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How capable is the 4x4 Sunrader?

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13 minutes ago, thewanderlustking said:

1)  I want, perhaps even "need" a shorty 18' 4x4 Sunrader.  I greatly enjoy camping in out of the way spots, so an overlander type setup, but OG Sunrader style, would be awesome.


Ironically right after I wrote that in my other thread, the woman calls me into the other room and declares that she "needs" a vehicle with a snorkel.  Now after seeing her white knuckled as I drove through yesterdays disaster zone left by Hurricane Ian, I translated this into she wanted me to have said vehicle.  So I told her that 4x4 Sunraders all have snorkels -=cough=- and was told I could get one.  Lets see how that holds up in the morning hahahaha!  Timing was perfect though and I went off on a tangent in that thread before I edited it all out. 


Bound For Nowhere's horrible experience with theirs though makes me ask, how truly capable is the Sunrader 4x4?  I mean it is based on one of the most legendary 4x4 platforms out there, so what went wrong with theirs?  I really want to rewatch that whole series with this in mind.  I think I could even put it up on the bigscreen and get her to sit down and enjoy it.  But yeah that is bit difficult right now.  My internet is down for who knows how long, and tethering to my phone is pretty slow.      


I don't expect this to be a crawler, but not being afraid to take it down a forest road, or drive it through flooded out roads would be awesome. 


I came into this whole ToyHome ownership thinking I wanted a Dolphin.  I had fallen for them after working on one of the older foolie versions years ago.  I looked and looked but never found one at an affordable price, or close enough to get to it.  My Mini Cruiser came up and met the affordable and nearby criteria, and I really liked the layout.  (Although now I realize how much better most of the Dolphin layouts are...)  Anyways, as I have leaned more about Toyota trucks and also the ToyHomes, I have been drawn to the Sunrader.  So much easier to get structurally sound...   


I LOVE my Mini Cruiser, but I would seriously contemplate letting it go if it got me close enough to make the stretch to a Sunrader.  Sadly, I am pretty sure that won't ever happen...  Perhaps a 2wd one, but the 4wd ones are stupid prices.  These seem hard to find cheaply in either configuration.  The conversion from 2wd to 4wd I could do.  But I would want one with a nice interior cause that would stretch the budget thin...   


Anyways while this is a dreaming of kicking the tires thread... getting an 80's/90's era 4x4 Toyota of some sort is in the cards.  I could even afford one now if I sold the Porsche.      


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Their horrible experience amounted to one thing. Lug nuts not torqued down and their wheel fell off. They did a ton of work on the Sunrader interior and exterior but they did none of the mechanical work. All the 4x4 Sunraders came with a semi float axle and fake duallies. They used the full float upgrade from Front Range Offroad to upgrade their axle and that involves having single wheels in the back. Very dependable and strong but when that hub hit the highway it damaged some of the work done to upgrade it. I don't know how much had to be replaced but it apparently scared them. Don't know. They also commented about lack of power which I don't understand because they previously had a Volkswagen van. Not known for power. 

Linda S

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They were commenting also about how unsafe the steering felt driving it down forest roads.  I seem to remember this in a video of the newer Taco they got.  I would have to go looking for it, but I suspected when I watched it that either they had scared themselves silly and just pshyched themselves out, or something more basic wasn't properly done.  Alignment, shocks, whatever.  


I also suspect it was MASSIVELY overweight, potentially top heavy.  When I tore out the cupboards in my Mini Cruiser, I thought how chintzy they were built.  Light frame with hollow shelves with particle board panel skins.  Looking around, I saw everything else was built this same way.  The settee is framed out like this also, with the open spans taken up with paneling.  The more I looked around I realized while materials cost was likely a factor, the labor added to building one would have gone way up.  It wasn't done this way to be cheap, but to be built LIGHT.  Most builds I see out there are made with nice heavy and durable cabinetry.  


And as cool as their mods all were, they loaded it WAY up.  I would have to watch again for specifics...  But a thought I had to get the heavy weight down low would be to use bare minimum required for the battery bank, and then put it underneath the floor in a custom frame/box/mount between the chassis frames.               

Plus with them not doing the mechanical work, who knows how well the engine was dialed in...  


I felt they were so so close to perfection, that a version 1.1 could have solved their issues.  But this was a think-tank exercise, and not a critique of their build.  


I spent a couple hours looking around last night and the advertised/sold prices for 4x4 Sunraders put them WAY out of my reach.  I didn't try looking for 2wd ones though.  But as cool as the Sunraders are all around, I am not horribly interested in having a short 18' 2wd version.  The whole appeal to me is the 4wd overlanding ability.  And by the prices they command, I know I am not the only one who feels this way and suspect they are pretty capable.  And there are a lot of builds out there converting the 2wd Sunraders to 4wd...   


Well it is probably just a daydream lol.  The 4wd are out of reach and the 2wd ones I suspect aren't too cheap either.  The conversion parts aren't cheap, and it is a significant amount of work.  Although my boss would probably get a big kick out of helping with something like this.           


Linda, is one of yours a 4wd version???    

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Their Sunrader was much lighter after the remodel. No bathroom or black tank or top cabinets. 

As far as steering on forest service roads, I'm pretty sure their rear sway bar was missing and they didn't replace the rear springs. Don't want to go through the whole build again but I remember seeing many things I was shocked that they didn't ask us for advice. 

I have a 2wd Sunrader but I spent the first 10 years of owning it hitting every forest service road in northern Cal. The Sierra Nevada mountains are big. One lane roads with a cliff on one side. I never even thought about my steering because it was spot on. 

I asked my son-in-law if he would convert my Sunrader to 4x4. He said $5000 minimum for parts. 

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4wd is over rated. Unless you thinking of rock crawling and that's not a good plan. A Rader with duals will go just about anywhere. The big problem is ground clearance.

15" wheels and a 205 tire will gain 1" you can find another inch with springs, air bags and adjusting the torsion bars.

A Sunrader is top light without AC compared to other rigs.

I've run many miles on BLM, forest service and logging roads. High centering was seldom a problem and an extra inch would have fixed that.

 Come a long and a handy man jack will get you out of most problems. Your convoy mates will make it easy You don't run solo do you??

One of my trail mates had a ball hitch mounted front and rear. He had an electric winch mount on a chunk of trailer tongue. Drop it on the ball plug in to 12v with a 100 amp connector and haul yourself or your friend out of trouble in a jif.

4wd only advantage is mud bogging and if it's that bad, park, and go back into your house and have some popcorn.

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It's not being top heavy on the forest roads in Oregon, Washington. The washboard effect is the killer, dam near every nail and screw comes loose during the Star Party season, like a yearly thing for me to tighten/hammer everything back down.

Edited by Gary_M
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That makes a lot of sense then. Washboard + crappy old suspension = hell. 

I forgot that they had removed the upper cabinets. It’s been a while lol. 

No convoy plans, I would probably be sólo vehicle. But that’s not something I have given much thought to and not a big deal either way.  It is still more of a daydream than a serious, thought out plan.  

For it to move beyond a daydream and get real thought and consideration, I would need to score a Sunrader cheap.  Like 10k cheap….  I really want a 4x4 Toyota, so that easily adds another 5-8k.  And if I then have to redo the interior and lots of mechanical bits….

If there is no real advantage of the 4wd over a 2wd Sunrader, than $15-20k gets me a get in and drive good condition 4x4 with a bed for putting crap in. 

I do really want a Sunrader though lol…. But to even get in the ballpark I probably would need to sell a FINISHED Mini Cruiser, and the Porsche. And of course that is also a project….   


Anyways kinda a boredom daydream exercise.  Too much commotion to actually work on the Cruiser right now. And opening up the garage is a project in itself. Lol. I still don’t know if the shop is going to be open tomorrow. Or if there is a shop left to open!  If I am stuck at home, I will be working on it tomorrow for sure.   

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"how truly capable is the Sunrader 4x4? "  Hmmm, who's driving?........ see below.

Seeing this discussion, and as a long-term SunRader 4x4 owner and frame-up rebuilder, I felt compelled to throw in my 2 cents. Heck, if nothing else, the pictures are worth a gander. (These are the most aggressive "stock" Rader 4x4 shots I have come across in the 10 yrs I've owned my rig)




I will state here, that I would not submit my rig to this type of stuff except in an emergency, despite the fact that my frame, coach-mounts and extensions  have been reinforced/modified.


"The washboard effect is the killer, dam near every nail and screw comes loose".  IMHO How true !

Personally, I believe that vibration, lack of maintenance and moisture are an RV's worst enemies, new rig or old. (PO's don't count)

"Their Sunrader was much lighter after the remodel."

You're right Linda, they actually did pretty good with all the add-ons... but no pooper.

A look back at a post-sale response about weight from BFN said :


 Posted April 12, 2021

"Unfortunately I don’t have the proof in photos. We weighed it at a weigh station in Oregon before the renovation and later on in Florida at a CAT scale. I’m wildly curious what it would have been as a shell. The 5,800lbs figure was dry but with almost all our gear. Safe to say it would be around 6,000lbs wet (I believe our water tank was less than 20 gallons). (Edit No bathroom in this rig) "

Greg's 4x4 was close to 7,000 lbs provisioned, per his last estimate.


Two people (Greg & BFN) have wondered about the fiberglass/coach shell only weight, and years ago, in a galaxy far away......

My 18' Shell only:  I did a calculation when I stripped mine out and cut out a large piece of the side wall for the outside shower. I calculated the fiberglass weight at about 1 lb per sq ft x 3/16" thick, which was the average. (This is a rough calc as, if you look at raw fiberglass work on a stripped Rader, it looks like workers fell asleep with the flocking gun on in random spots : ) Anyway, this put the shell alone of my 18' coach at roughly 900 lbs.


BFN wanted to know:

My 4x4 Rader with totally stripped shell, 1/4 tank fuel and 160 lbs in one bucket seat, no windows, empty tanks etc:  3,840 lbs.


Others asked:

My 4x4 Rader with total rebuild and frame mods, un-provisioned, 1/2 tank o'gas:  5,3444 lbs.


I have a friend who has a stock 4x4 and I'm going to get him to weigh it for comparison soon.


Well, that's what I know about this stuff,...... so far.





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Holy crap those are the most awesome and the most insane pictures I have seen of a Sunrader!!!  Pretty sure this started with “I told you that was a wrong turn, you can’t make it through here, you should have listened to me!”  “Oh yeah woman?  Hold my beer and watch!”

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I'll say the ground clearance alone with the 4x4 and 15" wheels + 215 tires has made us feel more capable of going into areas we really wanted to with full fuel and water tanks. We haven't really "had" to use 4wd. Once, in Colorado, a spot down a hill we chose to camp at near a river got a little damp from overnight rain. We probably could have gotten up and out in 2wd, but I didn't feel like slipping and wanted to use 4wd for the first time in the rig (it was our trip home from purchasing it). The 4wd crawled right up the dirt/gravel patch with ease. 


For us, the ability to go where we want on forest roads and in the mountains and hopefully get out without much trouble was key. We have a winch and some light recovery gear as well. 



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Having owned a 1986 4x4 Sunrader with the turbo 4cyl and V6 auto tranny. Here is my 2 cents worth. The 86 has independent front suspension. It actually rode fairly smooth on dirt roads. I ended up installing some helper springs on the rear (It has the 1ton axle) which helped greatly with stability on and off the road. Actually it was super stable with hardly any boat feeling. I might note that I own a 1971 early Bronco so maybe a little comparison here. The Bronco is a point and go machine. A real 4x4 where as the Sunrader due to it's weight and size limits it's off road abilities. If I remember it was around 5300 pounds loaded. That included a 26 gal fuel tank. That said yes it could do some moderate 4x4 stuff. Stuff where 4x4 could be an advantage to keep from getting stuck. Boulder hopping though I do not advise. It weighs way too much and besides twisting everything the drive train really is not engineered for that. I suppose you could do some drivetrain upgrades but it is still a big heavy machine with a little 4cyl. Mine had a turbo charged 4. While great on the highway it had problems at high altitudes. One time I backed down into a camp site on a lake. I always used some of the local rocks to drive up on to level off. Anyhow I put a couple big rocks behind the rear wheels. In reverse at high altitude I found out that with an automatic I could not get the turbo to spin up enough to get the horse power needed to get up on the rocks in reverse. I moved the rocks to the front side of the wheels and was then able to pull up on them. Of course forward gearing was lower than reverse so there you go. Another gotcha was that there were no jack points for a hi-lift jack if needed. Not sure that the rear frame could even accommodate jacking with a hi-lift. Ya having a 4x4 Sunrader sounds cool and is very attractive but in reality they have some serious limits for a 4x4. I think some of the newer chassis and engine combos with campers or coaches are a better choice if you are a serious off roader. They even have their limits 

There are some other limitations with the 18 footers, I modded the table and made it a half table so that I put my shoes and socks on. I also modded the shower drain so that it ran out into a bucket instead of the 8 gal black water tank. I also removed the A/C unit and installed a max fan. I also installed 2.5 inch exhaust from the turbo back but never got to take it off road before we sold it. Another problem with the Sunraders is the floor design. They tend to delaminate and get soft spots. I had to lay down some 1/2 inch plywood to fix that. And another huge problem I feel is that you need 2 spare tires because the rear 1 ton axle wheels are different than the front non 1 ton. I miss the Sunrader but then I don't miss it. What people are asking $$ wise these days for them is nuts. I think I saw mine selling for $30K sometime ago. 

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Well I remember all the Garfield’s suction cupped on windows!  That 4Runner is super epic!!!!  They are interesting. Seems there are still affordable ones out there of the early ones. And even almost cheap ones from the 90’s and early 00’s. Those aren’t nearly as cool though. 

As a mechanic I’ve long respected Toyotas for their reliability. But actually owning one and you quickly become a convert. 

In 2wd or 4wd format, I think the Sunrader is probably one of the coolest of the Toyota RVs. The construction of the shell is a serious advantage over most of the others. Oddly, the rear dinner layout of the 18’ seems more spacious than the 21’.  I haven’t had the opportunity to physically go in and compare. But visually the 18’ wins for me. 

The 18’ one would also be more maneuverable off-road. Even if it is just a simple dirt road and not technical trails. 

But then the price tags on the Sunraders…. If I am going to pay those prices for a capable trail vehicle, I think I would rather pay half that for one that is MUCH more usable and have money left over for lift kit, bumpers, lights, etc. 


Still, even my Mini Cruiser is on that same platform. And it is smallish. While not ideal and WAY less capable, it does beg to ask what small upgrades could be done to assure I would be safer going off pavement with it?  It wouldn’t be worth the pricetag or effort to convert it to 4x4.

I’ve seen others muse over putting in a locking differential. I’ve stumbled across more information on doing so in my hunt for rear end changes. I think this could actually be done with the Toyota factory parts bin. Then there are the aftermarket air lockers. But our 1-ton axles do complicate this. Not sure there is an almost drop in option for the 1-ton.  And let’s be honest, it is an amusement more than a necessity. 

I’m thinking a more prudent choice would be a set of fitted chains. Or perhaps something like Max Traks recovery boards.  Plenty of options for under $100. And transferable for when I do get a real Toyota 4x4!



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