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Our Isuzu Dmax build for touring Australia

It took a lot of thought to commit to selling our 80 Series Land Cruiser, and to move to another vehicle. I pondered for weeks, made multiple spreadsheets, looked online at every possible option I had, and then made the choice; we’d sell our Land Cruiser and buy an Isuzu Dmax.

Changing 4WD's

Our old 80 Series Land Cruiser and new Isuzu Dmax

The idea was simple; to build it into a 4WD that would tour Australia in relative comfort, capability, acceptable cost and that would work well to camp out of. When travelling, we tow a Soft Floor Camper Trailer.

On top of that, it had to double as a daily family vehicle for around town, or the finances just wouldn't balance.

I spent many, many hours planning, designing, building and installing various parts of the vehicle that you see today, and as of now, am very happy with it.

The vehicle is a 2016 Isuzu Dmax SX model dual cab, running the 3 litre turbo diesel motor that has been around for many years. It’s the base model Dmax, with vinyl interior and no fancy chrome bits like the other models have; exactly what I wanted.

I bought it it up from Victoria, and had it trucked over as the only other SX or LSM model Dmax with the non DPF motor that was for sale was ridiculously expensive in Perth.

This Dmax is the MY15.5 model; the last of the vehicles without the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). This, in turn means it doesn't have the 6 speed automatic gearbox, and the slightly more powerful variant motor.

Dmax modifications

Our new Dmax, a few weeks after it arrived

Non DPF model

I specifically hunted down a pre DPF Dmax, and recommend avoiding them across all makes and models if possible as they are hugely problematic things that are ‘good’ for the environment and nothing else. They are fraught with problems, expensive to repair and a nightmare, in general.

I will quickly point out that at this moment the Isuzu DPF’s seem to be relatively trouble free, perhaps because they have been running them in their trucks for many years. That said, they are in no way proven, and until I see hundreds of them with over 250 - 300 thousand kilometres on the clock I can't see how anyone can say they are reliable. This is especially the case for Dmax's that are used for short trips around town, as this is exactly what a DPF does not like.

I expect a lot bit of trouble in the future for people that have vehicles with DPF’s. However, maybe they will be fine - like lots of technological advancements that just require some time to get used to. Time will tell.

The rest of the gear

I’ll start from front to back, running you through all of the gear, and giving you as much information as I possibly can.

AFN Bull Bar

Bull bars have been fairly plain for some time, and one day I stumbled across the AFN Bar, which is wildly different. Now, looks alone would never have convinced me to get one, but they are built in Portugal, the business is used for military products, they are light weight, strong and competitive in price.

One of the big selling points for me was the distance that they stuck out, as I knew things were going to be very tight in the garage, and also it reduces the stress on the front end. I have seen a few Isuzu Dmax’s with cracked inner guards, which some people claim comes from heavy bar work sticking too far forward.

The bar was a nightmare to install, and there are a few engineering areas where it could be improved. However, it has rated attachments for recovering off, its fairly well built and does the above things I mentioned. I'd get one again.

AFN Bull bar on a Dmax

The new AFN Bull Bar

Runva XP11 Premium Winch

Runva has gained a great reputation for a cheap but good quality winch for the front of your 4WD. They are not the cheapest out there anymore, but they are well known and several years ago would have been the only ‘cheap’ but decent quality winch on the market.

I don't use winches that often, but we do a lot of solo travel and its cheap insurance that I wasn't going to do without.

Winch wiring all done

Runva XP11 Premium installed

Bushskinz Bash plates

One thing I was very concerned about with the Dmax was the lack of clearance underneath, and the number of sensitive things hanging down low. One rock to the wrong thing under there and you could be up for mega money, not to mention a difficult extraction.

I looked at all the brands; Boos, AFN, Custom Off road, ARB, TJM etc etc. Bushskinz were helpful, I could see it would marry to the AFN bar OK and they were reasonable price, so I purchased a set of 3.

These cover the radiator, sump and automatic transmission. The only place that makes transfer case bash plates are AFN, and they are about $1700 for the set of 3. To be fair, they are 6mm aluminium, and are far more work to make than anything else I’ve seen on the market. If money was no object I'd have gotten them, although aluminium does have a tenancy to gall, or stick to rocks as it slides over them.

The bushskinz ones are heavy; about 45kg. They are quite easy to install and remove, and have a couple of access points as you’d want. If you have any low hanging bits on your 4WD, Underbody protection is worth fitting.

Dmax bash plates by Bushskinz

A bit more confidence off road with these on

HPD Catch Can

Catch can's are an absolute must on any modern 4WD. You can read more about it here - Is a Catch can important on a modern turbo diesel?

The two most common catch cans installed on Isuzu Dmax’s are HPD, or Provent. The latter has been around for a long time, make quality gear and are proven to work very well. They have a lot of copies on the market though, so get the right one. They also have a few things about them I wasn’t completely sold on – little storage for oil collection, outlets that allow oil to spill out when on angles, a filter which removes most of the oil (which is great) but also puts more pressure on your motor (think rear main seal) and the filter it needs replacing every 40 – 70,000km.

Either way, I opted for the shiny billet aluminium HPD catch can (not because of its looks!) which runs a set of stainless mesh on the inlet and outlet to make the oil particules stick and drop down. My gut feeling is it doesn’t work nearly as well as the Provent (more information coming out on this real soon!), but it has a few other benefits that I like – holds a decent quantity of oil, has inlets and outlets in clever positions, mounts up in a kit very well, doesn’t need any ongoing maintenance and has a dip stick to check the oil level.

Isuzu Dmax Catch Can

Dmax HPD Catch Can

Fuel Manager 30 micron Pre Fuel Filter

Modern turbo diesel motors are extremely sensitive to bad fuel. A bit of water, some algae or gunk and you can be in real trouble. You’ll find stacks of arguments online as to what filter systems are best, and whether to put them pre or post. For me, it was fairly simple; you can’t put anything after the factory Isuzu 5 micron filter without voiding your warranty, so before it went. 30 micron is not very fine, and I suspect not really the right size, but it will do for now. This is mainly to filter out any big bits along with water.

After 15,500km on our 3 month trip It had very little in the bowl, which is good.

Dmax pre filter

Fuel Manager 30 micron pre filter

UHF Antenna

The antenna I went with is an RFI CD5000. This is the same as what I had on the 80 series, and I love it. It's big but not ridiculous. It's black so minimal reflection and annoyance from it being on the front of the car, and its extremely well built.

Beyond that, it works brilliantly; I often have by far the best radio reception in our group.

Antenna for the Dmax

RFI CD5000 antenna

Icom remote mount UHF

Our 80 had an Icom UHF, and I was very pleased with it. They are commercial grade, and built tough. The remote mount unit was only about $40 more, so I grabbed that. The actual radio is now mounted under the dash, with all of your controls and speakers on the actual hand piece. This also allows for the hand piece to be unplugged and put away from thieving eyes when the vehicle is being driven around town. When we head out on a trip, I can pull it out and plug it in.

ICOM UHF radio

ICOM IC450 remote mount UHF

Isuzu 16 x 7 Aluminium Rims

I’ve always run steel rims on my 4WD’s in the past. However, this time around, I was more conscious of weight, and quality aluminium rims are easily as strong if not stronger than steel ones (just impossible to repair if you do damage them!).

Unsprung weight is very important for corrugations as it makes your suspension work much harder. I purchased 8 second hand Isuzu rims off Gumtree for about $400. These are positive 33mm (the same as the OEM steel ones), and have been fitted to our camper trailer as well, so we have matching tyres and rims.

Toyo AT 2 all terrain tyres in 265/75/16

I did a lot of research into tyres. I found out you could legally run 265/75/16’s on the SX Dmax, and accepted the costs that bigger tyres would bring on the vehicle. If you want more information - Fitting Bigger Tyres to your 4WD, and Tyre size; you can go 50mm above the largest tyre in your model range.

I’ve always had mud terrain tyres, and was nearly going to commit to another set, but for the 10% of situations where muddies would be better for me, I succumbed and went with all terrains. Eventually, it came down to two tyres – the BFG K02 all terrains for $285 a tyre, or the Toyo AT 2 tyres for $239 a tyre. Remembering I was buying 8 (3 for the camper trailer), so there was some buying power.

The BFG’s are a very, very popular tyre. That said, I found a heap of people who weren’t happy with them, and it did put me off. Instead, the Toyo’s had an amazing reputation, with very few people who had issues. Great grip in all situations, good puncture resistance and great wear. Perhaps its just more people own BFG’s and therefore a small portion of them complain, I don’t know. That said, Japanese tyres are becoming very well reputed when compared to anything coming out of the USA.

Eventually, I committed to the Toyo’s, and to date have been very pleased with them (although the rear tyres did wear a LOT over our 3 month trip!).

Isuzu Dmax with bigger tyres

Factory LSM alloy rims and 265/75/16 inch Toyo AT2's

Toyo AT2 Tyres

Toyo AT2 Open country's

Old man Emu suspension and GVM Upgrade

In the planning stages, I had always banked on getting Old man Emu Suspension. I’ve run it before and been fairly happy with it. ARB has a massive backing of suppliers and its well known for being good gear.

I will say that if you are really pushing your 4WD on nasty corrugations then you need to go remote reservoir shocks, but for our purpose, the normal nitro chargers were fine.

The curve ball for me, was finding out the weight of our Dmax and realising I’d need to get a GVM upgrade. I took the vehicle to the local tip one afternoon, ,and with very little gear in it the weight was nearly 2500kg. That didn't leave much for all of the gear, and despite trying to reduce weight I knew I’d be over with the tow ball weight of the camper.

I did a heap of research into GVM Upgrades. It eventually came down to Pedders or ARB, and I went with the latter. It’s now got a maximum GVM of 3220kg, or 270kg above the original. The front springs are the heaviest you can get, and the rears are 600kg constant load. Given our vehicle stays loaded most of the time, its worked out just great.

Isuzu Dmax Suspension GVM

The OME Dmax GVM Upgrade

OME suspension on a Dmax

OME suspension on the Dmax

Ultra gauge

I reckon you are mad heading bush with a modern 4WD and no way of diagnosing any faults that the computer throws up. You can buy the Torque Pro app and a bluetooth adaptor for very cheap, or if you want something more permanent a scan gauge or an ultra gauge.

I stumbled across the latter in my research, and basically concluded they did the same as the scan gauge but with a much, much nicer display, so went ahead and ordered one. This thing has been unreal. It’s mounted to the windscreen via a suction mount, and can read about 150 different sensors that the ECU supplies.

I primarily use it for engine temperature, boost, automatic transmission temperature (a big one), voltage and engine load. I wouldn’t go anywhere without one now; its been fantastic for seeing how your vehicle is coping, and I have used it to clear a fault after some electrical work was done that you’d be driving around in limp mode without.

Ultra gauge on the Dmax

The ultra gauge on our Dmax

Redarc Tow Pro Elite

Our camper trailer is over 750kg, and has electric brakes, and therefore the tow vehicle needs a way of controlling it. The Redarc Tow Pro Elite is a no brainer – they are by far the most commonly fitted. They are fantastic quality, easy to use and really simple and tidy.

Dmax tow controller

Redarc Tow Pro Elite in the Dmax dash

Stedi ST4K 42 inch LED Light Bar

With all of the work going on, I knew I’d kill myself if I hit a big kangaroo on the first day of our big trip up north, so a few hundred bucks on some decent lighting was an obvious investment.

Given the WA road rules had finally caught up with the rest of the country in allowing light bars on top of canopies, and that pricing of decent units had come down a lot, it was a no brainer. Stedi are another cheaper imported product that has a great reputation (and a 5 year warranty) for both quality and performance.

I had to mount it up fairly high in order to clear the roof of the Dmax (as its mounted so far back), but this thing is absolutely unreal. The light is substantially more targeted than I expected, and will do 1 lux at 1000 metres. No idea what that really means, but its bright and fantastic to drive with at night.

These come with the harnesses to make installation pretty easy, and I purchased an anti theft kit as well. These are just two security nuts that screw on and you need a special tool to remove them. Hopefully enough to put most thieves off.

Stedi light bar

The big 42 inch Stedi ST4K LED light bar that is brilliant

Safari snorkel

Safari have been making raised intakes for years now, and they make quality gear. You can get much cheaper ones off eBay, but is it worth the risk?

Dmax snorkel

Safari snorkel

200W fixed solar panel

When I bought the canopy, it had a 120W solar panel mounted on top. Given the 100W one on the cruiser only just kept up, I figured I’d swap it for a bigger one. A 200W mono panel was purchased from Low Energy Developments, and mounted on the two rails of the canopy.

I did spend some time bracing the panel, as it flexed quite a bit along the length of it (due to only two mounting rails), and also the glass moved up and down a lot over the width. I used some special rubber (Linatex) and aluminium angle to stop it from flexing, with a length of 30mm x 3mm flat bar down either side to stop it bending.

200W 12V solar panel

200W of fixed solar on the Dmax canopy

Bull Motor Body Aluminium Gull Wing Canopy

Dual cabs with normal fibreglass canopies (even if they have windoors) really frustrate me for touring. They are heavy, take up so much room and make access a right pain in the behind.

I knew I wanted an aluminium gull wing canopy, but wasn’t prepared to pay the exorbitant prices that they cost new. Eventually I found a Bull Motor Body canopy for sale off an extra cab Hilux, running a short 450mm tray on the rear. I picked it up for $3800, cut the tray off the back and moved the bumper forward, making it 1700mm long.

These canopies are fantastic, and at $12k new a few years ago it was a bargain and a half. It came with a 50L water tank and electric pump, 2500W inverter (why you’d want one that big I’ll never know), central locking, shelving, LED lighting, solar regulator, 120W solar panel, roof racks, underbody toolboxes (which I didn’t fit) and about as good as it gets in terms of quality of build.

This particular unit is a chassis mount job, so the tub was removed and this bolts directly to the chassis.

Bull Motor body canopy

Our Dmax canopy

Bull Motor Body Canopy

These canopies are extremely well built, and come highly recommended

Custom fridge slide and drawer system

There was nothing on the market that did what I wanted it to, and enjoying the occasional wood project I decided to build my own drawer system. You can read about this here - Fitting out our Dmax Gull Wing Canopy.

Two 1000mm drawer extensions were left over from a previous project, so they were used as the fridge slide. 6 Oates Drawers from Bunnings were purchased to hold our goods, and two sheets of 12mm marine ply. I propped the whole unit up 38mm with some pine, and many hours later it was complete. Fridge slide, table, plastic drawers and lots of storage.

I mounted a number of t nuts and eye bolts to the top to tie gear down as well.

Dmax fitout

55L Evakool and drawers next to it, that doubles as a table

Electrical box

Along with the help of a great Perth mobile auto electrician, I knocked up a box to house the electrical gear. This has numerous switches, two cigarette outlets, two usb outlets and 3 anderson outlets. The Projecta dual battery monitor was installed to keep an eye on the battery voltage.

I wanted something simple, economical and functional. I don’t need battery monitoring systems and fancy 240V chargers. They are lovely, and very cool, but a a couple of grand saved is better put towards fuel money.

Dmax electrical box

Inside the electrical box

Projecta DCDC Battery charger

The 25 amp Projecta IDC25 was also installed in the above electrical box. This takes charge from the cranking battery, and regulates the voltage to charge the battery to maximum. It also has a solar input, which is where the panel connects to. I’m not entirely sold on the need for DCDC battery chargers, but it kills two birds with one stone.

I30 Solar regulator

The canopy came with a 30 amp PWM regulator already mounted, which I’ve chosen to keep and wire up should the DCDC give me any issues. Stephen has wired it so I can swap an anderson plug over and run the 200W panel through the 30 amp regulator and still charge the battery should something go wrong.

12V solar panel regulator

Solar30 regulator, as a backup

55L Evakool Fridge/Freezer

We’ve had a good run from the yellow 55L Evakool, so purchased another one just before the 80 series was sold. This has been mounted on the fridge slide, and does a great job of keeping everything nice and cold!

150 Ah Bosch Deep Cycle Battery

Our 80 series ran two batteries, and the normal SB12 redarc isolator, which allows you to use some power from the cranking battery before shutting off.

That system kept up, but was touch and go a few times, so I decided to go even bigger on this system. A 150 amp hour Bosch battery was picked up from Goodchild enterprises for about $400, and with some careful metal work two brackets were made up to keep it in position. This weighs 45kg, and has been put as far forward in the canopy as possible.

Dmax dual battery

45kg of battery to keep the Dmax electricals ticking along

50L water tank and electric pump

The water tank is also located as far forward under the canopy as possible, and runs to a small 3.5 Litres a minute water pump and then out the back of the bumper through a tap. Having running water when you are camping is magic. Our camper trailer also has water tanks, but a day down at the beach or cleaning dirty hands when on the road is made very easy by having water on board.

Running water in our Dmax

Running water from your vehicle is the best mod you can do

Isuzu tow bar, charging anderson plug and reversing camera

The Dmax came with a genuine tow bar (which I detest as it hangs very low). I knocked up a bracket to move the trailer plug out of harms way (why they mount them under tow bars has be baffled), and had an anderson plug installed to charge the camper trailer while we are driving.

The factory Isuzu reversing camera has been great, and is an absolute must if you have a solid canopy on the back. You’d be completely blind reversing without it.

Isuzu Dmax tow bar

The OEM tow bar, with raised mounts for the anderson and trailer plugs

Dmax reverse camera

The factory reverse camera

Diff Breathers

It’s a no brainer to fit diff breathers to your 4WD. Water will do nasty damage to anything it gets into, and crossing water with differentials that are hot does exactly that.

I bought some 1/4” fuel hose, and replaced the existing breather with new hose right from the rear diff to the back of the firewall in the engine bay, with an air silencer on the end to allow it to breath and keep the dust out.

Bigger cranking battery

After buying the Runva winch, I read the instructions which clearly identified the CCA of the factory battery wasn't enough for the winch, and if you used it the winch warranty would be void. Not a modification I'd planned on doing so soon, but I removed the factory battery and replaced it with an N70 size Amaron cranking battery with around 750 CCA.

Dmax cranking battery

Amaron cranking battery in the Dmax

Pelican case

Ute’s are great things, but you’ve got to keep them relatively modular to make use of it all. I picked up a second hand Pelican case to keep my recovery gear, some spares, compressor and other bits and pieces in. It’s fantastic, and if its annoying me I can just remove it.

Lorella Springs, NT

The pelican case on the drivers side of the Dmax

Interior light upgrade

You can never have too much light inside your car late at night, when you are trying to find something. I bought a Narva LED to replace the festoon one, which is an improvement, but not as much as I'd like, and its starting to flicker, so needs replacing with something better.

Dmax LED interior light upgrade

Narva LED interior light upgrade

No engine modifications

Now, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t done anything in the engine bay, except for the catch can and pre fuel filter. The reason is simple; the motor is reliable, economical and does what I need it to without mucking about.

I’d love a bit more power, but I don’t want to sacrifice any reliability in order to get it. At least while the Isuzu warranty is in place there will be no modifications done. Perhaps a remap or tune may be on the cards later on, but not in the near future.

Other things to finish off

The rear drawer system needs some tidying up. I’m not sure If I’ll carpet it, but it does need some stainless sheet, or laminex on the working side of the table. The battery should really be covered so nothing can touch the terminals and the canopy could definetly do with some more lighting.

I might install a couple of work lights to the rear/sides of the vehicle too, as these are always useful. Beyond that, perhaps a transmission cooler as they run quite hot when working hard, but I’ll have to liaise with Isuzu in regards to that.

We also want to ditch the factory head unit and replace it with something that will run Android. Having a fixed mapping system in your dash is truly epic.

Done and dusted

Well, the thought process and build took a lot of time and effort, but we now have a 4WD that is great. It's not perfect, and a nice 79 series Land Cruiser would have been an option too, but at nearly double the cost it wasn't even looked at.

If you have any questions or comments, leave us a message below and we'll be in touch!

4 comments… add one
  • Dave Shannon September 24, 2018, 6:29 PM

    Interested in why you went with an ARB GVM upgrade rather than Pedders which is not a lot dearer but allows anothwer 200kg. Apart from that, I am impressed with the amount of planning and thought you put in to the project. Can I also recommend the Official Team Isuzu DMax/MUX Owners facebook group.

  • Aaron Schubert September 24, 2018, 7:16 PM

    Hi Dave,

    I very nearly did go with Pedders – I got a better price with them. However there were a few reasons I didn’t:

    – I couldn’t find enough people with their gear that had been used for a long time that spoke highly of them
    – Pedders couldn’t tell me what height lift I would get (which was critical to maintaining a legal 4WD having already purchased bigger tyres)
    – Pedders warranty wasn’t as good as ARB’s
    – ARB have been making 4WD suspension (or on selling it) for a very long time and it can be purchased from pretty much any 4WD store in the country.
    – ARB’s GVM upgrade doesn’t change the axle ratings, which means in the event of a warranty claim through Isuzu, they can’t just say your fault – you loaded the axles up beyond what we certify.
    – I’ve run OME suspension before in the 80 Series and been happy with it.

    Beyond that, I didn’t need the extra capacity – we would be almost (and perhaps even occasionally) be legal with the camper trailer behind without the GVM upgrade. It was purely to ensure that in the event that we were 50 or 100kg over I’d be legal. Also, no doubt we will end up with a different trailer in the future that has a heavier ball weight than our existing one.

    Every manufacturer normally puts some amount of over engineering into their vehicles, and you can push them a bit beyond that, but in this instance a GVM upgrade still uses the same chassis, differential housings, wheel bearings and a whole heap of other gear that are likely to fail when you load it up too much. There comes a point where you’ve pushed a vehicle so far beyond its original intended purpose that you break things very often.

    Oh, and I am on the page you mentioned – pretty good group

    Aaron

  • Darryl September 26, 2018, 12:14 PM

    No side steps or rock sliders? I guess you don’t think they are necessary for what you are doing?

  • Aaron Schubert September 26, 2018, 9:06 PM

    Hey mate,

    I would love a set of both, but its extra weight that I didn’t have and I don’t really feel is necessary at the moment. I can’t stand doing panel damage off road, and would rather avoid any big rocks in the first place.

    I haven’t had them on my 4WD’s for a long time, but they are a good idea

    Aaron

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