Step-By-Step Install: Front, Mid/Transmission & Transfer Case Aluminum Skid Plates by Element for the 2nd & 3rd Gen Tacoma
There are a few modifications that I would consider essential. Tires, lift and armor. Probably in that order.
If we’re talking armor, front and rear bumpers are great to have, but it’s much more likely that you’ll bang up the undercarriage before you tear off the OEM bumpers. Sliders and skid plates are a priority.
There are not a crazy amount of skid plate options on the market, let alone aluminum options.
Enter Element by RA Motorsports.
These guys have a humble beginning building Subaru parts for their community. Since then, they’ve branched out into several makes and models, and most recently, extended their offerings to the off-road community through Element.
The skid plates are designed in a way that is unique to Element. Taking inspiration from the racing world, the team designed a set of skid plates that fit together seamlessly, giving the undercarriage of your truck a smooth, protective surface to ensure crucial components of your drivetrain stay properly protected.
I chose to go with their upgraded “Moab” package, which adds quite a few additional braces across the entire system for better rigidity. It’s no secret that aluminum is not a strong as steel, and we like to push our truck. With the added braces, I was willing to try the system out. In the picture above, from right to left, you can see the transfer case skid plate (w/ the new crossbar), then the mid/transmission skid plate, and finally, the engine skid plate.
This article will serve as a step-by-step install guide, overview and initial review. Although this article is focused on a 3rd Gen Tacoma, the system works on the 2nd Gen as well.
We’ve also covered Element’s offering for gas tank protection. See the aluminum gas tank skid plate install and initial review here.
Update (4/4/2021): We’ve since published the full trail-tested review of the complete skid plate package.
Let’s get started.
Find It Online
- 2005+ Toyota Tacoma Aluminum Front Skid Plate: Check Price
- 2005+ Toyota Tacoma Aluminum Transmission (Mid) Skid Plate: Check Price
- 2005+ Toyota Tacoma Aluminum Transfer Case Skid Plate: Check Price
The team at RA has extended a discount code good for 10% off any order on their site.
Use code – trailtacoma – at checkout.
- (2) Aluminum Spacers
- (2) M8 x 40mm Bolts
- (4) M8 x 30mm Bolts
- (2) Carriage Bolts
- (2) Nuts for Carriage Bolts
- (1) Additional Nut
- Mechanic’s Tool Set: Check Price
- Ratcheting Wrench & Sockets
Step 1. Remove OEM Skid Plates
I already had my factory skid plates removed, so no image for this step.
However, this step is easy. The front skid plate is mounted by four easily visible nuts and the same goes for the rear skid plate. Locate these bolts and remove them and then the two skid plates should drop right out.
Step 2. Remove OEM Frame Support Bars
To start, you’ll need to remove a few steel supports.
The first, if you have them, are the above-seen supports that run from the frame to the transmission cross member.
There are four bolts that mount each one. Remove these on both sides.
This is what the removed support looks like.
You won’t need the support or the bolts from here on out.
Next, you’ll remove support where the front skid plate mounts. You can see the two mounts above.
These are attached with a total of seven, 17mm bolts. Remove all of them and the supports will drop out.
For reference, here are the two removed supports.
You will need to reuse four of the mounting bolts, so don’t get rid of them.
Step 3. Install New Support
To help mount the skids to the frame, you’ll need to install a new support.
Above, you can see the support. Grab your two carriage bolts and accompanying nuts and bolt everything to the frame. This support is installed along the cross-member that helps to hold the transmission.
Line up the holes, center the new support and bolt it down tightly.
Step 4. Disconnect Brake Line from Frame
The first part of the package to install is the transfer case skid plate. It mounts to the game in two spots.
One of those spots can be seen above. Part of the hard brake line here is secured with a frame mount. Loosen the bolt holding the brake lines to the frame.
Step 4. Remove Sticker from Frame Hole
Then, you’ll need to go to the opposite side and remove one of the three stickers which cover holes on the frame.
The one farthest to the back is the second frame mounting point.
Step 5. Lift Transfer Case Skid Into Place & Secure
You’ll need to line up the slots in the skid plate with the holes in the frame.
This may take a bit longer as the fit is tight and you don’t have a lot of wiggle room to work with. Be patient, eventually, all the holes will line up.
Using one of the four 30mm bolts, secure the driver’s side of the transfer case skid plate. Do not tighten this bolt down completely, you’ll likely need to shimmy things around in order to get all of the skids to fit together.
Take the extra nut from the supplied hardware and another of the 30mm bolts.
Again, line up the hole and tighten down. Keep this bolt loose as well. Once these two bolts are mounted and the skid plate is fairly secure, move the skid plate until the holes towards the front of it line up with the nuts inside the previously installed aluminum crossbar.
This is what the installed transfer case skid plate will look like on your truck.
You can see the holes towards the front of the plate and where the transfer case skid plate touches the aluminum crossbar.
Step 6. Install Transmission/Mid Skid Plate
This is where you’ll see how well each piece slides into the next.
Slide the mid skid plate into the transfer case skid plate, and using the other two 30mm bolts, place them through the holes where the two skid plates meet. Leave them finger tight.
You can see these bolts above and in the previous picture.
Move to the front of the mid skid plate, and for now, to make it easier to hold the plate up, thread in the two 40mm bolts by hand.
This is temporary, just to free up your hands.
Step 7. Install Front Skid Plate
Once you’ve got the front skid properly mated with the mid skid, find a way to hold it up while slipping the spacer, as seen above, between the frame and where the previously mentioned skids meet.
Grab the two 40mm bolts and insert them through the holes in the skids, through the spacer, and leave them finger tight.
Now is where you find out how well the whole system is lined up. This is where I ran into some issues.
If you don’t line up everything well enough, the bolt holes for the front skid plate won’t line up. I had to go back and loosen all of the bolts (my fault) and push the entire skid plate system back one skid at a time until everything lined up perfectly.
Once everything lines up, grab two of the 17mm bolts you removed earlier and using your socket wrench and an extension and insert them through the two holes seen above. Don’t tighten them all the way just yet.
Finally, take two more of the 17mm nuts, and again, finger tighten.
Step 8. Check Alignment & Tighten Down All Bolts
If you’re satisfied with the way the holes are lined up and the skid plates fit together properly, full tighten down the entire system.
That’s it! You’re all done. Not the most difficult install, by any means.
This is what the complete protection package looks like from the back of the truck.
Almost seamless! I really dig the look. You can see the full system from the front back in the first image in this post.
These skid plates are pretty awesome.
Collectively, they weigh less than 70lbs. And that’s with the “Moab” reinforcement package that adds 7lbs. That is a TON of weight savings. Other steel skid plates systems, weigh around 150lbs, more than double these.
The polished aluminum finish looks great, and the design is like nothing else out on the market. The install was fairly easy and I’m stoked to test these out. I included a teaser shot of the first trail run with these skid plates above. The full review and overview will be published shortly.
I really put these skid plates through the test and I have some great things to report about the entire package and the team over at RA Motorsports / Element.