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4WD Touring Build – Mazda BT-50

4WD Touring Build Introduction

 

WARNING – LONG POST AHEAD

Before we kick things off I’d like to note a few things about what this post will entail and how it will evolve. Note that not only will the 4WD touring build take time, as it is written in real time and 4WD accessories are expensive.

It is also worth noting that over the course of time, my priorities in what I value in a build can change and therefore there can be contradiction between updates written at different points in time. But I will not go back and edit previous updates as it will accurately represent the evolution of a build this way.

 

*Disclaimer

Affiliate links may be present on this page. These are links to websites such as Amazon, where if you decide to purchase something, then they will offer me a tiny commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and is just a way for me to try and support myself and the blog. I only link to the best of the best with careful consideration, thank you.

What will this post cover?

 

In this post I aim to cover all true costs of the 4WD build, with the exclusion of ongoing costs such as insurance and registration.

I will discuss my reasoning behind the purchases in the 4WD touring build and maintain a track of all weight added or subtracted to the car.

I will be filming the build process on Youtube, videos will be linked but will not be embedded for the most part because the page will become slow to load.

**FOR THE MOST PART THIS POST WILL BE REGARDING PERMANENT FIXTURES TO THE CAR – OTHERWISE IT WILL BE TOO LARGE A POST!

 

Navigating the 4WD touring build post

 

The following categories is how I have separated the build, these headings are clickable and will take you to the relevant section:

*This is subject to change

You can also use the dot navigation to the right of screen to click, each dot represents a section of this post.

The timeline will provide clickable links to each portion of the post.

Should the post get too large to load quickly, it will be split into an overall post, and then a separate post for the more in-depth look at each individual accessory.

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Finding a 4WD

 

So before we get into the build’s progression let’s start from the beginning.

What was I looking for?

 

When I was looking at cars to buy it was a long process, I kept an eye out for over 9 months to find something that I liked and during that time there were probably only 4 cars that stood out to me, with most being overpriced (even within the already overpriced COVID world of 4WDs).

I didn’t know what I wanted straight away, but over time I narrowed it down to a few things which kind of limited my options anyway.

 

Automatic

Having driven manuals my whole life, and getting rather sick of it, I was sold on getting an automatic almost instantly. The comfort of being able to use the car through the city, as well as it giving me more control made it an easy decision.

I wanted it to be simple, although manuals offer the advantage of roll starting, theft deterrence and being towable, I didn’t foresee these being a big enough issue for my style of travel.

The greater throttle control, comfort, ease of operation for me knees, better sand driving capabilities and having a sealed transmission unit seemed like the way to go. The only thing I needed to do was make sure to keep the temperatures as low as possible.

 

Extra cab

I wanted a ute, because I knew I wanted a chassis mount canopy on the rear. This eliminated all wagon 4WDs.

I didn’t want a dual cab ute, despite the greater range of accessories available I thought that all that space wasted by the seats in front of the axle could be done away with.

Single cabs didn’t appeal to me with their upright seating and generally they are only released in the lowest trim models as work cars.

As a single man without kids, this decision was the happy medium.

 

Non – DPF

I wanted to get a pre-DPF model ute for reliability.

There were horror reports about DPFs being very bad for the cars, as well as reports of inaccurate fuel economy being advertised.

Although I had no intention of using the car for small trips to the shops etc, it was inevitable that it would sometimes be used in short trips which are famously bad for vehicles with DPFs.

This meant that I was trying to find cars with Euro 5 emissions control and not Euro 6, but it also meant that the below desire was achieved by by virtue of having to look for a 5 year old car.

 

No unnecessary tech

I wanted to avoid the new cars, not only for cost and wait times, but all the sensors and warnings that they come with really put me off. They’re being over developed and I had no interest in paying for features like rear cross traffic alerts when I didn’t want them in the first place.

I wanted comfort, so climate control would be good but non-essential, but not some over priced high spec ute that has leather seats. Honestly, leather seats on a ute!?

It is supposed to be a work car, and in the majority of Australia leather seats are an absolute nightmare in the heat. One of the worst things about some of the higher spec utes is the use of leather, as well as the abundance of annoying tech.

 

Low kilometres

This was a difficult one to pin down, due to looking at 2012-2015 era vehicles it was hard to find a low kilometre vehicle as they’re often used to travel the country with.

Anything under 80,000km I considered to be reasonably low given the age.

I wanted low kilometres to help mitigate the risk of the automatic transmission having been driven too hard whilst towing, and leading to early failures.

 

Few existing modifications

Although having some modifications done to a car when you buy it second hand helps alleviate a lot of the costs of doing it yourself, I wanted more or less a clean slate.

I wanted to do a lot of the work myself, or at least be able to make enough decisions to get the build going in the direction that I thought I wanted it to go.

Finding a car with good tyres and a bullbar is always good, but I dismissed most that had too much work done to them.

 

Value

This may have been the hardest thing to find (avoid John Hughes like the plague).

It is hard to buy a car when you are away at work more than you are home to look at cars. It was also during the peak of COVID that I was looking and people were taking the piss.

I would often see a good car come on at a reasonable price, only to be gone within a week.

On the other end of the spectrum you’d have a good car come through John Hughes at $4,000 too high a value. I would save it on Carsales and get price alerts, they would always sit there for months.

Gradually the price would drop to where I originally placed value on it and it would sell within the week of hitting that price. So I knew my valuations were accurate, which was a good sign.

I just had to wait for the right timing.

The utes I ruled out

 

Given the consideration of everything above the following cars were ruled out.

 

Toyota Hilux

The Hilux did not meet the requirements of offering an extra cab in automatic for the cars pre-2015. They were all in manual for that spec.

Even if they had have offered it I’d have steered clear as they are massively over priced and work on a reputation built during the 80s of being “indestructible”.

The newer cars are just as fallible as all the others, the price on these cars was laughably high.

I do like the Hilux, it is lighter than the Mazda BT-50, more nimble, but it was never really an option for me.

 

Mitsubishi Triton

I heavily considered buying a brand new Triton extra cab, they are so well priced that a brand new Triton could have almost been had for as much as a second hand car of another manufacturer.

I rarely if ever saw a Triton that was extra cab though, and many had been heavily modified already. This could be a result of the car being so affordable that people are willing to spend more on mods.

 

Volkswagen Amarok

Never interested me in the slightest.

 

Nissan Navara

I kind of ruled this out because I wanted to have leaf springs, and I had read some bad reviews along the line which stopped me looking further into it.

I admittedly didn’t do my due diligence in researching this car after being put off with some early reviews.

The utes I considered

 

That left the following three utes for my consideration, which helped me stay on top of search results, because looking at too many things can be daunting and make you lose interest.

 

Isuzu D-Max

This was the ute I wanted the most.

Although it lacked a rear diff lock, it had a reliability that appeared more valid than that of the Hiluxs because it was built around its current capabilities, not some 20 year old mythology.

The 4JJ engine was reliable, was not highly strung, the gearbox was shared with the Hilux and they still had the feel of a work vehicle.

 

Mazda BT-50

An often cheaper variant of the Ford Ranger.

Why pay the mark up for the Ranger when they’re the same car?

Admittedly Ford moved the Ranger forward from the BT-50 in a lot of areas post 2015/2016 but since I was looking at cars from that time they were basically identical.

All the negatives listed below however also apply to this car.

 

Ford Ranger

They had a bad rep for transmission failures, Ford have a poor customer service record as well from what I can tell. Besides that, these cars were highly regarded as the most comfortable and capable of the class.

Same as the BT-50 with different trim (American flavour).

Even though these were equally as over priced as the Hilux when brand new, they offered better value second hand.

The Purchase

 

After a long search, I found an extra cab, automatic Mazda BT-50 with only 35,000 kilometres on the clock!

At the same time there was an Isuzu D-Max of the same year with 40,000 km, but it was massively over priced by John Hughes. I later watched that car fall by $3,000 over the course of 3 months before selling.

I decided to buy the Mazda almost instantly. It was properly priced, it had a bunch of things that gave it the heads up over the D-Max such as comfort, climate control, downhill descent control and a rear diff lock from factory.

On top of this, the accessories that were fitted (see below) were more to my liking than the accessories fitted to the D-Max, which I would have had to remove.

 

Car specifications table

Here are the car’s specifications as advertised in the Mazda BT-50 brochure, as a point of reference.

ITEMAS ADVERTISED
MAKEMazda BT-50
MODEL2015 (UR), XTR, Extra Cab, Cab Chassis
ENGINE3.2 litre, 5 Cylinder Diesel
TRANSMISSIONAutomatic (6 speed)
POWER / TORQUE147 kW / 470 Nm
GVM / GCM3200 / 6000 kg
KERB WEIGHT2079 kg
PAYLOAD1121 kg
AXLE CAPACITY
(front / rear)
1480 / 1850 kg

TOWING CAPACITY
(braked / unbraked / towball downforce)

3500 / 750 / 350 kg
TYRE SIZE265 / 65 / R17
LENGTH / HEIGHT / WIDTH?? / 1810 / 1850
*length not given for cab chassis as it is tray dependant
WHEELBASE / TRACK3220 / 1560mm
APPROACH / DEPARTURE / RAMPOVER28.2 / 26.4 / 25.0 °
FUEL CAPACITY80 litres
WADING DEPTH800mm
TURNING CIRCLE12.4 metres
BRAKE DIAMETER
(front / rear)
302 / 295mm

Purchase Costs

 

Purchase price

$40,000

 

Stamp duty

$2,000

 

Total cost

$42,000

 

The ute set me back $42,000 after the stamp duty. I chose not to get any extended warranty (much to the dealerships shocked disbelief).

The costs were ridiculous for warranty, and the majority of things that can go wrong I will fix myself.

 

Studies have shown that more people lose money than save money in these programs and I was willing to take my chances.

I won’t include insurance and rego costs towards the 4wd touring build total as it’s forever ongoing.

 

What accessories were already fitted?

 

The car came with minimal accessories, but those that were fitted were in good condition and were all by reputable brands.

 

Bullbar

Fitted with an ARB deluxe bar, with fog lights and the ability to install a winch at a later date. These will normally cost you ~$3,200 to supply and fit so I was happy to have it.

 

Tyres

The car was fitted with 4x Toyo Open Country All terrain tyres in a 265/65/R17 sizing.

These were all at about 80% tread life, although they’re not huge in size, it is the original size that the XTR model is released with so it maintains good fuel consumption and handling with these.

I read reviews on them and they are all positive.

 

Steel tray

A heavy duty steel tray from Unicorn trays was fitted to the back. Using the serial number I called them and found that the tray has a weight of 230kg.

The purchase price of the tray brand new, with tail lights etc was $3,900.

It was good to have the details, but I had no interest in keeping it as I was after a chassis mount canopy. The tray is also 2100mm long which makes the car very long coupled with the bullbar!

 

Spotlights

The car had some floodlights that didn’t work correctly, the dealership replaced these with 9 inch King’s LEDs which do the job, for now.

I will replace these, but it is not high on my priorities as long as they work.

Mazda BT-50 Initial thoughts

I was very happy with the purchase but there were some things to be mindful of moving forward.

 

Pros 

I liked the following things about the car:

  • Surprisingly good fuel economy (a true 11.1L/100km calculated on over 3,000kms of driving before any modifications were done).
  • Came with a good solid base with tyres and a bull bar that were quality.
  • Very low kilometres, so less chance of previous owner abuse to have had a negative affect.
  • The car was comfortable to drive for long periods.
  • Factory fitted rear diff lock and downhill control.

Cons

There were some things that I didn’t like in the initial stages:

  • The weight of the car, it is a heavy starting point being between 105-220kg heavier than Hilux / D-Max / Triton depending on model and make. Either way, they top the class in weight.
  • Reports of transmission failures.
  • Reports of engine failures.
  • Poor turning circle.
  • Very long length (measured at ~5700mm with the tray, towball and bull bar on).
  • As the car had a bull bar and towbar fitted but no other mods, I assume it was used to tow a caravan mostly.

With that in mind, I knew that keeping the transmission cool, as well as clearing out the old oil and filling it with new oil would be one of my first jobs on the vehicle.

Being proactive with the transmission would avoid high future costs.

Mazda BT-50

Shot with the Sony a7R III using the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM

The 4WD Touring Build Overview

 

So I have the car, time to slowly chip away at it (and this post). In this section we will have the 4WD touring build timeline, the costs, the weights, and break up the modifications into categories.

 

My approach to the build

 

Everyone looks at a build differently. Everyone wants to extract different experiences from the process. Here are my thoughts on some factors of the build.

 

Weight Savings

Due to the car already being heavy-ish to begin with. Keeping the rest of the mods light will help avoid problems. Every kilogram you add is more fuel used and more wear on driving parts.

I aim to save weight on the majority of the mods that I do, including using lithium over AGM batteries, upright fridges over heavy drop downs and getting a light canopy.

 

Costs

I don’t mind spending more to have something last longer. I am a firm believer in “buy once cry once”, but the most expensive thing isn’t always the best just because it costs the most, nor is it the best for your build.

So yes, I may spend a bit, but I’m more likely to spend more in things that interest me like a canopy and a 12-volt system than I am on things like tuning the engine, getting a roof top tent, over the top suspension mods or getting front lockers.

If those things do get done, it will be down the track.

 

Tyres

I am not looking at getting super large tyres, this is for touring. I also doubt I will get mud terrains, preferring all terrains for travel.

Adding bigger tyres increases fuel consumption, puts more stress on the driveline, and costs a lot in further suspension modifications.

 

Doing the work yourself

Wherever possible I will look to do the work myself, mostly in the electrical field, but also jobs such as suspension, aftermarket coolers etc.

The point of this is twofold:

  1. Get an understanding of how the car works, to better assist you if something goes wrong when you’re out and about.
  2. Save money. Builds are expensive, so you need to cut costs where you can.

There are things I can’t do though, such as metal fabrication, so fabricating fridge compartments etc will be left to professionals.

4WD Touring Build – Costs, Weights & Dates Table

4WD Touring Build – Timeline

 

Below is the sequence of fitting equipment, not necessarily when I purchased the equipment but rather when I installed it or had somebody else install it on the car.

Click on the item to be taken to more information on what I installed and my reasoning behind it:

 

  1. OBD II scanner.
  2. Seat covers.
  3. Spare wheel change to alloy and fit new tyre.
  4. Tinted windows.
  5. Diff breathers.
  6. Bash plates.
  7. Fuel filter and catch can.
  8. Snorkel.
  9. Air box drain valve.
  10. Transmission oil cooler.

Engine Reliability

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

  • Intercooler pipe upgrade.
  • Full intercooler upgrade.

These last few things might not come for quite some time though as they are lower on the priority list.

Transmission Oil Cooler

 

Due to the reported failings of the transmissions over time, mostly for those who tow heavy caravans etc, I wanted to get on the front foot and install a transmission oil cooler.

I went with this transmission oil cooler kit from Wholesale automatics, so far I have seen it cap the transmission temperatures to 85°C.

Read more about how to cool your transmission and the reasons I chose to use this transmission cooler kit over some of the other options available in this dedicated post here.

Fuel Filter & Catch Can

 

The fuel filter and catch can combo is one of the most important things from my point of view. Both of these are filters, one obviously for diesel and the other is an oil filter to remove oils from your exhaust recirculation system.

The kit that I have purchased is from Direction Plus and is called the Oil Separator Kit. To me it was essential to get both of these on the same bracket due to the limited space in the engine bay.

See this video regarding the install of these into a Mazda BT-50 / Ford Ranger.

It comes with a 30 micron fuel filter which is used here as a pre-fuel filter, but the bracket and hosing allows you to change in the future for a post-fuel filter. You can also upgrade from the fuel manager to the more advanced preline variant without changing brackets.

Snorkel

 

The snorkel that I purchased was the ARB Safari snorkel, there’s so many of these getting around without reported issues so it was an easy choice for me.

Click here to see a video on how to install the safari snorkel to a Mazda BT-50.

I didn’t care about, nor necessarily believe all the talk about colder air intakes, I only wanted it for the insurance it provides when crossing water.

Air Box Drain Valve

 

The install of the air box drain valve is covered in much more detail in this post.

There is also this video describing the install.

The idea behind this is to allow the air box to drain after you have installed a snorkel. When doing the snorkel install you will have blocked the factory drain valve from operating so your air intake system won’t take in water.

Installing this drain valve gives manual control over whether the air intake system is sealed, or open.

Off-Road Reliability & Protection

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

  • Rock sliders.
  • Rear bar.

The two above items aren’t a high priority at the moment as they are excessive for the style of driving I intend on doing, but they could be useful down the track.

Bash plates

 

After doing some research into bash plates I decided to go for Bushskinz bash plates.

The reason behind this was to try and minimise the weight gain as much as possible, these bash plates are alloy instead of steel. This also means that they are rust proof and will last a lifetime.

See this video about installing the bash plates.

I chose the fully fledged kit that covers the front, sump, transmission and transfer case.

This arrangement weighed 23.8kg but after the factory bash plates are removed it leaves an increase of 17.2kg which I found quite reasonable. If I hadn’t have gone for these then Custom off-road would have been my second choice of bash plate.

I think most people would be fine without the transmission and transfer case for everyday use and you could easily just install the two rear plates when going on a trip if you wanted to keep day to day weights down.

Seat Covers

 

One of the very first things that I decided to do as there was already slight wear on the driver’s seat where the previous owner had seemingly been sliding in and out of the car, like a penguin would into the water.

I’ll admit to not doing too much research into this matter, having seen and used Black Duck seat covers before, I was pretty happy to use them.

I ordered 4 Elements covers, for the front seats only as I had no need for the small bench seats or the centre console to be covered.

Diff breathers

 

I was given a BRC quad port diff breather kit and decided to install it. During the install I noticed that the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger could get away without diff breathers in a lot of cases due to the high location of the factory breathers.

Alternatively, check out this install video.

Bull Bar

 

The car came with the ARB deluxe upon purchase. I am happy with the bull bar as it has a winch cradle for future upgrades. I don’t know that I’d have necessarily gone with ARB had I had to make the purchase myself.

They’re a brilliant company, but the prices are too high and I hate the recovery points that they designed for this car. The recovery point is central and underneath.

I might have bought a bar like AFN or TJM if this wasn’t already installed as they have built in revovery points.

Spare Alloy

 

Although the car comes with a full sized spare, the spare wheel is steel with the rest being alloy. I went ahead and bought two alloy wheels.

I contacted Mazda and found that the load rating on these wheels is 925 kg.

This is lower than dedicated 4WD wheels, but I plan on keeping the car light, and I don’t plan on doing extremely hard four wheel driving with this car any time soon.

As alloys can’t be repaired and bent into shape, I bought two spares, but I doubt I will ever carry both unless going extremely remote.

My reason for keeping the alloys is their light weight compared to steel. The strength given for their weight is better, and as I don’t plan on doing aggresive tracks the risk of breaking one is very small.

If I do, I have a spare, if not two.

*In order to help this page load faster I haven’t uploaded an image here, the wheels are visible in other images.

Off-Road Performance

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

  • Winch.
  • Air compressor (and other inflation/deflation accessories).
  • Recovery points.
  • Suspension.
  • Long range tank.

Tyres

 

Arguably the most important thing you can spend money on. The further you go from civilisation the more important they become.

I go the car with Toyo AT II tyres with 265/65/R17 sizing.

They aren’t the biggest, some more clearance will be nice and I plan to upgrade in the future. For now though, they will do nicely. They’re a nice mix of on-road and off-road comfort and performance.

I plan on one day going to either 275/70/R17 or 265/70/R17.

Both of the above tyre sizes are within the allowable 50mm increase, and also should be fine to install without needing to modify the body to fit them. They will maintain a bit better fuel economy, but still give me a tiny bit more clearance.

12 Volt System

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

If you want to know how to plan a 12 volt setup from start to finish then head over to this compelte 12 volt guide here.

Safety (Lighting & Communication)

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

  • UHF fixed radio.
  • Portable radio.
  • Reverse lights.
  • Rear vision replacement (post canopy).
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • First aid kit.
  • Brake upgrade.
  • Satelite phone (if going remote).

Spotlights

 

Already on the car were some King’s 9 inch LEDs. I will keep them for a while as this is something that is low on my priority list, it seems like a waste of time and money to change them immediately when the King’s lights are working.

Eventually I plan to have something with a high CRI for ease of vision, but as my night time driving is very limited at the moment it can wait. You can’t have everything immediately after all.

*In order to speed up load times there won’t be an image of these as they’re visible in other images on the page.

Comfort & Camping

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

Tinted Windows

 

This could also have gone into the “safety” section. Thing is, Australia is hot, many people develop skin cancer in this country due to lack of protection.

For such a cheap modification the benefits are massive, on top of the protection it helps keep the car cool, which helps the air con (which isn’t great) stay on top of the outside heat.

It’s so much more enjoyable inside the cabin now.

Accessories & Other

 

Outside of what is already written about in this section, the following things I am also either wanting, considering, or have already purchased but not yet installed:

  • Exhaust upgrade.
  • Engine tune.

The exhaust and the engine tune are quite low down my list of priorities. Due to cost restraints and me having no real desire for extreme power it will be left quite late in the build, if done at all.

OBD II Scanner

 

I decided to fit the Ultragauge MX 1.4 over the Scangauge II.

My reasons for this come down to the display and the greater flexibility in adapting the screens to show the information you want, in the layout that you want.

To read the full review and see how I set it up check out this longer post here.

The main reason I wanted this was for monitoring my automatic transmission temperatures.

Outside of that feature I love having a TRUE speed on the car as the factory one is always about 6km/h out of whack. I also get automated fuel economy for trips, short trips and the lifetime of the car.

The Ultragauge, after you calibrate it, will give you true fuel economy readings as well, when you pair this with a long range tank for example you can know exactly how much fuel you have left despite the car’s fuel gauge no longer being accurate.

It’s frankly brilliant, I think it’s a must for people whether they go off-road or not, the amount of data available gives me a hard on.

I have tried a few mounts and the best mount BY FAR is the A-pillar mount shown below!

Pros
  • Modifiable to your liking.
  • Monitor all your temperatures.
  • Bright large screen.
  • Multiple mounts available (but one stands out above the others).
  • Get calibrated fuel use, speed, and trip data.
Cons
  • Their website is trash.
  • AU website rips you off (order from USA).
  • The cord is moulded in, you can’t unplug it. So as you see in the picture above, when you run it through the trim, you can’t take it out again without a lot of hassle.
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