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At-Home Suspension Install Tips & Tricks

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on February 1, 2013
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Photographers: John Cappa

One of the best parts of the wheeling hobby is that you can be hands-on for virtually all aspects. If you're like us, you probably have more time than money to throw at your favorite pastime. Wrenching on your own rig can be extremely rewarding. There is no better feeling than to know when something breaks on the trail, that you have the skill set to fix the problem.

Since your rigs suspension is a vital part of the 4x4, and an area that is commonly upgraded, we've put together an array of install tips and tricks that we've picked up over the years. No matter if you are installing a new set of shocks or a full-tilt long-travel kit, the suspension system under your 4x4 shouldn't be feared. Remember, the more money you save wrenching on your own ride, the more you can spend on cool upgrades!

If your 4x4 is equipped with a track bar, then you’ll probably have to remove or replace it when lifting your rig. To help get the bolt holes back in line, attach a ratchet strap to one side of the axle and on the opposite side secure it to a solid point on the frame or bumper. Simply ratchet the strap until the bolt holes line up.

Attaching a ratchet strap from the axle’s control arm mount to the frame can also make installing control arms easier. A few clicks will easily adjust the axle’s caster, allowing the hardware to slide in place.

Use zip ties and bungee cords to hang items like brake calipers and driveshafts. Don’t assume that just because you've wedged something in a nook that it won’t fall and smack you in the head when you are least expecting it!

When removing tie-rod ends loosen the nut until it’s only on by a few top threads. Next, take a hammer and hit the knuckle like you mean it. It may take a time or two, but they’ll usually drop right out. This method will keep you from using a pickle fork, which often damages the dust boot.

Spraying your factory hardware with a penetrating lubricant like PB Blaster or WD-40 a day or so before you wrench on your rig can make a world of difference. If you live in a more rust-prone area, it’s also a good idea to add anti-seize when installing the hardware that you will be servicing more frequently.

Keeping a small butane-fed torch handy for heating stubborn bolts is an old and very effective practice. Larger cutting torches are great for heating up bolts as well. The added benefit of an oxy-acetylene torch kit is that they are great for cutting metal and a more affordable option over a plasma cutter.

We've all battled with parking-brake lines. An easy trick for removing the line from the backing plate is to take a box-end wrench and slide it over the collapsible collar. This will collapse all of the tabs at once, making it much easier to pass through the hole. Sizes may vary depending on application.

If your rig is equipped with a solid front axle, then you can save a little money by doing the alignment yourself. Using a tape measure and chalk you can square your ride. Be sure to measure from the same points on the front and back of the tire (hence the chalk line) and aim for a 1⁄8- to 3⁄8-inch-toe-in. If you’re not super confident in your markings this will at least get your rig drivable to the nearest alignment shop.

Many aftermarket lift kits provide bumpstop extensions that have to be pressed in. To ease the install process, set a small bottle jack in-between the top of the axle and the bottom of the bumpstop. A few pumps and it will be set in place.

One thing that we can’t believe more people don’t practice is paint-marking bolts. The paint marks not only remind you that you’ve tightened the hardware, but will allow you to do a quick bolt check under your rig without ever grabbing a wrench.

If you are fortunate enough to have impact tools, but unlucky enough to have stubborn hardware, then we have a trick for you. With a box-end wrench slid over the bolt, attach your impact and pull the trigger. As the bolt starts to spin, pull the wrench at an angle. The added leverage will help the bolt walk out of the hole.

Working on gravel and dirt is never fun, but sometimes that's all we have available. A great trick for keeping your rig and jacks stable is by placing a sheet of steel or wood under th em to keep them from sinking into the ground. Don't have either? Sometimes stacking floor mats can provide you with the footing you need. Floor mats are also handy for lying-on when turning wrenches in the dirt.

Leverage helps you work smarter, not harder. Combing two combo wrenches together will give you the extra grunt you often need to set the hardware free.

Another leverage trick is using a Hi-Lift handle as a makeshift breaker bar. Be warned that this can and will destroy light-duty sockets and ratchets.

To keep your jack handle from scuffing your paint job use old shock boots to sleeve the handle. Foam pool noodles also work well.

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