If you’ve ever wondered what the best lift kit for your 4x4 was, you’re not alone. One of the more common questions we receive involves choosing the best aftermarket suspension for a specific 4x4. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as loading a silver bullet into a revolver. There are many things to consider when choosing a suspension lift, especially if it’s your very first. Always keep in mind that what may work for someone else, may not work for you. Driving style, personal preference, and the kind of off-roading you plan to do will dictate what lift kit will fit your needs best.
There are usually two kinds of first-time lift kit buyers: those that want to spend as little as possible and those that jump in with both feet and buy more suspension than they may ever need. As you can imagine, neither practice is ideal. The low-buck buyer often tries to piece together a lift with spacers and other random suspension components. For an inexperienced enthusiast, the result can be a poor-performing system that ends up costing more than a conventional complete kit available from any number of manufacturers. On the other side of the coin, if you spend umpteen thousands of dollars on an off-road-specific suspension, you may find that it can be a handful on-road or while towing a trailer.
Choosing a lift kit requires some compromises. You have to be honest about what is really important to you. If a soft ride and slow speed trails are your thing, look for a lift with low spring rates and soft-valved shocks. If you load down your 4x4 with gear, like to carve corners on the street, or you regularly tow a heavy trailer, you’ll want firmer springs and shocks. For all-out high-speed desert two-track, you’ll want to look for a lift that provides increased wheel travel and comes with monotube-style or maybe even bypass shocks. Many higher-end lift kits give you a few shock upgrade options to choose from. Here are some lift basics that should set you in the right direction to purchase your first lift kit.
Step By Step
Large drop-down bracket IFS lifts like this Ford F-150 kit from Full Throttle Suspension (ftskits.com) are extremely common. They are generally reserved for the light off-road and street crowd. Drop-down lifts, combined with overly abusive off-road driving and big tires, can result in steering or front axle failure. Dropping the suspension components down provides the lift needed to clear larger tires, but it does little to strengthen the overall frontend assembly.
Coil spacers such as these from Daystar (daystarweb.com) are an easy way to put a budget boost on your late-model solid-axle Jeep. If you install spacers that are larger than 2 inches or so, you should also upgrade to longer shocks. Spacer lifts should be limited to less than 3 inches. Never stack spacers for more lift.
Spacer leveling kits for midsize and fullsize IFS 4x4s have become increasingly popular. This BDS (bds-suspension.com) basic spacer leveling kit fits ’09-’14 Ford F-150s. Leveling kits generally come in one of two types. The basic spacers are significantly less expensive than an upgraded coilover shock. However, there is virtually no suspension performance difference between the many basic spacer lifts available and a stock suspension system, so trying to pick the best one is a moot point. All of these spacer kits simply provide a small amount of lift.
Increasing the wheel travel of your IFS 4x4 allows you to traverse rough terrain at higher speeds. Bolt-on long-travel lifts like this Pro Comp (procompusa.com) Pro Runner kit for the ’07-’15 Toyota Tundra include new wider upper and lower control arms and coilover shocks with reservoirs. The kit provides 4 inches of lift, increases front wheel travel to 14 inches, and widens the track width of the truck by 5 inches. Wider aftermarket fenders are required for full tire clearance and coverage.
Owners of IFS 4x4s with torsion bar suspension systems can gain up to 21⁄2 inches of lift up front with aftermarket torsion keys. These Zone Off Road Products (zoneoffroad.com) torsion bar keys level the stance of ’11-’15 GM 2500HD and 3500HD trucks. It’s a good idea to upgrade the shocks at the time of installation.
IFS leveling kits that utilize a replacement coilover shock, like this ARB (arbusa.com) Old Man Emu BP-51, provide more shock damping and adjustability. In most cases, the coilovers can be micro-adjusted to the desired amount of lift. You’ll realize a significant performance improvement off-road with aftermarket coilovers like this.
Older vehicles usually require longer brake line installation to accompany the lifted suspension, which may or may not come in your lift kit. Lifts for newer 4x4s often come with brake line drop brackets. This makes at-home installation significantly easier because you don’t need to crack open the brake lines and bleed the system.
Tacky ’80s show-truck multi-shock hoops have been replaced by functional bypass/coilover suspensions like this EVO Manufacturing (evomfg.com) Double ThrowDown kit for the ’07-current Jeep JK Wrangler. The bypass shocks allow the user to adjust the valving for a smooth on-road ride or more firm for better performance at speed off-road.
Some lift kits don’t include everything you need to complete a sound, streetable install. It’s very common for steering and driveline modifications to not be included with your lift kit. For example, many short-wheelbase Jeeps require a slip-yoke eliminator kit and a CV-style driveshaft to eradicate the driveline vibration caused by a lifted suspension. Always ask the manufacturer what other components are recommended before settling on a suspension system and tearing your 4x4 apart in the driveway.
Leaf-spring and coil-spring lift kits are commonly available with heavy-duty or soft-riding springs. If you regularly carry excessive loads or have performed a heavy engine swap, you should steer into the stiffer springs. When working with a leaf-spring suspension like this Skyjacker (skyjacker.com) lift for a ’74-’87 Jeep FSJ, always plan on replacing the U-bolts. In many cases they are so corroded that they have to be cut off of the vehicle to be removed.
Custom-fabricated long-travel IFS 4x4 lifts can provide between 13 and 17 inches of reliable wheel travel. This Ford F-150 at JD Fabrication (jdfabrication.com) required extensive modifications to the inner wheelwells and other areas to allow the suspension to fully compress without the tires rubbing. The wheel travel and track width are increased via all-new wider upper and lower control arms and spindles. Adjustable high-end bypass and coilover shocks control the suspension movement, and hydraulic bumpstops take the bite out of harsh bottoming when hitting big bumps at speed. fw