DIY 2nd Row Seat Hidden Molle Panel Install – Making the Most of the Hidden Space for 5th Gen 4Runners
Hiding your gear or other 4Runner-kept items can help free up cargo space, reduce clutter, and hopefully keep prying eyes and break-ins to a minimum. In an effort to hide and store my recovery gear, I turned to this site and found a great post on a Simple Sleeping Platform Build.
Now, had I waited a few years, these additional write-ups would have been available for me to consider:
As a car camper, a low-profile cargo build fit both my budget and needs perfectly. I followed the build thread from Sgt Keebler. I could hide my recovery gear, still maintain a practical and uncluttered cargo area, and flatten out the back when the 2nd row seats are folded down for sleeping—checking all the boxes and more.
It took just a quick trip to realize that this setup required me to pull almost everything out of the cargo area when I wanted to access my recovery straps for a friend who got stuck on the way to a campsite. Not ideal. I needed something more accessible, yet still hidden, for my recovery gear. The low-profile drawer thread would have solved this, but I didn’t want to go through a rebuild.
When I was looking to make more sleeping room, I accidentally discovered that the underside of the larger bench seat is hollow. The bottom plastic liner and seat cushion compress a fair amount. Pull the plastic liner off and there is plenty of empty space to work with. I found my new spot to store (and hide) my recovery gear!
This simple DIY setup will cover the process of removing the bench, figuring out the usable space for storing your gear, and a few extra steps to make sure everything is secured and quiet. I initially thought of creating a clean and custom design MOLLE panel with a company like Send-Cut-Send, but I ultimately decided to keep this inexpensive and more utilitarian in practice.
Note: 4Runners with a 3rd row seat have a different 2nd-row seat configuration. Access to the underside of the seat is not possible since it keeps the bench and seat-back as one unit.
Tools and Supplies
- 14-mm socket
- Phillips head screwdriver
- Flathead screwdriver (or plastic removal pry tool)
Find It Online:
- MOLLE panel (18.5″ x 10″)
- Various Length Velcro Straps
- Black Fabric (I selected a canvas material from a local fabric store)
Step 1. Remove the Larger Bench Seat
There are only two (2) bolts holding your bench seat in place. Pull off the two (2) plastic covers with your hands, or use a flathead screwdriver to apply some leverage. They should just pop off.
Once removed, there is a single 14-mm bolt in each location. Remove each bolt and set them aside as they’ll be needed to reinstall the seat.
Step 2. Remove the Plastic Bottom Cover
Once the bench seat is pulled from your 4Runner, unscrew the two (2) rubber feet and two (2) Phillips screws around the latching point. Pulling against the plastic cover at the seam where it meets the fabric, working your way around the edge. Lift the latch area up slightly to slip out the plastic cover. The plastic liner is tough, so don’t worry about cracking or breaking it. I chose to not keep it and set it aside, but you could modify it with an opening to maintain an OEM look.
There are fabric clips holding the seat cushion fabric in place; twist and separate any remaining portions that did not come apart when removing the plastic cover. This will allow you to completely separate the frame cushion making the next step very easy.
Step 3. Place Your Selected Fabric Between the Seat Cushion and Seat Frame
Roughly eyeball the amount of fabric needed and cut out a bit extra; the turns in the frame take up more fabric than you might think.
Place the seat frame back onto the bottom of the cushion, working the frame back into its original position, adjusting the fabric as you go. Trim the edges of the fabric, and tuck the remaining amount between the cushion and seat cover itself. This will ensure that the fabric stays in place. Snap all of the seat cushion fabric clips back onto the frame.
Step 4. Find the Best Position for the MOLLE Panel
The dimensions of the area where the MOLLE panel will attach to your seat frame is approximately 19″ x 11″. I found an 18.5″ x 10″ panel on Amazon that kept this build fairly inexpensive. Placing the panel as close to the seat legs provided the most usable spaced for my gear when the seat is in its normal position. The closer to the latch you place it, the less room you will have for gear to stick out from the panel.
Step 5. Attach the MOLLE Panel to the Seat Frame
Use zip-ties to attach as much of the panel to the wire frame as possible. When the seat is in its normal position, everything attached to the panel is hanging upside down. Because I opted for a cheaper plastic panel, I didn’t want it to warp or break over time. Clip the zip ties so your friends don’t give you a hard time.
Step 6. Organize Your Gear on the MOLLE Panel (Considering Spacing Requirements)
The plastic cover in the earlier photos is a great indicator for how far out your gear can sit from the panel without interfering with the seat’s normal position when folded down.
(From left to right)
I used the pocket area of the frame to keep my strap ends in place and the next area to hold the snatch strap nicely. Make sure to pull it to the left as far as possible; otherwise the headrest will stop the seat back from folding completely flat.
To the right of the snatch strap, the headrest is a limiting factor to consider and I opted to put my tow hitch pin and shackles here. The small area to the right fits my 2″ receiver and shackle perfectly.
The hidden MOLLE panel under the second row seat solved my goals of storing my recovery gear out of sight and keeping the cargo area clutter-free. There is more you can do to aesthetically improve the design, including painting the frame, creating a custom-sized MOLLE panel to fit the seat frame better, and trimming the OEM plastic cover to keep the look. However, for a simple and clean install, this was a perfect balance between getting it done and making it look clean.
Do you have ideas on how to further improve this DIY? Let me know! I’m interested to see where and how the community will refine and improve it.