mechanism for the lid. I'm still worried about this, but it's seemed to work fine so far, and I'm a little less worried about it breaking now than I was back when I initially got the fridge. I'll continue to monitor it.
- The interior size - which is slightly smaller, with not-quite-as-good organization. This hasn't been too much of an issue, either, though I did have to figure out a new set of containers that would use the space optimally, since the old set I was using did not fit the new dimensions.
There are also a couple things I like about the Dometic that I didn't know when I was only going off first impressions.
- The Bluetooth app is nice. I can quickly and easily monitor the fridge temp or turn the fridge on/off without being at the control panel for the fridge. I thought this was a total gimmick when I first got the fridge, but I've used the feature a few times now - to adjust the fridge temp at night - rom the comfort of the tent - having forgotten to do so before getting into bed, and to turn the fridge off - when I was driving - while heading back to Las Vegas to put the truck in storage.
- The fridge stays at a much more consistent temperature than the ARB. Where the ARB would oscillate between 34° and 40° when set to 37°, the Dometic keeps the temp between 36.5° and 37.5° when set to the same temperature. I'm sure the ARB did this to be efficient when turning the compressor on (running it for a longer period of time), but as long as the Dometic doesn't burn out the compressor, it keeps food at a much more consistent temperature, reducing freezing of veggies and warming of foods that spoil easily.
- The Dometic is a little quieter than the ARB. It's not significantly different, and it might just be that the pitch is a little different, but I don't hear the Dometic at night (when I'm in the tent) as much as I heard the ARB.
And one thing I dislike about the Dometic:
- The LCD display on the front of the fridge is useless. It shows almost no information when the fridge is running normally - perhaps to save power - and only shows the temperature when you push a button on the control panel. The ARB always showed the current temperature in big, bold numbers, so that was better.
So far, the Dometic is working out.
TL;DR - the aluminum plates that I installed to address the holes forming where the ladder standoffs were wearing through the floor skin have worked great. Highly recommend.
With a 2x2.5" pad of aluminum, there's plenty of surface area to spread out the force of the ladder standoffs.
TL;DR - I've not really had any noticeable bed spread over the last 5 years, despite every other Tacoma seeming to have the problem. However, I've noticed recently that the gap around the tailgate is not as even as it used to be. I'm not worried for now, but I'll likely address it with and update to the bed rack.
TL;DR - I've been happy with the device, though I had to replace it, and I discovered (because of the device) that getting the speedometer to be accurate is NOT what we should all be shooting for!
In May, I installed a LutzAuto Toyota 3-wire Speedometer Correction Device. It was an easy process, and I was looking forward to finally having my speedometer and odometer be 100% accurate. Imagine my surprise then, when they were not!
As I noted in the install, it's easy to calibrate the device in 0.5% increments, and knowing that my speedometer was off (high) by 6%, I made sure the device was "reset" and then pressed the "down" button 12 times, resulting in my speedometer being 100% accurate (compared to a multitude of GPS devices that I compared it against).
Sure that calculating my gas mileage would be so much easier now - since I wouldn't have to adjust the miles travelled in the - you can imagine my surprise when I was watching the odometer as I passed mile markers on the freeway and noticed that my odometer was ticking off miles much more slowly than the mile markers indicated. After a bit of long-range experimentation - a 100-mile stretch of GPS-and-mile-marker highway - I determined that my odometer was off (low) by approximately 4.5%, though the speedometer was spot on.
That meant that I had a decision to make: calibrate the device so that the speedometer was correct OR calibrate it so the odometer was correct, because it's impossible to make them both accurate at the same time. I'll get into why in just a second, but for me, the odometer is much more important. Luckily, the LutzAuto device is easy to calibrate, so I slid under the Tacoma, pressed the "up" calibration button 9 times (4.5% change from its current calibration) and boom, my odometer is now 100% accurate.
So, why the discrepancy? I believe this is a conscious decision by Toyota. From the factory, Toyota tries to ensure that when the odometer is accurate, that the speedometer will always read slightly higher than the actual speed that the vehicle is traveling. This is a CYA (cover your ass) strategy - essentially, it ensures that when the speedometer implies the vehicle is travelling at the posted speed limit, it's actually travelling at that speed or slightly slower, reducing their liability in court, should the speedometer reading be called into question.
At any rate, it means that calibration of the speedometer is not as important as I once thought, but that calibration of the odometer is the key. The LutzAuto device does both, so it's still the best way to perform that calibration (as compared to speedo gears, etc.)
The incremental calibration is really nice - so much easier than "hoping" with a speedo gear, and having to get a new gear if something between the transmission and ground changes in the future.
Since the install, it should also note that I had had to replace the LutzAuto device when it started malfunctioning. I'd be driving along at a consistent speed/RPM, and the speedometer would suddenly begin to jump all over the place. After a couple emails to Bryan (the owner/creator), we weren't able to figure out the issue and he sent me a new device (and a shipping label to return the original). I installed the replacement and it's been working well ever since. Great customer service, as well!
I have to admit, this was sort of fun, even if I wanted it fixed.
TL;DR - I think Alcan makes great leaf springs, but I'm going to ditch them for Chevy 63s because my second set is too stiff and I want a better ride.
I want to start by saying that I think Alcan makes the best custom leaf packs out there. I highly recommend them (and the owner Lew), if you need a leaf pack that will last a very long time and carry loads well beyond what our trucks were designed for. They are pricey, but worth every penny.
So then, why am I replacing mine less than a year after I installed them?
That's a great question, with a rather lengthy answer. It's a fun story though, so here goes...
When I bought my first leaf pack from Alcan, the company was owned by Bill Ford. Bill was a fantastic fabricator of springs, but not the most communicative/friendly guy in the business. He'd make what you asked for, but provided little help in educating his customers on what to ask for. And, any help that was provided, generally made one feel ...just a little smaller. Frankly, the company is in much better hands with the new owner - Lew - who is just as good a fabricator, and leaps and bounds better on the customer service end of things.
When I ordered my first leaf pack from Bill, I speced out a pack that would support +600lbs over stock weight, with a 3" lift - to carry all my gear and keep the rear of the truck a little higher than the front. Bill was happy to make that for me and leafs showed up on my doorstep in less than a month, which I thought was great given the 8-week estimate. However, when I looked at the packing slip attached to the springs, I was surprised to see that it said “+400lbs w/3” lift.”
I immediately contacted Bill, and was told, “sorry, that was just a typo, you actually got what you ordered.” Funny thing was, he couldn’t tell me what I ordered, even though he was sure that’s what I got. Still worried, I asked if there was a way that I could tell whether they were +400 or +600, he told me to install them, and if they were +600, then I’d have the lift I was looking for. Since I knew that was no way to “really” tell, I asked if he could just make me a new "for sure +600lbs" set and I’d send the first set back, but he said no.
Side note: I also ran into an issue with the placement of the center pin on that first set, and had to go through another rigamarole with Bill (and send another $200 to get another set of top leaves made), but I’ve never really been sure that was his fault; the center pin positioning seems to be a Toyota issue that affects 30-60% of Tacomas. (if you’re curious, see: Updating the Alcan Leaf Pack)
In the end, that first pack rode great and was the perfect +[weight] for my rig ...whatever [weight] really was. Personally (and you’ll see why in a moment), I think it was +400, not the +600 that Bill claimed.
Fast forward to a couple years ago when I picked up my second Alcan pack. I wanted a bit more lift, just to give me a bit more rake in my stance. Not much - just an inch or so, since the truck sat quite level with the current Alcan pack. I also knew that I now carried a bit more weight (dual battery, more gear, etc.) than I when I got the first pack, so I ordered +750lbs and a 4” lift. Lew was great, and once again, I had my order faster than I’d expected - he even rushed it a bit b/c I happened to be in CO, able to pick it up on the way home from running the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (NMBDR). Super cool dude.
I have no doubt that I got +750lbs w/4” lift from Lew. The problem was that it was way too much - stiff as can be, and way too high - even when the Tacoma was fully loaded with fuel, water, etc. It was so much more than the +150lb, 1” height difference that I reached out to Lew with photos. He agreed - there definitely seemed to be a huge difference between the old pack and the new. But he’d sent me what I ordered, and I knew it wasn’t his fault at all. I’d ordered “incorrectly,” thinking that I was running +600lbs springs from Bill, when I was really running the +400lbs springs that were on my original packing slip.
For now - with Lew’s help as to the amount of weight that each “leaf level” supported - I took out a leaf (~200lbs, bringing the pack into the +550lbs range) from the new pack and it got a lot better. I’ve been considering taking out a second to bring it back down to the ~400lb range, since it still has that extra inch of lift as well.
Currently, the Tacoma has a stinkbug stance. Too much rake, even for me.
My solution is to move to Chevy 63s. This is a reasonably standard - if relatively uncommon - swap for 1st gen Tacomas, and I'll be following the methodology that Zane @Speedytech7 used, frenching the front hangers into the frame. In fact, I'll be heading to Zane's shop to do the work - hopefully later this winter - and will write up the details when the time comes.
TL;DR - After replacing the transmission seal on the transfer case input shaft, my leak disappeared for about three months. But, it's back, so I need to replace the seal again.
When replacing the seal in the transmission where the input shaft of the transfer case connects to the output shaft of the transmission, I was super careful to ensure that I aligned the two components so the shaft wouldn't mar the surfaces of the seal. Or so I thought. I've got the same leak as before, so I'll be doing the job again. Oh, joy!
TL;DR - I've enjoyed taking still photos with the drone, but I've not enjoyed trying to shoot videos as my piloting skills leave many things to be desired. I've also got several more things to add to my like/dislike list, which I'm sure will continue to grow.
The DJI Air has allowed for shots I would have never been able to capture previously!
So, the DJI Air 3 drone has been a fun addition to my photography arsenal. A lot of what I liked and/or was concerned about when I got it three months ago has been spot on, but there are a few additional details that I thought would be good to capture.
- The Return to Home (RTH) functionality is amazing. As I mostly takeoff/land from the same spot (more on that later), it's so cool to fly around wherever I want to go, and then just press a single button to have it end up right where it started, with no input from me. The only thing I don't like about RTH is the incessant beeping out of the controller when the drone is on its way back.
- I suck at flying. (Because I don't play video games?) Getting the hang of the controls - which require flying in 3D space as well as control of the camera gimbal to keep the subject in view - has been really hard for me. I think part of this is because it's really hard, but part is also because I've never been one who is into 1st-person shooter video games, which use the same sort of control for game play. As such, using the drone for videos is really not something that I can do in any sort of enjoyable - for me or the viewer - way at this point in time. Gives me a whole new respect for those who can drone and drive, and keep the drone shot steady on both the foreground and background at the same time.
- The DNG files it produces are lackluster. I was really excited that the Air 3 would produce RAW DNG files, because I knew I'd be able to edit them in Adobe Lightroom Classic. The problem is, there doesn't seem to be much detail in the RAW files - at least compared to my Canon R6 - so editing them is a bit like editing a JPEG: a little hit-and-miss. Additionally - and I suppose understandably, since the drone is constantly vibrating as it hovers in the air - the images aren't all that sharp compared to what I'm used to. They're fine for viewing on a screen, but fuzzy - at either the 12MP or 48MP resolution - when zooming in for a look at the details.
- It takes too long to setup/tear down. I was worried about this at the beginning, but it's turned out to be one of the biggest issues I have with the drone. Setup and teardown involve a ton of steps:
- Take drone out of bag
- Remove gimbal cover
- Remove velcro that keeps propellers stowed against the drone when it's in the bag.
- Unfold propeller arms
- Insert battery
- Turn on drone
- Take remote controller out of bag
- Turn on remote controller.
- Screw joysticks onto remote controller.
- Wait for remote controller to boot the DJI Fly app.
This all takes something on the order of 2-3 minutes on each end of the flight. Not a ton of time, but also a lot longer than just getting out of the truck to shoot a photo with the camera.
I'm hoping to solve some of this setup/teardown by getting a foam "holder" created that will keep the assembled drone and controller safely stowed by easily accessible. Then I'll just have to wait for the software to boot before I'm ready to go.
Also, I really dislike forcing anyone travelling with me to wait while I'm setting up/tearing down plus flying around. As such, I've found that I really only use the drone when I'm in camp or when something else is occupying the time of my travelling companions.
- It's too bulky to take hiking. I picked up a larger fanny pack that I thought would allow me to carry the drone on a hike, but it's about 1" too long to close the zipper on the pack. At this point, since I'm mostly a still-photo-guy anyway, I'm not sure if I'll look for another pack or just continue to use the drone when I'm around the Tacoma.
TL;DR - I found a compact, 65W USB A/C charger that can be used for my laptop, camera, drone, flashlight, phone, and just about anything else, and it charges faster than the dedicated chargers for those devices. Fantasticly amazing.
It seems like every electronic device I get needs a different combination of batteries and charger.
- Camera - uses a dedicated battery (of which I have four) that needs either:
- A dedicated 120V charger
- A USB-C carger that outputs 8-9V (rather than the usual 5V) to charge the battery while it is in the camera
- Laptop - internal battery uses a dedicated charger, but at least it has a USB-C connector to the laptop now.
- Laptop Mouse - use AAA batteries, and a 120V battery charger
- Drone - the batteries need a lot of juice (100W recommended), via USB-C
- Flashlight - some internal battery and any power level USB-C
- iPhone (SE 2020) - generally works with any USB cable with a lightning port on the phone end, but more wattage means faster charging.
- Lenovo Tab 8 FHD - generally works with any USB cable with a microUSB on the tablet end, but more wattage means faster charging.
- Kindle Paperwhite - generally works with any USB cable with a microUSB on the tablet end, and always charges slowly.
- Headlamps - use AAA batteries, and a 120V battery charger
- Garmin inReach Mini - generally works with any USB cable with a microUSB on the tablet end, and always charges slowly.
To this point, I've been bringing along four chargers:
- Laptop charger - powered from my silent 175W inverter on the house battery.
- Camera battery charger - powered from my silent 175W inverter on the house battery.
- A combo AA/AAA charger - powered from my silent 175W inverter on the house battery.
- A 30W USB-A charger - installed in the dash and powered from the starting battery.
The new charger I found is a mouthful - it's currently titled TECKNET USB C Charger 65W PD 3.0 GaN Type Foldable Adapter with 3-Port Fast Wall Compatible with iPhone 15 Pro Max/15 Plus/15 Pro/15/14/13, MacBook Pro, iPad Switch, Galaxy S23/S22 on amazon, so as to catch every keyword search in the known universe.
This charger is fantastic. It plugs into my silent 175W inverter on the house battery and fast charges - at a whopping 75W (10W more than the stated 65W) - on the USB-C ports, and up to 30W on the USB-A port. Even when all three ports are in use, I get 55W out of one USB-C, and 20W each out of the other two ports. That means it can charge all my devices except for the AA/AAA batteries, and if I got a charger with USB-C input, it could do those as well.
I like this charger so much that I've bought a second one to use at home.
It gets warm, but not what I would call hot.
There are more powerful chargers out there, but at least for now, this one seems perfect.
TL;DR - with trips to Las Vegas now taking place via plane, it's much harder to bring avocados (compared to packing them securely and driving them from home). Becuase I refuse to eat tacos or burritos without guacamole, I had to find an alternative. Chicken Tender wraps have fit the bill fantastically.
Prior to flying down to Las Vegas, part of my pre-trip preparation was to purchase a bunch of avocados (one per day) at the grocery store, 3-5 days prior to start of the trip. They'd ripen (mostly) at home, and I'd wrap each one in a hand towel before placing them in a cardboard box for protection and final ripening on the trip.
This is - obviously - not possible anymore, and purchasing avocados in Las Vegas is pointless, since most trips are five days long, and they take at least that long to ripen.
Enter chicken tender wraps. I first saw Ben @m3bassman do this on our trip to The Maze District, and it couldn't be simpler:
- Buy one chicken tender per person per meal at the grocery store deli. Place in fridge for safe keeping.
- At dinner time, heat the chicken tender in an aluminum foil pouch for 8 minutes, flipping every 2 minutes to avoid burning the breading.
- Add to a toasted tortilla, with mayo, mustard, and lettuce. Other fillings to taste (tomato, avocado if you have it, etc.) are fine as well.
- Eat. So. Yum.
The best part - which is even better than tacorittoes - is that there's nothing to wash at the end. Just recycle the aluminum foil and you're laughing!
I do miss my avocados, but these always hit the spot.
TL;DR - I'm done with 16" wheels and the limited tire selection they offer. My next set of tires (and therefore wheels) will be 17".
I don't need new tires quite yet, but mine will only last another 6-9 months. Finding skinny 16" tires (255/85/R16) with a hybrid AT/MT tread pattern is nearly impossible, so I'm moving to 17" wheels for more options. I've already got the new wheels - which the ever-helpful Zane picked up for me for a steal - and after some cleaning and several coats of my favorite bronze coating, they are going to be fantastic.
These are 17x7.5" double five-spoke from an early 2000s Sequoia. With 4.5" backspacing, they are perfect for a 1st gen Tacoma.
TL;DR - currently I have 12V LED strip lighting in my tent and it works great. However, I want to update the lighting to use 5v, so I can power it from a (more versatile) USB port, rather than using a 12v receptacle.
One of the things that my newly found perfect charger illuminated for me is that charging my laptop can be done with any USB-C charger; I don't need to use the power brick that came with the laptop. As such, I'd like to update the power box in the bed of the truck - currently equipped with two (2), 12V receptacles - to have a USB charger as one of the form factors. This, however, will mean that one of the 12V receptacles will have to go, and since the fridge needs to keep running in order for me to not die from food poisoning, that means the LED lights in my tent will need to change from 12V to 5V lights.
I don't know any of the details as of yet, but this is a change that's in the works.
Seemingly solved from previous Rig Reviews
- I'm Loving the Truck in Las Vegas
- I Need New Headlights
- The Floor of My Tent Has Holes in It
- LutzAuto Speedo Correction Device
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.
- The Transmission is Leaking
- The Rear Diff is Weeping
- My Suspension Squeaks
- Skid plate attachment could be better