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One of the most common encounters that you’ll have when you start increasing the size of your wheels and tires is the front tires rubbing on the fender liner of your 4Runner. The rubbing will normally occur when your wheel is turned full-lock to the left or to the right. Since there are countless different combinations of wheels, tires, and lifts, everyone will experience something different.
On my 2003 Toyota 4Runner, I installed a 3in. Bilstein/Toytec Lift Kit while maintaining the stock upper control arms. Obviously, this only increased the ride height so no tire rubbing issues yet. I then replaced my stock OEM wheels with 5th Gen 4Runner Trail Edition wheels that I bought off Craigslist (which came with original tires) and ran with these until the tire tread ran low. With the Trail Edition wheels, I got a bit of negative offset so my wheels were slightly pushed out towards the outside of the wheel well—still no rubbing issues.
Finally the change that caused my front tires to start rubbing was when I got new Toyo Open Country AT3 A/T tires (265/70R17) installed. Regardless of what combination of wheels, tires, or lift you have, tire rubbing will usually start out at the front fender liner. This guide will outline the steps it takes to do a fender liner mod so that you can eliminate the front tires rub.
Keep in mind that the fender liner mod addressed the front tire rub issues on my 4Runner, but if you require further mods for even more aggressive wheel/tire setups, you may need to do more modifications such as trimming/removing the mud flaps, trimming the bumper, and/or doing a body mount chop; there are plenty of resources online on making those modifications.
Tools & Materials Required
Power Drill and Drill Bits
A power drill with your typical drill bit set will be needed for drilling into the bottom of the bumper for new holes.
Phillips Head Screwdriver
You just need a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the screws securing the bumper to the fender liner.
A heat gun helps you to mold the bumper a bit to fit the fender liner better when you adjust the fender liner.
Fixing Tire Rub on Front Fender Liner: 4th Gen Toyota 4Runner
This is a look at my driver’s side tire, rubbing against the fender liner both in front and in back of the tire. The rubbing is similar on both driver and passenger sides. First, you’ll see that when I turn my steering wheel all the way to the right, the rubbing occurs on the front fender liner closer to the inside of the vehicle. No rubbing on the backside of the tire.
When I turn my steering wheel all the way to the left now, there is no rubbing at the front of the tire, but there is rubbing on the inside of the fender liner in the back. It’s pretty unsettling when you feel and hear the rubbing happening.
To do the fender liner mod, you’ll need to make a slight modification to the way the fender liner is mounted. Originally, the way the fender liner is secured is via these bumper mounting clips. A Phillips head screw is screwed through a hole in the bumper and through these mounting clips and fender liner.
What we’ll be doing when doing the fender liner mod is pulling the fender liner in front away from the tire, drilling new holes for the bumper mounting clips, and securing the fender liner into a new further away position as shown below. The nice thing about this mod is that it looks clean and it doesn’t involve cutting into your bumper.
As for the rear, the rubbing was minor, so I was able to use a heat gun and mold the bumper away from the tire. If the rear has severe tire rub, you may need to make more modification to the mud flap via removal or trimming.
Fender Liner Mod: Front of Tire – Passenger Side
Look under the front fender liner on the passenger side of the vehicle. There will be (3 qty) Phillips head screws holding in the front fender liner to the front bumper. Remove these three screws and set aside. You will now be able to freely move the fender liner forward away from the tire by hand.
When you move the fender liner forward, you will see that it gives extra clearance at the front of the passenger side tire. Move the fender liner forward until you are satisfied with the amount of clearance you have. You will see that new holes will need to be drilled into the bottom of the bumper so that the fender liner can mount into the new position. Use a drill bit similarly sized to the existing holes in the bumper.
Drill new holes for each of the three mounting locations. Remember that you are using the existing holes of the fender liner and drilling new mounting holes into the bumper.
For each of the new holes that you drill, you will be reinstalling the bumper mounting clips back onto the bumper. The existing hole in the fender liner will line up with the new bumper hole; the screw should then be screwed back through the bumper mounting clip and fender liner to hold it securely in place.
For some of the new mounting hole locations, you might need to bend the bumper slightly to make it fit better with the angle of the fender liner. I’ve done this by using a heat gun to heat up the bumper and bending it with pliers to match the angle of the fender liner. To make the bumper stay in the bent shape, you can either hold it in position until it cools down or a better way is to hold a rag soaked in cold water to the new position to set it in its shape.
When you’ve finished with the three mounting locations, it will look something like what you see below. You’ll notice over on the right side of the image (which is the front of the passenger side tire) that there is more clearance between the fender liner and the tire. If you have a more aggressive tire/wheel setup and your tire is still rubbing on the bumper itself, you may need to trim off the corner section of the bumper with a rotary tool like a Dremel or angle grinder with a cutting disc.
Front Liner Mod: Front of Tire – Driver Side
For the driver side of the vehicle, the fender liner mod is performed similarly to the passenger side, but there are only two screws securing the fender liner to the bumper.
Again, use the same procedure as the driver side: remove the mounting screws, remove the bumper mounting clips, move the fender liner away from the front of the tire, drill new holes into the bumper, reinstall the fender liner in its new position securing it to the bumper with the mounting screws and bumper mounting clips.
With the fender liner modified on the driver’s side, it should look something like this.
Fender Liner Mod: Back of Tires
As for the rear of the tires on both driver and passenger sides, you may be able to get away with molding the fender liner away from the tire to eliminate the tire rub on the back of the tires. You can do this by simply heating the surface of the plastic fender liner, pushing it with an object (in my case, I used a piece of 3/4 in. plywood (something metallic works better), and then either let cool or pour cold water over it to keep it molded in its new position.
That should take care of most tire rubbing situations on the front fender liners when working with milder wheel/tire setups. With my 4th Gen Toyota 4Runner, I have a 3in. lift, 5th Gen Trail Edition wheels, and Toyo Open Country AT3 265/70R17 tires. This fender liner mod helped to eliminate the tire rub on both front and rear of the front tires and provided me an extra 0.5-1 inches of clearance. Hopefully this guide helps you to eliminate your front tire rub on your 4Runner.