Off-Road Extreme Suspension Kits - How To Choose The Right Suspension
Decisions, Decisions . . .
The suspension industry, lately, has become a marketplace of ideas. Competition between manufacturers is more intense than ever, and the range of options is considerable. There are now kits and components for practically every vehicle, every need, and every purpose. For the truck owner, that creates opportunities . . and complications. With so much to choose from, decisions are harder to make. Your best bet is to consider what you want from your 4x4-or 2WD truck, then look for a complete, well-engineered kit. After that, get it installed right.
Your NeedsNot everybody requires 18 inches of travel and 38-inch rubber. Trails are different everywhere you go, and people have 4x4s for all different reasons. It may be that your stock suspension was fine for what you do, but after a few years, your springs are sagging and your shocks worn.
For better trail performance, there is a lot to be gained by adding a 2- or 3-inch lift, better shocks, and larger tires. In short, your choices should be based realistically on what kind of use you have in mind for your 4x4.
Another thing to keep in mind is how much pavement driving you do during the week. Some kits are designed for dual-purpose use, maximizing the balance between street driveability and trail use. Truly extreme kits presume your vehicle will be transported to and from the trail.
The Hardware Vs. CostMore than ever, suspensions are being designed with a specific use in mind, so you should definitely talk to the manufacturer to match the kit with your needs. Some companies even offer multiple kits for the same vehicle. If that's the case, look at how the design changes as the lift height moves upward. You should see greater use of thicker, stronger pieces and more attention to control and safety with bigger lifts, where stresses increase exponentially. Speed, particularly, has a way of increasing stress. Suspensions intended for use at greater speed, as in racing, will need to be stronger than simple lifts on go-slow vehicles. You should expect pricing to vary accordingly.
Price has to be a consideration, but definitely not the only one. When you compare prices, look carefully at what each kit includes, and what is optional. Are longer/better shocks included? Longer brake lines? Bushings? The general rule is, the bigger the tires you want to fit, the more hardware it takes to properly engineer the suspension.
Hardware quality - the nuts and bolts themselves - is critical to suspension safety. Look for hardware that is correctly graded for the application. Using anything less, when something like a Grade 5 bolt is called for, would be false economy. You want the right hardware to come with the kit. If it's not included, find out why not.
Consider also the manufacturing method. A forged part is probably going to be more durable than a stamped and welded part, and more expensive. On critical pieces that will take on added stress, paying for forged parts is necessary and worth the money.
InstallationThere are kits that are specifically designed to be easy to install. And there are kits that really do require micro-measurement, expert cutting, and expert welding. Make sure you understand the difference before you buy, because suspension upgrades, unlike engine or interior upgrades, have to be undertaken with long-term safety in mind.
If you are a well-equipped driveway mechanic, chances are there are uspensions you can install yourself. The benefit to that, in our opinion, is knowing exactly where every nut and bolt is and what it holds together. However, if you are not prepared to torque correctly, or if you will need to buy special tools, like spring compressors, to get the job done, you may well be better off having the kit installed.
When it comes to extreme kits, where measurements have to be taken with precision, using a good shop could be well worth the expense. In some cases, there are manufac-turers who will install their kits on your truck, and others who actually recommend that extreme suspensions be handled directly by their own people. This is especially likely when tire sizes become much larger, because gearing complications lead to axle modifications, which in turn has steering implications.
What To ExpectIf you actually measure all four corners of your truck right now, you probably will see slightly different ride height from corner to corner, perhaps as much as half an inch. This can be due to spring sag, a tweaked frame, bushing fatigue, or differences in air pressure at the tire.
When you install a new suspension, especially one with enhanced travel, these differences will probably also be present. An installed "4-inch lift" may turn out to be 3.75 inches at a given corner, or less, depending on the condition of the compo-nents. For the most part, that shouldn't worry you, so long as the suspension performs as you had hoped. But you should take any major differences in ride height as a clue that something is worn or bent somewhere. Remember to measure on level ground!
Understand also that off-road use is extreme, so your suspension will need maintenance. You should check fasteners for tightness after the first use, and any time you have worked the suspen-sion particularly hard. If you find hardware that persistently works its way loose - and you may - consider safety wiring, using cotter pins, or a different fastening system. Keep an eye out for uneven or premature tire wear as a symptom of a loose or under-engineered component.
The following listings are intended to provide an array of useful sources for your suspension search.