Lift Kits for Dummies
You’ve undoubtedly seen them on the road, SUVs, small and large pickup trucks alike, sitting on top of what seems like a mountain of suspension and tires the size of a small teenager and wonder how you can get that look and where to even start, this guide is for you. There are many reasons people lift their trucks, some for form, some want the function of a bigger lift and other reasons. Regardless of why you want to, there are some things to consider and some basic information you should know before you get started.
Why should I lift my ride?
The first thing you should consider is why you want to lift your ride. Is it to watch people struggle to get into your truck for no reason? Or maybe you want to throw some 35″ off road tires on there and get to tearing through the wilderness. Whatever interests you, there are many paths to reach your goal, this guide is to help sort through and organize a lot of the information you will come across. Making the decision between pure form or building for function will help you get a clearer idea of what you need for your build.
If you’re going for looks there isn’t too much that’s going to stop you from getting what you want. You’ve seen enough jokes and pictures about lifted trucks in parking lots and never touching the dirt, and you know the types of jokes that follow those big truck guys around. You might actually really enjoy that look, or you might be overcompensating, who cares build your build and be happy! Keep in mind it’s much easier to piece some parts together that look good together but may not necessarily function well when put under certain conditions. My suggestion would be to just build and lift your truck based on performance while finding a look that suits you while retaining or even gaining some functionality out of your truck in the process.
Going for a performance oriented truck build and lift requires a little bit more research and consideration as there is a world of parts and setups available for you to build. Throwing a giant lift and huge tires onto your truck will look cool but depending on what you’re actually going to be doing with your truck, may not be the best setup for you. The first thing you should ask yourself is where you will be taking your truck the most. Will it be some low speed hill climbing and rock crawling? Maybe you want to blast over sand dunes at highway speeds or just some all around 4×4 off-road action. Determining what type of off-road action you want to get into with your truck will help you in deciding what type of lifts and components to choose when the time comes. Check out the Off-road Basics article for more info on getting dirty.
Once you’ve got the ball rolling the hobby can get quite expensive as the cost and quality of parts rises along with the different needs you might have. Be sure to keep your goals in mind to avoid buying parts you don’t need.
What are the benefits of a lift?
The purpose of most lifts is to do exactly what you think. Lift your truck to increase the distance between your chassis and the obstacles you will be clearing when going over, around and through tough terrain. This also creates room underneath for beefier suspension components and larger range of motion across your front and rear axles. Keep in mind, as your raise your truck, your center of gravity is going up too so your handling will be impacted also.
The second benefit of a lift is the ability to fit larger tires underneath your truck. Most people assume larger tires will solve whatever shortcomings their vehicle has off-road but that’s not how the black magic we call suspension works. There are many factors that determine the effectiveness of your tires but a direct benefit of larger tires will be increasing your ground clearance even further by sticking more rubber between your truck body and the road.
How to get started
Figuring out the basics of your build is complicated enough, sourcing the right shocks, springs, lift types, tires etc., but the complexity of your lift will determine some of the extra hurdles you will face. Things such as driveshaft length, the rerouting of lines, handling and performance on trips around town, and gearing needs to be adjusted for much larger tires along with overall weight. Pretty much everything needs to be adjusted and accounted for when going deep into your build. The more aggressive your lift, the more there is to consider so keep that in mind.
Before you even get started with a build do your research! Use google, join and browse forums related to your truck/niche, reach out to people with similar vehicles and builds for advice and don’t hesitate to ask manufacturers how their product would work and benefit your build. There is lots of info to gather before getting started so cover all your bases. As a good rule of thumb too you should know how a suspension works in general and the functions of the parts that you will be investing in. Check out this article on off-road suspensions for more info.
Things to consider
One does not simply lift his truck.
Suspension Geometry & Handling
As much as it sucks that this has to be mentioned, some states have laws against lifted trucks, whether it be lift height or the components used so be sure to check out your local laws to avoid any legal headaches.
- Brakes: Upgrade these to get all that extra weight to a stop safely and under control. Stock brakes on a lifted truck system are not designed to handle the extra weight and you will notice a decrease in braking performance and increased wear over time.
- Your drivetrain and differential will also need to be upgraded to properly deliver power to your much larger and heavier wheels.
- Your gearing, axles, maybe even differential and your lockers also need to be addressed when going for a full build to prevent your stock components from being overwhelmed.
- Some extensions will need to be made so come components still work properly on a full build. These components include but aren’t limited to: extended control arms and track bars, steering linkages, u-joints and brake lines.
When you want something done, there are two ways to go about it, and lifting your truck is no different. You can either do it yourself or have someone else do it. Each of these options has it’s pros and cons and are highly dependent on you. Regardless of which path you take I recommend working your way up to the build you want so you can work out kinks and work out specific issues you might not have considered before going to a bigger more complex lift. You don’t want to go from stock height to monster truck in one install session because you’re manipulating too many variables at once to properly troubleshoot if there are any issues.
Doing any kind of mechanic work yourself requires some degree of skill, confidence and the proper tools. If you’re not too mechanically gifted I suggest you do some small installs to build confidence and to get comfortable around your vehicle. A detailed knowledge of your own vehicle is also needed if you ever want to make any on the fly changes instead of waiting for a mechanic so it’s best to get comfortable with wrenching on your ride ASAP.
That being said, if you don’t feel comfortable doing something or don’t have the tools to do it right then don’t do it! The last thing you want is to break something important and keep your truck out of commission longer than it has to be or hurt yourself, but this is more about the truck.
There are some pretty nice benefits to having a mechanic or shop do an install for you, but there are some downsides that could prove costly. Mostly of these downsides are called labor charges. Finding a trusted and reputable mechanic might prove difficult where you live but stay persistent, be clear in what you are expecting and speak with other enthusiasts to get their opinions on where to go and what to expect.
Smaller lifts are usually 1-2″ lifts that are simple to install and remove if necessary and give you a little bit of extra clearance to run some more aggressive tires on your setup. There aren’t any complications with this outside of completely botching the install and screwing something else up.
Medium lift kits are usually between 2-3″ and provide a pretty aggressive lift to accommodate larger tires for your truck. This is the best choice if you’re looking for maximum clearance without any kind of heavy modification or extreme off-road use.
Take note that you will experience noticeable changes in handling at these heights. Your higher COG will slow you down in turns and your larger tires will impact low speed turning also, but thats not why you lifted your truck. Depending on your truck and lift you might want to look into upgrading your rear suspension components just as stronger springs. If your truck uses a leaf system and you use an “add-a-leaf” kit that may cause compatibility issues so do your research!
Large and extreme lifts are commonly classified as anything 3″ or above. These types of lifts are more suited for off-road use and are comprised of mostly replaced suspension components. Including new shocks, springs, control arms, linkages etc. These lifts offer the best performance at a high cost and are generally reserved for serious applications.
The extra complications and price are enough to turn most casual enthusiasts away and going even higher only further diminishes your pedestrian handling performance.
Depending on the type of truck you have, there might be some different options you can choose when lifting your truck to further tailor your setup so be sure to do your research when choosing the type of lift that is right for you and your truck.
Spring Over Axle (SPOA)
Spring over axle or SPOA suspension lifts have been popular in the rock crawling scene for quite some time due to the high range of motion and articulation you can get out of this system which is designed to keep your tires in contact with the ground at all times for maximum traction.
Shackle Reverse (S/R) Suspension Lift
Shackle reversals are a hotly debated topic and not right for every application. They are mostly for off-road use to change the directional forces acting on your suspension and body when going over obstacles. This setup is not recommended for short wheelbase trucks either.
Coil Suspension Lift
Coil springs are becoming the go-to choice for many manufacturers now and have been a coveted conversion for some off-road enthusiasts. This is because of the versatility of the setup, you not only get awesome articulation and capability but the coil springs offer a smooth and predictable ride on the road, giving you the best of both worlds.
Lifted Spring Suspension
Lifted spring setups have been the most common “beginner” lift for most people looking to get into the off-road scene. This is because of the ease of install and the versatility of the system. In this setup careful consideration needs to be given to the type of spring you will be using. Softer springs will result in a better pedestrian ride while harder springs will keep you from bottoming out at speed and under heavy compression.
Shackle Suspension Lift Kits
Shackle lifts are some of the cheapest and simplest ways to lift your truck but of course that comes with a trade off. These suspension systems are just for the average guy who wants to throw some bigger tires on his truck for looks and not do any off-roading. It is recommended you don’t go to the extreme with shackle lifts either as they impact road handling and don’t provide many benefits the higher you go up.