2003 Montero Limited - Lawrence of Arizona


How to begin? Everyone knows I love my 98 Montero, AKA Black Betty. I never even dreamed about another Montero because I love how capable the Gen 2.5 is but over our 16,000 adventure miles together I've been wanting a more comfortable vehicle in terms of on and off road ride quality and steering response, interior environment, and horsepower.

I'd been intrigued by the Gen 3 since I first got into Monteros and tried to jump on a great deal that I found on Craigslist about 10 months ago but it sold within hours of posting and I missed out. My plan with that one was to just keep it stock and daily drive it even though I don't really have an interest in daily driving a car that gets sub 20 mpgs and isn't very sporty but that's how good of a deal it was and it definitely peaked my Gen3 curiosity.

So fast forward a few months and AZ Crew Mechanic In Chief, Ernest, tells me he is driving out to California with a Montero Sport Limited to flat tow back a Gen3 with a dead transmission. But not just any Gen3, the famous 2003 Limited from Imnosaint and then Marutuk's build threads. I was really excited about this because it meant that if Ernest ever decided to part with the rig, I'd hear about it and have a shot at it.

Over the next couple of months Ernest did the following maintenance:
  • Transmission replaced with a used one but low mileage - around 117k.
  • New crankshaft bearings (main, rod, and thrust)
  • New Oil Pump
  • New Motor Mounts
  • New o-ring in the back of passenger cyl head
  • Valve cover gasket on passenger cyl head
  • New inner tie rod ends
  • New steering rack boots
Then he started to get attached to the Gen3 and did what he does to all of his vehicles - wonder how big of tires he can stuff underneath without lifting the vehicle. This resulted in:
  • 4.90 gear swap
  • The almost new 285/75R16 BFG KO2 tires that Marutuk bought about a year ago and the wheels they were on were switched out for 15" steelies with 35x12.50R15 BFG KO2s.
  • Front brake calipers were sanded a bit to clear the 15" steel wheels.
  • 1/4" wheel spacers in the front
  • Front fenders rolled up about 1/2"
But even with the OME 2" HD lift and these mechanic-special fender mods, the 35s still rubbed on the inner fenders under full articulation. The 35s actually ripped out the inner fender liners from rubbing.

At this point, this is how the rigged looked:



I went wheeling with Ernest and was impressed by the Gen3. He drove it past where I felt comfortable taking Betty for fear of body damage and indeed he did get a small dent in the passenger rear rocker/door area right because the Rocky Road Sliders don't have any sort of kick out, but still - I was impressed.

I hit this steep hill with Betty with the rear locker on and a heavy dose of throttle, and so did another Gen 2.5 that we were with and we didn't have any issues. Ernest wasn't planning on doing that optional obstacle but then he was like "well, I can't be the only one who doesn't do it." So he hit it with the Gen3 and it did it almost as smoothly as our 2.5s with lockers on and we're talking about a very steep and high hill with mixed rock and loose sand.

He also managed to navigate very tight trails with low hanging branches despite the height and added width of the Gen3. And I was really blown away by how stable the rig was. On off camber situations that felt dicy on the Gen 2.5, the Gen 3 was firmly planted.


Shortly before this wheeling trip, Ernest had decided to sell the Gen3 because he got a JK and knowing that the vehicle was about to be posted publicly for sale I decided to go take a deeper, more in-depth look at it. I asked hundred questions, drove all around town running errands with Ernest and his kids, and he even left me take it offroad on my test drive. Sadly, the Gen3 wheel spin presented itself on this test. It's amazing how little of an obstacle will cause the Gen3 to lose traction from its lack of articulation, requiring you to give it gas and cause the traction control to kick in, and then stare at the sky as it 3 (or 2) wheels over the obstacle. It was a very strange, foreign, and unsettling feeling. For my entire 4x4 life, I've been trained not to spin my wheels and Betty very rarely does. If it happens, I immediately get off the throttle, back up and pick a better line, or throw on the rear locker - but this test confirmed that I would need to learn to drive this vehicle differently and either:

A. rely on the traction control and get really good at 3 wheelin
B. invest in a rear locker and use it a lot more than in the Gen 2.5 because of the more limited articulation

I had several reservations:

1. Betty is an amazing vehicle that I've built for my needs and she's religiously maintained
2. I know everything about Betty and am more experienced working on Gen 2s.
3. Worried about the Gen3 style of wheeling
4. Gen3s are generally known as the least reliable Montero generation (more technology / more complicated systems)
5. Gen3 needs work - lots of little miscellaneous things to fix plus the expensive locker installation
6. Exterior of the Gen3 is kinda beat up - from the sun faded bedliner rockers, hood paint, busted up rear bumper, and rolled fenders.

BUT in the end, I decided that I would give the Gen3 a shot. I mean, when else would I have an opportunity to so easily own a vehicle with all of these mods? Ernest and I made a deal and I decided to put the 2 Monteros head to head in a comprehensive test to see which one I would keep. I can't justify having 2 dedicated weekend vehicles and I just bought a new daily driver a month ago (2013 Sonata). And plus, I mostly do the same kind of wheeling all the time so even if I had both, I'd probably always drive the better vehicle (for my needs) and would probably find that the other one was just being forgotten so even though a lot of you will probably instinctively say "just keep both", it's not possible - there can be only one built Montero for me.

Because of Imnosaint's Dakar theme with rally stickers on the sides and the big Bedouin on the hood, I decided to name the new-to-me Montero: Lawrence of Arizona.

Let's get ready to rumble!



Looking for that thing i just had in my hand...
I have both too obviously, but I'm going to contribute to your thread even though we've discussed this in real life already. I agree the gen 3 really is counter intuitive when it comes to 4 wheeling. Steady throttle and teeter along letting traction control donits job, they also don't like you to use gas and brake at the same time.
I think for your uses, add a locker and the Gen 3 will be the best choice. I'll go the other way with mine, i like it a lot but i also don't like it on tough trails (plus I have a gen 2 for that). My favorite thing with the Gen 3 is camping and light wheeling, it has so much more space and comfort for long trips.


Before I could begin the head to head test, I needed to take care of the tire rubbing.

35s are too big for my kind of overlanding. I think the tradeoff in speed, reliability, mpgs, stability, and handling isn't worth it for the extra 1" of clearance. So I started researching my options and wow, what a project that turned into.

First I thought of going with the factory 16" Gen3 wheels and 285/75R16 tires but I ran into a snag: Hardly any tire manufacturers make that size tire in an All Terrain that isn't Load E. I didn't want to run Load E because the tires are heavier, don't flex when aired down, and ride harsher. I've found that Load Cs are rated fine for the Montero's weight. Load D would also be okay with me but again, Nitto Trail Grapplers are pretty much the only tire that comes in D. I didn't want the Trail Grapplers because I don't think they have enough sidewall protection, they're a more mild AT in my opinion. Same goes for the General Grabber AT2s (basically a KO1 copy). That only left the Pirelli Scorpion MTS which I could get brand new for $600 installed but I didn't really want to run a mud terrain. The whole point of the Gen3 is to be more refined and comfortable than the previous generation so by putting on MTs I felt like that would be going against my mission.

OK so 16" wheels are out because of available tire load ranges.

So then I looked at the possibility of going to 17" Gen3 wheels (2005-2006 Monteros I think) and that opened up a lot more tire options. BFG now makes the KO2 (which I've loved having on Betty) in a Load C in 285/70R17 specifically designed and sold with new Rubicons so they are easy to find.

The only alternative I considered to this size was going up to 285/75R17 (34") but there is only one tire available in that size in Load C - Again, by Nitto - their more aggressive AT: The Ridge Grappler.

But I wasn't sure if I would still have rubbing issues by going down from 35s to 34s and I also didn't want to be boxed into having to run Ridge Grapplers in that size which are pretty rare in case I ever needed to buy a single replacement tire, etc. BFG KO2s are way more plentiful in 33" so I decided to go with that.

Now onto Wheels - this was also a challenge. My goal was to end up with a stance where the tires were the widest part of the vehicle which seems harder to achieve with Gen 3s and it's big front fenders and already wider track. Turns out that the stock Montero Gen 3 wheels are +46 offset which means they reside very deep inside the wheel wells. Plus, finding used 17" Montero wheels would not be easy.

Looking on craigslist I found that Toyota 17x7 wheels are plentiful and cheap, especially the stock 5th Gen 4runner ones and they are +15 offset which pushes them out 1.22 inches. My buddy has a 2015 4Runner and I've always liked his wheels so I decided to go this route. There were lots of like new sets to choose from on OfferUp.

The final conundrum that I faced was the issue of centerbore. The Toyota wheels have a centerbore of 106.2mm and the Gen 3 Montero has this tiny and weird hub size of 67.1mm and the front of the vehicle is hub-centric. I looked online and found a site that had the necessary hub-centric rings in stock and I highly recommend them: http://us.hubcentric-rings.com


I decided that the alloy 4runner wheels would clash with the gold paint and decided to continue with the bedliner look that is on the rockers.

First step: Wash, Sand the wheels, Wash again, then clean the wheels with alcohol.

2nd step: Paint with self-etching primer:

3rd: 3 coats of Rustoleum bedliner paint:

I taped off the centerbore area of the wheels because I was scared that the coats of bedliner would interfere with the hubcentric rings but looking back on this, I wouldn't worry about this detail and would just spray the whole thing.

Out with the old:

In with the new:

A couple other notes:

1. I went with extended length Toyota lug nuts by Gorilla. They are Mag style and are not only longer on the outside (easier for a socket to hold on to) but also have a little longer thread area.

2. I removed the front 1/4" spacers because I don't want to have an extra wheel fitting (Wheel + Wheel Spacer + Hub-centric Ring). The tires are pretty much even with the fenders in the front and stick out a little in the back. I'd still like to push them out a little bit more and if I decide to keep this vehicle I'll probably get a custom set of hub-centric wheel spacers made to push them out 1/2" more.

3. I wish I could get black lug nuts but haven't had any luck finding a company that makes them yet in the same size and thread pitch that doesn't cost over $100.
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Some of you might have noticed that the rock sliders changed from the first post to the second. I mentioned that Ernest got into some rocks when we went wheeling so in between that trip and the time I bought the vehicle, he and Toasty installed a set of Trail Gear sliders on Lawrence :)
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I think for your uses, add a locker and the Gen 3 will be the best choice. I'll go the other way with mine, i like it a lot but i also don't like it on tough trails (plus I have a gen 2 for that). My favorite thing with the Gen 3 is camping and light wheeling, it has so much more space and comfort for long trips.
Ya, you're lucky though and get to keep 2 Monteros but I haven't been successful yet in convincing my wife to daily drive a Gen3 yet. I'll keep trying though!


5/26/18: I went to the junkyard and got some miscellaneous little things.

This hinge cover was loose and kept falling out when the center console was opened, so I replaced that.


This visor was missing a retaining clip so I replaced that:


I got a bunch more trim pieces and dodads that I'll get to installing later.

I spent the rest of the day cleaning the interior which was filthy. Not as bad as some other vehicles I've bought but definitely a project. Leather-safe cleaners were used on all of the seats and with a stiff bristled plastic brush they did a great job. Then I applied Leather-care to the seats to help rejuvenate the leather and protect it from getting dried out by the sun. This stuff is made to clean multi-million dollar jets so I figured it was good enough for Lawrence.


The driver's seat was the only one I didn't clean because it is pretty trashed. I could spend $125 on an air-bag compatible seat cover or I could spend $250 to reupholster it. I'm not what to do yet, that will have to wait until after the head to head test is completed.

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5/31/18: This whole process is like dejavu. I bought Betty from Ernest as well. As a result they're remarkably similar: dirty interiors, damage to the rocker area from rocks (though not nearly as bad on Lawrence), fenders rolled/bashed to try to fit 35s (futilely), and lastly - they both had 2nd row seats that did not tumble forward anymore.

The 2nd row seats were already out of the vehicle when I bought it so I didn't have to go through the same fight to release the latch with a pry bar as other's have had to do. To start, I removed bottom and side access covers to inspect the cables:


You can see Imnosaint's old repair of this cable where the metal end piece of a cable broke off:

Unfortunately, now the other end of the cable had snapped off. There's supposed to be a cable coming out past the yellow plastic bit:

There was another broken cable that controls the back of the seat tilt mechanism as well on the 60% section of the 2nd row.

Luckily, I got a lot of cables from my junkyard visit:

Don't despair if you don't have a junkyard with a Gen3 near you. These cables can still be purchased from dealers for around $20 each which isn't too bad because you'll probably only need a couple. Just be sure to consult ASA because they are different lengths for different functions.

If you're doing this job, be sure to pay close attention to this picture. Ignore the fact that the cable is not pressed into the metal (with the white plastic bit), but instead focus on the spring and arm assembly. This is the proper position for this piece, see how the metal tab is on top of the metal arm? My metal arm was on top of the metal tab which meant that after years of forcing it (because the cable had stretched out or broken completely) the arm jumped past the metal stop altogether. An easy way to tell if this happened in your situation is if the plastic handle on the outside of the seat isn't facing forward and parallel to the floor when in the at rest position. It's pretty easy to fix this and you can even pop the hole arm assembly out, there's just a screw at the end of the handle under the decorative cap and a C clip on the inside.


After replacing the broken cables and realigning the metal arm for the tilt lever, I reinstalled the seats without the access covers so that I could make adjustments to the cable lengths easily while testing everything out.

PS - god damn the 60% section is heavy!


All in all it was a little more involved than when I did the same job on Betty, but underneath the seats was a lot cleaner this time ;-)



6/2/18: A fun and satisfying day of knocking out little things:

1. I installed these Toyota Lug Nut Locks - perfect fit. Gotta protect those expensive KO2s and my hard work on the 4Runner rims.


2. Imnosaint had installed a Panavise tablet mount which is awesome and strong but since I have access to the full line of RAM Mount products at work I decided to go with that system instead. But having said that, I can tell you that Panavise is definitely superior to RAM and if I actually had to pay full price I'd definitely not go with RAM. I've used tons of their products and have yet to have a great experience with any of them, but again, they're cheap for me.

Panavise uses a 3/4" ball and RAM uses a 1" ball. Also, the base plates are different sizes. So not wanting to put more holes in the dash, I took apart the Panavise base and installed a RAM 1" ball and then reinstalled the existing Panavise base:


This opens up the full line on RAM accessories so I can put a tablet mount here, or a phone mount, or a cup holder, etc. Right now, I hooked up a Tab-tite 7" tablet holder for my offroad navigation and OBDII monitor:


3. The Driver Seat wouldn't move forward or backwards, something Marutuk had been living with for awhile. Part of my massive junkyard haul was a new power seat switch assembly which was an awesome score because I got it for like $6 and it's about $140 new at the dealer.

The hardest part about this fix is dealing with the plastic outer cover. It is retained by tapered plastic dowels that by this age have gotten hard and aren't soft anymore so if you pull hard on the cover to remove it they'll just break off. I replaced them with metal screws from the inside when reassembling and then drilled holes in the metal seat frame just below the screw holes for the electric switch assembly. This allowed me to run zip ties through to hold everything tight and secure. It looks like new with no gaps now but finding and gripping the ends of those zip ties from inside the seat was a huge PITA. Next time, I'll just spring the $8 for a new plastic cover from the dealer because it's the power switch that's expensive, not the cover plate.

Here's the new assembly installed before tightening the zip ties:

Here's one of the holes I drilled to hold the zip ties (bottom/uneven one) :

And here's an example of how I threaded the ties to button everything up tight:
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6/3/18: I used the 3M headlight restoration kit and polished up the headlights. Here's some before and after comparison pics:


6/7/18: The front skid plate was looking mighty tired so I refreshed it with some bedliner paint left over from the wheel refinishing:


Then I bashed the skid plate about hundred times with a sledge hammer and chipped off a good amount of the paint job trying to reinstall it. It was bent previously from an impact near one of the mounting tabs so that was a pain but now it's a lot easier to get on and off :)


6/11/18: Over the weekend, I gave Lawrence his first wash and was really impressed by how much he cleaned up - this is a good looking vehicle! The Gen3 look is really growing on me. I hit all the exterior rubber bits with Armorall to bring back the black and protect them from the sun so while I was at it I tested it on the faded hood paint and the faded bedliner paint job.

A few days later, the bedliner is still significantly darker where I tested the Armorall. Jury is still out on the hood paint though.

Check it out:


Nice, looking awesome with the fixing-up of all the small things. Those 2nd row seats were hell to even adjust, so glad you managed to fix it. :)

And yeah, the driver side seat was pretty messed up. The electronics for it were acting up too hence me disconnecting it. I was planning on replacing that eventually, but never got around to it.


7/25/18: It has been insanely hot in Phoenix (as expected) the last month so I've only been working on Lawrence an hour or so here and there in the evenings. Here are some updates though:

1. The 2nd row driver side seat belt was all torn up but the vehicle came with junkyard replacement belts so I decided to tackle that next:


I learned a lot about seatbelts during this process and let me tell you, they can be a huge PITA if you aren't careful. The #1 and pretty much only thing you need to remember is to not let the belt retract all the way into the mechanism. It will often experience reverse lock if this happens and getting the belt back out is a giant nightmare. So always be sure to use binder clips or something else to stop the belt from retracting when removing a seatbelt unit.


Tip #2 - The parts on the side of the belt are marked "DO NOT OPEN" for a reason. I had a flat spring shoot out at me while "learning" how these things work.


2. To replace the 2nd row seat belts you need to remove the plastic body panels and while doing this I noticed that the factory sub woofer was blown to smithereens so I decided to replace that at the same time.

The opening is very shallow with the stock sub measuring only 3.75" in depth. This can make finding a replacement sub that doesn't hit the exterior sheet metal challenging. I bought a cheap BOSS Unit but it was defective, so I returned that. Then I bought a nice JBL one but it was too large (depth) to fit. Then I bought a cheap Planet Audio one that is only 4" deep and it worked but with not a lot of room to spare so if I had to do it over I'd go with the cheap SSL 8" woofer that is only 3.75" deep.

I don't like cutting factory harnesses and will avoid it whenever possible. I can confirm that the Toyota Metra Harness works for this application. The speaker and metra harness had different size terminals for the negative connection so I did have to change that on the Metra, no big deal though. Yellow/Red is the positive in the factory wire loom.


After connecting the factory and Metra harnesses together I secured them with a zip tie and then with heat shrink tubing for additional water proofing.

3. One thing just keeps spiraling into another. While replacing the subwoofer I spotted a post on the MMUSA FB page talking about noise and heat insulating materials and that inspired me to tackle that while I was already back here.

So I ordered Noico Sound Deadening material for noise reduction and CarInsulation for heat abatement.

The Noico is really good stuff and you can't beat the price for butyl-type material.

First step was to strip everything out:


I put 2 big pieces side by side up against the outer skin of the rear quarter panel behind the subwoofer. Then I covered that with a layer of CarInsulation and HVAC tape on the seams. I used 3M 90 spray adhesive, HVAC tape, and this amazing double sided tape for installing the CarInsulation since it does not have a self adhesive backing.


Then I added some more Noico and CarInsulation on the inside panel and I also covered the wheelwells with the CarInsualtion as well.

On the other side, I started by sealing the Rear A/C pipe's connections. There are 2 points where tubes meet without a seal and there's a good chance air is escaping at those points. One is in the middle and the other is at the very top:


I used Pipe Insulation tape and some HVAC tape for this step of the process because I had some left over from back when I insulated the supply side of my old Forenza's A/C line to keep the cold air cold while passing past the engine on its way into the cabin.


Then I did the same thing with the Noico/CarInsulation on the outer skin and more CarInsulation on the inner skin for this side. Getting your hand inside this compartment is much harder since there is not a giant subwoofer hole but it can be done with some persistence and you don't need to cover every square inch of vehicle, anything helps. I also added a big piece of insulation on the outside of the Rear A/C tube.


Then I did the entire floor, including underneath the 3rd row seat tray:


Not shown in this photo are the wheel wells covered with insulation but I did those too:

Lastly, I added some Noico on the inside of the plastic body panels to further reduce sound. On the passenger side I think this is overkill and I wouldn't do it again just to save $. But on the Driver side, you'll want to make sure all of the little plastic compartments that make up the panel are screwed together tightly and then overlap Noico onto each over the seams to keep them from rattling.


So having now put everything back together I can say that there has definitely been a nice sound reduction even though this area is a long way away from the driver's seat. For the best bang for your buck, you would just want to do the firewall and front doors and headliner. I plan to do the whole car if I decide to keep it and this was just a first step that I decided to do since I was already back there.

So extra thoughts - The Double Sided tape linked above is life changing. It's great for this project when gravity isn't fighting you. For the headliner though I'll probably use the spray adhesive more though since it's bond is crazy strong on clean and flat metal. The CarInsulation brand material is very easy to work with since it is thinner than the Reflectix brand stuff sold at big box stores so it conforms to contours easier, it is also closed cell so it doesn't pop/crunch under weight. I'm not sure how well it work though since everything in my mind is telling me that adding a radiant type material to a metal skin won't do much but the reviews are glowing and I called the company and they assured me it would still do a good job even if applied right up against the metal skin of the vehicle and that's how most ppl do it. For the headliner though, I'll probably go with a different insulation that only has foil on the one side since that is the spot that it matters most.

I can't tell if it has improved the interior temperature yet because it's 116 degrees outside now and everything is insanely hot but I'll do some testing with a temperature gun soon.
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7/25/18: Another update - last week I got around to getting the most annoying thing on this vehicle fixed: The Muffler. Years ago, Imnosaint wanted a smaller muffler to help out with ground clearance since the factory one is pretty low. He went with a cherry bomb / glasspack type of muffler which helped with ground clearance but significantly increased the noise as you would expect:


I'm not sure what it sounded like when it was installed years ago, I'm sure it was a lot deeper of a tone, but now it basically sounded like Ninjas on Kawasakis were always chasing you or like a high schooler's riced out Honda Civic. I took it to Scottsdale Muffler and can see why that place has like 100 5 star reviews on Yelp and has been in business for 21 years. They were great to work with and affordable. I told the owner, Chris, that I wanted to keep the ground clearance of the cherry bomb but wanted the vehicle as quiet as possible like OEM. He put in a 24" long muffler that is oval in shape and only 4" tall. There was also a piece of heat shield that was rattling like crazy at idle and he spot welded that to stop the rattle. Lastly, the exhaust pipe was pretty mangled from a lifetime of offroading so I had him lop off about 1/4 of an inch of the end and make it flush with the beat up bumper.

One of my favorite things about my other Montero, Betty. is how quiet she is. When I'm in the forest I see soooo many animals because you simply cannot hear the Montero from even a few feet away. So many times when I'm driving slowly on a dirt road, I get like 15 feet behind people before they realize there is a car behind them and being quiet to me fits in a lot better with nature and the great outdoors than a loud muffler. Also, you can't hear the engine (or yourself think) which I think is very important when driving. Now, I once had a car with a 6.6L V8 that sounded awesome but that's a whole different animal.

They found that the glass inside the old muffler was totally burned out when they removed it. Now, the rig is back to OEM sound and as I continue to add noise insulation this vehicle should soon have a very comfortable cabin. The new muffler sits as high as it can without totally redoing a large section of exhaust piping and the hangers. It's higher up than the fuel tank on the other side so it should be fine. I plan on adding a skid plate one day that covers the fuel tank and carbon fiber drive shaft so that should contact the ground well before this new muffler.


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That is very impressive. I am actually very curious on how it sounds with all those improvements, as the noise it had was always something I disliked - I prefer quiet :)