I am a longtime subscriber and avid reader of Off-Road. I have a couple of questions that I was hoping you could help me answer.
First question: I have an '02 F-250 Super Duty 4x4 with a Triton gasoline engine and an 8-foot bed. I have the 5,000-pound front axle on the truck as well. I use the truck for snowplowing and it seems like the factory ball joints can't handle the abuse. I end up replacing them almost yearly - both the upper AND lower. As you can imagine it becomes very costly, and the downtime of the truck is a pain. Does anybody make heavy-duty ball joints for my truck?
Second question: I was thinking of installing a 6-inch suspension lift on the truck. Living in CT, it would be driven mostly on the pavement, unfortunately. I was just wondering: What else besides the lift kit will I need to properly and safely install the lift kit? I'm thinking of items like pitman arms, brake lines, etc. I was looking at Pro Comp's kit that uses replacement leaf packs.
Thanks for your help, and maybe one day I'll send in a pic of the truck.
Jack Silva, via e-mail
Give Napa's blue-booted replacement ball joints a try. They're made for Napa Auto Parts by the Dana Spicer Corporation. You've most likely got a Dana 50 front axle, which uses a Dana 44-size ring-and-pinion and Dana 60 outers - knuckles, spindles, U-joints, and ball joints. The weak link on a Dana 50 front axle is not the knuckles and their attendant hardware. The weak link on a Dana 50 front axle is the ring-and-pinion - it's just not as strong as the rest of the axle. You didn't mention what wheels and tires you're using, but if you're using wheels with a heavy offset to the outside of your truck, you're putting lots of stress on your ball joints. Bigger tires always create extra stress on steering components like ball joints, tie rods, and pitman arms. Wheels that are offset to the outside create increased leverage on the ball joints, and the ball joints simply won't live as long. This is also true if you're using wheel spacers. Consider using wheels with less offset or returning to wheels that have a factory offset. You might also consider hunting down a Dana 60 front axle that uses kingpins instead of ball joints. These kingpin-style 60s can be hard to come by, so you may have to go the custom axle route to get a kingpin front axle. Kingpins are stronger than ball joints.
For your lift kit, we think you'll have the most functional truck possible if you lift it the minimum needed to clear your tires of choice. Don't lift it 6 inches if you only need a 4-inch lift to clear your tires. Your instincts are correct: You will need a dropped pitman arm and extended brake lines installed with a 6-inch lift kit. You'll need longer shocks too.
I just picked up a friend's '00 Toyota Tacoma and haven't had much luck finding some good suspension upgrades for my front end. I do a good amount of romping with friends in the woods and on occasion spend some time in the sand dunes. We love having us some fun. What do you suggest I look for? Maybe something that gives me some more shock with new upper arms? Thanks.
Jonathon Kitner, Atlanta, Georgia
Congratulations on the purchase of your new Toyota Tacoma. You are going to love the truck. With the Tacoma taking over as the best-selling small pickup recently, an entire new world of aftermarket companies has emerged to offer quality products for guys in your shoes. Considering the type of wheeling that you're doing, we have three companies you should check out. Camburg Engineering, Donahoe Racing, and Total Chaos Fabrication all produce kits that are just right for your style of off-roading. All three companies offer replacement front coilover kits that simply bolt in place of your stock coil-shock assembly. All three companies also offer upper control-arm replacement kits, which allow for a little more travel, a strong uniball attachment system, and an aggressive off-road look. Each system is unique, so we suggest you spend a few moments on each company's website and do a little more research to make your final decision.
You didn't mention the rear suspension, but we suggest giving Deaver Spring a call. Deaver makes a great replacement leaf pack that will provide a few extra inches of wheel travel and give you a great off-road ride. Good luck in your search, and here are those websites for you to check out:
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