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ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011





Toyota Sienna: Offroad Minivan

It's a 2000 Toyota Sienna CE. Base model, 1st gen, FWD.

Why an old Sienna?
Reliable
Full size spare
Seats come out completely
7.5 ft cargo space!
It was free

Itís a huge box on wheels, and itís amazing to sleep in. 90 inches of cargo space means you arenít cramped at all. Even if youíre stuck inside all day during a thunderstorm, itís not terrible.

This is why I donít drive a 4runner or pickup truck. Those vehicles would be much more capable offroad, but every night Iíd be cramped in the back wishing I was in the minivan. (I'm not a fan of tents.)

As to reliability, in 21 years it has never needed a tow. Stuff has broken, but it has always driven to the mechanic under its own power. It's a good car.

Project Goals

The goal is camping and hunting and exploring National Forests and BLM land. The vehicle is a means to that end, and I expect to destroy it in less than 5 years. That said, I very much want it to die close to home, not out in the wilderness 50 miles from the nearest paved road. So most of my modifications will be focused on survivability, not true offroad capability. Never forget that it is a fwd minivan, and it will never actually be "good" at offroading.

Project Roadmap
Emergency comms and recovery gear
Good offroad tires
Skid plate
Suspension overhaul <-- you are here 3/2021
Front recovery point
Intake snorkle
Rear suspension airbags?
???

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ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Emergency Communications & Vehicle Recovery

I only every offroad alone, which many people say you shouldn't do. But I don't drive out to the wilderness because I want to be around other people. That said, I do try to avoid death. Here's how!

Help, I'm gonna die!
Every time I post about driving around the desert in my minivan, someone brings up The Death Valley Germans. They were a family of German tourists who rented a minivan and took it offroad in Death Valley. They died and their bodies were eaten by wild animals.

To avoid death, I carry a PLB satellite beacon. All you have to do is push the button, and search and rescue people will show up in a few hours or maybe the next day. A strictly one-way SOS device costs about $300 and has no subscription fee.

Add a first aid kit and some water, and congrats, you probably won't die in the desert. Or if you do, it'll be because you died pretty quickly, not slowly over several days from dehydration.

Help, I'm not dying, but can't get home.
I carry a 50W 2m+70cm ham radio and a decent antenna. I've only needed to use it once, to report some other guy I thought might be in trouble. It works great if you know how to use your radio and have a handy list of local repeaters. I did, and I was able to summon the Kern County Sheriff from the middle of the Kiavah Wilderness. Basically you tune around the local repeaters until you find someone, then ask them to call the sheriff for you.

Or if you don't know how your radio works, you tune to an active repeater but nobody can hear you because you didn't set the right frequency shift and PL tone. If you just buy a radio and throw it in your emergency kit without using it, you're pretty much guaranteed to be hosed in a real emergency.

Self-help: Goddamn it, stuck again.
This is where the real money and planning went. I get the minivan stuck on most trips. Usually I have a pretty good idea it's going to happen when going in, but sometimes it comes as a surprise.

My number one recovery tool is my Wyeth-Scott More Power Puller. Unlike a bumper-mounted electric winch, this baby can pull the van in any direction, backwards, sideways, whatever is most helpful in getting unstuck.

It's $400 and 26 lbs of iron, steel, and UHMW synthetic rope. Unlike the $50-100 cable pullers on Amazon, this one won't break when you really need it. I also carry about 50 lbs of shackles, steel carabiners, rings, pulleys, straps, and another 300 ft of 5/16" amsteel blue.

Winching the van out of a ditch by hand is not super easy. You sit on the ground and crank the lever with a full body rowing motion. Each stroke moves the van less than an inch. Usually you only need to move the van a foot or two. But using the winch is never not a pain in the rear end. It does work, though.

Carry a shovel. Hopefully not a bullshit little folding "tactical" shovel, but a real, full-size shovel that you might use if you need to do a lot of digging. I also carry a sledgehammer, pickaxe, axe, chainsaw, and crowbar. When you're traveling in a minivan, you might as well bring a lot of crap with you.

I also carry some knock-off maxtrax traction boards. I've only used them once, but they helped get me out of some sand.

I have a 100W solar panel that can charge the van battery. And I can jumpstart the van off the chainsaw battery in an emergency.

For me, the big unknown is getting stuck somewhere without a convenient tree or rock to anchor to. 300 ft of rope usually gives me a lot of options. I carry some circus tent stakes, too, which could work in sand or soft dirt. I'm not super eager to test them, though.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Good Offroad Tires

The first Sienna upgrade, and probably the most useful, was a set of BFG KO2 LT215/75R15 tires on the OEM steelies.

The tires definitely make a big difference compared to normal minivan street tires. Theyíre not going to turn the Sienna into a 4x4, but I havenít ever regretted having the KO2. They are louder on pavement, but only nominally so against the background noise of a 20 year old minivan.

There are some minor drawbacks. They rub a little at full steering lock. And I bet I canít use snow chains anymore (though I havenít tested it).

Air down to 15 psi and rutted washboard roads become a lot nicer. But don't forget you're still driving a FWD minivan.

kastein
Aug 31, 2011

Moderator at http://www.ridgelineownersclub.com/forums/and soon to be mod of AI. MAKE AI GREAT AGAIN. Motronic for VP.


Ground floor on this one. I wonder if anyone makes a good limited slip or lunchbox locker for your differential? Though that would likely be prohibitively expensive and annoying to install given the expected lifespan of the vehicle.

Coredump
Dec 1, 2002


This thread goan be awesome.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



kastein posted:

I wonder if anyone makes a good limited slip or lunchbox locker for your differential?

No! Stop trying to make the Sienna good offroad. It's already "good enough" and it will never be great.

I think if you want lockers, you should start with a Sequoia. That's probably my upgrade plan when I finally kill the Sienna.

Krakkles
May 5, 2003
WITNESSED




Weld the diff. Iíve heard FWD + welded diff = best off-road minivan.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Skid Plate

The Sienna oil pan is pretty well protected from the factory. It's nestled inside the beefy front subframe which will take most of the hits. And even if you do hit it, it's a steel pan, so it generally just gets dented, not broken. As you can see, my front subframe is well acquainted with the terrain.




Learning from other people's mistakes



I found this dead 2019 Civic on the trail to McIver's Cabin in the Scodie Mountains (southern Sierras). There were sneaker prints heading back towards the highway, which is 15 miles away. In the Mojave desert, in August.

According to the Kern County Sheriff, the guy got a ride and made it out OK, unlike his new lease!

I had been thinking about getting a skid plate for the Sienna for a while. But this scene is what convinced me to actually do it.

Minivan Armor
I called around to many 4x4 fabrication shops, but all were booked for many months, and some were not so interested in working on a Sienna. Apparently the pandemic summer was great for business of you made offroaders.

Califabrication in Sacramento was down with the idea of an offroad Sienna, so I booked an appointment. The problem is they're a couple hours from me, so dropping off the minivan for a couple days would be a huge hassle. So they offered to do the job while-you-wait. They had never worked on a Sienna before, so the plan was to do the design, fabrication, and installation in one marathon day.

I arrived at the shop at 8 AM bearing donuts. It was done by 6:30. Cost $1600.

Humphreys
Jan 26, 2013

We conceived a way to use my mother as a porn mule



Wait, this is front wheel drive or 4 Wheel drive... just gotta get my mindset in order.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



FWD with an open diff, so really it's 1WD.

Humphreys
Jan 26, 2013

We conceived a way to use my mother as a porn mule



ryanrs posted:

FWD with an open diff, so really it's 1WD.

OK this gonna be fun

CAT INTERCEPTOR
Nov 9, 2004

SOOB UWU?!?!

I think the sump guard has the right ideas but it's got a couple of things you need to do before you have a bad day.

1 - the mounting bolts are exposed. What happens is that after enough rocks, scraps and bashes, the heads on the bolts become rounded off and it is only a matter of time before you cant get them off. So a small lip of metal around the bolt head or better recessed needs to be done, 2 rear bolts are perfectly shielded.

2 - A large guard over the cat converter..... I know some might be ???? why I would be concerned but in all honestly even with the speeds and impacts we do in rally, we leave that exposed and build a "ramp" so that the cat slides up and over an obstacle. Eventually that rear guard will have all sorts of crap stuck on it and it will get plant matter which will set up a fire. Also the heat of a cat isn't a good thing in a confined space - mud makes it an even more confined space.

TBH prepping as if it's rally car is the best idea as of course for a stockish road biased car

3mm urethane is about to become your best friend. That or truck mudflaps. That stuff makes for mudflaps and flexible anti gravel armor for your rear suspension / underbody especially for a FWD with will pepper the underside.

Krakkles posted:

Weld the diff. I’ve heard FWD + welded diff = best off-road minivan.

Snapped driveshafts would be my concern on that. To be honest if you cant afford a LSD, shimming the diff tighter works surprsingly well.

Edit : that said this is an awesome start and waiting for more updates

CAT INTERCEPTOR fucked around with this message at 09:32 on Mar 7, 2021

mobby_6kl
Aug 9, 2009

"You are the best poster... do not let anyone say otherwise."


Awesome offroading shitbox! That's basically the idea with the Jizz, but you're actually doing it

Do have a look if there's an LSD option, I was surprised to find someone makes them for the fit and for about $500, which isn't too bad all things considered. The transaxle could be shared with god knows what so they might be pretty easy to get.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



The real issue with the plate mounting is the 1/2" rivnuts securing it to the frame. The plate is 3/16" steel with somewhat oversized mounting holes. The subframe is full of weird curves and poo poo. So when the van flexes or bashes the plate, the rivnuts get chewed up. One has broken and there a couple more that aren't great.

I think I'm going to go back to Califab for some fixes. I want better mounting points for the plates, either better rivnuts, or a weld or something. Or maybe run a giant 4" coupling nut straight through the subframe member and weld it on both sides?

I also need a better front recovery point for my winch. Right now I'm using the factory tie downs, but they are thin sheet metal and I've already smashed them flat a couple times and bent them back. They are not long for this world.

I don't think I need two front recovery points. Just one big one in the middle should be fine.



As for the cat, the skid plate doesn't trap much crap. There isn't actually a path to get there from the front, since it's buttoned up tight at the bumper. Stuff would have to come in from the sides or something. In practice, the most I've found back there is a few pieces of gravel.

The fire danger is a good point, though. I do check it every now and then.

CAT INTERCEPTOR
Nov 9, 2004

SOOB UWU?!?!

I got some ideas that will help witht he mounting to the subframe but it's late and I need bed.

quote:

I don't think I need two front recovery points. Just one big one in the middle should be fine

But I will comment on this - there's nowhere to really support that on a FWD. Stay with the two on the rails as those are the strongest points altho you can look at the actual location to raise them up and remake them in more solid metal. And doing recovery on cars, believe me two is def better!

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



None of my gear is rated for a kinetic recovery, so I'm only thinking of my hand winch. The recovery point(s) would be welded to the front subframe ("engine cradle" in toyota terms). That also carries the front wheels and engine, so it should be pretty sturdy.

But I have zero knowledge of 4x4 fabrication (or minivan fabrication, for that matter) so I'm open to ideas and suggestions before I talk to Califab about the work.


And speaking of fire safety, here's me camping last September near Ruth, CA.

Sep 7 at 6 PM.


9 AM the next morning.


The campsite burned later that day.

Humphreys
Jan 26, 2013

We conceived a way to use my mother as a porn mule



We have GroverHaus, GroverBafrum, GroverTruk and now maybe GroverVan?

cakesmith handyman
Jul 22, 2007

Pip-Pip old chap! Last one in is a rotten egg what what.



Humphreys posted:

We have GroverHaus, GroverBafrum, GroverTruk and now maybe GroverVan?



Realistic goals and willing to ask for advice, nah, doesn't meet the Grover criteria.

Safety Dance
Sep 10, 2007

Five degrees to starboard!


ryanrs posted:


Help, I'm not dying, but can't get home.
I carry a 50W 2m+70cm ham radio and a decent antenna. I've only needed to use it once, to report some other guy I thought might be in trouble. It works great if you know how to use your radio and have a handy list of local repeaters. I did, and I was able to summon the Kern County Sheriff from the middle of the Kiavah Wilderness. Basically you tune around the local repeaters until you find someone, then ask them to call the sheriff for you.

Or if you don't know how your radio works, you tune to an active repeater but nobody can hear you because you didn't set the right frequency shift and PL tone. If you just buy a radio and throw it in your emergency kit without using it, you're pretty much guaranteed to be hosed in a real emergency.


Do you have a ham radio operator's license?

KozmoNaut
Apr 23, 2008

Happiness is a warm
Turbo Plasma Rifle


Is a mild suspension lift something that's in the cards (or even reasonably possible on a Sienna?), or is that something you're planning to go along with the bags in the rear?

Elmnt80
Dec 30, 2012

OH NOOOO!





You might consider a literal anchor as a thing to attach your winch to in sandy conditions.

cursedshitbox
May 20, 2012

Your rear-end wont survive my hammering.





Fun Shoe

ryanrs posted:



I don't think I need two front recovery points. Just one big one in the middle should be fine.





These are intended for shipping purposes, using a snatch strap on em will damage the surrounding structure, a single large recovery point should do fine though multiple will give you an out in case one is inaccessible or in a bad line of pulling.
IMO on the subframe, maaaybe the front bumper beam.

Van owns.

kastein
Aug 31, 2011

Moderator at http://www.ridgelineownersclub.com/forums/and soon to be mod of AI. MAKE AI GREAT AGAIN. Motronic for VP.


ryanrs posted:

No! Stop trying to make the Sienna good offroad. It's already "good enough" and it will never be great.

I think if you want lockers, you should start with a Sequoia. That's probably my upgrade plan when I finally kill the Sienna.

13 years ago, I should have taken this advise, but I bought a series of sub-$2400 (mostly sub-$1000, actually) shitbox Jeeps instead. So lockers it was. I just figured you might be interested in the idea for your van - for example my front auto locker was $180 and bolts into the factory diff carrier in about an hour, though yours is much more inaccessible.

As expected though I see zero difflock or lsd options for your trans, so it's a moot point.

InitialDave
Jun 14, 2007

I Want To Believe.


Do you have a Hi-Lift? And somewhere either end reinforced enough to jack from?

If you get bellied out in ruts, rather than using a winch or digging, you can lift each end one at a time until the wheels are totally clear of the ruts, then drop the car sideways so it lands outside the actual ruts.

This also allows the Hi-Lift to engage in its favourite activity, attempting to clobber the operator.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Safety Dance posted:

Do you have a ham radio operator's license?

Yes, for the last 30 years. I don't use it much, though.


InitialDave posted:

Do you have a Hi-Lift? And somewhere either end reinforced enough to jack from?

I don't think a hi-lift will work with my minivan. It seems like you'd at least need heavy steel bumpers or something to use one. The Sienna is wrapped in plastic bullshit all the way around.

I've been thinking of getting one of those balloon offroad jacks. I haven't done it yet because I'm having a hard time thinking of a situation where they'd be useful. The last time I got a flat offroad, I didn't even notice until I got back to pavement. I don't carry enough spare parts and tools to do major repairs, like replacing a CV axle or steering linkage.


Elmnt80 posted:

You might consider a literal anchor as a thing to attach your winch to in sandy conditions.

I've heard of people burying their spare tire in the sand as an anchor.


KozmoNaut posted:

Is a mild suspension lift something that's in the cards (or even reasonably possible on a Sienna?), or is that something you're planning to go along with the bags in the rear?

I put in 2nd gen Sienna front springs, which gave me 2 inches extra height in the front. The 2nd gen springs have a higher spring rate since that model is heavier. The 2nd gen rear springs won't fit, though. I need to expand my search, as there's probably something out there from a totally different car that will work in the rear.

The bags I'm looking at aren't full suspension airbags. They are balloons that fit inside the OEM rear springs.. The idea was they'd add an inch or two when I'm carrying a lot of firewood or other heavy things. I'm kind of stuck on the hose routing, though. I don't think there is clearance at the top spring mount to run the tube, and if I install the bags upside-down, the tubing will get shredded when I go offroad.


The Sienna OEM ground clearance is at the level where an inch or two makes a big difference, so I'll take it if it's cheap. But I don't think it's worth spending $$$ to take it further. The front springs were "for free" since I was already changing the struts.

Applebees Appetizer
Jan 23, 2006



Get the airlift air bags they are totally worth it. I used them on a Jeep Cherokee and they worked perfect as long as you have a decent air compressor.

Talked my brother into a pair for his Silverado and he loves them, can't beat it for the price.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



I know a lot of Sienna owners use them when towing, because the Sienna has a notoriously soft rear suspension.

I have all the parts, but I've put them on the shelf until I finish my current huge suspension + engine mounts replacement project. Yeah, it would make sense to do the airbags at the same time as the rest of the suspension, but I ran into some hassles and didn't want to delay the whole project.

The van has been on jack stands for over 2 weeks. It's important to get it going again quickly, lest it become one of those car projects that never actually drives anywhere. It's getting an alignment tomorrow, then hopefully my strut boot spacers arrive sometime next week. Gonna try to go on a trip next weekend.

Kesper North
Nov 3, 2011

EMERGENCY POWER TO PARTY

Humphreys posted:

We have GroverHaus, GroverBafrum, GroverTruk and now maybe GroverVan?

Nah. Having known the OP for some years now, there's few people I'd rather be stranded in a desert with. Dude is capable.

Safety Dance
Sep 10, 2007

Five degrees to starboard!


Elmnt80 posted:

You might consider a literal anchor as a thing to attach your winch to in sandy conditions.


ryanrs posted:

I've heard of people burying their spare tire in the sand as an anchor.


I don't think I've seen you mention it, but do you carry Maxtrax or similar recovery boards? I was just watching a video where a guy buried some as a winch anchor.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w6xM7npW0o

Elmnt80
Dec 30, 2012

OH NOOOO!





I meant a literal boat anchor. It would also have a bonus of working in rocky conditions when you can't dig down for a spare tire or whatever else

Safety Dance
Sep 10, 2007

Five degrees to starboard!


I have doubts about a boat anchor's ability to dig in and hold, versus becoming a projectile if there's any elasticity in the winch cable.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Safety Dance posted:

I don't think I've seen you mention it, but do you carry Maxtrax or similar recovery boards? I was just watching a video where a guy buried some as a winch anchor.

Wow, that looks way better than burying your spare! Thank you for the great idea.

I carry a pair of these $95 maxtrax ripoffs. For those unfamiliar with the name brand maxtrax in that video, those 4 plastic boards he had retail for $600. Noooope.

My off-brand traction boards aren't as strong as the maxtrax, but they seem to work ok. I've heard they can get brittle in freezing weather. I can also throw some of my long-handled tools in the hole to reinforce the boards (pickaxe, sledgehammer, pipe, etc).

Elmnt80
Dec 30, 2012

OH NOOOO!





Well at least if it hits you in the face it'll be a quick death?

CAT INTERCEPTOR
Nov 9, 2004

SOOB UWU?!?!

ryanrs posted:

None of my gear is rated for a kinetic recovery, so I'm only thinking of my hand winch. The recovery point(s) would be welded to the front subframe ("engine cradle" in toyota terms). That also carries the front wheels and engine, so it should be pretty sturdy.


Engine cradles are typically not built for recovery stresses, especially on the front -You are more likely to bend and rip metal clean off (hard won experience on that one....)

Do you happen to have anything with the front bumper off the car?

Safety Dance
Sep 10, 2007

Five degrees to starboard!


ryanrs posted:

Wow, that looks way better than burying your spare! Thank you for the great idea.

I carry a pair of these $95 maxtrax ripoffs. For those unfamiliar with the name brand maxtrax in that video, those 4 plastic boards he had retail for $600. Noooope.

My off-brand traction boards aren't as strong as the maxtrax, but they seem to work ok. I've heard they can get brittle in freezing weather. I can also throw some of my long-handled tools in the hole to reinforce the boards (pickaxe, sledgehammer, pipe, etc).

The same guy did a video comparing his maxtrax to ~$100 knockoffs, and came to the conclusion that the maxtrax were a little better, but the knockoffs weren't bad at all. They cracked a little when he used them as a jacking point and that's about it.

Raluek
Nov 3, 2006

WUT.


ryanrs posted:

I put in 2nd gen Sienna front springs, which gave me 2 inches extra height in the front. The 2nd gen springs have a higher spring rate since that model is heavier. The 2nd gen rear springs won't fit, though. I need to expand my search, as there's probably something out there from a totally different car that will work in the rear.

Moog has a pretty handy page for this kind of thing: https://www.moog-suspension-parts.com/universal_coil_springs.asp

you can search by vehicle, find their PN for your stock application, then look at that list to find its dimensions. then you can find something of the same diameter and longer free length, or same free length and higher spring rate, or whatever you want

and if you dont want to buy from moog, you can see what applications that PN crosses to, maybe even grab stuff from the junkyard if it's common

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Safety Dance posted:

The same guy did a video comparing his maxtrax to ~$100 knockoffs, and came to the conclusion that the maxtrax were a little better, but the knockoffs weren't bad at all. They cracked a little when he used them as a jacking point and that's about it.

Yes, that might have been the video that convinced me to buy the knockoffs.

For the cost of 4 maxtrax boards, I could buy a dozen knockoffs, lay them across the ground, keep moving the rear boards to the front, and drive across the desert without ever touching the sand.

InitialDave
Jun 14, 2007

I Want To Believe.


The "generic" traction mats are really just GRP industrial walkway grating cut to size.

ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



Raluek posted:

Moog has a pretty handy page for this kind of thing: https://www.moog-suspension-parts.com/universal_coil_springs.asp

That is excellent, thank you! I don't know how I missed that when finding my front springs (I used moog because they published specs).

I wish they didn't half-rear end the parametric search, though. I need to be able to enter numeric ranges!

e: ugh, their parametric search is using substring matching for the numeric values.

ryanrs fucked around with this message at 22:41 on Mar 7, 2021

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ryanrs
Jul 12, 2011



How do I weigh my minivan? Just front/rear weights would be ok, but all four corners would be cool, too.

Please tell me I need to take it to a high-end race shop. That'd be hilarious.

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