Preparing “La Bête”

After weeks, hours and days of brainstorming we have managed to come up with a name for the 2007 Toyota 4Runner which will be our home for the next 4 months. We settled on “La Bête” (after hours of me fighting for “Betty La Bête”) as it truly is a beast of an SUV. The 4Runner is about as close as you can get to an SUV version of one of my favorite vehicles of all time, the Toyota Hilux. Why is it my favorite? Well I had tons of fun driving them for work in Australia, and then there’s this.

And it still runs

After picking up a 2007 Toyota 4Runner with a respectable 115,000 miles on it we decided to further improve it so we were truly ready for this epic journey. Gathering purely from our research online and from friends we believe the greatest hazards will be the following:

  • Busted suspension from driving over 4000 “topes” (speed bumps) or 1500 dog sized pot holes
  • Getting bogged in muddy/snowy/grungy roads
  • Striking wild animals that decide to play real life frogger
  • Breaking down because the yagoogaly disconnected from the thingamabob.
  • Theft while sleeping in a cozy little hostel
  • Corrupt cops taking our lunch money

So we decided to address each of these as best as we could. First step was mechanical issues and improvements. While the 4Runner already has solid shocks/springs as stock we figured it would be worth the investment to upgrade them for two reasons. 1. Fresh shocks are less likely to blow in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica. 2. Lifting the front just a little bit provides an extra bit of clearance from potholes and topes.

I had Billstein 5100’s installed on the front and back with 1.75″ lift on the front to level out the suspension. These bad boys come highly recommended on the offroading forums on, so I’m hoping they’re a safe bet.

Ooooh, shiny!

On top of that I had a full tune up done on La Bête. Transmission fluid, engine crank oil, differential fluid, engine oil and filter all changed out and checked. Brakes, belts and chassis inspected. And the spark plugs changed out for the hell of it. Lastly, while some spare parts may or may not be easy to come by on different parts of my journey, I figured picking up a few before the trip couldn’t hurt. Our spare part inventory is now:

  • 3 x new oil filters
  • New drive belt
  • New set of spark plugs
  • New engine air filter and cabin air filter
  • New set of brakes
  • Replacement headlight bulbs

This may be a little on the excessive side, but better safe than sorry at this point. I’ll update at the end of the trip to let you know what we ended up using.

Lastly on the mechanical side I needed new tires. La Bête came with some decent all season tires with about 40% wear on them, but I wanted something I knew I could trust. I picked up 5 x Firestone Destination All Terrain tires. A great middle ground between high-way and mud tires to get us out of sticky situations. Don’t forget the 5th one for the spare and to get the white words on the inside to keep it low profile.


Now how about a little collision insurance? While bush guards aren’t going to protect you from a head on collision, they’ll help keep your headlights working if something jumps out in front of you. Not to mention the added insurance from fender benders. We had an Aries Grille Guard put on and it definitely feels solid enough to give us a little added protection.

Look out!


Next were the issues of theft and corrupt cops. It’s no secret that you will have to pay out at least a few kick backs to go on your merry way through certain parts of central/south america, but we wanted to try to minimize that. A 20% tint (to keep it legal everywhere) on the windows hopefully would be enough to mask our gringo faces a little and luckily silver/white are the most innocuous colors you can own. (I’ve heard recommendations against driving blacked out SUVs). Besides that, a fake wallet/purse on hand with just a few dollars in it along with recommendations from others who’ve done the trip before us should be enough to keep us moving. As for the theft issue, luckily it comes with an alarm system, but I wanted to add one more back up system which will have to remain unnamed for now to maintain it’s effectiveness.

Ready for action

The final touch was a small 42″ roof rack on top so we could strap our suitcases to the top in case we pick up any friends along the way. As it stands now, with everything packed up we are going to need the backseats down to fit it all. With the roof rack friends/family are welcome to join us at any point along the road. (Hint hint…)

Now the last step is to pack her up and get her moving. As it stands, I’ve got the basic emergency equipment we’ll need which includes:

  • Bungee cords (for strapping things down)Packing list
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Roadside Tool Kit (with jumper cables)
  • Roadside Kitchen Kit (with salt AND pepper shaker)
  • Recovery Strap (remember recovery straps don’t have hooks!)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Duct tape and zip ties (can fix almost anything with just these)
  • Pots/pans and camp suds
  • 12 V Inverter
  • 10 x Emergency Blankets (lots of uses for these)
  • Cargo Net
  • ArmorAll cleaner wipes (with cleanliness comes godliness)
  • Spare parts
  • 3 x Emergency Roadside Triangles

More to come on the packing list, but we’re off to a good start.


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