Vehicle Modifications


Without having any real preference or brand loyalty, I ended up buying a late 2006 HDJ-100R Turbo diesel manual Toyota Landcruiser GXL. I bought this at a local auction, and whilst I was convinced at the time I wanted a Prado, I was attracted by the excellent condition, presentation and amount of kit on the cruiser, the cool colour and the magnificent 1HD-FTE turbo diesel engine. the best and last of the non-common rail turbo diesels. It came with a Warn XD9000 winch, 2″ ARB lift kit, Toyota tow ball, ARB bull bar, driving lights, fog lights, red polyair rear air bags, side steps, snorkel, GME 40 channel UHF radio and 6.5 dBi antennae, full service history and importantly, new Mickey Thompson STZ Baja tyres. It had 182,000 km on the clock and was a very good price.  The only other items I’ve added are a 2100 x 1200 aluminium Rola roof rack and a set of custom rear drawers with a fridge slide. Both of these I bought on ebay for a few hundred dollars each – bargains. The attraction of the turbo diesel was resale and economy. The turbo diesel typically carries a $10,000 price premium over the six cylinder or V8 models, but uses about 25% less fuel. Therefore, over the 40,000 predicted kilometres of the trip, we’ll save $4,100, therefore I’ll have to rely on resale value, not fuel economy savings. To save the difference in purchase price, we would need to travel more than 97,000 kilometres over the life of the car (this data is based on 31,000 km of real fuel economy data and accurate pricing around Australia – we’ve averaged 18.6 l/100 and fuel is on average $1.53/l, unleaded is invariably 5 c to 10 c/l more expensive in the outback).


In the Landcruiser range, I wanted the GXL model built after 2005 to ensure we got the dual air conditioners (single compressor on the engine, two separate condensers), a must for outback comfort for the boys in the back! I was lucky enough to get a November 2006 build, which was the very last of the 100 series. It has Sahara LED tail lights, more modern dash and Sahara chrome rimmed instruments, etc. The massive downside with the HDJ100R model (4.2 TD) is that it will NOT communicate with OBD or OBD2 (On Board Diagnostics) communications protocols, supposedly standard on all vehicles in Australia since 1998 – instead it uses a proprietary Toyota code. I wanted this to be able to access engine error codes and other useful information, such as accurate engine and oil temperature, oil and fuel pressure, voltage, boost, comprehensive trip computers, etc. Preposterously, only the Sahara has a trip computer in the Landcruiser range, so to understand fuel economy, an OBD scan tool (ScanTool, UltraGauge, etc.) would have been mandatory. Instead I had to rely on a primitive device called a fuel gauge! In some cases, we were more than 500 km between refuelling stops, so distance to empty can be critical. Knowing this also allows you to purchase fuel judiciously, i.e. at the cheapest location (using a crowd sourced iPhone app such as the excellent ‘Fuel Map’), rather than topping up ‘just in case’ at every location. Over the trip, we have found differences of over 20 c per litre in less than 100 km. A considerable cost saving when we typically put 100 to 130 litres in the tanks. The GXL has a 94 l main tank and a 45 l sub tank. I also carry a 20 l jerry, always full, and occasionally cycled through the tanks. This gives us a 900 kilometres range, this changes by ±100 kilometres respectively with either a tail or head wind. I typically ignore the jerry can, saving that for emergencies only.


I bought the car about 14 months before the start of the Big Lap. The reason was to  make sure we knew everything about the car before the trip, and to allow me to fit things I knew I wanted, such as roof racks and a rear drawer system. The Cruiser also came with the factory stereo and speakers, as well as the butchered remains of a Bury GSM phone booster and aerial. The Bury phone system boosts mobile reception by a few dB, but only when there is some… other travellers I’ve spoken too feel they are a waste of money. They also must be connected to the car stereo, which may limit installation choices. I went the far simpler after market install option with Bluetooth. I soon removed the factory 6 stacker CD MP3 player and replaced it with a Sony head unit. Luckily the slot was double DIN, meaning plenty of aftermarket choice.

The following modifications were completed before the trip:

Installation of a boost gauge and EGT Exhaust Gas Temperature) probe. This pyrometer is screwed into the exhaust pipe after the turbo charger, but before the dump pipe. This allows accurate measurement of how hard the engine is working, and allows me to cool the engine down properly before switch off. It typically runs at 350 degrees C towing the van on the flat at about 90 kph (cruise). This corresponds to about 0.5 to 0.7 bar turbo boost pressure. Boost is limited to 0.9 bar in the 1HD-FTE turbo diesel engine. The EGT gauge has seen 616 degrees climbing the Adelaide hills towing the van. This was at full boost in third gear on a 40 degree day. As the probe is installed after the turbo, you would expect exhaust gas to be up to 200 degrees hotter on turbo inlet side. I also had the EGR (Exhaust Gas Return) system cleaned. These are installed to reduce emissions and cause headaches and deteriorating economy if not cleaned after 200,000 km. Mine was actually pretty clean.DSC02681

 I found a custom built rear drawer system on ebay for $400. I had this measured carefully by the seller to ensure it would fit my Waeco CF40 compressor fridge. It did. I then bought and modified a rear safety cage from a Ford BA wagon. After cutting out the bottom cage, and bending the side legs, this fitted perfectly and allows access to the rear AC controls located in the roof.

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Next was the stereo. I removed and sold the factory stereo, which sounded okay, but does not support Bluetooth, ipods or much else. After much research, I bought a Sony 612BT 6″ touch screen stereo. It plays DVD’s, connects and displays the iPhones’ display via HDMI, has Bluetooth and supports a reversing camera as well as two other camera (RCA video) inputs, which I used for cameras on the van. I installed some additional tweeters over the factory speakers, which improved their sound immensely.


 The old factory stereo – sold on ebay for $60!



Because the GXL Landcruiser runs the Sahara wiring loom, I took advantage of this and installed door courtesy lights behind the red translucent blinds installed in the doors. Not necessary, but it’s a nice touch.


12 x LED light arrays bought on ebay for $1 each. Glued in place with silicon on a flattened peace of tin can – works perfectly.


A big and very cheap change was to replace the interior dome lights with 48 panel SMD LED’s. These were about $4 each. They produce much more light with almost no heat. I also replaced the rear wagon dome light and map lights. Total cost was about $12. It took about 30 minutes to change every globe with an LED.


A common problem with Landcruisers is that the drain flap in the air filter canister falls out. This is meant to drain water out after very deep crossings, but if missing, works in reverse and can let water in. A piece of aluminium and silicon fixed this.

P1010938Because I have the manual, I wanted to be able to manoeuvre the van in low range without having the centre diff lock engaged. This avoids cork screwing the transfer case or axles. There are a few ways to achieve this. I did the common ‘7 pin mod’. I have a switch under the fuel tank switch which allows the CDL (Centre Diff Lock) to be either OFF, or in AUTO (If left in AUTO, it engages automatically when in Low Range). Access to the pin cluster on the Transmission Relay is under the passenger glove box.



Our Home for 2015 is a 2014 Jayco 14.44-4 Expanda Outback. The van has had fewer modifications than the Cruiser, probably because we only picked it up in August 2014 and have had less time to ‘play’. One thing I did install was a fridge vent fan. This helps eject heat from the fridge upper compartment. This helps fridge performance immensely. I used a 125 mm sealed computer fan which draws 120 mA and is connected via an old computer thermatic controller, meaning it varies fan speed (and current) depending on temperature.


I fitted a 600 VA (non pure sine wave) inverter on the factory Jayco 100 Ah GEL battery. This has its own cooling fan and rarely uses more than 10% of capacity (i.e. 60 watts), but it does work the system pretty hard, so I tend to wait until I have full sun before it gets switched on. The 120 watt factory solar panel more than copes with this.

I also engaged Real Caravan Solutions  ( to install a 4 lpm electric water pump and charcoal taste filter in place of the rubbish factory plunge pump. This has not failed in the 10 months we’ve been on the road. Service, knowledge, professionalism and value are exceptional. Alex can assist with every caravan modification you could possibly want or desire.

Things I wish the van had:  At least two more 12 v outlets around the van as well as a 5 V 2 amp USB charge panel. There is only one 12 v 10 Amp socket located under the TV. This is stupidly inadequate. No USB charging is provided. Everything these days is USB charged. I also wish I had installed LED strip lighting in the cupboards and shelves. The shelves are deep and quite dark. At night a torch is required to find anything. A small LED reading light above the behind the fridge and under the cupboards would be excellent. This would allow the grownups to stay up and work or read whilst the kids fall asleep. To reduce the purchase price, we did not install a radio or TV aerial. Jayco’s prices for these have a whopping markup ($1200 for a DVD capable stereo with 4 cheap speakers and $490 for a TV antennae). I did however elect to get a second 9 kg gas bottle, Alko ESC (Electronic Stability Control), outside fold down table, second 84 litre water tank and level monitor – all mandatory choices for the type of travel we’ve done. If a factory radio is installed, you lose an upper cupboard. However, one could easily be installed in the cavity above the fridge without any space penalty. We watch very little TV, but an MP3 capable radio would be nice (we use a high quality Bluetooth speaker connected to either iPhones or a small FM radio/MP3 player). This is okay but clumsy to set up.

August 2014 – It’s HERE!

Wednesday 6th August 2014:

On Monday 4th August, we were all organised to pick up the van – except for one part, the cashola!  I popped down to the bank, only to be reminded that Murphy is alive! It was bank holiday. And so, because we couldn’t bump the allocated time slot for the hand-over, we still drove the 24 km out to Jayco at Heatherbrae, had our 1 hr instruction session from ‘lounge-suit Larry’, received the idiotic set of seven (7), yes SEVEN individual keys for the van, as well as the instructions and useless 3 1/2 minute DVD, and trundled home. Today was now the big day. We popped back out to Jayco, returning nervously, and with much muttering and unsolicited passenger advice with our new baby in tow.

Incredulously, after school pickup, both boys ran straight past the van (parked imposingly out the front), and straight into the house! To their credit, once they actually noticed the van, they were both very excited! Of course the first question was “can we sleep in it tonight?”.

June 2014

Wednesday 18th June 2014:

In the first week of June we finalised the options list for the Jayco van. Very exciting. Apart from the Alko Electronic Stability Control, all we’re adding on is the Fiama twin bike rack, external table, dual tank water tanks and level gauge and second gas bottle. We considered the Jayco stereo options (a.k.a ‘wroughts’), but the cheapest option for a low quality (and I mean an eBay Chinese special for $65) MP3 player and 2 cruddy speakers was $400, and the dearest option, that played DVD’s and had four speakers, was $1300! I bought a ‘JBL Charge’ portable Bluetooth speaker from JB HiFi instead for $170. Great quality, loud, clear, 12 hour battery life, micro USB charging, versatile and completely portable.

Planning has ground to a slow halt. I have however, purchased a 10” Android tablet for Kris – ostensibly for planning, although it seems to be used mainly for watching Master Chef…

April 2014

Saturday 5th April 2014:

The new car stereo (a Sony XAV 612BT) is IN! Luckily I severed my hip pocket nerve and bought a Sony to Toyota matched wiring harness, which saved me what would have been another few hours of wiring grief. As it was, there was the reversing camera (and power feed), composite RCA leads for the second and third video input, remote microphone, plus a new USB power feed to the rear view mirror in preparation for an event camera. I can also use my iPhone with a HDMI cable and USB charger to get navigation through the head unit and audio via Bluetooth. Clunky but functional. I have to ask why though, when I have a perfectly functional Tom Tom 4.3” GPS in the glove box! A bit like Hillary’s response on why he climbed Everest, “because it’s there”.

Monday 7th April 2014:

I went to Sydney yesterday with a good friend to inspect a Jayco 14.44-4 Outback van. The van looked like it had been through the wringer! The owner was a really lovely bloke, but the six month ‘Big Lap’ that this had just returned from really showed. He had it advertised for $37,900, and when I told him it was worth maybe $34k, he nearly fell over [note: this van eventually sold for $34,000 in July]. He responded with $35k, but Kris and I met with Jayco on Monday morning and put a deposit on a 2014 model 14.44-4 Outback, to be fitted with Electronic Stability Control and a few other goodies, all for $40,000, slightly better than RRP.

March 2014

Wednesday 12th March 2014:

Another purchase, this time a very large (1200 x 2100) Rola Roof rack and luggage tray. I measured up one of the racks on the car, and it is 2010mm to ground – gives me just 90mm clearance into most car parks, gulp! 

Sunday 16th March 2014:

We were invited to Redhead beach yesterday by some friends – so of course we HAD to go and test out the truck in the sand! We met at Redhead, which was locked off, so we trooped off to the Blacksmiths entrance a few kilometers south. Tyres were let down to 15 psi on all vehicles, and the fun began. I hadn’t driven ion sand since driving the VW Baja on Fraser Island in 1989, so I had a lot to remember. The Cruiser was great, about 2000 rpm in 2nd gear is about 40 kph, which was a good even speed. I even had a chance to use the new winch – one of our party, driving a V8 petrol 100 series Cruiser) got stuck trying to drive up out of a water crossing, so we winched, dug and winched some more and out he came. It was good to see that everything worked perfectly under full load, and that the power cables stayed cool. 

Monday 31st March 2014:

I took the plunge and bought a car stereo yesterday. A Sony XAV-612BT. It plays DVD’s, mirrors the iPhone, can connect a reversing cameras plus another two if you like, plus it’ll play rough cuts of our home movies on the run! I saw it at JB HiFi, 30% off the rrp of $799. Not a great price, but something else I can forget about. Still, it now has to be installed, along with the half fitted reversing camera (last location under the tow ball was uselessly low), half built Anderson plug, fuse block, repaired UHF radio, hi-gain mobile antennae removal and the rear drawer system I’ll have to build for the fridge.

On a more exciting note, my weekly trawl of on-line adds for the vaunted Jayco Outback 14.44-4 came up with a winner this morning. A near new 2013 model, with plenty of extras, for $37,900. It’s in Sydney too – not too far. I rang the seller and told him I could buy a new 2014 model for $39,000, so he’d have to sharpen the price.