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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Finally picked up a new wheeler. '03 Vitara to be a mild build on the cheap with lots of DIY. I hope to not let it get too ridiculous like my previous builds and will try to refrain from putting an LS in it :laughing:. I plan on keeping this one for a while.

Backstory: I traded off my S10 Blazer 'The CrAzYbLaZe' on 40's in 2011 for a '71 C10 'Ol Blue' that I then swapped in an LS, and Tons but traded that off in '15 when we had our first kiddo. I then sold the 1 ton dodge diesel that I had traded for and bought a minivan. So after having no rig and driving a minivan for about 4 years I am finally getting back into it. I think my 3.5 year old is just about ready to start going on short wheeling trips.

Requirements/Searching: I have been looking for a cheap and light yet capable offroad vehicle for a while now. I have a hard rule for not buying any more vehicles with a carburetor (too temperamental for me). Fullsizes were too big, jeeps too expensive, so all arrows seemed to point to a single vehicle – the Suzuki Vitara (Geo/Chevy Tracker and all of it’s variations).

I have always been a fan of the Four Wheeler Magazine Cheap Truck Challenge. They go for a budget of ~$2,000 and go have fun with whatever they bought. I am going to shoot for a self imposed budget of $3,000

So after many months of looking I happened upon a gem of a Suzuki Vitara/Tracker/Sidekick. 4 cyl 5 speed 4×4 165k miles and a clean title! I debated on the 4cyl vs v6 but I wanted it to be super light and need to polish up on my stick driving skills. All of the V6’s I found were autos.

Left on an adventure to go get it about 1.5 hours away in Wifey's (spotless) rig


Which I promptly got stuck about 3 miles from my final destination...


After adding about 2 hours to our journey and the guy I was to buy the Vitara from coming to pull us out with his tractor. We were on our way with the new ride.

Tally so far: $1,200 plus an extra $200 tip to the seller for coming out, breaking his truck in the process (not sure what happened, shut off and wouldn't start), and getting his truck and 4x4 tractor covered in mud. I really appreciated his help.



Stock as brought home photo for future reference


So why is it named PJ? When I brought it home the wife and I asked Sam our 3.5 year old what he wanted to name it and he said 'Pizza Johnson'. We have no idea where that came from but it stuck, so now it is officially 'PJ'.


More pics and details go here: https://www.diymetalfabrication.com/new-wheeling-rig-suzuki-vitara/
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Cut front bumper mod. I will build a bumper for it someday but I don't have that kind of time at the moment.

Before


After - about 5" gained


For more pictures/details go here: https://www.diymetalfabrication.com/suzuki-vitara-tracker-high-clearance-front-bumper/

I also removed the carpet (saturated with gear oil YUCK), debadged it, added a CB and head unit, gear box in the back, removed sway bar, fixed some stuff, and started working on fixing the blinking 4x4 light. More pics to come.


I have less than 2 weeks to finish prepping it and fix the 4wd. I am a sucker for avoiding losing sunk cost :laughing: so to create some time pressure I pre-registered for the Midwest Krawlers Sunflower ride at Kansas Rocks July 9th!

See you out there!
 

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been too long since an oober build!!!! cant wait
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Front Diff fix

The air pump to engage the front differential actuator pump was weak and I didn't feel like fixing a system that was destined to fail me on the trail, so I decided to make it permanent.

Pulling everything apart. What a cute little guy :laughing:


Upon pulling it out, I realized the front differential mount up by the pinion was broken off. More on that later.



Passenger side axle shaft was a bugger to get out, ended up shearing off the inner c clip


Video of the actuator engaging in case anybody is curious how it works:

Used ~10psi to engage it then welded it up in the engaged position in all 4 spots around the carrier


More details, how to, and pics here: https://www.diymetalfabrication.com/vitara-tracker-permanent-4wd-differential-actuator-fix/


Once back together, manual hubs are a simple bolt on. More pics to come!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Freakin sweet! I had no idea those explorers were rated to tow that much weight!!
Thanks Diesel_Zuk.

The 2011 and newer Explorers (and most of the other similar sized SUV's) are rated to tow 5k. The Suzuki is ~3k and the trailer is probably another 1,500lbs-ish. It came pre-wired for trailer brakes so I picked up a used Tekonsha P3 brake controller that works really well.

Towed it 1.5 hours each way to KS Rocks just fine at about 12mpg (normally ~20mpg). I probably wouldn't use the explorer to tow it through the mountains though.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Here is my repair of the front differential pinion mount:

Cut off the old mount and sanded it down


I have... an idea :laughing:


Laying it out


Drilling lots of holes


Bolted in (don't worry, I jam nutted it and cut the tails off the u-bolt later)


Found a dirt road by my house that had some decent washouts to test the new mount with. Worked great!


Read more details and instructions if you want here: https://www.diymetalfabrication.com/vitara-tracker-diy-front-differential-pinion-mount-fix/

So all in all I spent ~$50 on the diff fix. It is stronger than stock and I think it will last a while.


My total outlay so far in this truck for everything including registration, cb, wiper blades, manual hubs, etc. is ~$1,750 and lots of elbow grease.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Here is the rest of the prep and misc mods prior to the Sunflower run at KS Rocks.


Again in the spirit of not spending any money I am reclycling anything that I have hoarded around the house.

First, I jerry rigged a toolbox I had laying around. I wanted it to be quickly removable without having to use tools.


Added some aluminum plates as reinforcement since the sides were not thick enough to support the tie-downs.




Always be prepared. This is all stuff I kept around after selling my prior rigs. Also added a 4 way lug wrench and a 5k come-a-long (not pictured) since i haven't gotten a winch yet.

Gertrude making sure I didn't forget her tennis ball...




Not ganna need this thing anymore


CB from Amazon and an old head unit out of the basement


Fixed a whole bunch of other rattles, maintenance, Removed carpet, replaced missing/rusted bolts, and a bunch of other stuff not worth mentioning.

Here is the most important mod though :D


Even after pulling the carpet the interior still smells like the gear oil/trans fluid that had been spilled in there, I think I am going to have to pull the rear seats out and spray/shampoo them eventually.
 

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Really dig this build thread. The u-bolt repair of the front diff is similar to other repairs I have scene but, you explained it very well.

Thanks for sharing!!!!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Really dig this build thread. The u-bolt repair of the front diff is similar to other repairs I have scene but, you explained it very well.

Thanks for sharing!!!!
Thanks SharpMachine!

I researched this mod to death and I can't remember if I saw a picture with a u-bolt or just read about it. Almost everything I found was 10+ years old and had broken picture links, so I wanted to make sure I documented well for others.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Finally got to go wheeling! This was back on June 9th.

PJ did great, the Exploder did great towing it also. No breakage and PJ kept up with the jeeps in the group just fine, nothing a little momentum couldn't overcome!

There were over 150 rigs at KS rocks. It was a busy day!



I got no action shots of PJ. This parked shot is the best I've got!


This is the hill above where I was parked. PJ made it up in one shot, it was pretty rocky where the blue jeep is stopped. He ended up backing down and finding another route.


Video from the event posted to the Midwest Crawlers YouTube

BOOM! Check out that massive flex :laughing: Removing the sway bar appears to have helped quite a bit. It still behaves just fine on-road with it off, just a little more body roll.


More pics here: https://www.diymetalfabrication.com/offroad-trip-to-ks-rocks-for-midwest-krawlers-sunflower-ride/


Since the trip I have just been tinkering with it and driving it to work occasionally.

I spent some time washing the mud out of the undercarriage so less mud would fall on my head during my next mod that I just started on :evil:
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Anybody near Lincoln/Omaha that wants to pick up some wheels/tires for me in Murdock NE and store them for a little bit until I can get up that way? Or anybody on their way from that area to KC?

I found a nice set of 31" TSL's on aftermarket wagon wheels that would fit PJ for cheap but can't get up there this weekend and the guy wants them gone within a week. I am in Kansas City.
 

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Good to see you back again Oober, I was hoping I would see you back here with another project one of these days.

Funny I had one of those rings about 6 months ago, I took it on trade thinking I'd use it for chasing coyotes. Took it out a few times and it just made me miss my blazer everytime so it helped persuade me to get back on it. Mine was a 4 cyl automatic with a lockrite in the rear, would have been a hell of alot funner rig with a 5speed.

Might want to pick up a cam sensor for it and through it in the glovebox, I had issues with mine and from what I read it's a common fail item.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Want to buy a front trail tough locker? I bought one and ended up putting a Toyota diff in instead.
That is the 'custom' diff on their website that you have to send a core in for right?

https://www.trailtough.com/product/sidekick-tracker-x90-custom-front-locker/

While I would love to have one, I am going to stay away from a front locker for as long as possible. I am having fun doing more wheeling and less repairs from the trail at the moment.


I am still under $2k with this entire build :smokin:. Going to try to keep it cheap and reliable.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Took PJ out to do some wheeling at KS Rocks a couple of weekends ago. It was a Midwest Krawlers event that had about 40 vehicles turn out. It was fun.

I didn't post about it yet but over the last month I welded the rear spiders, boy was it an improvement. This damn truck went up just about everything I pointed it at.

My big issues were belly and gas tank clearance. The transmission crossmember and gas tank have some pretty big dents and I knocked the exhaust off bottoming out in some large ruts (was able to slip it back on easily, just a loose exhaust clamp). Other than that everything worked great.

I bought an Amazon knock off GoPro and suction cup mount so I made up a quick video of PJ doing his thing. It starts off slow with a time lapse of loading up so feel free to fast forward to the good stuff.


I had a lot more video but my video editor software crashed and I didn't feel like doing it again so it is going to stay how it is :flipoff2:
 

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That is the 'custom' diff on their website that you have to send a core in for right?

https://www.trailtough.com/product/sidekick-tracker-x90-custom-front-locker/

While I would love to have one, I am going to stay away from a front locker for as long as possible. I am having fun doing more wheeling and less repairs from the trail at the moment.


I am still under $2k with this entire build :smokin:. Going to try to keep it cheap and reliable.
Yes, I believe it's a samurai lock rite and they machine it and/or the carrier to get it to fit.

I hear ya, I didn't realize the whole diff assembly was aluminum when I bought it.

Next thing I would suggest is these

Maxxis Carnivore Radial Tire 29x9.5-15 for Arctic Cat 700 TRV LTD 2013-2015 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079QNJLJ1/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_mxfoDbAXGY97D

I have the 32s and the traction is impressive, the 29s should fit with a lot let drama.
 
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