Sheriff’s department gets an off-road ride |

Sheriff’s department gets an off-road ride

This Toyota 4Runner, previously used by the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department and parked at Shaffer's Offroad and Performance in Carson City, is being transformed into a rock crawler for off-road patrol in the Tahoe backcountry. (Photo provided by

A 1988 Toyota 4Runner used to teach children about the danger of drugs will soon be used for collecting the injured and catching crooks in the Tahoe backcountry.

The 4Runner, used for D.A.R.E. purposes by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, is now at Shaffer’s Offroad and Performance in Carson City, getting a $20,000 renovation in parts for search-and-rescue missions and patrol duties.

Last weekend a crew at Shaffer’s worked on the 4Runner. The vehicle will boast 35-inch Super Swamper tires, hydraulic assisted steering, 5.5-inch lift kit, a dual-transfer case with 10 gears for forward motion and two gears for reverse and dual winches, said sheriff’s Detective Troy Wright.

The only stock components the 4Runner will retain are most of its 4-cylinder engine, body and electrical parts in its dashboard, Wright said.

“It’s going to be nasty,” Wright said.

The 4Runner’s transformation was the brainchild of Wright, a self-described car nut who owns an off-road 1967 Toyota Landcruiser. When the department lost funding for D.A.R.E., an anti-drug program aimed at youth, Wright thought the 4Runner, obtained through asset forfeiture years ago, would be well suited for off-road patrol in places such as the Rubicon Trail.

Wright also envisioned the 4Runner being used to blast through deep snowpack at Fallen Leaf Lake for emergencies, picking up injured hikers or mountain bike riders and patrolling the wilderness where illegal fires, illegal wood cutting, hiding criminals and drunk drivers are located.

“You can go year-round with this thing,” Wright said.

The department has a similar off-road vehicle, a modified Jeep Cherokee, but the 4Runner is being built at a higher level, said Lance Clifford, owner of the online off-road Web site, based in El Dorado County.

Wright contacted Clifford hoping to get the 4Runner project off the ground. Not only did Clifford get donated parts but found the shop to donate $10,000 in free labor to build the monster.

“We took it upon ourselves to kick it up a notch and make it over-the-top for a patrol vehicle,” Clifford said.

Jeep and Toyota vehicles are known for their potential to become strong off-road rock crawlers.

“We build a couple Toyotas a week and very rarely do we build anything that is getting the best of everything that’s available,” said Mike Shaffer, owner of Shaffer’s Offroad and Performance.

For a place like the Tahoe area of El Dorado County, which averages 35 to 40 rescues per year, Clifford said: “It just makes sense to have a vehicle that is capable of going anywhere.”

The 4Runner will be equipped with a driver’s and passenger’s seat, as well as a seat that faces backward for people who are either arrested or slightly injured. Backboards, used when people are injured enough that any sort of movement is detrimental, will be stabilized to the floorboard of the 4Runner.

The vehicle’s torque is also noteworthy. Usually when a vehicle is in the low gear of four-wheel drive, the motor turns 37 times for each tire rotation, Shaffer said. The modified 4Runner will have its motor turn 223 times for each turn of the tire.

“So the gearing is just insane,” he said.

Shaffer said his crew is building the 4Runner with reliability in mind.

“This thing has to be as strong as possible so (authorities) are not stuck somewhere and they’re calling someone else to get them,” he said.

Sirens, search-and-rescue decals and a dispatch radio will help make the vehicle a regular patrol car. Wright wants to install a Global Positioning System. It will be a street-legal vehicle.

Dave Schneider, Shaffer’s general manager, said the business is donating its services because of what it will get in return: a showcase rock crawler that will help patrol the Rubicon Trail and other off-road sites which, in turn, will help customers.

The 4Runner should be ready by the end of this month with training to search-and-rescue personnel afterward. It should be ready for patrol by the summer season, Wright said.

Clifford, who posted the progress of the 4Runner in “Monster Garage” fashion on his Web site, was asked what it would be like to get pulled over by the monster patrol car.

“It’d be kinda cool, actually,” he said.

List of companies who donated parts to the modified Toyota 4Runner

Shaffer’s Offroad

Interco Tires


Front Range Offroad


Detroit Locker

Superior Axle & Gear

Marlin Crawler

Trail Gear

EOR Mfg.

All Pro Off Road

LC Engineering

Ramsey Winch

Bull Tear

12 Volt Guy

Dunks Performance

Longfield Superaxles

PRP Seats

Peak Empire

Rock Logic


To view the 4Runner’s progress, visit

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User