The Toyota 4Runner is an extremely capable SUV that is designed to take a beating and be very reliable. However, if you plan on doing any serious off-roading, rock climbing, or overlanding, you better be prepared. Not only are there plenty of expensive components under your 4Runner that can get damaged, but paint and body work is not cheap either. How do we help stop this from happening? Skid plates and body armor! Let’s get into what it takes to protect your Toyota 4Runner from the great outdoors.
What is a skid plate?
Skid plates are panels made of a tough and abrasion-resistance material that are bolted (usually) onto the bottom side of a vehicle to prevent damage from occurring to the underside of a vehicle when it makes contact with the ground.
As the name suggests, the goal is to protect your SUV by not only taking an impact, but allow you to “skid” off your obstacle. Ever looked under a vehicle? There are lots of nooks and crannies for something to get wedged in. That can lead to an expensive mistake. A long flat surface in the form of a skid plate is a much better solution.
Where do skid plates go?
There are a lot of places under your 4Runner you will want to protect. These include the engine and front accessories, transmission, transfer case, fuel tank, and the door sills. Each section has its own skid plate that you can purchase, and some manufacturers offer skid plates that connect together to allow you to keep the whole undercarriage of your SUV protected. Add sliders to the frame under the door sills, and you’ll basically have a tank.
How much do they cost?
Skid plates are not the cheapest things, especially if you start getting some for all different areas. Your average lowest price for one component will be around $350. However, depending on the quality of material, brand, and which part it covers, prices can be well over $700. Keep in mind that while this may seem like a lot, serious off-roaders will tell you that it is far less than the cost of replacement parts and labor to fix damaged parts that you didn’t protect.
Different Types of Skid Plates
Now that you’re an expert on what a skid plate is, where do they actually go? What exactly does it protect? How much of my 4Runner can I protect? These are all valid questions! While these Toyotas are designed to be durable, they shouldn’t have mountains scraping against them, so let’s get into it!
FRONT SKID PLATES
These skid plates mount directly behind your front bumper and offer a front line of protection from whatever you throw your 4Runner into. Generally they make use of your SUV’s existing mounting points, so no extra drilling is required. There are of course expectations to that depending on manufacturer.
Even mild off-roaders can benefit from a front skid plate. These offer a level of armor to parts such as radiators, A/C condensers, oil pans, engine accessories, and more. These are one of the panels that can be easily seen from anyone outside your SUV (even if your 4runner is not lifted), so it’s also a great opportunity to get something that looks good as well to show off that you mean off-roading business! TRD makes one that shows off that logo!
TRANSMISSION SKID PLATES
No one likes transmission issues. They are expensive, and any issue with them will render your 4Runner undrivable. While Toyota does make a very robust transmission, you don’t want to take advantage of that and come crashing down on a bolder. Enter the transmission skid plate.
Designed to secure the transmission from the wild trails, a transmission skid plate will generally also mount up underneath your 4runner with no extra drilling required. While great on their own, they are even better when paired with a front skid plate and transfer case skid plate. Adding all three together will effectively armor the whole front and mid section of your 4Runner in one (almost continuous) go.
TRANSFER CASE SKID PLATES
Your transfer case is designed to provide power as needed to your front and rear wheels. It is an absolute must to keep this crucial part protected during your off-road adventures. Directly behind your transmission (and transmission skid plate, if you get one), this skid plate will mount to existing factory mounting points.
While best to pair with a front and transmission skid plate due to its small size, this plate will ensure a better chance of survival of your transfer case during your next rock climb.
COMPLETE FRONT/MID SKID PLATE
If you don’t want to worry about individual components, there are companies that make one long skid plate that will cover the front, transmission, and transfercase. This is great for a one stop shop solution for covering some of the more expensive parts of your 4Runner.
One of the biggest downsides could actually be its intended solution: taking damage. If you have three separate skid plates, and your transfer case skid plate gets damaged, you can fix or replace that plate. If you have one long one, the whole thing needs to be replaced or fixed. Just something to think about!
FUEL TANK SKID PLATES
Obviously a hole in your fuel tank is bad. Not only do you risk spontaneous combustion, but running out of fuel and potentially being slapped with a fine from the EPA is bad too. While very durable, if you do some serious rock crawling and can afford the extra protection, you might want to look into one of these skid plates. I could go into further detail, but hey… Holes in your gas tank are not good.
SUSPENSION SKID PLATES
While not as common, your suspension could use some love too. These are definitely more specialty products and not something everyone makes or uses, but if you’re around jagged rocks frequently, you don’t want a busted shock. Let’s get into some options.
LOWER CONTROL ARM SKID PLATES
Lower control arms are basically responsible for “holding your front wheels” in place. You can imagine the bad day you could have if you get these hung up on a rock. Thankfully there is a skid plate for that! These are designed to effectively enclose the exposed bottom and sides of your lower control arms to take the brunt of any impacts.
When shopping around, you do want to take note about fitment. Many manufacturers have special notes such as not being able to fit TRD Pro models, or models with a TRD front skid plate. Do your research before you buy!
REAR SHOCK SKID PLATES
While not something you would normally think about protecting, your rear shocks are actually pretty exposed to everything. Protecting them can be a bit of a challenge since they are designed to retract and expand as needed, but there are a few options on the market for the serious off-roader who wants every bit of protection. For the reason above, most opt to protect one of the most crucial impact points: the bottom.
Scrapping and impacts to this part of the shocks are common during off-road use, and not only does this degrade the life of the shock, but it could make them challenging to remove when you go to replace them in the future if they get all bent and banged up. This may not be something to overlook! You can check out our rear shock skid plates here.
Everything listed previously has been designed to protect the drivetrain and suspension, but if the side of your 4Runner slams down on a rock, you can get some serious damage. Not only can your rocker panels be damaged (which will be something everyone can see), if bad enough, you might have a hard time opening or closing your door.
Sliders are designed to bolt to your frame and protect your 4Runner’s body. They might have steps built in to make getting in and out of your SUV easier, but keep in mind that side steps or running boards are NOT rock sliders, but rock sliders CAN have steps. You can find a selection of rock sliders for your Toyota 4Runner right here on Empyre Off-Road!
BRUSH GUARDS AND BULL BARS
While more common in the 80s and 90s, brush guards and bull bars are designed to protect your front end. Depending on the size, they can protect your bumper, grille, headlights, and so on. They bolt to your frame, and extend in front of your bumper. If you hit something or need to push something, they will not only take the damage before your bumper, but will transfer it evenly across the front of your SUV, since it’s attached to your frame.
These are not really “in vogue” anymore these days. However, with plastic bumper covers the norm, it’s worth having them protected. The level of protection depends on what you want. These can be a simple and small bar in front, or a much larger and elaborate setup that covers the grilel and lights too.
Certain brush guards and bull bars allow the ability to mount light bars as well, which increases the utilitarian nature of them. Do not attach a winch to them. They are generally not rated for that kind of stress.
A very expensive option, but very durable if you’re serious about off-roading would be bumpers. Stock bumpers look great but offer no protection while rock crawling. Off-roading bumpers are heavy but designed to take a beating. Depending on the design, you can also have the ability to attach light bars and winches. A heavy-duty steel bumper with light bars and a winch will not only protect your 4Runner, but will increase its off-road capability by a lot! Let’s face it… It also looks cool. Check out the Stealth bumper that we offer on Empyre Off-Road!
Steel or Aluminum
For a lot of these, you have the option of steel or aluminum. Which is better? Which should you get? This all depends on how you are using your SUV. Steel is a very strong metal. It can take a beating and keep on going. If you are doing some serious rock crawling up the side of a mountain, you will want the protection of steel. The downside is that steel is very heavy. Weight affects the performance of your 4Runner: gas mileage, acceleration, braking, balance, and so on.
On the other end, aluminum is very light. The tradeoff is that it’s not as strong. If you’re a weekend warrior who goes on a couple of trails that might have a hill or two, aluminum is the way to go. Weight will still be added to your SUV, but far less than steel. Don’t be shy about protection: aluminum will get most jobs done the same way steel will, but depending on the thickness and how sharp the rock is that your 4Runner just crashed down on, it could be the difference between a scratch, and a full puncture.
Like I’ve said with tires and other modifications countless times before on this blog: know your end goal, and buy accordingly.
Skid plates and body armor for your Toyota 4Runner can be rather subjective and situational. What works for you, might not work for someone else. It’s best to just figure out exactly what type of driving you will be doing and what your budget is. Buy accordingly, and have fun while protecting your ride!
Front Skid Plate - Courtesy of Trail4Runner
Transmission Skid Plate - Courtesy of Roof Top Overland
Transfer Case Skid Plate - Courtesy of Offroad Alliance
Full Front/Mid Skid Plate - Courtesy of Exit Off Road
Gas Tank Skid Plate - Courtesy of Victory 4x4
Lower Control Arm Skid Plate - Courtesy of RCI Off Road
Rear Shocks Skid Plates - Courtesy of Trail4Runner
Rock Sliders - Right here on Empyre Off-Road
Brush Guard - Courtesy of Aries Automotive
Bumper - Right here on Empyre Off-Road