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Toyota Tundra Old Man Emu Suspension Install - Doin’ it Right

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on June 4, 2015
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Plenty of people want the look of a lifted truck but don’t spend a lot of time in low range. Strut spacers (commonly called a leveling kit) are a great way to fit bigger, more aggressive tires at an affordable price and retain the factory ride characteristics, since the stock coil springs are retained. They have their drawbacks when subjected to hard trail use, such as this Toyota Tundra encounters on a routine basis as part of Colorado’s Stay the Trail program (see sidebar below).

Old Man Emu has a suspension that addresses all of these issues

Strut spacers mount on top of the factory strut, so when the strut is in the neutral position, the steering, control arms, and CVs are not in the neutral position. In the middle of suspension travel, where most trucks live when used on the street and dirt roads, this is not a problem. If you use all of the suspension travel though, CV binding and even breakage can occur, since the CV axle essentially becomes the limiting factor to suspension extension (droop). Old Man Emu (OME) has a suspension that addresses all of these issues.

We headed to Toyota specialist Slee Off-Road, where technicians Joe Risavi and Nick Briscoe were able to complete the installation in a day. They taught us some tricks about Toyotas in the process. The Old Man Emu suspension provides just 2 inches of lift height so it doesn’t require new knuckles or crossmembers, just quality struts and springs. While the cost is higher than a leveling kit, the OME suspension offers more wheel travel and a better ride than the strut spacers both on the street and the trail. That is important for trucks like this that get used hard.

The Tundra came to Slee Off Road with a spacer lift installed above the factory strut. This adds ride height at a low cost, but the travel of the coilover strut is out of phase with the CV and control arms.

Note how the overall length of the factory strut and spacer is the same as the new Old Man Emu strut. This accounts for the 2-inch lift over factory height. The OME strut uses a longer coil though, which provides additional wheel travel without any binding.

Unlike most suspension manufacturers, Old Man Emu offers multiple lengths and spring rates for most of its suspension systems. The company understands that not every truck is loaded or used the same way. Those with heavy bumpers and front winches will benefit from longer and firmer coils, while those with a lighter truck will achieve the best results with a lower spring rate.

Since different coil rates are available, the coils do not come installed on the Old Man Emu struts. A coil spring compressor is necessary to install the new coils. If you are doing the installation at home, you can typically rent one of these tools from your local auto parts store.

The only component that gets reused on the front suspension is the factory “top hat.” Joe Risavi of Slee Off-Road explained that if you live in the Rust Belt, the stock parts might require replacement due to excessive corrosion, but they are available new from Toyota. Note the “out” that should be used to orient the top hat upon reinstallation.

Even at full droop, the CV does not bind with the new Old Man Emu suspension. You never want items like brake lines or CV joints to be the limiting factor for suspension travel.

PhotosView Slideshow

The spacer lowers the entire strut assembly, so by the time the strut is full extended the upper control arm makes contact with the coil spring and the CV binds. The Old Man Emu suspension is engineered to prevent these issues.

The factory upper control arms were retained on this Tundra, but Slee Off Road recommends installing Specialty Products upper control arms if your budget allows. The Specialty Products arms allow you to adjust the caster and retain factory ball joints for long life and reliability.

The rear of the Tundra uses leaf springs, but although they are lower technology than coilover struts they are not all created equal. Note how the new OME springs have more leaves than the factory springs, but each leaf is thinner and tapered at the end of for a smooth ride. They also used bolted clamps, which allow more wheel travel than the factory spring clamps.

Whenever you’re changing leaf springs, it is important to install new U-bolts. U-bolts stretch when they are torqued, and that stretch helps to keep them tight, similar to an engine head bolt. The Old Man Emu suspension comes with new U-bolts.

Old Man Emu makes longer shackles to take advantage of the travel added by the company’s leaf springs. The shackles use fluted bushings and hardware fitted with grease zerks to allow them to be greased. The grease keeps the shackles moving smoothly and free of noise.

The Old Man Emu Nitrocharger shocks use low-pressure nitrogen and multistage valving, which eliminates oil starvation at high speed and greatly reduces heat and pressure buildup. Note the metal shock boot to protect the hard chrome shock shaft.

Joe Risavi uses a paint pen on all suspension hardware. This is a race car trick that is useful on your daily driver as well since it makes it easy to tell if any hardware has loosened with a quick glance.

Old Man Emu includes details in its suspension systems that some other manufacturers deem optional. One example is this brake line extension, which is easy to install and ensures that the rear brake lines do not over extend at full droop.

The Tundra was fit with 285/75R18 Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires from Discount Tire on factory rims when it came into Slee Off-Road. The same size tires were used with the new OME suspension. These tires are a more aggressive than the stock tires without any compromises on the pavement.

The final step with any new suspension is an alignment. Slee has a state-of-the-art Hunter 4-wheel alignment machine in house so they don’t have to worry about the local tire store sending them home because it cannot align a lifted vehicle with big tires.

Stay the Trail
Since 2003, the Responsible Recreation Campaign, and its flagship Stay The Trail Colorado (STT) Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) educational program, have been focused on encouraging responsible OHV recreation on the roads and trails that are open to motorized use on public lands within Colorado. STT offers educational outreach over the season in a variety of ways. The STT educational trailers are staffed by STT employees and volunteers, and are operated statewide to spread the message of responsible motorized recreation. The staffers offer people free maps showing where to ride legally, tips on trail ethics, and other educational information.


Nitto Tire
Cypress, CA 90630
Discount Tire
Renton, WA 98057
Specialty Products Co.
Longmont, CO 80504
Slee Off-Road
Stay the Trail

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