Build/Rig Feature + Interview: Francis Ngo’s OEM+ 5th Gen ORP 4Runner Is The Perfect Rig To Take You On Your Next Adventure
Welcome back to another Walkaround Wednesday! Last week, we looked at Oleg’s (owner of Sandy Cats) 4Runner; you can check out that article here.
We hope this series has inspired you to get out and use your own rig to explore the world around you through vehicle-based adventure.
Today, we’ll be talking to Francis Ngo (@wheresfrancis), an avid overlander and tech guru based out of California. You may know Francis and his 4Runner build from his YouTube channel, where he documents his overland adventures and mod installations. Keep reading to learn more about this tastefully-built rig.
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- Instagram tag: @wheresfrancis
- State: California
- Year: 2020
- Make and Model: Toyota 4Runner
- Trim: Off-Road Premium
- Color: Aftermarket Wrap – Quicksand
- BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrain Tires – 285/70R17 (Review)
- Steal Custom Series Ray 10 Wheels, Matte Jet Black
- Icon Stage 7 Suspension Kit
- Eimkeith Panhard Correction Kit (Install & Review)
- Body Mount Chop
- RSG Rock Sliders with Top Plate (Install & Review)
Lightning & Electrical:
- Diode Dynamics SS3 Pro Fog Lights (Review)
- Diode Dynamics 42″ Stage Series Light Bar (Install & Review)
- Xenon Depot Xtreme LED Low/High Beam Bulbs (Install & Review)
- Switch Pros SP9100 Switch System (Install)
- SD Offroad MT Switch Pros Mount Tray
- EcoFlow Delta 1300 Portable Power Station
- EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel
- AreaBFE Black Series Hardshell Rooftop Tent
- AreaBFE Pull-Out Awning
- Pelican 1745 Air Long Case (mounted to Rooftop Tent)
- Wheel Every Weekend Rooftop Tent Security Mounts
- Prinsu Roof Rack (Install & Review)
- Gobi Driver Side Liftgate Ladder (Install & Review)
- Dometic CFX3 35 Fridge/Freezer (Trail Review)
- DIY Dual Drawer System and Sleeping Platform
- 3W Liners Custom Rubber Floor Mats
- WeBoost Drive Reach OTR Cell Booster
- ARB Twin Air Compressor (Install & Review)
- Maxtrax MKII Recovery Boards, Safety Orange (Review)
- Quicksand Aftermarket Wrap
- TRD Pro Grille Swap
Tell Us About Yourself. Why A 4Runner?
My name is Francis. I am a software engineer currently working toward my product management certification. When I’m not immersed in the tech world, I’m passionate about photography, creating content on YouTube, and embarking on outdoor adventures. My love for camping, hiking, and exploration takes me to remote places where my trusty 4Runner plays a vital role in making these experiences possible.
I became the proud owner of my 4Runner in November 2019, so it’s been with me for four great years. My first connection with the 4Runner began with the 2001 model, or “3rd Gens”, which I loved. Unfortunately, as a college student, the cost of gas led me to part ways with it. However, I held onto the dream of owning another one.
Once I was able to secure a full-time job, I patiently saved up to acquire the 2020 model year 4Runner. This newer model was the first year Toyota introduced comfort features like Apple CarPlay, Dynamic Cruise Control, and keyless entry to the 4Runner.
I opted for the TRD Off-Road Premium trim because it has the same functionality and features as the TRD PRO but without the TRD Fox suspension, wheels, and additional mark-up price that I saw from dealerships. My intention was always to upgrade the suspension and wheels so the TRD Off-Road Premium, with rear lockers and crawl control, represented a practical choice for me.
How Do You Use Your 4Runner?
My 4Runner serves as my gateway to remote camping destinations, where I seek out breathtaking views and memorable camping spots. It’s essentially my camping companion which explains why I’ve outfitted it with a portable fridge, charging station, a sleeping platform inside (for those nights when I am sleeping in the city), and a well-thought-out kitchen setup.
Given my goals to traverse through different states across the West Coast, I needed a vehicle capable of handling long drives and rugged off-road terrain. To accommodate larger tires, I had to make several modifications, including trimming the front bumper, pushing the fender liner, and getting a body mount chop. Since then, I’ve had zero challenges with the 4Runner.
Tell Us About Your Build Process.
With the exception of the tires, all the modifications were done by me, including the vinyl wrap (the original color is Barcelona Red). The labor-intensive process took roughly 80 hours to complete. Some other notable upgrades include the ICON stage 2 and subsequently the stage 7 suspension, the Prinsu roof rack, RSG rock sliders, and an onboard ARB dual compressor equipped with SwitchPro, which the installation can be seen on my YouTube channel.
My approach to building my 4Runner was rooted in the idea of living out of it, a decision that became a reality during the pandemic. With my job being remote, I transitioned to a nomadic lifestyle and adapted my 4Runner for this purpose. I installed a rooftop tent and storage box on top for camping and hiking gear, along with a custom two-drawer system that I could convert the passenger seats into a sleeping platform.
Do You Regret Any Mods?
Yes, I do regret installing the ICON stage 7 suspension. While it delivers high performance, it demands frequent maintenance – every 10,000 to 15,000 miles to prevent squeaking and potential leaks. This maintenance requirement poses challenges for me as a road-tripper living out of my 4Runner. In hindsight, I would explore alternatives like the Dobinsons MRR or OMEs, which perform well without the same maintenance demands.
What’s Your Favorite Mod? Least Favorite?
My favorite modification has to be the custom two-drawer system that I built. It keeps my 4Runner organized and allows for an easy conversion into a passenger vehicle when needed. It has been perfect for me as it only takes a few minutes to change.
An honorable mention would have to be the vinyl wrap. As much as I love the 4Runner in Barcelona Red, I also love the Quicksand color on the 2016 TRD Pro. It’s a rare color and it adds protection from pinstripes to the original color.
My least favorite would have to be the ICON stage 7 suspension due to its demanding maintenance requirements and associated costs.
What’s Next For Your 4Runner?
In the near future, I’m eyeing an upgrade to the iKamper Mini 3.0. While I don’t have any issues with the current clamshell tent, I want to get a hardshell tent that would take up less space on the roof rack. As it stands with the Pelican case above, the 4Runner is too tall for most city garages.
I also have plans to incorporate ditch and chase lights during the holiday season when I visit home. Future modifications are likely to include a new drawer system as the current one is showing signs of wear, and I’m exploring suspension replacement options like the Dobinson MRR kit or OME Nitrochargers for their reduced service time intervals.
My next adventure is a week-long trip to the Owyhee Canyonlands in Eastern Oregon and in December, I plan on doing another week-long trip to do some winter camping in Idaho.
That’s all for today’s Walkaround Wednesday! A huge thanks to Francis for sharing this impressive build with us. It’s amazing how capable and functional the 4Runner platform is, and just a few tasteful mods can transform this SUV into a rugged machine.
To learn more about Francis’ 4Runner or see how he has installed these mods, head on over to his YouTube Channel (@francisngo). You can also stay up to speed with his build through his Instagram (@wheresfrancis) and his personal website.
Join us next week for another Walkaround Wednesday!