No sooner had I scooped up my 2013 Daihatsu Deck Van 4×4, I immediately realized that storage and organization were going to be a bit of a challenge.
Additionally, the base ride height of the low-slung Daihatsu Cargo Van the pickup was constructed upon, posed all manner of challenges. Factor in some crap-tastic 12 x 4-inch steelies, equally awful stock all-terrain tires, horrific forward-facing lighting, ground clearance, grip, and safety were all valid concerns as well.
I soon discovered that these issues were just the tip of the itty-bitty iceberg. There was far more to this funky little Japanese micro truck than delivery van design flaws and a stubby truck bed.
Obviously, some of these OE oversights would have to wait for aftermarket support. Others, I knew I could tackle on my own with a few carefully selected products, some core daily-beater farm truck essentials, and a dash of DIY ingenuity. And man am I glad that I decided to pull the trigger and get these basic mods out of the way because they have all made this pipsqueak of a pickup a million times more useful.
But before we get to all that noise, perhaps we should discuss why Daihatsu decided to hack up a delivery van and turn it into a puny pickup in the first place. The Deck Van truly is one of the most bizarre (and practical) automobiles you will encounter in Japan.
A Bizarre Star Is Born
When work first began on the design of the original Deck Van during the early days of Japan’s Bubble Jidai era, Daihatsu had plenty of pocket change to toss around. But being the frugal type, the firm decided that it would cut a few corners on its latest creation because it really didn’t want to sink too much money into a potentially erroneous automobile.
By this point, the brand already had a reliable, practical, and popular pickup truck for the better part of four decades: The Hijet. Its top-selling cargo van was a hit too, with both 2WD and 4WD versions topping the charts as one of Japan’s most-purchased delivery vehicles.
There was no market for an ad-hoc, bastardized combo bred betwixt the two, for even if it did sell, it would surely cannibalize sales within each segment. Yet for whatever reason, Daihatsu decided to build the damn thing anyway. Perhaps in hopes of snagging some small portion of the Japanese market that no one had yet to hone in on. That, or someone had been hitting the saké one night with their boss and somehow got a green light. We’ll probably never know.
The Outdoorsman’s Automobile
Skip forward almost three decades, and we get to my generation of the vehicle: The Daihatsu S331W. While the Japanese economic bubble may have exploded years ago, the Deck Van had somehow survived the blast and soldiered on. Its surprisingly spacious high-roof configuration and dual row access via the oversized sliding van doors had made the vehicle a hit with fishermen and hunters alike.
Integrated bolt-in overhead storage solutions provided interior stow space that was out of the way, yet easily accessible. The combo of a small truck bed in the back with four-wheel-drive on demand allowed coolers full of fish and crates loaded with wild boar meat to be easily and discreetly transported from the wilds.
Granted, the Deck Van has never been (nor will it likely ever be) Daihatsu’s best seller. But somehow it still seems to snag just enough of the market share to justify being kept in the company’s product lineup. Drive one for a week, then pilot the other two automobiles that inspired its inception, and you will quickly realize that the Deck Van truly is the best of both worlds.
But you will also surely discover that this truck kind of sucks.
Deck Van Swings, Hits, And Misses
While the sides of the bed of the Deck Van are the equivalent height of a standard American pickup truck, they do little for the overall footprint of the bed itself. This explains why I was so quick to slap a cargo carrier on top of the vehicle, along with some chains affixed to the tailgate, as I desperately needed the additional storage and hauling space.
There also isn’t a rear window guard like what you see on most Japanese kei trucks, so vertical tie-down points are extremely limited. By opting for a longer rooftop carrier, and allowing it to overhang the rear window, I was able to negate a portion of this problem by creating a rooftop tie-down bar for things like long-handed farm tools. It doesn’t do shit for shielding my rear window, but at least I can haul lengthier stuff now.
The rear sliding doors also negate the ability to have the handy fold-down flatbed design that almost all kei trucks feature. This just means all three sides of the bed flip down and lock into place. Also missing are all of the useful tie-down hooks running around the underside of the bed. Instead, you get top-mounted bed rails that offer a lack of clearance from the bed itself and offer limited useful utility.
Finding Room For Improvement
Since I needed a capable and practical daily beater for hauling the kids to school, bouldering practice, and weekend camping capers, focusing on the basics was my primary concern. So upon procuring my Deck Van, I immediately assessed the disadvantages listed above, and set to amending whatever I could via the “ye ol’ DIY approach.”45
After slapping an Inno Roof Rack and a Tool Island Basket up top, I affixed an aluminum sheet toward the back of the carrier to shield the rear window from the sun, rain, bird shit, and other naturally occurring substances that a rear wiper would normally eliminate. From there I attached a set of silicone bicycle headlight straps to the passenger side so that I could easily access my steel shovel (which I use almost daily on the farm), along with a 5-liter jerry can for holding water. A generic cargo net finishes things off and makes camping trips far more feasible.
Covering the bed/deck required the most ingenuity, as the sliding rear van doors eliminated any chance of strapping a cargo cover down via the use of straps. Since the Deck Van relies upon rails running down all three sides, a clamping system needed to be constructed.
After measuring the circumference of the bars of the rail system with a caliper, I found that they would accommodate locking clasps with threaded eyelet holes from a Japanese cycling brand called Minoura. With a series of closed-eye hooks attached to each side rail, a pressure bar spanning the cab end of the bed, and some threaded knobs going into each clamp, a standard-sized kei truck bed cover was then able to be attached.
In The Rear
For the tailgate, I removed the two flimsy rubber bumper pads on each side and attached a pair of anodized bike light holders with the help of more threaded knobs and some spacers. From there, I was able to run a hollow stainless bar across the back of the tailgate. Cateye LED handlebar bar end cycling lights were then stuffed inside each hole to keep condensation and creepy-crawlies from nesting inside. This allowed me to take a series of modified miniature bungee chords, wrap them around the bar, and hook them back into each eyehole across the rear of the cargo cover.
Meanwhile, I affixed a cheapy fog light/license plate bar up front, as it gave me the real estate I needed for a set of fog lights, without the need for drilling into or modifying the bumper. Some amber marker lamp bulbs, an LED dome light, brighter LED reverse lights, and some mandatory cabin accessories followed shortly thereafter. Being this is what the Japanese call a “high roof” vehicle, I also had the room to install a cargo net over the rear bench, which leaves just enough headroom for someone like myself who is 6 feet (180cm) to squeeze into the back.
Looking To “Clear” The Next Stage
Altogether, these modest mods have made beach trips, camping capers, and daily chores on the farm far more manageable. Yet I could still see that there was ample room for improvement, especially regarding 4×4 performance and overlanding potential.
The laughably low ride height of the rig itself requires equal amounts of prayer and skill when behind the wheel, thus making any form of farm job or 4×4 adventure quite the challenge. And while those stock Dunlop A/T compounds may have been brand-new when I got the truck, their grip levels and longevity ratings had proven to be borderline abysmal.
So with these obvious issues exposed, and our partners over at WEDS Wheels, Forest Auto Factory, BOLT Lock, and Yokohama Tire eager to assist, I set to my next mini truck challenge: Wheels, tires, suspension, and security. Stay tuned for that.