Monday, December 6, 2010

Toyota Hilux Pickup Truck

Many, many people have watched this video or the original TV episode of Top Gear, and come away believing that the Toyota pickup possesses some kind of special qualities that no other vehicle has. Full disclosure; I have a Hilux 4x4. That should be ample proof that I don't have a vendetta against them. But I do want to point out their deficiencies. All vehicles have some sort of deficiency, and we self-sufficient types should reject brand loyalty and look at every piece of equipment with a pragmatic eye.
Watch this video carefully. As you watch, note whether they really did anything that any other comparable vehicle couldn't handle. Vehicles like a Jeep CJ7, CJ5 or Wagoneer, International Scout, Travelall or pickup, or a non-computerized, straight axle Chevy, Ford or Dodge 4x4 pickup or SUV. To be fair, all of the above should be equipped with a manual transmission, as was this Toyota.
Now that we are on the same page, think about this. They beat on the sheetmetal quite a bit, but that wouldn't cause mechanical failure. They submerged it in seawater, but then spent at least 40 minutes (they didn't disclose exactly how long; could've been hours) getting the seawater out of everything. They probably replaced all the fluids; they stated no parts were replaced, but fluids aren't parts. And then they didn't really drive it very far after submerging it. Or before, as far as we can tell from the video.
What else did they do? Well, they slammed it into a tree. This was done at a low speed and off center, so as to protect the radiator. Then they checked the radiator and the battery before continuing. Then at the last, they set it afire. From that point, we don't see it moving under its own power, but are assured that it can still do so. I don't doubt it. But look at the fire damage. Some wood was placed in the bed of the truck, and then the wood and the interior were doused with some liquid fuel and set afire. It is quite obvious that the fire was extinguished soon after that fuel was consumed, because little damage was done other than a fair amount of scorching. Even the seats weren't burned beyond the upholstery, because the foam cushions remained.
Let's consider some comments well-known survival blogger Ferfal posted about the HiLux, before continuing with a realistic look at the Toyota versus some other vehicles.

"... one of the most important, and unnoticed, weapons of guerrilla war in Afghanistan and across the world: the lightweight, virtually indestructible Toyota Hilux truck. “In Afghanistan in particular,” says counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, “[the trucks are] incredibly well respected.” It’s not just rebels in Afghanistan that love the Hilux. “The Toyota Hilux is everywhere,” says Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and now a fellow of the Center for a New American Security. “It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.” Anecdotally, a scan of pictures from the last four decades of guerrilla and insurgent warfare around the world—the first iteration of the Hilux appeared in the late ’60s—reveals the Toyota’s wide-ranging influence. Somali pirates bristling with guns hang out of them on the streets of Mogadishu. The Toyota is such a widespread and powerful weapon for insurgents, says Dr. Alastair Finlan, who specializes in strategic studies at Britain’s Aberystwyth University, because it acts as a “force multiplier.” It is “fast, maneuverable, and packs a big punch [when it’s mounted with] a 50-caliber [machine gun] that easily defeats body armor on soldiers and penetrates lightly armored vehicles as well.” It is particularly dangerous, he adds, against lightly armed special-forces operatives.
The rest of the article

So according to Ferfal's article, the Toyota truck is used in many places as a tactical truck. It is a decent choice for that role. But there are some modifications that could be done to the typical HiLux found in the US that would make it more suitable. There are also some other readily available trucks that are already better. Allow me to explain.

First, the Toyota truck is a poor choice for a situation where the coolant may be lost, and the truck still needs to run long enough to get you to safety. Several miles into the desert, for example, where you may not have any water to replenish what is lost after a burst hose or the radiator being punctured by a rock, or whatever. You need to be able to drive a mile with no coolant, then shut down and allow the engine to cool for an hour, then drive another mile, etcetera, until you make it out. Perhaps you are attacked while driving, and the radiator is punctured by gunfire. You need to be able to continue driving to get to a safe area. This is a realistic concern for a tactical truck. Of course, it would be nice if the engine survived this overheat condition too, so that you still have a functional vehicle after you patch the holes and refill the radiator.
A Toyota is not that vehicle. It has an aluminum head on a cast iron block, and if you try to drive to safety with no coolant in the engine, you will not make it far. The aluminum head will quickly warp so severely that compression will be lost and the engine will cease to run. I know this from experience.
On the other hand, a Rambler inline six, such as the ones used in Jeeps starting with the 232 in the 1965 Wagoneer, through the 232 and 258 from 1970 until 1983 in the CJ5, the 258 in the CJ7 from 1976 through 1986 and in the 1987 Wrangler, and the 4.0 liter in most Jeeps from 1988 through 2006, will run until it glows in the dark. Then after a one-hour cooldown, it will run again. The same is true of most all-cast-iron engines from Chevy, Dodge, and Ford, whether they be inline 6 or 4, or V8.
The other weak point of the Toyota truck, but less so, is the Birfield joint in the front axle shafts. These are a type of universal joint that allows the axle shafts to bend when turning. The Birfield joint is usually troublefree, but can grenade if subjected to extreme abuse. The same is true of most US made 4x4s built before 1970, including Jeeps. But in 1970, Jeep switched to the far simpler, stronger and easier to repair single-cardan U joint. If you have a HiLux and are breaking Birfs, the simplest permanent fix is to swap in a Dana 44 front end from a Wagoneer. The wheel lug pattern even matches, believe it or not.
 While we are swapping parts, why not put in an engine that can take more abuse? An inline six is too long, but a small block V8 will work, and the rest of the truck is strong enough to handle it. Lots of Toyota fans have swapped a small-block Chevy V8  into their Hilux.
A better choice, though, is the Chevy 4.3 liter V6. It is just a small block Chevy, minus two cylinders. Parts for it are almost as cheap as they are for the SBC, and it is lighter. The power level is a good match for the truck. And, worse come to worst, the cast iron block and short, cast iron heads will be more likely than the Toyota engine to survive an overheat condition.
The stock 4- or 5-speed transmission will work just fine, and adapters are readily available to mate the Chevy engine to it.

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