Toyota FJ Cruiser Overland Build on a Budget: Must-Have Mods

  • Model: Toyota FJ-Cruiser
  • Wheels: 31"
  • Category: Overland Build
  • Capability Score: 55/70
  • Build Level: Advanced
  • Mods Budget: $$$
Toyota fj cruiser miniature

As an automotive mechanic who has worked on many Toyota FJ Cruisers over the years, I know firsthand what a capable overlanding platform these rugged SUVs can make with some thoughtful modifications and upgrades. In this article, I’ll share my insights on how to build an FJ Cruiser for overlanding while sticking to a reasonable budget.

⚙️ Technical Details

Model: Toyota FJ Cruiser 2012


Production years: 2006-2014


Approximate prices on the market (Used): $10,00-$17,000


Engine: 4.0L V6 Naturally Aspirated


Drivetrain: Four-Wheel-Drive


Construction: Body On Frame


Traction Enhancement Devices: Rear Locker


Low Range: Yes


Stock wheel size: 265/70R17 – 32″


Offroad Wheel Size: Up to 33″


Build Level: Advanced


Budget: $$$$


Off-road Capability Score: 55/70

How did we get this score?

Choosing the Right FJ Cruiser

When starting an FJ Cruiser overland build, model year selection is key. Based on my experience, 2010 to 2014 are the best years to look for. These model years offer the best combination of features, reliability and aftermarket support. Specifically, here is what I recommend keeping in mind when searching for an FJ Cruiser:

Model Years 2007-2009

  • More affordable purchase price compared to newer models
  • Equipped with Toyota’s reliable and proven 4.0L V6 engine
  • Missing some interior comfort features of later years

Model Years 2010-2014

  • Interior updated with more sound insulation for quieter ride
  • Added conveniences like Bluetooth connectivity, rear backup camera
  • Maintain the core ruggedness and reliability of earlier models

No matter what year you select, be sure to closely inspect maintenance records, accident history, and known problem areas during test drives. An FJ with around 100k miles in good condition should do nicely for a budget overland build. Expect to spend $15,000 to $25,000 based on model year, mileage and condition.

What to Look For When Inspecting an FJ Cruiser

  • Frame damage – Carefully inspect frame welds inside and out for any signs of damage which can compromise integrity
  • Fluid leaks – Look under the engine bay and undercarriage for leaks (oil, coolant, transmission fluid etc.)
  • Suspension and steering components – Ball joints, control arm bushings, tie rods should have minimal play when rocking wheels
  • Engine compression – Do a cold engine compression check of each cylinder to assess engine health

While minor wear items can be addressed cost effectively, it’s best to avoid FJ Cruisers with signs of heavy off-road use, accidents, or engine/transmission issues whenever possible.

Budget-Friendly Off-Road Mods

Once you have a solid FJ Cruiser platform selected, it’s time to outfit it for overland duties while keeping costs reasonable. Based on the many FJ overland builds I have worked on, here are the most important upgrades to consider:

Suspension Lift Kit

One of the first things any prospective overlander asks me about is increasing their FJ’s ground clearance with a lift kit. A 2.5 to 3 inch lift using coil springs combined with shocks tuned for carrying extra weight is ideal. This provides clearance for larger tires while maintaining stability on-road. Expect to spend $800 to $1,500 on parts/labor.

When selecting a lift kit, I recommend brands like Old Man Emu or Icon for their quality components and tuneability. Stay away from cheapest options as poor quality shocks and springs will degrade handling and ride quality.

All-Terrain or Mud Terrain Tires

The right rubber is crucial when venturing far off the beaten path. I typically recommend all-terrain tires for overlanding as they provide a good balance of traction, durability, and on-road comfort. Some excellent all-terrain options include:

  • BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2
  • General Grabber ATX
  • Toyo Open Country AT3

I suggest sizing up to a 17” wheel with 265/70 or 285/70 profile tires to maximize sidewall height. This further improves ground clearance while providing a smoother ride off-road. High quality all-terrain tires sized for a 3″ lifted FJ will run you around $1,200 installed.

More aggressive mud terrain tires are also an option but their voids and stiff sidewalls translate to rougher highway manners. Brands like Nitto Trail Grappler or Toyo Open Country M/T are well regarded.

Armor Protection

Shielding vulnerable components like transfer cases, fuel tanks, and differentials from boulders and debris is crucial when leaving pavement behind. Aftermarket skid plates from companies like CBI Offroad, Ricochet, and ShrockWorks do an excellent job while allowing easy servicing of protected components when needed.

Quality steel skid plates sized for an FJ Cruiser can be purchased and installed for around $1,200 altogether. This is cheaper than replacing damaged driveline parts down the road.

Lift Kit


Body Armor


Roof Rack


Roof Top Tent


Awning


Lights

To ensure proper fit and compatibility, we recommend you verify any selected parts or accessories with a qualified professional or seller prior to ordering.

Overland Upgrades

While a properly set up FJ Cruiser has tremendous off-road talent thanks to its rugged ladder frame chassis, dual range 4WD system, and ample suspension travel, there are still some inherent limitations. Namely, its overall passenger and cargo volume pales in comparison to full-sized SUVs. This demands smart packing and modest comfort expectations on lengthy overland journeys, especially with multiple passengers.

However, there are a few key upgrades and techniques I recommend to help overcome cramped quarters on multi-day trips:

Storage Solutions

Overlanding requires gear, lots of it. Building out storage is key to utilize all available cargo room while keeping items secure, organized and out of the elements.

For the rear, I’m a fan of decked drawer systems which add lockable storage beneath the cargo area. On the roof, racks with attachments like tents, awning mounts and jerry can holders expand utility exponentially. Inside, locking cabinets and drawers maintain security while keeping daily essentials and tools tidy. Well planned storage equals more room for adventure gear.

With some sweat equity and second hand deals, rear deck storage, roof racks, and interior cabinets can likely be pieced together for under $2,000. Just be sure to strengthen the roof and mounting points when attaching heavy static loads like rooftop tents.

Sleeping Platform & Tent

Trying to sleep two adults in an FJ is tough. But adding a two person rooftop tent with an annex room to store gear transforms the parking spot into a comfortable mobile basecamp. Quality hard shell RTTs start around $2,500 but are a worthwhile investment for good rest. Make sure to get a tent specifically designed to work with your selected roof rack.

Portable Power

Modern overlanding requires electricity to keep cameras, laptops, fridge/freezers and other gear charged up. Mounting dual 100ah batteries with a solar panel setup provides versatile silent power perfect for wilderness. Expect around $1,000 to install components properly. A portable lithium battery pack like Goal Zero or Jackery are other options.

Storage Jugs & Carriers

One thing an FJ has is ample exterior space for fuel and water jugs. Aftermarket rear tire carriers with jerry can holders are excellent for carrying extra diesel and water. Couple this with locking storage boxes for food, tools, and recovery gear mounted on the rear door. Now the cargo area can be maximized for sleeping and other interior accessories.

While snug for extended journeys, an FJ Cruiser built specifically for overlanding can certainly deliver an enjoyable, go-anywhere experience for solo travelers or couples. Pick the right upgrades to stack storage, sleeping, and power generation in creative ways.

Example of the FJ-Cruiser Overland Build

To give a concrete example of an FJ Overland build, let me highlight a 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser that I featured a while back. Julianna planned to embark on an extended overlanding trip across the Western United States down to Baja, Mexico.

She was looking to enhance his stock 2012 FJ with a targeted set of upgrades to improve its off-road travel capability and gear hauling capacity. Here is an overview of the build:

Suspension: Old Man Emu “Light” lift kit – 2.5 inch lift front and rear paired with heavy duty shocks keeps the center of gravity low while allowing room for 31″ tires.

See Also
Black Lifted Toyota FJ Cruiser Off Road build With Long Travel Pre Runner Suspension

Wheels & Tires: Retained factory 17″ wheels wrapped in new 31″ BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires. The aggressive tread and sidewall fortification is ideal for rugged trails.

Protection: Tubular steel Trailwork front bumper improves approach angle and protects vital cooling equipment while holding a 12,000 lb winch and LED light bar.

Lighting: Rigid Industries LED pods mounted to the A-pillars expand visibility on night drives. ExtremeLED light bar mounted rigidly within the front bumper supplements lighting.

Recovery Gear: Attached a swing out rear tire carrier holding traction boards from Tred for self recovery and filling in ruts/holes. A rear mounted 4′ ARB awning provides shade for tent camping anywhere.

Communications: Midland CB radio with whip antenna allows communicating with other vehicles while on remote trails and accessing weather updates. Also installed external PA speaker for amplified communications.

As this example demonstrates, an FJ Cruiser can be transformed into a highly capable overland vehicle while retaining street drivability – all on a reasonable budget.

What inspired you and why did you choose this model for your project?

Actually very long story but I’ll make it short, In the beginning, I had no idea what type of vehicle I was getting into. When I started hanging out with a bunch of other people who owned FJ cruisers I realized how large of a community this was and I started researching things. As you can see I’m very slowly starting to build-up my rig now.

Julianna

How we test?

Offroadium Verdict & Score Explained

We have created our own rating and classification system to differentiate and evaluate the off-road capabilities of vehicles showcased on Offroadium. Based on it, we can conclude the following:

Off-road Capability Score: 55/70

With its body-on-frame construction (5 Points), 4WD drivetrain, rear locker(10 points), and low range transfer case(10 Points), the Toyota FJ Cruiser already has strong off-road credentials before modifications. The 2.5″ lift kit, and aggressive 33″ All terrain tires (25 Points together) along with the steel body armor (5 points) further optimize it for traversing rugged trails.

The total score of 55 out of 70 possible points reflects these meaningful upgrades that transform the FJ into a highly capable off-road rig. While not a rock crawler or dedicated prerunner, it strikes an ideal balance for recreational trail driving, light overlanding trips, and advanced off-road use.

Complexity Level: Middle Off-Roader

The coilovers, upper and lower control arms, reservoir shocks, and wheel/tire package exemplify the “middle” level of modifications. Quality components were selected to improve ground clearance and traction over stock equipment.

Budget: $$

Considering the Lift kit, tires, off-road bumpers and some other upgrades, the cost of these parts combined with professional installation likely amount to over $3,000 in upgrades. We estimate this build falls into the “$$” category for modification spend.

While not the most advanced FJ Cruiser we featured, the meaningful upgrades make this a well-rounded, highly capable trail rig perfect for Tom’s needs.

Author’s Opinion

Having worked on a good dozen of FJ Cruisers over my career, I can confidently say it’s one of the most capable and enduring off-road platforms available. The sturdy ladder frame, four-wheel-drive, and available locking rear differential give drivers tremendous control when traversing rough terrain.

However, through repairing and upgrading customer vehicles, I have noticed a few common problems over the years:

  • Pretty bad vision because of the windshield design (There are plenty of blind spots)
  • Pretty bad gas mileage
  • Knocks in the steering wheel
  • Freedom top leaking
  • Rattling and clunking doors when you go over rough sections of road
  • Frame rust may appear on older beaters

Overall it’s a reliable, durable vehicle that’s built for adventure. But before installing any off-road modifications, make sure to stay on top of routine maintenance and address any mechanical issues. Refer to the factory service manual if tackling repairs yourself. Proper care is crucial to keeping your FJ running strong on and off the beaten path.

Pros

  • Extremely capable off-road right from the factory
  • Iconic, head-turning retro design stands out from other SUVs

Cons

  • Poor visibility and blindspots due to the distinct windshield and window shapes
  • Below average fuel economy compared to other midsize SUVs

The owner of this lifted FJ Cruiser is Julianna and she is an avid off-roader and adventurer. Even though this is her first 4×4 vehicle, all of the parts and upgrades were properly selected and put together to improve the off-road capabilities of her vehicle and make it more convenient for outdoor travels and the overland lifestyle.

If you would like to find out more about this awesome lifted FJ Cruiser and check real-time updates on this rig follow Julianna on Instagram. Follow us on social media and stay tuned for more features like this!

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