We’ve all seen tons of high end 4runner builds shared online and on social media. It seems as though the aftermarket industry for these rigs is endless. Modifying your 4runner can get expensive fast though. Not everyone has $5,000 to spend on suspension. Heck, some people might have spent less than that on their 4runner itself!
Whether you’re on a tight budget or trying to come up with Christmas gift ideas for your favorite 4runner owner, there are plenty of upgrades you can do without breaking the bank. Here are my top 7 4runner mods for less than $100:
Blackout badges – $6
One of the most common questions I get asked about my 4runner is about the black emblems. People seem to think that I’ve found a top-secret source of black OEM badges for the 4runner but the truth is, I haven’t. I didn’t even do it myself.
The previous owner sprayed all of the OEM emblems on my 4runner with Plasti Dip. Unfortunately, he didn’t do a very good job either. It’s clearly a very thin coat with plenty of missed/worn spots.
Respraying them has been on my to-do list for quite some time but to be honest, I’m leaning more towards scraping it off and going back to the original chrome emblems. If I do end up giving them a fresh coat of Plasti Dip, I’ll make sure to make a video for Youtube.
Blacking out your badges with Plasti Dip is a really cheap and easy thing to do. Tape the surrounding area off to avoid excessive overspray and build up a few thorough coats. Once it dries, you can grab an edge and peel off anything that’s stuck to the paint, leaving the product behind on only the emblems.
The cost of this is really just a can or 2 of Plasti Dip and some painter’s tape if you don’t already have some on hand. If you’re a fan of the blacked-out look, you can buy Plasti Dip here:
Converting interior lights to LED – $20
This is another cheap mod that makes a big difference in the day to day life with your 4runner. Upgrading the factory bulbs to clear white LEDs makes the interior feel much more modern.
One misconception though is that they’re brighter than stock – in my opinion/experience, they don’t make much of a difference there. It’s more about the feel that a change in ambient lighting provides. Some people might disagree with me and insist that white LEDs are brighter. I suppose it comes down to personal preference.
You can typically find a complete set of interior replacement bulbs like this one for cheap. Keep in mind though, that these are low end LEDs from China. They aren’t going to last forever (or even as long as the factory ones).
They’ll probably start to flicker eventually but the good news is that replacing them is easy and inexpensive. In the case of the 4th Gen 4runner, you can swap all of the bulbs out in less than 10 minutes with nothing more than a screwdriver.
LED headlights – $26
Yes, most of the mods on this list are lighting-related. That’s partly because LED technology has become very cheap over the years and partly because most 4runners can really benefit from upgrading the factory lighting.
LED headlight bulbs are efficient and more reliable than low-end HID setups. Much like the interior LEDs, whether they’re actually brighter is up for debate. But changing the color temperature of the headlights once again provides a much more modern appearance.
Be careful when upgrading the headlight bulbs on older model 4runners that don’t have projector headlights. Brighter bulbs can scatter and send light in other directions, potentially bothering other motorists. Personally, I’ve never been flashed by someone with LEDs in my facelifted (OEM projector) 4th Gen. It’s worth doing a bit of research if you have an older model though.
I like to stick with the LED bulbs that don’t have a fan on them. These can be a bit trickier to source compared to other versions but I’ve had a great experience with the longevity of this style. These ones are similar to what I have in my 4runner.
By the way, yes, a proper HID retrofit will perform a lot better than LEDs in factory headlights. But you won’t be doing that for anywhere near $100!
Tow shackle and strap – $70
Let’s take a break from lighting for a minute. Whether you take your 4runner off-road or you drive in bad winter weather, having recovery gear with you is important. It might not be for you (4runners never get stuck, right?) but you might encounter a situation where you need to be a good samaritan for someone else.
If your 4runner has a towing package (and most do), you can easily turn that into a solid recovery point with a D-ring hitch shackle like this one.
Any factory hooks you might find throughout your 4runner can usually be pulled on gently, but are actually intended for strapping the vehicle down when being transported. These can be torn off if they see too much force. The trailer hitch can withstand a much stronger tug, plus it’s easier to reach.
Accompanying a recovery shackle with a good strap is a great idea. The type of strap you need (and how much you’ll need to spend) will depend on how aggressive you think your recoveries are going to be.
Pulling a pickup out of a mud pit is going to require something super strong with closed loops. In contrast, a tow strap with metal hooks will likely be fine for giving a minivan a gentle tug up a slippery hill in the winter.
Leveling kit – $103
This one is on the higher end of the price range depending on whether you go with a 1″ or 2.5″ leveling kit. These are just simple spacers that raise your front end to make it more level with the rear (getting rid of the factory “rake”).
A leveling kit won’t change the way your 4runner rides or handles. This can be either a good or bad thing depending on whether you’re happy with the factory ride quality or not. The biggest benefit to this besides the aesthetics is the ability to run larger tires. Even if you can’t afford them quite yet, at least your 4runner will be ready to fit them when you can.
Raising the front end certainly gives the 4runner a more aggressive look and if you’re struggling with the OEM soccer mom look, it might be just what you need. This kit from Daystar is one of the most popular options for the 4runner.
LED Light bar – $90
It wasn’t very long ago that an LED light bar was a rather expensive modification. Now that they’ve become far more common, the prices have really come down.
It’s very possible to find a decent light bar for under $100. Will it be as good as the name brand lights? Of course not. But it’s an extra light on the front of your rig so it can still be helpful.
The benefit of a cheaper light bar is that you don’t have to be worried about it being damaged or stolen. I would be much more careful about where I park my vehicle with an $800 light bar mounted to it.
I’ve already written an article all about the ins and outs of cheap LED light bars so feel free to check that out.
Hatch work lights – $48
As much as I’d love to take credit for this idea, I actually stole it from the Land Cruiser guys on the IH8mud forums a few years ago. If you spend any amount of time working or camping out of the back of your 4runner, you know that you can never have too much light back there.
The 4th gen 4runners have a dome light that sits fairly far back and lights up the cargo area but it sure would be nice to have some overhead lights that light up the ground, trailer hitch, and anyone standing under the hatch. That’s where these lights come in.
I found these LED marine lights (so they’re weatherproof) from Oznium. They might seem expensive but they are seriously bright – plus they mount nearly flush in the hatch.
I chose to drill holes in the plastic panel and used silicon to hold them in place. I tapped into the harness for my light bars upfront for constant power so they can be turned on without a key in the ignition, and added a switch in the cargo area.
These are really helpful for anything you might be doing at the rear of your 4runner whether it’s loading gear, hooking up a trailer, or having a tailgate party.
As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do to modify your Toyota 4runner even if you’re on a tight budget. You can still personalize it and upgrade it even if you don’t have the money for a fancy lift or big tires yet. These are all fairly easy to install as well so you don’t need to be super experienced in order to conquer a DIY project.
CalebJuly 10, 2021 at 7:26 pm
Awesome posts and videos! I just bought an 06 4Runner Limited V8. I’ve got all weather floor mats for the front and rear but haven’t been able to decide on one for the cargo area. I’ve noticed your Toyota branded rubber cargo liner in a few of your videos but haven’t been able to find anything like it online. Could you give me any details on it? Thanks!
Canadian GearheadJuly 11, 2021 at 12:05 pm
The previous owner of my 4runner must have bought it from the dealership. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re discontinued by now but it’s worth talking to your local parts guy!
LanceJanuary 27, 2021 at 2:47 pm
Great options here, Thanks for sharing!
Did you raise only the front shocks? if I do only the front, will 2.5″ will align with the rear ?
Canadian GearheadJanuary 28, 2021 at 10:15 am
I lifted the front and rear almost equally so it still has a bit of a rake to it. I’d say lifting the front around 2″ or a bit less would leave it level with the OEM rear.