Getting The Most Bang-For-Your-Buck
The 4x4 aftermarket is full of suspension upgrades. From intricate long-travel systems to low-buck leveling kits, the performance aftermarket is an ever-growing component registry. While some suspension parts are more for show, the vast majority are intended to improve the function of your rig. We are all for getting the most out of our 4x4s, and as such, are always on the hunt for new parts and ideas.
We understand that some aftermarket parts are not cheap, but that doesn’t mean that the parts are not worth the investment. On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of parts that are very inexpensive, and many can offer the same gains as the higher end counterparts. Obviously, value and quality are high on our list. We understand that most people don’t have an endless supply of cash to throw at every cool part they come across and we hate wasting money on components that simply are not built to last.
We are usually willing to spend a little extra for components that are rebuildable, and understand that if the product is meant for a daily-driven vehicle, that there will often be a higher price point over an off-road only component. Compiled here is a list of some of the most functional and pennywise suspension products we’ve ran across. Not everything on our list is one-size-fits-all, but each ranks high on our best-bang-for-your-buck list.
Carli Long-Travel Bags
A performance suspension system for your fullsize rig can greatly increase its off-road prowess and wheeltravel, but those off-road legs can come at a cost to your payload capacity. This is generally the result of softer long-travel leaf springs placed in the rear of the truck. Since traditional rear airbag helper kits often limit your suspension travel, they are not the best fit for the wheeling enthusiast seeking the most off-road potential. Fortunately, Carli Suspension (www.thecarlisuspension.com) has developed a long-travel airbag system for the late-model ¾- and 1-ton Dodge and Ford trucks. Sold as an entirely bolt-on system, the off-road-friendly bag kit allows for an impressive 10 inches of rear travel. The bags design is also said to allow flex during articulation without becoming damaged. We tested a set on a ¾-ton Ram 4x4 and put over 80,000 miles of on- and off-road driving along with towing 10,000 pounds and never had any issues.
Currie Johnny Joints
Elsewhere in this issue we gave you the rundown on suspension endlinks. And when it comes to our aftermarket go-to joint, it’s hard to beat the Johnny Joint from Currie Enterprises (www.currieenterprises.com). The joints work great for track bars, traction bars, along with three- and four-link suspensions. Since they are greaseable and rebuildable they are a better option over spherical rod-ends on a daily-driver or a 4x4 that sees wet and muddy conditions regularly. Right- and left-hand variations also make adjusting links much easier.
A well-tuned shock can transform the ride and performance of your rig both on- and off-road. A shock that’s tuned for a low-speed rockcrawler isn’t going to be the same as one for a high-speed desert pickup. Companies like Bilstein (www.bilstein.com), King (www.kingshocks.com), and Fox (www.foxracingshox.com) are a few of the performance shock manufacturers that offer nitro-charged gas shocks that can be ordered to fit your specific vehicle and its needs. Since these higher-end shocks are rebuildable they can simply be fitted with new parts if they blow a seal or become damaged. Rebuildable shocks can also grow with your rig so the long-term investment can be very worthwhile.
If your lifted 4x4 is equipped with leaf springs sitting atop the axletubes, then it’s more than likely that you have some element of axlewrap. Since the leaf springs are responsible for supporting the weight of the rig and keeping the axle in place, more often than not an instant burst of power and traction will overwhelm the leaves. When the springs reach the giving or tolerance point, the leaf pack will curve into an S-shape and the rear pinion will rotate skyward. To combat this wrapping havoc, companies like Offroad Design (www.offroaddesign.com) offer antiwrap bars to help eliminate the unwanted axle movement. These antiwrap bars will help get the power to the ground and extend the life of your suspension and driveline components.
If you haul more than groceries in the rear of your truck, then you’ve probably found that it doesn’t take as much weight as you would think to squat the rear of your pickup. The car-like ride on many of the modern pickups has meant softer spring packs, which can flatten more easily under a heavy load. Airbag helper kits such as those produced by Firestone (www.firestoneindustrial.com) allow you to easily adjust the rear height of your rig when a heavy load or trailer is introduced. Keeping your trucks frontend from pointing skyward will prevent poor handling characteristics and keep the aerodynamics closer to factory specs.
Coilovers are more prevalent now under rigs than they have ever been in the history of off-roading. The price point and performance of the coilover have made it the go-to suspension support for desert racers, mud boggers, and mall crawlers alike. EVO Manufacturing (www.evomfg.com) offers a bolt-on coilover kit for the ’07-current Jeep Wrangler JK that nets nearly 12 inches of wheeltravel and allows you to maintain a low level of lift. These EVO-valved King coilovers are tuned specifically for the JK application and can be adjusted to fit the specific needs of the end user.
We are often amazed at how many rigs are running without bumpstops. A bumpstop works not only as a safe stopping point for your suspension system, but also as additional damping as the suspension enters its final stage of uptravel. For most trail runners, a rubber or polyurethane bumpstop similar to the kind offered from Daystar (www.daystarweb.com) work well. For high-speed rock racers and desert rompers, more tunable and durable nitrogen-charged bumps such as those offered from Light Racing (www.lightracing.com) rank high on our list. No matter if you are trying to keep your tires from peeling off the fenders or looking to save your expensive shocks, bumpstops are a must under just about every 4x4.
The ’07-to-present Jeep Wrangler JK is the best riding Wrangler ever produced. The stock coils and shocks deliver a smooth and predicable ride and offer a fair amount of wheeltravel. Since we understand that it’s hard to keep a 4x4, much less a Wrangler, stock for long, we suggest looking into a basic budget boost kit. These budget suspension kits like those from TeraFlex (www.teraflex.biz), Rough Country (www.roughcountry.com), and Daystar (www.daystarweb.com) simply place spacers atop your factory coils and include shock extensions so you can re-use your factory absorbers. This maintains the factory ride while providing enough room to clear up to 35-inch tall tires.
Better Ball Joints
The ball joint versus kingpin axle debate has raged for years. Since most modern 4x4 front axles are equipped with ball joints, it has spurred the aftermarket into action. OEM ball joints simply don’t mix well with larger tires and off-road use. Companies like Dynatrac (www.dynatrac.com) and Synergy Suspension (www.synergysuspension.com) offer upgraded ball joint kits that are designed to increase the joint strength (in many cases by more than double over factory). Another bonus of joints such as those from Dynatrac is that they are completely rebuildable, making them the last set of ball joints that you will likely ever need to press into your axles’ Cs.
Sway Bar Disconnects
Your 4x4s sway bar works great to keep it stable on the highway, but those same endlinks that keep the body from rolling, will limit your suspension off-road. A set of sway bar disconnects is one of the most inexpensive and easiest ways to get more suspension articulation from your rig. Companies like Rubicon Express (www.rubiconexpress.com) and Zone Offroad Products (www.zoneoffroad.com) are a few that offer quick disconnect sway bar endlink kits. Look for kits that are equipped with quick-release pins and endlink holders so you can quickly disconnect and keep the sway bar tucked out of the way when you are wheeling.