KIT Vs. Custom: Five Reasons Why Bolt-On Is Bueno
Look, it's your Jeep. Do whatever you want. You want to reinvent the wheel? You can spend a year and any amount of dollars sorting out that "custom" spring-over setup where the steering never seems to be on-center and vibration is a constant problem. And eventually, you might end up with something.
Or you can install a system that good engineers already know will work. Truth is, bolt-on suspensions can bring you 80 percent, 90 percent, maybe 95 percent of the performance ... at half the cost ... in a third of the time.
After all, we are living in what is probably the golden age of suspension development. In the past 5 years, more manufacturers have developed better suspension concepts than ever. And with everyone hitting the trails, the most innovation in suspension R&D has been in Jeep applications. You can get great bolt-on suspensions these days if you know how to shop, get a good kit, and get it on right. Why?
Easier installation: One key to success for any suspension kit manufacturer is to reduce installation time and complexity. Time is money, especially to a small business owner. As a result, much development on kits today is done with a keen awareness of the fact that all things being equal, an easier-to-install kit is going to attract more buyers and be carried by more sales outlets. That competition brings tangible benefits for average driveway mechanics.
Proven R&D: We all know it-when you upgrade any one thing, all you do is break whatever is next to it. But with a kit, someone else has already been through the "broke this, fixed that" cycle that occurs every time you do something simple, like run a bigger tire. With a kit, matched and balanced components can all be engineered to the same level. With a kit, there is no guesswork with materials versus stress loads. There will be an absolute minimum of this "well, I guess I shoulda gone to T6" nonsense.
Cost: Kit manufacturing takes advantage of economies of scale, of mass production, and cutthroat industry competition. Assessing value is still important in kit selection, but when you install a kit, you are not at the mercy of a small shop run by one guy who knows everything, except maybe the way you 'wheel.
Talent: Some of the best engineers we know are doing the math and field-testing at suspension companies, large and small. The big ones have world-class talent, and the smaller ones have hard-core, fanatical, hands-on guys 'wheeling like banshees every weekend.
Packaging: Lots of kits now come in staged packages. So you can order all you need to rockcrawl the hairy stuff, or leave out the big-flex parts if all you want to do is run faster down graded dirt roads. These days, Jeep suspension kits are custom.
Here you'll find a sampling of suspension options and contacts. Practically any level of performance is available-the trick is to decide what you need and pick a winner. Check kits for completeness-are shocks included? Is the hardware upgraded where it needs to be? Find out about customer service and support, especially if you are installing your own. Is there someone you can call when two holes don't line up? In the long run, you need to be doing business with people you can trust, who believe in what they do, and who understand the kind of things you do with your Jeep.
To improve a daily driver for occasional trail use, a simple 2-inch lift with a taller set of tires and better shocks will make a big difference compared to stock. Anything that frees the suspension to droop and flex, such as shackle kits or antisway bar disconnects, will also help. This kind of setup will allow you to run at faster speeds down graded dirt roads more comfortably, and address scenic trails in confidence. And installation should not be overly complex or expensive.
To run 31- to 33-inch tires, you'll need more lift and more travel. For most Jeeps, this is in the 2.5- to 4-inch range, close to the limit before driveline angles and gearing issues require more extensive re-engineering. There is a wide variety of extremely well-engineered kits in this area, including kits that bolt on without any welding whatsoever.
And obviously, for extreme trails, these days you need to fit 35-inch tires or bigger. Here you have to expect more cutting and welding. Even in this range, there are advantages to purchasing a kit instead of starting from scratch and going custom. Many of the companies offering kits for this type of 'wheeling are very experienced in the sport and have had enough trail time to know what works, what breaks, and why. By supplying matched components, they can eliminate your R&D, guarantee you get it right the first time, and instantly bring you up to state-of-the-art performance.
After you have matched the kit to your needs, installation becomes the issue. This is where a well-engineered kit becomes a huge advantage. On a simple lift, if you have the time, the tools, and the expertise, you can order a bolt-on kit and start working. To get a sense of what will be necessary, download the instruction manual or contact a company's customer service line to get one. If you're comfortable cutting and welding, you can also take advantage of the fact that a kit, even if not truly "bolt-on," is part of a package that will work. In cases where tire size is significant, bring into play gearing and driveline issues as well as suspension, an experienced professional installer is a huge asset. But before you address anything else, you have to fit the tires. With that in mind, we took a quick lap through the Jeep suspension market, and this is what we found: