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For almost 15 years Toyota made the Tacoma PreRunner, or TRD PreRunner, trucks. Toyota didn’t event that name, but the truck did become synonymous with off roading.

If you’ve been to an off-road race like the Mint 400 or the Baja 1000, you’ll see dozens of lifted trucks with super-complex suspensions, big tires, and wide fenders. Those are pre-runners. They are used by race teams to “pre-run” the racecourse.

Pre-runners are made to “pre-run” a racecourse

A pre-run is integral to winning an off-road race because that’s how drivers and navigators learn the course. It’s important to learn where the cliffs, the dunes, and mud live. The navigator will make GPS marks for important areas on the course, like where to turn, where to jump, or for a high-speed zone.

But truck racers can’t take their race-trucks onto the course until the race day. So, they build pre-runners to do it. While most of us think of pre-runners as trucks, anything that technically runs a racecourse the day before is a pre-runner, so that can include motorcycles, dune buggies, and anything else.

Pre-runners are made to jump!

Pre-runners are based on regular trucks. But, by they time builders are done with them, they’ve lost most of their truck capabilities. Instead of being built to tow, or haul, pre-runners are built to blast through desert. Usually, you’ll see pre-runners catching air, too. They’re built to jump.

They’re built to go fast, too. Pre-runners are usually some of the fastest trucks in the desert short of Trophy Truck.

A pre-runner generally has:

  • Long travel suspension.
  • Big tires. And lots of spares.
  • Wide body work.
  • A cage

Can you build a pre-runner?

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Toyota Racing Truck | Toyota Gazoo Racing

You can absolutely build a pre-runner.

The Tacoma is one of the most popular trucks to base a pre-runner build on. So too are Ford Ranger trucks from 1983 to 2012, and Nissan Frontiers. Sure, there are some Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram pre-runner trucks, but larger, heavier, trucks require beefier (and thus more expensive) suspension components.

A pre-runner truck is a fun off-road project that, like any vehicle project, requires a lot of time, money, and effort. YouTube is full of videos of home-built pre-runner style trucks that can give you ideas. Dozens of companies make the components you need to build one, including the suspension mods and body panels.

Though these are designed as off-road vehicles, most pre-runners are two-wheel drive. That’s because it’s incredibly expensive to lift a four-wheel-drive truck and keep the suspension travel you need for flying over dunes. That’s one of the reason the Toyota PreRunner truck is popular, as well as Nissan’s similar two-wheel-drive Desert Runner. But people have built pre-runners from everything, even a Honda Ridgeline.

Mitsubishi is recognizing the trend, too, and recently built a new Ralliart pre-runner-style truck.

Is the Ford Raptor a pre-runner?

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The Ford F-150 Raptor pickup truck parked | Ford

Everyone seems to have an opinion on whether a Ford GF-150 Raptor is a pre-runner truck or not. Sure, it has all the stuff that a pre-runner needs, like long-travel suspension and wide body work. They are killer off-road trucks for blasting through the desert, and they can even handle a jump or three. But to be a “true” pre-runner, they need to have a protective cage and other off-road goodies, according to purists. Some custom shops have taken to making “true” pre-runner Raptors.

But, we say, if you’re pre-running a race in Raptor, it’s a pre-runner.

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