5th Gen 4Runner Skid Plates – Material Options and Choices – Complete Buyers Guide

 In 5th Gen Mods, Armor, Off-Road

RCI Skid Plate Install 5th Gen 4Runner

The Complete Skid Plate Guide for the 5th Gen 4Runner

This is a guide for every skid plate offered for the 5th Gen 4Runner. Hopefully, this guide will give you a better understanding of the different options available, and the brands that offer them.

With this guide, you can choose the skid plate path that best suits your build.

What skid plates you install will depend on how far you intend on pushing your 4Runner. Do you need a front skid plate only, or are you looking for a full set? This question is best answered by you, but only after you have had time to assess your particular needs.

You can install everything from an upgraded TRD engine skid plate replacement, down to a set of lower link skid plates in the rear. The extent of your additions should be based on your needs.

Whether you are looking for a simple engine skid plate or full underbelly protection, it’s important to know which brands offer skid plates for the 5th Gen 4Runner and which combination is best suited for your 4Runner.

Material Choice

Steel and aluminum are the most popular material choices for our 4Runners and they each have their advantages, disadvantages and characteristics that make them right for certain jobs. To help make sure you purchase the correct material for your needs and the exact area you are buying for, we’ll go over the differences between these two metals later on in the article.

Skid Plates Buyer Guide

There are lots of options when it comes to protecting your 4Runner.

Below are the top bolt-on applications for skid plates for the 5th Gen. If we missed something, leave it in the comments below.

Each skid offers protection for a certain area, and with all skids installed, your truck would be well-protected when it comes time to hit the trail.

Let’s start with the most common skid plates up top and work our way down.

Engine Skid Plate

Kingsbury Lake Tahoe - Genoa Peak

Price

  • Average Price: $400

Who makes them? 

  • RCI Off-road
  • CBI Off-road
  • C4 Fabrication
  • Budbuilt
  • Hefty Fabworks
  • Shrockworks
  • ARB
  • Victory 4×4
  • M.O.R.E.
  • Rock Steady Motorsports
  • Mobtown Off-road
  • LFD Off-road
  • Greenlane Off-road

As the front line of defense, the main engine skid plate will take the brunt of initial impacts to your undercarriage. It’s the gatekeeper to let you know whether or not the rest of the skid plates behind will clear an object.

Front skids help to prevent damage to some of the most vital portions of the 4Runner’s drivetrain. The engine, its oil pan, along with the 4Runner’s poorly placed oil cartridge filter are all protected by the engine skid plate.

As one of the most important skid plates that protect against large rocks, thick branches, brush, and general abuse, this skid plate is not one to skip and should be included on any build that sees real trail time.

Transmission Skids (Mid-Skid)

RCI Off-Road Skid Plates 5th Gen 4Runner

Price

  • Average Price: $350

Who makes them?

  • RCI Off-road
  • Shrockworks
  • CBI Off-road
  • Budbuilt
  • Hefty Fabworks
  • Victory 4×4
  • Mobtown Off-road

The transmission skid, also known as the mid-skid, is usually an extension of the engine skid plate between the rear engine cross member and the transmission crossmember.

It has the important job of protecting the transmission pan, and the shifting linkage farther up the side from rocks or a sneaky branch that can severely damage either venerable portion of the transmission.

If the transmission pan is damaged on the trail, you risk becoming immobile and causing irreversible damage to the transmission itself. If you’re far from the nearest road or cell service, being unable to drive can put you in a bad spot.

Do yourself a favor and protect your truck with a solid transmission skid.

Transfer Case

RCI Skid Plate Install 5th Gen 4Runner

Price

  • Average Price: $325

Who makes them?

  • Rock Steady Motorsports
  • RCI Off-road
  • Shrockworks
  • Budbuilt
  • Hefty Fabworks
  • Victory 4×4
  • Mobtown Off-road
  • LFD Off-road

The last piece to the belly pan skid plate puzzle is the transfer case skid. This piece usually attaches to the transmission crossmember at the front, and will have its own crossmember behind the transfer case to add extra strength.

This rear-most belly skid is also tasked with protecting the very exposed exhaust crossover pipe that hangs low just behind the transmission crossmember. Designs will vary by fabricator, but most will incorporate a bulge to facilitate the crossover pipe, keeping rattling to a minimum.

All in all, this additional skid plate will offer valuable protection from objects coming in contact with components in the middle most portion of the frame.

Fuel/Gas Tank Skids

RCI Off-Road Gas Tank Skid Plate

Price

  • Average Price: $440

Who makes them?

  • RCI Off-road
  • Shrockworks
  • CBI Off-road
  • C4 Fabrication
  • Budbuilt
  • Hefty Fabworks
  • Victory 4×4
  • Rago Fabrication

Most factory fuel tank skids are plastic with a thin plate of stamped steel.

This is a weak link for such a large piece of real estate under your 4Runner. Aftermarket offerings in both steel and aluminum can protect arguably the most important part of your 4Runner, your fuel supply.

This protection comes at the cost of weight, which makes the choice in material for this application very important. If you’re a forest road or desert trail kind of driver and you also daily commute, go with a lighter aluminum option.

If you like to venture into the rocks and need maximum protection, steel is the obvious choice because weight isn’t an issue and MPG might as well we spelled LOL.

Rear Differential & E-Locker Skids

Rear Differential & E-Locker Skids

Price

  • Average Price: $360

Who makes them? 

  • RCI Off-Road
  • C4 Fabrication
  • Budbuilt

The lowest hanging fruit on our 5th Gen 4Runner is the center of the rear differential. Thankfully, a well-built differential skid can help to protect that.

Some differential skids extend far enough to cover the universal joint at the base of the driveshaft and offer protection for the driveshaft yoke. Typically available in steel, these skids can take a beating on the trail, keeping your third member, and differential drain plug protected from anything coming their way.

Although the E-locker motor is located above the differential, it’s still exposed and can be damaged. Some of the differential skids have an available E-locker guard to protect this key 4wd tool from any undesired impacts. It’s a simple and effective way to keep your rear end locked and ready!

KDSS compatibility will vary by manufacturer, so check their website to check before you buy.

Lower Control Arm Skids (A-Arm Skids)

Lower Control Arm Skids (A-Arm Skids)

Price

  • Average Price: $235

Who makes them? 

  • RCI Off-Road
  • Icon Vehicle Dynamics
  • CBI Off-Road
  • Victory 4×4
  • Artec Industries

Protecting your lower control arms, commonly referred to as LCAs, is important because they are typically the lowest point in the front suspension linkage.

Navigating trails or desert terrain can easily put them in the path of brush and rocks. Impacts to your lower control arm can cause issues with alignment or a damaged arm, requiring replacement.

These LCAs aren’t a cheap part to replace in the event of severe damage and these skids will both help prevent damage from direct impacts as well as make it easier for them to slide over obstacles which can save you a trip to the alignment rack.

Most of the LCA skids available are for stock LCAs, although some companies like Total Chaos manufacture their own skids for their long travel LCAs. KDSS compatibility will vary by manufacturer.

Lower Link Skids (Rear Lower Control Arms)

Lower Link Skid Plate Install 5th Gen 4Runner

Price

  • Average Price: $140

Who makes them? 

  • RCI Off-Road
  • Total Chaos Fabrication

Lower link mounting points are located on the bottom side of the frame, just in front of the rear wheels. Because of this position, they are prone to impacts when traversing rocky terrain.

The mounts themselves are a thinner steel bracket with the link positioned between them. These thinner “wings” will easily bend and fold with the weight of the 4Runner on them.

Lower link skids are usually cut from mild steel to heavy-duty aluminum. A popular option has been the RCI Off-Road lower link skids, however, many companies are starting to build these skids.

With the addition of the skid plates, the stock link mounts are reinforced and supported keeping them from bending and binding against the lower links themselves.

Just about all lower link skids are bolt-on, but they can easily be welded to maximize the reinforcement to the factory bracket. This is a good option for those who use their rigs in the rocks often.

Rear shock skids/guards

Rear shock skids/guards

Price

  • Average Price: $140

Who makes them? 

  • Bullet Proof Fabricating
  • Icon Vehicle Dynamics
  • Rago Fabrication
  • RCI Off-road
  • FJ Toyman

Lower shock skids prevent damage to your rear shock mounts and lower shafts. Most shock skids will use the main lower shock bolt with a combination of other hardware to secure it to the shock mount on the axle.

These rear shock skids protect both the mounting bracket, as well as the shock shaft itself. If your 4Runner sees continuous off-road use, these exposed lower bits will show increased wear due to their location behind the front wheels where debris is constantly being kicked up.

These impacts can cause pitting in the shock shaft, which can lead to leaking shaft seals. The additional protection these small skids offer can save you from needing a shock rebuild earlier in their lifespan and will keep your lower shock mount in much better shape over time.

The FJ Toyman skid does not protect the shaft of the shock, but it offers beefy protection for the lower mount against big rock impacts. The other offerings are more focused on protection from flying debris impacting the lower mount and shock which can add up to a lot of damage over time.

Choosing the Right Material

So… you have decided that installing skid plates is on your 4Runner’s build path.

Before deciding which brand to move forward with, you will have to decide what material each skid plate will be made from.

You see, not all companies offer both options for their products, so your decision on which you would like to install will determine what product options you have. To help you decide, here are some things to consider:

  • Weight
  • Affordability
  • Strength
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Level of protection

These different categories will have different priorities for every build path based on personal preferences and conditions. Let’s break things down farther based on these categories…

Weight

Aluminum is a “lightweight” metal so they are just that… lighter in weight.

Compared to their steel counterparts, aluminum plates tend to be about 1/2 to 2/3 the overall weight.

Since it’s a lighter material, in most cases you’re less likely notice a dramatic impact to fuel economy . This can be beneficial if you’re preparing a 4Runner that can tackle light trails. It also will impact your suspension dynamics less than steel, allowing you to use a lighter coil set to support the weight.

When you choose to buy steel or aluminum skid plates, think about any extra weight your bumpers and accessories might add as well. You might be able to save weight by opting for aluminum, if skid plates aren’t as important to your build.

Steel will naturally be heavier than aluminum in this application.

Fuel economy and suspension performance will undoubtedly be affected by the additional weight. Its increased strength that comes with the extra weight makes the sacrifice worth it to some. They will rely on these skid plates to take a beating and will sacrifice something heavy else on their build to balance the load.

If you are looking for protection with low weight, go with aluminum. If weight isn’t a concern and protection is the ultimate goal, go with steel.

Strength

Aluminum armor is usually available in a 1/4″ thickness and offers some good benefits over steel.

This does not mean that aluminum isn’t strong when it’s incorporated into a well build skid design. As a metal it will behave differently than steel. It will bend before it breaks thanks to its more malleable composition. But this same malleability makes it less likely to perform well in heavy rocks or where big impacts are likely.

The advantage to this malleability is that you can likely straighten an aluminum skid plate with basic tool if you do manage to bend one. So while it is not as strong it is easier to repair depending on the engineering. You can only do this so many times until the aluminum skid plate is too weak to repair or deformed out of alignment. At this point, the skid would need to be replaced.

Typically available in 3/16″ thickness, steel is a much stronger metal for skid plates and armor.

When it comes to strength, steel will always win. This increase in strength makes it much more suited for those that take their 4Runners through more demanding terrain such as rock gardens and severely rutted tracks.

Steel’s thinner and stronger composition makes it easier to construct into a sleeker skid plate that can still be very strong without the same amount of reinforcement that aluminum requires. This can lead to more ground clearance in some of the skid locations, which is always welcome on the trail. In high impact zones like rear differential skids, they are only available in steel because of the demands that location requires.

Steel is able to hold its shape over much harder hits however if it does fail, it won’t be as easy to repair on the trail. Steel will fail more often at the weld than anywhere else, because deformations will put larger stresses on edges and joints.

There are many different areas to look at in terms of strength though. For more technical information on material and armor strength, here is a very good article that goes into detail on the science behind its strength.

Affordability

When it comes to pricing, aluminum skid plates are almost always more expensive. The metal itself, and the cost to weld it is more expensive compared with steel which leads to a higher asking price.

The higher price for aluminum can be justified if you are looking to save weight, don’t need super duty protection, or live somewhere plagued by rust. Although you might need to be choosier with which skids you purchase if budget is a constraint.

You can get more bang for buck with steel skid plates, but there might be other costs that come with the addition of that weight. Being forced to upgrade suspension components to handle the load can quickly rack up the overall cost. But it’s well worth the cost for being as close as possible to total protection.

Corrosion Resistance

Aluminum does not rust. That’s a huge advantage over steel, but it can still become oxidized over time which results in a dull finish. This means for all of you on the east coast rust belt you can go off-roading without touching up paint. So no more repainting your skids after every excursion!

Unfortunately steel skid plates do not have the same corrosion resistance. Rust will form over any bare steel, and where you live will dictate how fast that rust happens. So unless you’re on the west coast where thing’s don’t rust as quickly, you will have to keep your skid plates maintained and painted constantly.

With aluminum, there is little to no rust maintenance, and between the two options, aluminum is the better choice for high corrosion zones.

What does it mean???

Here are a few build scenarios and suggestions for skid plates based on the information above:

Owner daily drives their 4Runner, spends little to no time off-road but wants added protection over stock

  • The belly: Aluminum
  • The fuel tank: Aluminum

Owner daily drives their 4Runner, but weekend warriors their 4Runner on mild forest roads and lite technical trails

  • The belly: Steel
  • The fuel tank: Aluminum

Owner spends time in desert or high speed conditions often with little to no technical trails

  • The belly: Aluminum
  • The fuel tank: Aluminum
  • Lower control arms: Aluminum
  • Rear shock skids: Steel (not offered in aluminum)

Owner uses their 4Runner for adventure on moderate technical trails including rock gardens and minor ledges

  • The belly: Steel
  • The fuel tank: Steel
  • The rear differential: Steel
  • Lower control arms: Aluminum
  • Lower links: Steel

Owner wheels their 4Runner hard on difficult technical trails with large boulders and ledges

  • All the skids: Steel everything

5th Gen 4Runner Skid Plate Cheat Sheet

To help compare all of the skid options in an easier to read, side-by-side comparison, please refer to the chart below

Skid Plate Type

Price Range

Material Type

Steel(lb)

Aluminum(lb)

Engine

RCI Off-road295⁠–390Aluminum & Steel45N/A
CBI Off-road395⁠–530Aluminum & Steel55N/A
C4 FabricationN/AN/AN/AN/A
Budbuilt289⁠–556Aluminum & Steel3021
Hefty Fabworks495⁠–645AluminumN/A25
Shrockworks309⁠–349Steel42N/A
ARB419⁠–462SteelN/AN/A
Victory 4x4295⁠–415Aluminum & SteelN/AN/A
M.O.R.E.495AluminumN/AN/A
Rock Steady Motorsports285Aluminum20N/A
Mobtown Off-road250⁠–400Aluminum & Steel6428
LFD Off-road180⁠–220SteelN/AN/A
Greenlane Off-road550⁠–650AluminumN/A26

Transmission/Mid

RCI Off-road225⁠–300Aluminum & Steel35N/A
Shrockworks299⁠–339Steel28N/A
CBI Off-road400⁠–635Aluminum & Steel65N/A
Budbuilt249⁠–478Aluminum & Steel45N/A
Hefty Fabworks369⁠–515AluminumN/A20
Victory 4x4269⁠–389Aluminum & SteelN/AN/A
Mobtown Off-road200⁠–325Aluminum & Steel4518

Transfer Case

Rock Steady Motorsports280Aluminum30N/A
RCI Off-road270⁠–330Aluminum & Steel35N/A
Shrockworks279⁠–319Steel29N/A
Budbuilt229⁠–466Aluminum & Steel43N/A
Hefty Fabworks350⁠–450AluminumN/A10
Victory 4x4289⁠–409Aluminum & Steel38N/A
Mobtown Off-road125⁠–225Aluminum & Steel2515
LFD Off-road280SteelN/AN/A

Fuel Tank

RCI Off-road300–400Aluminum & Steel56N/A
Shrockworks349–389Steel56N/A
CBI Off-Road276–590Aluminum & Steel100N/A
C4 Fabrication389Steel62N/A
Budbuilt379–720Steel66N/A
Hefty Fabrication450–600N/A30
Victory 4x4329–449Aluminum & Steel55N/A
Rago Fabrication390-510Steel65N/A

Lower Control Arms

Artec Industries250AluminumN/A7
RCI Off-road150–200Aluminum & Steel18N/A
CBI Off-road190–370Aluminum & SteelN/AN/A
Victory 4x4149SteelN/AN/A
Icon Vehicle Dynamics184SteelN/AN/A

Lower Links

Total Chaos Fabrication149SteelN/AN/A
RCI Off-road130Steel18N/A

Rear Shocks

Bullet Proof Fabricating120SteelN/AN/A
RCI Off-road95Steel6N/A
FJ Toyman125–150N/AN/A
Rago Fabrication150SteelN/AN/A
Icon Vehicle Dynamics132
SteelN/AN/A

Rear Differential

RCI295Steel22N/A
C4 Fabrication275Steel18N/A
Budbuilt298–429Steel22N/A

The Trail Takeaway

The best way to determine which combination of skid plates is best for your vehicle (other than reading this article), is to plan out your build and what you intend to do with your 4Runner using the above information to guide you.

Think about all of the possibilities and purchase accordingly so that you can protect what you need without sacrificing weight or strength where you might need it most.

Questions or Comments? Leave them below!

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solooverland
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solooverland

Thank you for this! I just put RCI transmission, t-case, and gas tank aluminum plates on this summer. Love them!

Ryan Gibbons
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Ryan Gibbons

Dude this was such an awesome article. Nice work!

Minh Nguyen
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Minh Nguyen

I really am curious what the weight of the transfer, transmission, & gas-tank aluminum skids from RCI are compared to the steel equivalent.

Pablo
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Pablo

This is such a great article! I wish it was out 6 months ago when I started with skids!
Anyone who’s thinking about buying a set I would say don’t need to stick with the same fabricator for all the pieces. And also, wait until they have a sale!

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Great write up! Really appreciate it!

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