What Is A Prerunner? Prerunner Suspension? Prerunner Chassis?

A Prerunner truck is a classic that has been part of racing history for a long time. It is because this type of truck serves as an integral part of racing that all teams have adopted. The advantages of using a Prerunner give racers an immense advantage that is not able to be overcome. But they didn’t stumble on this by accident.

A Prerunner style truck is one that teams use to scope out a track without damaging their race truck That damage will most likely be done during race time. So starting a race with a pristine truck is ideal. But also, following this tradition Toyota designed a PreRunner version of their Tacoma as a mass-produced submodel offered to the public.

Toyota created the Tacoma in 1995 and the Tacoma PreRunner was quickly introduced after that in 1998. But more broadly what is a Prerunner truck in general? It is essentially a two-wheel drive mid-sized pickup truck that has more features than the base model Tacomas.

It shares the same longer suspension and main features as the four-wheel-drive Tacomas but in rear-wheel drive. TRD PreRunners have a locking rear differential.

What Is A PreRunner?

A PreRunner is a racing team’s practice truck they drive on the course before the race.

The word “Prerunner” is a racing term. Say you’re racing in the Baja 1000. You get to Mexico with your team and your newly built trophy truck designed specifically for this race. Before the race, you want to drive the route and prepare as much as you can.

Now, the team spent half a million dollars on your truck. Do you want to take push it before the race and possibly break it? Figure you can be out of the race before the thing even starts. Is that ideal?

Obviously not.

So each team has come up with an alternative. They use their “Prerunner” truck before the race to get the driver familiar with the turns and the terrain without possibly damaging the race-ready monster that awaits.

Mechanics can spend their precious time fine-tuning the racing trucks to the specs that maximize performance based on the climate, race track, conditions, forecasts, and driver riding style. With a Prerunner, they don’t have to spend half of their time repairing the race truck after practicing.

what is a prerunner, Mad Digi

The Ranger Prerunner, Latrax Prerunner, or Chevy Prerunner are still incredibly built and powerful machines. Each one cost $100,000 or more to build and would have any normal person grinning like a damn moron to drive. But that is just a fraction compared to the race-ready beast pros use on TV.


Teams can run the course with trucks, side by sides, ATVs, or motorcycles. Some have stated teams have used rental cars to prepare for the Baja 1000. No doubt they opted for the maximum insurance policy. Usually, they want to use something that gives them the same feel as what they are using in the race.

But “Prerunner” is a word that can apply to many types of vehicles to serve one main purpose.

Pro Tip: Is desert racing right for you? Are you unsure if you want to invest in a truck built for the off road? Well, head to your nearest rental car agency and rent a 4 wheel drive capable truck and take it to the desert for a weekend.

Flip it, crash it, set it on fire all without paying a nickel more than that daily rate and the full coverage insurance policy!

Now that we understand what people mean when they use the word Prerunner let’s take a look at common Prerunner you would see in the backcountry.

Which Trucks Make The Best PreRunners?

The Ford Ranger is probably the most popular.

Arguably the most popular truck for building into a Prerunner is the 1983 to 2011 Ford Ranger. Not only did these trucks make up the bulk of sportsman race trucks, but they were also inexpensive to both buy and modify. These trucks and their parts are abundant and it is relatively easy to modify them to go fast.

what is a prerunner, Mad Digi

The next most popular model of truck is the Toyota Tacoma. Even though the Tacoma was more expensive than a Ranger, they were also very popular in both race and pre-run. Higher budget race teams would often opt for the Ford F-150, as they have larger cabs and engines than the Ranger; however, the cost to build climbs exponentially.

The Ford F-150 Raptor has wider suspension with more wheel travel than the normal F-150, larger and more robust tires, big shock absorbers, bulgy fenders, and lots of skid plates.

So, is it a great off-road truck built to tackle the wilds of the desert? Yes. Is it a Prerunner though? Technically only if it’s used to pre-run a racecourse.

Making sense yet?

The wider stance and leveled or even slightly nose-high attitude that race trucks and true Prerunner’s sport quickly became popular among the SoCal high school and college scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Soon, stock trucks with a lifted front end started popping up all over, and the style quickly spread across the country. People were cranking up torsion bars on Chevys, pulling rear factory lift blocks of anything that had them, and tossing wide fiberglass fenders on otherwise stock trucks.

What Kind Of Suspension Do PreRunners Use?

Long travel is key. You can’t go fast with 12″ travel shocks. Well, you can but you’ll control the truck like a falling leaf. None. Trophy truck’s suspensions have about a 23-25.5″ travel. That is two feet. 2′. Getting to this requires a lot of mods and know-how.

It’s not impossible but you will have to dedicate the truck to off-road capabilities and give up on-road comfort at highway speeds.

what is a prerunner, Mad Digi

What Makes A Good Car Chassis?

You have to decide on 2WD or 4WD. They both can be ideal in certain circumstances. Typically race trucks are 4WD and PreRunners are 2WD on the same 4WD Prerunner chassis. On a 4WD the drive shafts limit the suspension travel.

The drive train going to the wheels can only rotate so far and this limit shortens the travel. Also, this is another possibly weak spot. Another drive train adds to the weight and gives you another chance to break something that could end your race early.

what is a prerunner, Mad Digi

Prerunner Things To Consider:

Two Wheel Drive Pros (Four Wheel Drive Cons):
– Longer suspension travel
– Fewer things that can break
– Lighter
– Fewer parts needed

Four Wheel Drive Pros (Two Wheel Drive Cons):
– Traction
– Turning
– Lighter

Similarities & Differences Of PreRunners & 2WD Trucks?

The Toyota PreRunner Tacoma is not your ordinary two-wheel-drive offroad vehicle — and Toyota would probably tell you that it has more in common with four-wheel-drive offroaders. Features that distinguish the PreRunner from other two-wheel-drive trucks include:

  • Size: The Toyota PreRunner is about two inches taller and wider than a standard 2WD truck, with about an extra inch-and-a-half of ground clearance.
  • Wheels: PreRunners have 16” wheels and they are 6-lug wheels like the 4×4, not 5-lug wheels like other 4x2s. The Toyota PreRunner’s tires also are made to stand up to tougher offroad conditions than a normal 2WD truck.
  • Brakes: About two inches bigger than standard 2WDs. PreRunners also have skid plates.
  • Payload: A Toyota PreRunner has a hauling capacity of about 200 lbs. greater than a typical 2WD truck.
  • Higher rear axle: 4.10 (3.73 with the V6) as opposed to 3.31 for a 2WD.
  • Turning: PreRunners turn better than other 4x2s, although not as well as 4x4s.

what is a prerunner, Mad Digi

How Much Does It Cost To Make A PreRunner?

Depends on the truck you buy. But to convert your truck into a basic PreRunner you would need to spend at least $1,000. You can get more and more sophisticated and get into spending as much as the pros do.

A race-ready Trophy Truck can be built for the cool low cost of $500,000. That’s a mansion in Vegas baby.

A team’s PreRunner usually costs $100,000 to make. That’s like ten facelifts and three boob jobs. But I digress.

Usually, some bolt-on parts like a new suspension, wheels, and tires will cost $1,000+. Adding a body lift, fender flares, air filter, locker(s), and other accessories get expensive quickly. AND the project becomes a slippery slope.

Change one thing and it changes five other things. Small mods can avoid this but some welcome the ever-growing changes.

Bigger tires mean new wheels and you have to cut away the fenders to fit them. Or a long-travel suspension may require different swing arms. New CV boots are needed. Anti-sway bars? As you can see just the suspension alone will change very quickly.


Usually the more money you can spend the faster you can go and the more fun you can have. Look forward to a PreRunner Bronco and even a Tundra PreRunner!


Did we answer it? Do you understand what is a Prerunner now? I hope so. Now you can share all your knowledge without sounding like a newb when you come back to your 7th-floor job and put on your suit after being that badass weekend warrior.

Thanks for reading and stay dirty