Project RAV4X4: A one month update [Video]

Here's what I've done during the first month of Project RAV4X4.

Time flies when you're having fun, but it also scoots right along when you're toiling away in the garage trying to bring back an old SUV from the brink of the scrap heap. It's somehow been a month since I turned the first wrench on my 1997 Toyota RAV4, so I thought it was high time I issued a progress report on Project RAV4X4.

Just as a refresher, I bought my RAV4 for just $1,500 a few weeks ago with the intention of turning it into a mini monster truck. But before I could get to the fun stuff like installing a lift kit and mounting mud tires, I needed to get my 245,000 mile RAV4 back into reasonable health.

That started with addressing a gas tank that was being partial held on by a combination of a C-clamp and some string. Thanks to the modern wonders of Amazon, it easy to find and buy the necessary replacement gas tank straps, but the hardware that was on my RAV4 made the job a little more difficult. Several of the bolts holding on the various gas tank shields were rusted in place and snapped off when I tried to remove them. Thankfully the bolts that were holding on the broken gas strap were fine, so those important pieces came out without much fuss.

Next I decided to get a baseline on the engine. I ordered a complete timing belt kit -- once again sourced from Amazon -- and began the process of partially disassembling the engine. The engine teardown was an exercise in patience --- pretty much every bolt you have to get to is tucked right up against the passenger's side fender -- but I eventually managed to get off everything I needed to. The reassembly went a little easier since I had a better of how everything fit together, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. I spent the better part of a day trying to get the engine timing right to no avail. After I was done banging my head against a wall, I decided to take everything apart to double check if I missed something. As it turned out, the company I ordered the timing belt kit from missed something.

The belt that arrived in my kit was slightly bigger than the original, which made it impossible to get the engine timing right. Luckily my local AutoZone had the right size belt in stock, and once it was installed I had no problem getting the timing spot on.

With that major service done, I turned my attention to a rather severe oil leak coming from the oil pan gasket. Removal of all of the oil pan's bolts proved more difficult than first expected, but I eventually got them all out. It was at this point of no return that I realized the exhaust system had to be removed before you could drop the oil pan to replace the gasket. Faced with the daunting challenge of removing several rusted-on exhaust bolts, I did the only reasonable thing and sliced off the exhaust pipe with a cutting wheel.

With the exhaust out of the way I removed the pan, replaced the gasket and then reinstalled it. Which did absolutely nothing for my oil leak. 5W30 was still gushing out from around the oil pan, so I ordered another gasket and a new pan just in case mine was bent. And, wouldn't you know, the leak was still there when I installed those new parts. It's at this point that I decided to leave that problem for another day.

Hoping for a less frustrating job, I slipped on a biohazard suit and began the task of steam cleaning my RAV4's disgusting interior. To my surprise, the RAV4's durable interior gave up all of its stains willingly. All of the major spots came out from the upholstery, and the Lego-like interior came apart easily so I could clean all the nooks and crannies.

While I was on a cosmetic kick, I also decided to remove my RAV4's pinstripes. I think it looks much better without them, and it should help down the line when I attempt to wrap the car myself.

And my final achievement from the last month was installing a new radio in my RAV4. It came with an aftermarket CD player that was OK, but I really wanted a head unit that had Bluetooth for phone calls and audio. I did some bargain hunting and found a JVC unit at Best Buy that was on sale. Best of all, it had a blue and pink color scheme that matched the interior of my very 90s Toyota.

And that concludes the one month progress report on my plucky little four-by-four. I still have a lot of work left to do, but I'm finally about to enter the fun stage of the project. My lift kit has finally arrived from Australia, and I have mud tires and driving lights waiting to be installed. Project RAV4X4 is just starting to get good, so be sure to check back for all the latest updates.

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