Rav4 Crawler: New Tires and Wheels

Sep. 24, 2008 By Justin Fort

Toyota Rav4

Things had gotten bad; not bad, but not good enough.  Not things, but stuff.  One sort of stuff.  We’d found a way to stucklet the trucklet.  It was bound to be mud – go figure – the one sort of dirt we’d had trouble with since the start of this little game of Rav and mouse-power.  Taking it in stride, we had Powder 1 black-out a set of take-off 16-inch steelies from craigslist.com, then wrapped the wheels in a set of Dunlop’s knobbiest, the R/T.

Dunlops Don’t Come from the Stork


Standing next to worn 235/70/16 RVXTs, a 225/75/16 Dunlop R/T is slightly narrower and slightly taller, but the shoulders are more square.

We’d originally tapped an old buddy at Dunlop Tire to shoe the Rav4-Crawling.  We though he’d be able to sling us a set of Goodyear MT/Rs for a good combination of rock and sand friendliness, a modern off-road tire that’s comfortable to drive on-road.  In case you didn’t know, Goodyear and Dunlop are the same company here in the USA.  Sadly, the cute little Goodyear MT/Rs spied on a few Samurais and other off-roading trucklets were out of stock, and production wasn’t likely to resume before the next ice age.  With the cutesy sizes unavailable we were up the creek that requires a paddle.  There isn’t a lot of wheel-well room on the first-generation Rav4, and we didn’t want to make a hack-job out of a rig in which we still drove the boy to preschool.  Going big wasn’t going to happen.

Undeterred, Mr. Dunlop reached into his back pocket and UPS’d us a set of 235/70/16 Dunlop Rover RVXTs instead.  They looked remarkably pleasant and mild to be much good on the trail, but with some time in the soft stuff we found the only thing the RVXT didn’t do well was mud – it was even composed enough for comfortable freeway hackery.  In sand, snow, loamy dirt, hardpack, gullies, rocks, even that mush surrounding the Salton Sea, the RVXT soldiered on (and didn’t mind being aired down).  The lack of mudability wasn’t a big deal for us, as the Rav4’s horsepower – it doesn’t have any – kept us from seeking bigger holes of goo. 

Goo Not Gone – It’s Over Here

Anyway, it was inevitable we’d find need for more grip, even with the tires aired down, and in the muddy backways of Orange County, up where it butts against the Cleveland National Forest, the sloppy stuff got the better of Off-Road.com’s Little Trucklet That Should.  Heard of Holy Jim Canyon?  It used to run all the way to Main Divide Road – the spinal trail for the Cleveland National Forest – but the last three miles or so have been closed to vehicles for years.  Offshoots of Holy Jim (let’s just say that old Jim used to have a favorite catch phrase for which the trail is somewhat named), though, are full of the wet stuff all winter and spring long, and anyone who can find Cook’s Corner can find Holy Jim.  Lots of off-roaders know Holy Jim’s too so let’s just say getting stuck for a crowd is embarrassing, even if it means someone’s always there to yank your strap.Ever been in this situation? Got pictures to prove it? Swap stories and photographic proof here!

The trucklet didn’t belong in the deep mud. Everyone had a sneaking suspicion we’d get stuck, but after a day chewing on Jeepers with a Rav4, our confidence was… elevated.  Kersploosh.  The video might still be on YouTube, but no, you may not see the pictures.  We were unstuck in ten minutes, but the need for more knob was obvious.

Fierce Set of Trail-Friendly Knobbers


Mounted at Big “O” La Mesa, the powder-coated 16”s look oddly small in black.

But for looking, we might have missed them.  The Rover R/T is something of a tire caveman, though the Tire Rack has a good selection of them.  It’s an older Dunlop product, manufactured in the ‘States in a limited selection of sizes.  The Rover R/T is heavily lugged – not unlike the shoulder and center-section of a Goodyear MT/R – and is cousin to the RVXT we were already using, but with additional layers of steel and poly to enhance its sidewall-to-tread structure.  R/T weight is six pounds more per tire, not enough to affect suspension or braking behavior much.  The tire has a remarkable load rating, but we pondered what this strength would do to sidewall compression and the quality of bead-to-wheel relations.  We weren’t interested in loads, though, this was all about lug; mud grabbing, clump shedding, nub grubbing, sand paddling, snow shoveling, rock chucking, lip gripping, crawl-happy luggage.

After basking in the warm glow of our gratitude for the wonderfully effective RVXT, Dunlop Tire was so kind as to pull a rabbit out of their hat – again – and supply four 225/75/16 Rover R/Ts to see what they made of the Rav4-Crawling project.  Oddly, this was the same size as the MT/R we’d originally sought.  Not to lose the freeway viability of the trucklet (we still had 20K on the RVXTs), this made it time to scare up a second set of wheels.  The decision is easy when the factory steel wheels let you keep bigger brakes and permit plenty of tire fitments.  More steelies please.  We hunted down a set of four Rav4 take-offs in Los Angeles for $100, via craigslist.com, and had a buddy pick them up.  One needed a little coaching with the sledge.  Ray would be meeting us a week later at a Fatso Jetson show in Pasadena, so the exchange was easy.  We knew a fifth wheel would pop up on radar (got to have that mounted spare), but meanwhile we could get the four powder-coated and into service.

Color Your Wheels Because You Can


We’ll install 40mm strut spacers in front (need to build them first), so the contact in those wheel wells should cease.  If that doesn’t do it, a Sawzall or a torch can.

In San Diego, the huge desert, crawler, motorcycle and hot-rod contingents can keep a good powder-coater busy and the ovens on all week. Powder-coating isn’t a dark art, and if you can keep your business sense in play you will make a fine living covering folk’s stuff in stuff.  Powder 1 (619.588.9200) is that sort of outfit.  We knew Chris and company always have buggy frames and swing-arms and a dozen other bits lined up to go in and out of the hot box, so it was only a matter of time before a load was ready to be coated in matte-black, our choice for wheels.  Why?  Why not.  It was either matte-black or a grey that matched the lower plastic trim panels, and who knew how long that plastic would be around?

The rest of the process isn’t rocketry – the wheels were done in two days, and Big “E” had them mounted at Big “O” La Mesa within hours of coming from the oven.  Remember to use the plastic boot on the tire machine, and it won’t mess up the powder-coat.  Now we have to take the Rav4-Crawling back to Holy Jim’s to see if we can laugh at someone else for a change. Got a trucklet or other bad-ass Toyota? Tell us about it!

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