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No-Compromise Go-Fast, Do-All Suspension for a Heavy-Hauling Ford Super Duty

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on April 21, 2017 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Justin Mitchell

Farm truck. That’s what most people think of when you tell them you bought a long-bed, crew-cab pickup. “Oh, how many acres do you have?” But to be fair, sometimes the assumption is that you run a logging company or maybe you pull a fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailer around all the time. Point being: When you think of a longbed, crew-cab pickup, off-road performance rarely springs to mind.

That’s the situation a buddy of ours found himself in. He purchased a 2016 F-250 Ford Super Duty with the Powerstroke turbodiesel brand new off the lot. He put it to work immediately as a daily driver and for hauling his motorcycle and UTV to such trailheads as Glamis in SoCal and others in Montana, Idaho, and beyond.

While the drivetrain never missed a beat, the factory FX4 suspension heaped mountains of compromise into the mix. The truck had a decent amount of body roll on tight mountain roads, suffered badly from bucking and oscillation on uneven concrete highway expansion joints, and just plain looked dorky on the puny factory rolling stock. Once the pavement turned to dirt, he complained his fillings were getting rattled out of his teeth and was concerned he was beating the snot out of his very expensive toy toter.

He reached out to us for suggestions on a good suspension to improve his off-road ride, and we punted the question to Cooper Rasmussen at Diesel Power Products to see what the company recommends to its customers. Diesel Power Products does hands-on testing of everything it sells, so we knew we could trust whichever direction it steered us in. Cooper’s reply? “Carli Backcountry 2.0. You will not be disappointed.”

Suspension

Taking Cooper’s suggestion to heart, we put in an order for a full Backcountry 2.0 suspension system from Carli Suspension for our 2016 Super Duty. Carli offers the system in 2 1/2- or 4 1/2-inch lift heights and with mini-packs that replace the factory overload leaves or full replacement rear spring packs. We went with the 2 1/2-inch system with rear mini-packs because our plan for now is to only run 35s (although you can squeeze 37s with this system) and we wanted the lower lift height to make it easier to load motorcycles and UTVs in the bed.

The first thing that tipped us off about the Carli Suspension product being several steps above the rest was the packaging in which the components were shipped. The fabricated radius arms come housed neatly in a custom-routed, high-density foam cocoon within a heavy-mil cardboard box. Hell, we bet the packaging is stronger than some cheap aftermarket suspension links we’ve seen.

The Backcountry 2.0 is a fully engineered suspension, not just a few parts grabbed off the shelf here and there. Each component is simply the best of the best, including the Crown braided stainless brake lines, heavy-duty adjustable track bar, USA-made coil and leaf springs, and specially valved Fox 2.0 remote-reservoir shocks. The system includes caster correction shims, which we wound up not using because we went with Carli’s fabricated radius arms (PN CS-FFRA-05). The arm kit includes provisions for all the factory fittings and comes with Carli’s limiting strap kit for 4 1/2- or 2 1/2-inch coils (PN CS-FLSK-2.5). The fabricated radius arms are contoured to give an additional 1/2 inch of tire clearance at full lock, are constructed of heavy-duty 1/4-inch steel, have a bind-free rebuildable Johnny Joint, and are built with an additional 1 degree of caster rotation to keep the castor within stock specs with the additional lift.

Here is the whack of Carli product we threw at the 2016 F-250: the Backcountry 2.0 system with 2 1/2-inch coil springs, Fox 2.0 remote reservoir shocks, Crown braided steel brake lines, heavy-duty adjustable track bar, high-mount steering stabilizer system, rear mini-packs, U-bolts, center pins, shock mounts, heavy-duty diff guard, and of course fabricated radius arms with limiting straps.

In addition to these components, we also added a few Carli upgrades, including the optional nitrogen-charged High-Mount Steering Stabilizer kit (PN CS-FHMSS-08) and front diff guard (PN CS-FDGDANA).

Tires & Wheels

Heeding the suggestions from Diesel Power Products again, we selected Method Race Wheels’ 17x8.5 Grid wheel with a matte gray finish and black lip. These wheels not only look killer on our application but provide the optimal 4 3/4-inch backspacing that keeps our 35s from sticking goofy-far outside the wheelwells while also providing enough tire clearance for suspension components at full steering lock and while articulating.

For our application we selected the new Toyo Open Country C/T tire in 35x12.50R17 size and Method’s 17x8.5 Grid wheels with 4 3/4 inches of backspacing. The 17-inch wheels do clear the big Ford calipers, but you have to be careful not to stack wheel weights or they will get knocked off. This would not be necessary with 18s, but we like the added sidewall and virtually unlimited tire options of the 17-inch wheels.

As for tires, Toyo recently unveiled its newest offering, the Open Country C/T, which blends exceptional on-road manners with good off-road bite. But most importantly for this truck, which sees frequent snow and ice traveling to Idaho during snowmobile season, the Open Country C/T was designed to excel in snowy, icy conditions. We ordered ours in a 35x12.50R17 size, which will provide better ground clearance and help make the long diesel-powered truck look more proportional yet will still be short enough to work well with the factory axle ratio.

Installation

Once we had all our parts in hand, we made an appointment at our local Off Warehouse in Escondido, California, to have the system installed. A licensed Carli dealer, Off Road Warehouse has experience installing Carli systems on Ford and Dodge trucks, so we knew we were in capable hands. Although the installation is something you can do in your driveway, we were glad when the company assigned its tech, Justin Mitchell, to our install since he has done several of these Carli suspensions in the past for a smooth, seamless experience.

We loaded our parts in the cavernous longbed and hit ORW bright and early for our appointment. By late afternoon the system was installed and Mitchell was doing his test drive to make sure the vehicle would be ready to head up to Idaho the next day.

Off Road Warehouse’s Justin Mitchell began the installation by racking the front half of the super-long F-250 crew-cab longbed, disconnecting the sway bar links, and removing the factory track bar. He set jackstands under the axletubes and ditched the factory shocks and coils.

Conclusion

For starters, the Toyo Open Country C/T tires are flat-out awesome in winter driving conditions, including snow and ice. The on-road ride is quiet as a mouse. Look for a full review on these new tires soon.

As for the suspension, we knew the mini-packs that replace the factory overloads would really help with the freeway oscillation, but we had no idea it would be such a dramatic difference. Long gone are the annoying pogoing and vibrating of the factory suspension. The Fox 2.0 shocks are well dialed in for virtually all situations to provide a smooth, secure, surefooted ride, keeping the big tires planted to the terrain. Despite the slightly taller stance, the 2 1/2-inch coils and Fox shocks contribute to greatly diminished body lean and sway in the twisty mountain roads this truck frequents almost every weekend. It’s like a big, long go-kart now.

But the best part is when the pavement melts away into dirt and the Carli suspension really comes into its own. Night and day doesn’t do the improvement justice. This suspension is simply one of the best things you can do for your big truck in terms of a no-compromise upgrade to smooth your sailing without reducing your load-carrying capability.

With the front axle supported on jackstands, Mitchell turned to the installation of the Carli fabricated radius arms. To keep the axle located and to help prevent the pinion from flopping down, replace only one side at a time.
Carli’s fabricated radius arms are a direct bolt-in replacement for the factory Ford units but factor in an additional 1 degree of camber to dial the front axle geometry back to stock specs after the taller lift coils are added. The arms feature rebuildable Johnny Joints at the frame end for bind-free operation and have provisions for all the factory sensor mounts as well as the Carli limiting straps.
Mitchell hoisted the new arm into place and used the factory hardware to attach the frame end first, then positioned the arm over the axle mounts.
To allow for the different caster specs between the stock and Carli radius arm mounts, Mitchell left the upper bolt of the driver-side bracket out until the passenger-side arm was installed. Here he is removing the passenger factory radius arm.
With both arms installed, Mitchell rotated the axle into position to accept the upper radius arm bolts, then removed the factory brake hoses and installed the longer Crown braided lines included with the Carli kit. The Fox shock was then installed so the upper limiting strap mount could be figured out.
Allowing for a slight amount of stretch in the nylon webbing of the limiting strap, Mitchell determined the best position for the upper mounting bracket before removing the frame coating for welding. The position was rechecked and marked and the mounts welded to the frame.
This is the only welding this install requires.
While the welds cooled before painting, Mitchell installed the Carli heavy-duty diff guard. Simply remove the lower five diff cover bolts, lay the guard over, and reinstall the longer bolts supplied with the heavy-duty diff guard. There is no need to pop the diff cover or drain the lube.
The heavy-duty diff guard protects the vulnerable thin factory diff cover from tears and gashes and doesn’t interfere with the tie rod or fill plugs.
The Carli high-mount steering stabilizer comes with a 200-psi Nitrogen gas charge and a high-quality nickel finish. It bolts up high and tight in place of the factory steering stabilizer and goes a long way toward taming unwanted feedback from larger, heavier wheels and tires.
Carli’s 2 1/2-inch-lift coils are a single-rate design and are taller than the factory springs. They feature more winds, which is often the sign of a quality coil spring. The taller, 4 1/2-inch Carli coils are a multirate design.
Mitchell installed the factory isolator atop the new Carli 2 1/2-inch coil before installing it in the vehicle. Don’t forget: The shock reservoir bracket is sandwiched between the isolator and the vehicle frame.
With the springs installed, Mitchell reconnected the sway bar links and tightened up all the shock hardware. He wasn’t happy with the routing of the reservoir hose, so he adjusted the AN fittings to reorient them.
This side shows the nearly finished front installation with the shock reservoir hose cleanly run, the limiting straps installed, and the factory ABS sensor wiring fastened back to the radius arms. Mitchell waited to install the Carli heavy-duty track bar until he could put the weight of the vehicle on the front tires.
The Toyo tires balanced on the Method Grid wheels with an absurdly small amount of weights. Off Road Warehouse is a full-service facility with tire machines, welding facilities, and an alignment machine for one-stop service.
With the slick Method Grid wheels and Toyo Open Country C/T tires installed, Mitchell slowly lowered the truck down to get the heavy-duty Carli track bar adjusted properly. He also adjusted the steering linkage to center the steering wheel back up.
The Carli adjustable track bar features a high-quality rod end for bind-free operation and allows you to recenter the axle under the vehicle. It is a high-strength piece with a durable powdercoated finish.
Carli mini-packs replace the factory overload leaves and do a lot to smooth out small-chatter bumps, yet they still retain all the load-carrying capacity of the thick, heavy factory overloads. Note the longer center pins and U-bolts included with the Carli system.
Mitchell removed the factory U-bolts and allowed the axle to drop just enough to remove the factory blocks from the rear, giving access to the spring pack center pins. C-clamps were then used to hold the packs together while the center pin was removed.
The factory overload leaf (bottom) is just a thick chunk of iron that provides little give, so when the spring packs compress and engage it, the hit is sharp and noticeable. By contrast, the Carli mini-packs (above) replace the think factory overload with a multileaf system that gently ramps up the spring rate as needed.
The mini-packs were assembled back into the factory spring packs and the new, longer center pin was installed and tightened. Then the longer Carli U-bolts were cinched down with the factory blocks.
Our testing comprised several thousand miles ranging from SoCal desert to salted snowy, icy Idaho winter terrain. In contrast to the bare factory steel components, which quickly rusted, the Carli components still looked great.
In the dirt, the Fox 2.0 remote-reservoir shocks deliver impressive performance. The Carli coils keep body roll to a minimum and the ride as soft as a baby’s bum.
We are still conducting long-term testing on the new Toyo Open Country C/T tires, but so far we like them everywhere, especially on snow and ice. That said, they are equally at home in the alluvial SoCal sands and rocky terrain.
The Method Grid wheels are holding up more than admirably. Brake dust blasts off their finish, and the fake beadlock bolts haven’t backed out and fallen off like some other brand wheels we have run before. The Method and Toyo rollers are a good-looking, durable, and functional combination.
Just because it’s long doesn’t mean it won’t flex! Despite a hefty GCVW, this Carli-equipped F-series is a real pleasure off-road.

Sources

Toyo Tires
800-442-8696
www.toyotires.com
Off Road Warehouse
San Diego, CA 92111
800-341-7757
http://www.offroadwarehouse.com/
Carli Suspension
N/A, AK
888-992-2754
www.thecarlisuspension.com
Method Race Wheels
866-779-8604
http://www.methodracewheels.com
Diesel Power Products
888-993-4373
www.dieselpowerproducts.com

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