A beginner’s guide to 4×4 suspension lift kits
You see them all the time: light trucks, SUVs, Jeeps, and more cruising down the road, sitting on truck suspension lifts and a set of tires so big a person could live on them. If you’re the curious type who wants to lift your own rig, a more important question than “How do I get my rig to do that?” Is “Why would my ride do that?”
There are several reasons why people customize their vehicles with ride height adjustment kits, as well as a little to know before they get started. If you’re a seasoned veteran who has conquered the most treacherous terrain and knows your vehicle better than your own mother, there’s probably not much you can learn here. If, on the other hand, you’re just starting out and want to familiarize yourself with the basics, read on.
Why should I increase my ride?
I’m glad you asked. Outfitting vehicles with ride height adjustment kits involves a lot more than just buying the best-looking truck height adjustment kit and then handing your ride off to the local mechanic. If that’s all you have going on, it’s very likely that raising your vehicle isn’t right for you at all. Installing truck suspension lift kits requires a little hard work, some technical know-how, and constant maintenance and care of your vehicle’s components.
The first decision you need to make when considering a suspension raise kit is what you want to do with it. Basically, there are two main purposes for installing truck lift kits: style or function. Although the two are related in some ways, it is still important to consider which purpose you want to achieve, as this will help you make the right modifications to your vehicle.
Let’s face it, turning a vehicle into a style statement has been a popular pastime since the advent of tailfins and flame decals. As much as we can all laugh at a hybrid hatchback on 18-inch wheels or the family sedan with a fender that looks more like the Seattle Space Needle than a spoiler, we also find our own vehicles with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror or a hula dancer figure balancing on the dashboard. As far as styling goes, adding truck lift kits makes more of an impression than anything else you can do to your ride. Heads immediately turn at the sight of a raised platform with huge tires that look like hanging fangs and an exhaust system that shoos stray puppies into hiding.
When it comes to using suspension height adjusters to make a style statement, it’s easy to look good. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook overall everyday performance in the middle of a ride. For this reason, choosing the right suspension lift kit with comfort, reliability, durability, safety, and last but not least, price in mind should be just as important as the precious inches you want to add.
So you’ve taken the plunge to tune your vehicle for the off-road world, and you’re ready to invest in one of the many forklift kits available. But before you dive headfirst into a custom truck lift kit and huge tires, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure a proper setup. The first step is to ask yourself what you’ll be doing most, whether it’s slow rock crawling, high-speed desert racing, all-purpose off-roading, mud racing or long-distance off-road hiking. From there, you can narrow down what you need to do to tailor your vehicle to your needs.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already a seasoned pro, tuning your vehicle for optimal off-road performance is an extensive hobby with numerous factors to consider. The options are endless, which can sometimes make it difficult to determine exactly which suspension height adjustment is ideal for what you want.
Where to start
As if figuring out which suspension height adjuster to buy wasn’t complicated enough, installing suspension height adjusters can also alter other components of your vehicle, sometimes leading to unforeseen issues that can affect performance or potentially harm the vehicle itself. For example, drive shaft length, steering geometry, brake lines, handling, gear ratios, and overall weight are just a few of the factors that can be affected by adding truck lift kits.
Finding sufficient resources to determine what products you need can be difficult. Talking to a mechanic can provide insight. Reading factory service manuals, off-road magazines, Internet trade journals, manufacturer’s manuals and a variety of other resources can also be helpful. But by far the most helpful way to determine which truck lift kits are right for you and your vehicle is to consult an experienced and knowledgeable person who has a vehicle similar to yours and uses it in ways similar to what you want to do. Such a person can not only suggest the right products, but also has experience with installation tips and general drivability.
In the meantime, here are some of the basics of suspension upgrades that you should consider when planning your modifications.
What does a suspension lift kit do?
For beginners, one of the main reasons to install truck suspension height adjustment kits is to raise the ride height off the ground to allow for steeper off-road ascents or descents and more ground clearance. Generally speaking, it makes sense that when driving over boulders, through mud, across the desert, or even through the occasional forest trail, a higher ride height will make it easier to negotiate certain obstacles. This can often be a bit tricky to manage, as a higher ride height also increases your vehicle’s center of gravity, which can affect handling.
Install larger tires
The general consensus is that bigger tires equal more traction, right? Well, not quite. While larger tires can offer some improvement in off-road traction, there are other ways to improve a vehicle’s traction that are far more efficient than simply increasing the size of the rubber. Besides the obvious stylistic discretion, the main reasons for adding larger tires are increased vehicle clearance for better performance in mud, deep snow, rocks and deep trails. Certain tires designed specifically for off-road use can improve traction depending on the circumstances, but the added ground clearance is the most immediate and direct benefit of larger tires.
Factors to consider with truck suspension lift kits:
Installation – Many manufacturers offer instructions for installing truck lift kits on specific vehicles; however, some installations are quite complex and require a bit of welding or cutting to add some necessary components. In this case, a trusted mechanic or some knowledgeable friends is the best solution.
Additional Modifications: Upgrading to truck lift kits with taller tires also means that a number of components may need parts upgrades or some adjustments to compensate. For example, a truck’s engine is matched to certain gear ratios to power the vehicle. If you put on larger tires, the gear ratios will need to be adjusted accordingly because the engine will have to turn much larger and heavier tires. Again, consult more experienced people for more information.
On-road handling: larger, wider tires can sometimes cause road instability or a noisy, uncomfortable ride, especially at high speeds. Also, more aggressive off-road tires tend to wear out faster on the road, and traction may not be as good as you would expect on wet roads. In this regard, larger tires can sometimes be a gamble without the guidance of a seasoned off-road veteran.
Weight: Larger tires are heavier, which can put a lot of stress on your suspension, especially if it’s a stock suspension. Reliable, durable suspension components and lighter aluminum tires can sometimes help reduce stress.
Handling: Installing truck suspension height adjusters will undoubtedly raise the vehicle’s center of gravity, resulting in less stable cornering. This is a common problem when installing truck lift kits, but it’s mostly a matter of getting used to the vehicle’s altered performance.
Legality: some suspension lift kits are such a serious modification to your suspension system that they may not be legal. Check suspension regulations in your country, state or province to be sure. Helpful Accessories: Before installing a suspension lift kit, first check to see if any components will be affected by your vehicle’s new height.
Here are some useful accessories that may need to be upgraded:
- Brake upgrades: normal brakes can’t always accommodate larger tires, or they wear out easily due to the added load.
- Transmission and Differential: Shafts, gears, differential covers, locks, and more will ensure your transmission can keep up with your suspension.
- Spare Parts: Longer control arms and trailing arms to compensate for the extra height of your equipment.
- Shock Absorbers: For taller lift heights, longer shock absorbers ensure the best on-road and off-road performance.
- Other parts: Steering linkage, push yoke, drive shaft length, u-joint angle and brake lines are all worth considering before installing a suspension lift kit.
Installing a lift kit for the suspension:
When it’s time to install a lift kit, there are two options: You can install it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you. Of course, each has its pros and cons, and when it comes to your platform, attention to detail is key. As a general rule of thumb, even if you know you want a big lift, it’s best to start with a small lift and work your way up. That way, you can work out any kinks and imperfections to make sure your kit works properly.
Do It Yourself
Even if you’re not that technically savvy, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the inner mechanics of your vehicle – a valuable experience that can save you time and money. Thorough knowledge of your equipment can also allow you to make your own modifications to your vehicle if needed. There are numerous resources available that can usually guide you through most of the process, but remember that there is a lot to take in, and tweaking the intricate components of your vehicle is no small feat. It’s always a good idea to have a second pair of hands or an experienced person to help you, because despite the increasing availability of bolt kits, installing suspension height adjusters is no easy task, especially if you’re a beginner. Also, certain guides or resources can sometimes be misleading or based on the personal preferences of individual gearheads. Often, after installing a ride height adjustment kit, you’ll spend hours readjusting your vehicle’s other components back to spec. That’s a lot, especially if you’re inexperienced.
Having a licensed professional install your lift kit is usually the best way to ensure suspension lift kits are installed correctly, as long as you’re willing to pay the labor cost. A professional can perfectly tune your vehicle to your specifications and make sure all the components work as they should, all in a fraction of the time it would take even the most experienced gearheads to install.On the other hand, as with any mechanic, it can be difficult to find one you can trust to install the kit correctly without overwhelming you with unnecessary parts. Also, if you’re not a gearhead, any time a malfunction occurs or your vehicle needs minor adjustments, you’ll have no choice but to go to a mechanic for repairs.
Suspension Lift Sizes:
Small: A small lift consists of 1.5 inches or less, granting you a little more room and space to run slightly larger tires. The most common way to achieve a small lift is to use coilovers in the front and long shackles in the rear.
Advantages/Disadvantages: Small lifts are inexpensive and take little effort to install.
Medium: A medium lift has about 2″ of lift and is a good choice for those looking for the best tire clearance but not planning on off-road activities. Common medium lifts use additional spacers and attachments. Leaf lifts, and sometimes new shock absorbers are included.
Pros and cons: you will notice changes in handling and performance: some good, some bad. Also, you need strong rear springs, and if you want to use a leaf attachment kit, retrofitting for a higher lift can be difficult because leaf attachment kits are designed to lift the original springs.
Large: Larger lifts consist of 3 to 4″ or more for an aggressive look and best off-road performance. A common large lift configuration consists of new front coils and additional rear leaves, or a combination of new front coils and new rear springs. These kits often include a matching set of shocks.
Advantages/Disadvantages: Larger lifts are obviously the most expensive, and more complications can be expected than with smaller lifts. Driving performance is also affected, sometimes dramatically. But a large lift will transform your vehicle into an intimidating off-road machine that stands out from the crowd.
Types of suspension height adjustment kits:
SPOA suspension height adjusters are the most popular among serious rock crawlers looking for maximum articulation (up and down). These truck lift kits keep the tires on the ground for maximum traction, while properly raised springs lift everything out of the way, including the springs.
Shackle Reverse Suspension (S/R) Lift Kits:
S/R truck lift kits are designed to provide a smooth ride on soft terrain such as forest roads, desert drives and scenic trails; however, highway travel at high speeds is not recommended.
Coil-Over Suspension Height Adjustment Kits:
The choice of many of the world’s best four-wheel drive vehicles. Coilovers offer unmatched ride quality and less expensive springs, but installation sometimes requires some welding. The end result, however, is a suspension lift kit that provides excellent articulation on the trail and a comfortable ride that you have to feel to believe.
Raised Suspension Kits:
The most common type of truck lift kit in the world, Lifted Spring systems are easier to install and an excellent choice for first time off-road lifters. These truck lift kits allow you to handle larger tires for added ground clearance while establishing road control.
Shackle Suspension Lift Kits:
Shackle suspension height adjustment kits are probably the most economical way to increase the size of your vehicle. They are best suited for truck enthusiasts who want to put on bigger tires but don’t plan on doing a lot of off-roading. Caution is advised with these truck lift kits, as shackle systems have been known to interfere with steering and roll control.