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Adding a 4-inch Superlift Suspension to a 2001 Ford Ranger

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on April 5, 2016
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While it has become common for auto manufacturers to refresh or redesign vehicles in an effort to stay ahead of the competition, the Ford Ranger remained relatively unchanged from 1998 until Ford decided to discontinue the model in the United States in 2013. During that long run, Ford sold over two million Rangers, and even more Explorers, which share many common components with the Ranger. Despite this popularity, there is little aftermarket support for the downsized Ford pickup. This is puzzling because the Ranger is a worthy alternative to the much more popular Toyota Tacoma. Our 2001 Ranger uses a 4.0L engine rated at 207 hp, a Mazda-sourced manual transmission, and a strong 8.8 rear axle with 4.10 gears that, unlike the Tacoma, comes from the factory with the U-bolts pointed upwards to maximize ground clearance.

One drawback to the Ranger is the torsion bar front suspension, which is more complicated than the Tacoma’s coil and strut suspension. Perhaps that is why so few companies have supported this platform. One notable exception is Superlift, which offers a 4-inch suspension lift for the Ranger (and also Explorer). This suspension is similar to what you would find for a fullsize domestic truck, with replacement crossmembers and new steering knuckles to lower the front suspension to create room for larger tires.

Our Ranger came from the factory with a 31-inch-tall tires and was running a taller 32-inch tires with the torsion bars preloaded for added ride height. This results in a loss of downtravel though and a corresponding rough ride, all while being limited to 32-inch-tall tires. We wanted to run a set of 33-inch-tall (285/75R16) Cooper Discoverer MTP tires from Discount Tire Direct, but there was no way they were fitting with the stock suspension. Superlift solved that problem, all while making our truck more durable with 1/4-inch thick crossmembers and improving the ride quality with Superide shock absorbers. Combined with aggressive Cooper tires, we now have a truck that has no problem keeping up with most Tacomas on the trail, and at a fraction of the price of a comparable Toyota.

Ford Rangers and Explorers use torsion bar front suspension, as opposed to coilover struts that have become the norm on half-ton and downsized trucks. Torsion bars are not inherently inferior to coilover struts in terms of ride quality or durability, but they do limit ground clearance.

The first step is to mark the torsion bar position so that they can be reinstalled in the same orientation. Since we retained the stock torsion bars the ride quality was not compromised by the added suspension height.

The torsion bars are under a tremendous load since the twist in the bars (or torsion) essentially is what holds up the front end of the Ranger. We borrowed this fabricated torsion bar removal tool from a friend, but you can rent one at most parts stores for free.

While Superlift recommends professional installation, our install was decidedly amateur. We do have a two-post lift at our disposal, which made the process infinitely easier, but a group of friends spent the weekend together getting the Superlift parts under the Ranger. Isn’t this how you spend your weekends?

The Ranger uses upper and lower A-arms to locate the knuckle, with the torsion bar connected to the lower arm. Superlift lowers the lower A-arms and the torsion bars by 4 inches and leaves the upper A-arm in the factory location. The difference is spanned by taller knuckles.

The new Superlift knuckles are constructed from nodular iron and are 4 inches taller than stock, but they accept the factory ball joints, brakes, and unit bearings for a bolt-on installation. Note how the steering mount has been moved up to allow the steering rack to stay in the stock location.

Unlike some independent front suspension designs that require mounts to be cut off of the front axlehousing to install a lift kit, the Ranger uses a bolt-on torque bracket. This makes installation that much easier, and also means that the lift kit can be removed and the truck can be returned to stock in the future if, for whatever reason, you want your Ranger to be less awesome.

Installing the front differential is arguably the most difficult step. Having a strong friend like Ryan Pedersen around definitely makes things easier. Failing that, a transmission jack would be very handy.

This is a fairly complicated installation, with plenty of parts. Fortunately Superlift includes detailed instructions that cover every step. If you should still have questions, the tech support line is happy to help.

Our Ranger has lived a hard life, as is evident by the bent bumpstop mounts and crushed crossmember that we encountered. We straightened and reinforced the mounts before adding the Superlift extensions. They use pins to align the extensions, making for a straightforward installation.

Superlift uses three-piece crossmembers constructed from 1/4-inch-thick steel to relocate the lower A-arms. Sixteen 3/8-inch bolts and Nyloc nuts tie the crossmembers to the lowering brackets. While one-piece crossmembers are nominally stronger, they can be difficult to install, particularly on a truck like ours that has been beaten prior to the installation.

The torsion bars are dropped by an equal amount to the lower A-arms. The front suspension height can then be fine-tuned by preloading the torsion bars. We actually unloaded the bars relative to stock, which smoothed out the ride while still providing room for 33-inch tires.

The unit bearings on our Ranger were hashed, so we replaced them with new parts from Rockauto. This wasn’t part of our budgeted installation but adding the new parts now meant that we would not have to disassemble the front end again in the near future.

The unit bearings on our Ranger were hashed, so we replaced them with new parts from Rockauto. This wasn’t part of our budgeted installation but adding the new parts now meant that we would not have to disassemble the front end again in the near future.

Superlift includes a 3-inch lift block that is designed to install under the factory lift block with the included U-bolts. This is the least expensive option for the rear, but we are not a big fan of stacking lift blocks.

In addition to the standard lift block, Superlift also offers an add-a-leaf for the rear of the Ranger, which we added to the factory spring pack. The add-a-leaf has more arch than the factory springs, providing approximately 3 inches of lift height and increasing the payload of our Ranger. Another option is to run Explorer leaf springs, which were designed for a spring-under application and provide about 2 inches of lift on a Ranger.

When we removed the rear leaf springs we discovered that the bushings were completely shot and the bolts were bonded to the metal sleeves inside the bushings. We sourced these new Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings from Summit Racing Equipment. In addition to being more durable than rubber, the Energy Suspension sleeves accepted larger, stronger hardware as well.

Our factory shackles had seen better days, so we replaced them with these extended shackles from Summit. The longer shackles are actually drop shackles for a Chevy pickup (PN G904000), which uses a tension shackle (above the spring) instead of a compression shackle, as found on our Ranger.

Note how the Superlift Superide shock absorbers are larger than stock, providing increased fluid volume to resist fading when subjected to prolonged use off-road. The Superide shocks use 10-stage velocity-sensitive valving for maximum control without sacrificing a comfortable ride. The shock resistance continually adjusts depending on terrain and vehicle speed.

Our Ranger uses a driveshaft with a Rzeppa joint, similar to a JK Wrangler. Since our Ranger doesn’t have hubs, the front driveline is always spinning. The increased operating angle after the lift was installed can lead to premature failure of this joint since the Ranger doesn’t use manual locking hubs and the driveline is always spinning. Fortunately Superlift has a solution with its optional heavy-wall CV front driveshaft.

The front skidplate is also an option from Superlift, and one that we recommend. It ties the front and rear A-arm crossmembers together and protects the differential from impact. The skidplate is laser cut from 3/16-inch steel for a precision fit and powdercoated black for longevity.

It doesn’t get much easier than this. Discount Direct shipped Cooper MTP tires to our doorstep that were already mounted and balanced on MB 11 wheels. The wheels were covered to prevent damage during shipping, and they even included splined Gorilla lug nuts. Discount Direct thought of everything.

Cooper makes the Discoverer MTP exclusively for Discount Tire/America’s Tire. If you want a high-quality tire that you won’t see on every other truck on the trail, these MTPs are an excellent choice. They have a relatively tight tread in the center for a quiet, controlled ride on the pavement but wider spacing on the outer lugs for excellent off-road traction.

The MB 11 wheels we sourced from Discount Direct are 16x8 with the proper backspacing to keep the 285/75R16 (33-inch) Cooper tires from rubbing. Some modern wheels look out of place on a 15-year-old truck like our Ranger, but the MB 11 wheels look clean without being over the top. They are available in 15- to 17-inch diameters with five-, six-, and eight-lug bolt patterns to fit more common applications.

Once the Superlift suspension was on and we bolted on the new Cooper tires from Discount Direct, we couldn’t wait to go and play. After heading to our local 4Wheel Parts for an alignment we went straight to the dirt, where the added ground clearance and aggressive tires made short work of this mud pit.

Sources

Energy Suspension
San Clemente, 92673
949-361-3935
http://www.energysuspension.com
Summit Racing
Akron, OH
800-230-3030
http://www.summitracing.com
Superlift Suspension Systems
West Monroe, LA 71292
888-299-4692
www.superlift.com
Rock Auto
Madison, WI 53719
www.rockauto.com
Discount Tire Direct
Phoenix, AZ 85085
800-589-6789
discounttiredirect.com

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