Let me start by saying this is a long and drawn out project. It started
a few years earlier when I did a 1" body lift to help with tire
clearance. The lift helped a bit with the tire rubbing problems, but
didn't solve it. One of the "advantages" of a body lift over
a suspension lift is that it has a lesser impact on the vehicles center
of gravity (COG), as only the relatively light body is raised while the
heavier drivetrain and frame stay put. So, anyway, I was happily
running a 1" body lift, cured the tire fitment with other
techniques and then I go on a run with Drew Persson and get a good
look at his IFS 4Runner. Something looked odd, there is nothing visible
below the frame rails, no gas tank no transfer case, and no
crossmember. Turns out, he has a 3" body lift and a 3"
drivetrain lift, which neatly tucks everything up between the frame
While a body/drivetrain lift does impact COG to a greater degree than a
body lift alone, it is not quite as bad as a full suspension lift,
since the frame, springs and axles stay the same. The basic idea is to
lift up all the low hanging items like the oil pan, transfer case and
gas tank, and leave the rest of it alone. I'm fairly happy with my
suspension as is and just want to get rid of the things that cause my
truck to get hung up on the trail.
So, that started the gears turning and about a year later the plan had
started to come together. It took one other event to get it going,
though. A few years ago, I had a dual transfer case installed. With the
1" body lift, it fit fairly well, although I did have some trouble
with the output flange of the transfer case getting somewhat close to
the rear heater hoses. I did a 1" rear heater lift to relocate the
hoses up higher to fix this. Anyway, the dual case setup was great off
road, but on-road, my rear driveshaft was not happy. After repeated
efforts to balance and align it properly, I came to the realization
that a double cardan (i.e. CV) style shaft was the real solution to the
vibration problems. A shaft was built, installed and vibrations were
history, at least for a while. A little investigation revealed the CV
head was very close to the "horsecollar" crossmember that
supports the gas tank. Not only was it real close, in fact it would hit
it under load as evidenced by the scrape marks on the CV and the
crossmember. Not only that, but when it hit, one of the grease fittings
was scraped off the CV, allowing the grease to fly out and rapidly
wearing the bearing out (causing the driveshaft vibration to return).
The combination of the dual transfer case moving the output flange
6.5" back and the longer CV joint head effectively pushing it back
even farther, the only option was to add some clearance up front (as
well as installing low profile grease fittings in the CV after getting
it rebuilt). So, it was time to start cutting...
Actually, there are several areas that need to be addressed in a
drivetrain lift. There are three connections between the drivetrain and
frame that must be modified, namely;
Then there is the infamous horsecollar crossmember, so called for its
resemblance to the old horsecollars used to pull wagons. Then finally,
there is the rear support of the gas tank which must be modified since
the front of the gas tank hangs from the horsecollar.
My drivetrain lift had to take into account a number of factors. I
already had a 1" body lift and had
"things" set up for that. The radiator had been dropped
1", the transfer case shift levers had been raised 1" with
custom short throw
shift linkages and I was also wanting to increase clearance between
the transfer case and rear driveshaft, so I opted for a custom 3" body lift of my
own design, and a 2" drivetrain lift. This would essentially
leave me at the same body-drivetrain spacing I had before and give me
an extra inch or so at the rear driveshaft. Since 3" is about the
maximum body lift you can safely do, that set the upper bounds of the
lift. I worked my way down from there.
The Toyota 4-cyl. motor mounts have approx. a 4" x 4" square
base plate angled at 35° to vertical and two bolts holding the
mount to the frame. Luckily, I had a spare motor mount in my parts box
which made the design much easier than trying to take measurements on
I cut 2 pair of plates out of 3/16" flat stock, beveled the
corners and then used 2-1/2" square 1/8" wall tubing, cut on
a bevel to make the spacer. The ~55° cut in my 4x6" HF
bandsaw required some gymnastics and trimming of the saw to gain
clearance for the square tubing to fit, but the results were excellent.
Note, study up on your trig. before attempting to do this at home.
Laying out the cuts and dimensions for a 2" lift take some work. If anyone is interested I can
build you a set of spacers like I used. I use a spare motor mount
as a template for the base plates and weld in a section of square
tubing cut at the same angle, so they fit perfectly. 1.5" is about
as short as this design could be used. It should be possible to make a
1" spacer out of solid stock with threaded holes for the mounting
bolts. With this little lift, there would be no need to raise the
In the above left photo, you can see the factory motor mount and engine
bracket bolted to the spacer. Even though I designed it and I know it
is correct, it sure as heck doesn't look right to me, but on the right,
you can see the photo of the spacer installed and it does indeed lift
the engine up exactly 2" from stock. I still have to re-install my
motor mount retaining chains, the old ones are too short. The chains
attach to the bolt visible just below the ground strap in the
above-right picture, and they wrap around the top of the motor mount.
Making the spacers was the easy part of this step of the project. When
I went to install them, I jacked up the engine, attached the spacers
and then lowered the engine and found the holes were off my nearly an
inch. For some strange reason, my engine engine/transmission unit was
about 1" too far back. I lifted the transfer case up to clear the
mount from the crossmember, then used a come-a-long to winch the whole
thing forward in the frame. Once it popped loose, all the bolt holes
lined up, bolts were installed and torqued and the engine lift was done.
So, the next obstacle to take care of is the horsecollar crossmember.
First the gas tank must be drained and removed. In the 4Runner, you can
access the fuel pump and filler hoses through the hatch under the rear
seat. Remove the 6 bolts that hold the skid plate then 6 more that hold
the tank and drop it down. The first time I did this job, I used a
floor jack to lower the tank, but it is not very heavy and I found that
laying on a creeper under the tank, I could easily lower and raise it
my hand a whole lot faster.
With the tank out of the way, you can see the back side of the
crossmember (above left). Notice the bracket where the 4Runner gas tank
installs to (the one with the bolts and welded on nuts). 2" above
it is the unused bracket where the pickup gas tank would normally
On the above-right picture, I've cut the crossmember out of the way. I
used a plasma cutter to do this job, it made a nice clean cut on all 4
sides, leaving approx. 1/4" of the original crossmember attached
to the frame. Since I wanted to avoid unnecessary welding on the frame,
I fashioned a piece of 1/4" steel plate to fit inside the old
crossmember attachment point, then welded it to the remnants of the
crossmember flanges. Finally 4 mounting bolt holes were drilled and
tapped into the plate and frame behind to serve as attachments for the
On the crossmember, I trimmed approx. 3/16" off each end to allow
for the extended mounting plates. I welded the plates to the
crossmember, then added a total of three gussets (only one installed
above). If you look at the middle of the horsecollar, you can probably
see the bright shiny spot where my CV joint was rubbing. I had to
temporarily cut off one of the catalytic convertor hangers to fit the
crossmember in my horizontal bandsaw for the cut. I later re-welded it
in place. I used 4 7/16" Grade 8 bolts to attach each side of the
crossmember to the frame. The holes were tapped through both the
1/4" plate and the frame metal.
I had to fabricate extensions for the brake and gas line clamps to get
them up and over the now 3" higher crossmember. I re-routed the
emergency brake cable to fit below the gas tank and also had to
re-route my 1/0 battery cables from my dual battery tray, that sits
behind this crossmember, next to the gas tank...
The gas tank, as mentioned before, attaches in front to the now lifted
crossmember, and in back to a metal bracket attached to the round tube
crossmember over the axle. You can just see the stock rear bracket
behind the fuel pump in the below-left picture. Also visible is the red
frame of my dual battery tray. The plasma cutter made quick work of
slicing off the angled flange which was then modified slightly and
welded up about 3" higher on the bracket, visible in the image to
the lower right. I did have to slice off the excess metal below the
mounting flange before installing the tank. Note, if only raising the
tank 2" (on a 1st gen 4Runner) simply remove the 2" drop
spacer from the front crossmember and use it in back to raise the
mounting bracket 2". On a pickup or for more than 2" of lift,
you'll need to do some more work.
After reinstalling the tank, the results are quite dramatic. Both
pictures below were taken without the skid plate installed.
Notice the heavy battery cables in the above-left picture that I had to
re-route around the gas tank, since the 1" gap that I had used
before is now gone. Also, not as apparent in the above-right picture,
is that the catalytic converter and the entire exhaust now is up inside
the frame rails. This is a "free" benefit of the drivetrain
lift. One point to note is that since I raised the engine (and
therefore the exhaust header) 2" and I raised the horsecollar (and
thus the catalytic convertor) 3", there is a bit of a mismatch in
heights. Luckily, I used flex tubing in my custom exhaust installation
and it accommodated the difference easily. I plan to ultimately have a
hard exhaust pipe run once I'm done with all the mods. This is about
the 3rd time stuff has been moved around since I installed it a year
NOTE: This technique will not work on the 2nd generation (1990 and
later) 4Runners, at least those equipped with the stock coil spring
suspension, as various suspension brackets are in the way. Here's a
web page that describes a different type of gas tank lift for the
This is the last step of the project and probably the most involved
step of this project. The stock Toyota crossmember is very poorly
designed with respect to off-roading. It is both overly thick,
decreasing ground clearance and is made out of thin sheet metal,
susceptible to damage. Also, the factory supplied a flimsy piece of
sheet metal to "protect" the 4WD section of the transfer
case. On mine after it had been bent a few times, I removed it. With
dual transfer cases, I wanted a crossmember that both supported and
protected both transfer cases. I already had a spare transfer case
mount and what better place to carry a spare than attached directly to
the 2nd transfer case. In stock form, the cross member hangs nearly
6" below the frame rails. It is 2.4" thick and the transfer
case mount itself is 3.5" below the frame.
In many respects, the drivetrain lift simplifies the design of the
crossmember. Since it has less height difference to accommodate, the
angles are less and with two attachment points, the strength can be
increased. I started out working off a piece of steel channel to serve
as the central support for my crossmember design. After fiddling with
this for a while, I had some ideas but was not real happy with any of
them. Also, I was not quite sure my existing transfer case location was
correct either, it seemed to be offset to the passenger side too much,
so I happened upon a neat crossmember design made by Front Range
Off-Road in Colorado:
Looks like this product would solve my sloppy tranny mount
problem, raise the crossmember and provide an effective skid plate in
one ready-made package. The installation went very smoothly.
I had the transfer case raised up 2" off the stock crossmember
I simply bolted the new crossmember to the output section of the
transfer case (using the longer bolts supplied in the kit). I drained
the old gear oil prior to pulling the bolts and removed the rear
driveshaft and parking brake cable for easier access. I found the
crossmember just cleared my exhaust pipe which had been raised 3"
(compared to the 2" higher crossmember location).
Then, I attached the rubber bushings and bracket to the ends of the
crossmember and tack welded the brackets in place. Then, after removing
the rubber bushings, I finished by running a bead all around the
brackets, let them cool, gave them a few shots of paint and then
re-assembled the bushings.
At that point, I was able to remove the stock crossmember and bolt up
the skid plate to the old tranny mount holes. I did have a bit of
trouble getting the holes to line up, so I ended up drilling the skid
plate holes out to about 9/16" or so to get enough play to get it
bolted up. Apparently, there is a fair amount of variation in hole
spacing. FROF is planning to modify the design a bit to accommodate
this problem. From the before and after pictures, you may be able to
see I had 14.5" of clearance (tape measure case is 3.25") and
after I had an even 20", or a gain of 5.5". Actually, the
lowest point is now the front output section, which is about 2"
below the main part of the skid plate (see below). It is 2" higher
than it was before owing to my 2" drivetrain lift and more
importantly, it has a nice thick chunk of steel below it for protection!
Wow, that is a slick looking underside! Gas tank
skidplate is 1" below the frame, transfer case skidplate maybe
2" below. Only things that hang down are the front and rear
drivelines and the axles (note to self: "Keep an eye out for some
Unimog portal axles" :-)
I did get a chance to try this out off-road. I joined a small group to
run the Fordyce Creek trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains of
California (home of the famous Sierra Trek). Was the first time I
didn't have to worry about dragging my belly. The other two rigs in the
group were short wheel base Jeep CJs, so I simply followed their lines,
ignoring my 20" longer wheel base. I didn't get hung up
underneath, although the next day, I did see some nice deep scratches
in the heavy black powder coat finish on the skid plate. I guess you
can never have enough clearance underneath, but as long as you can
slide over the obstacle without getting hung up, maybe that doesn't
The other benefit of this setup is that it is much more rigid than the
stock tranny mount. I used to get enough play in my shifter levers to
whack an unsuspecting passenger in the knee. I even tried putting two
stock tranny mounts on my dual transfer cases (no noticeable
difference). Now, I get at most 1/4" of play and now it is more a
front to back motion vs. side to side. The more rigid drivetrain seems
to reduce wheel hop as well.
So, if you raise the drivetrain 2", do you have to worry about
your drive shafts? If you run a CV rear shaft, definitely yes, I had to
change my rear shims from 5° to 8° to get the bottom u-joint
back into the desirable 1°-2° range. Luckily, I was able to
do the measurements
and make the shims myself.
OK, so while not part of the drivetrain, but what's the point of
lifting everything else only to get hung up on the front or rear bumper
or your nerf bars? The whole idea of this project was to lift all the
low hanging stuff up as high as possible (good for clearance, bad for
COG) while leaving all the stuff that didn't need lifting alone (good
for COG). So anything that hung down or stuck out was fair game.
Some folks get clearance by sticking tall and often stiff springs under
their truck. While this gains clearance, it lifts everything up. I was
happy with my springs, they run nearly flat and have loads of droop.
But, being flat, things that hang below the frame are too low. Not
wanting to change the springs, I opted to lift the things that needed
The bumper was already there, I liked it and saw no reasons not to keep
it. When I originally mounted it,
I tried to make use of factory mounting holes so the bumper ended up
attached directly to the front frame crossmember. Excellent for
strength, but cut into my approach angle somewhat. When I dropped my
front spring hangers, I designed the spring hanger bracket to
also support my bumper and vice versa. So, once the additional 2"
of body lift was on (3" now, 1" before) I was free to lift
It took me about a day to do this project, including the 2" spacer
blocks to lift the bumper up and also provide a mounting point for my
tow hooks (they used to be up on top of the bumper). The blocks are
made of 2x6" - 3/16" wall steel with top and bottom plates of
3/16" flat bar, holes are sleeved with steel tubing for 1/2"
grade 5 bolts. The tow hooks mount to welded in nuts and the blocks are
also welded to the frame extensions that also are part of the spring
hanger bracket mounts. This is made of 3/8" x 2" steel bar,
bolted and welded to the frame. Luckily, there were factory bumper
mounting holes 2" above the ones I used for securing the rear of
the winch tray, so I re-used my old bracket in the higher holes. This
bracket is 2x2 angle with two bolts into the frame and then it is
captured by two of the vertical mounting bolts that go through the
spacers, above. This bracket helps constrain the bumper from tilting
downwards. To resist winch pulling forces, I used a pair of 3/4"
grade 5 bolts that pass through sleeves in the front body mount
brackets and through the spring hanger bracket and finally the bumper.
This was all the support I had before, but to tie it all together even
better, I added a pair of bolts that connect the rear of the bumper to
the sides of the spring hanger bracket extensions that I added for this
very purpose. This way the strength of the bumper adds to the spring
hanger bracket and the frame, hopefully avoiding the common frame
stress cracking in this area.
The new tow hook location should be stronger as well, since they are
pulling straight off the centerline of the frame rather than approx.
5" higher. I now have 28" of clearance under the front bumper
w/ 33's and only 26" back to the axle center, so I've broken the
45° approach angle barrier. A set of 35's will net me another
inch. Overall, I'm really happy with the way this bit of the project
worked out. Cost was about $10 for materials, and when added to the
spring hanger bracket, I netted 4.5" (2+2.5) of front end
clearance and improved my approach angle from 41° to 47°.
Still not in the Tough Truck class, but better than it was.
My old bumper was very heavy duty, but with the 3x5" tubing, it
was too tall for my needs (5" was vertical) and the tire carrier
design required the bumper be placed too far back for good departure
angle. So, part of the plan was to build a new bumper after installing
the 3" body lift to replace the old one.
The key design goals for the new bumper were to maximize departure
angle, provide adequate rear end body protection and to support a swing
out tire carrier rack. I chose to use 2-1/2" - 1/4" wall
square tubing for the majority of the bumper. The small size ensures
adequate clearance, it works well to allow 2" receivers to be
used, and the 1/4" wall thickness should stand up to extreme
abuse. To facilitate attaching to the stock rear bumper attachment
points, I designed a two-piece bracket, one piece that slips into the
ends of the frame then the other piece that is attached to the bumper
itself that bolts up to the flange on the frame bracket.
In the above-left picture, you can see the tow piece bracket installed,
and to test it, I slip a HiLift jack into the receiver end and can lift
the rear tire off the ground. I measured approx 0.20" of flex in
the bracket when doing this test. In the above-right picture, you can
see the center section of the bumper assembly, including the center
hitch receiver. The two receivers on the ends come straight off the
frame and are the strongest points for attaching tow straps, winches or
using a jack on.
Plans for completing this bumper include extending the ends out to the
corner of the body where they will join up to a section of tubing
attached to the frame behind the rear wheel well, which in turn will
support a "cage" made of 2x2 and 1x1 square tubing that will
protect the rear quarter panel and also provide the pivot and latch
points for the full width tire carrier rack.
My old nerf bars were very nice. The way they were designed, they
required being mounted in contact with the bottom body seam. With the
3" body lift, the mounting brackets on the bars would have left
them 2" shy of the seam. Rather than hack them up (they are nicely
powder coated) I sold them and designed new bars using the same basic
design but adapted for the new body lift. I made the design flexible to
accommodate body lifts from 0-3" so I hope that others can use
these bars on their trucks.
This project meets the criteria for my "Cheap Tricks"
section, it was fairly cheap (unless you add the cost of the way-cool
plasma cutter) and it was definitely tricky :-). So what does a 2"
drivetrain lift buy you? Take a look at the photo below:
I didn't get a shot of the before state, but have a look under an
1st-gen 4Runner and compare. FYI: The nerf bars are 2" square
tube. You can see that the gas tank skid plate hangs down about 1"
below the frame and the transfer case skid plate perhaps 2" at its
lowest point. BTW: I did manage to scrape the skid plate, so this is
not a cure-all for clearance by any means. However, I would like to
point out that I never was aware of scraping the skid plate, I never
got hung up or high centered like I used to on the stock crossmember.
Scraping things meant to be scraped is fine by me (bumpers, nerf bars,
skid plates, etc.) but scraping things not designed for that abuse or
getting hung up on stuff is not.
[Last updated: 03.November.2018]