A BUYERS’ GUIDE TO SUSPENSION LIFT & LEVELING KITS
If you’re a contractor who drives off-road a lot, the nose-down, tail-up stance of trucks rolling off the assembly line is problematic. The low front end scoots perilously close to dirt, rocks and debris commonly found on jobsites. And if you strap on an aftermarket bumper/winch combo, the extra weight further decreases approach angles.
Plus the standard size tires that come in this configuration don’t give much traction in mud or soft soil, and their rolling height doesn’t provide the ground clearance many contractors seek for tough conditions. And taller tires require more fender clearance than what the factory suspension provides.
The good news is a moderate suspension lift and/or leveling kit can solve most of these problems—and give your truck a sharp looking stance to boot.
The challenge is to figure out what kind of kit best suits your needs and applications from among hundreds of products. These can range from front-suspension leveling spacers that cost as little as $50 to body lifts retailing at a little over $200 to a full-on suspension lift that can cost as much as $3,000.
To sort it all out the first question you have to ask is: What do you want to accomplish?
“What a leveling kit does for contractors, especially for late model trucks that have an extreme rake from the factory, is to raise them up anywhere from 1-½ to 3- inches,” says Trent McGee, director of marketing for Daystar. “It provides room for a larger and more aggressive tire.”
The optimum lift height is 2 to 3 inches, McGee says. “That picks up the front end, but doesn’t affect the ability to get in and out of the vehicle—and you’re not affecting your ability to get access to the bed of the truck either,” he says.
Guys who plow snow with their trucks have their own reasons; the added weight of the plow and the down force of the plowing create a unique set of suspension issues.
“Up here in Minnesota’s cold country, they want to be able to bring the front end up in winter, because of the snow plows, and put it down again in the summer when they take them off,” says Shawn Leibfried, account manager for ProRyde. That means either an adjustable system, or one that can be put on and taken off easily.
Lift and level kits fall into one of two categories: body lifts and suspension lifts. Body lifts are simple spacers that raise the body on the frame. They are your least expensive option. They’re relatively easy to install and they’ll get you space for those bigger tires.
But if you want to keep the factory body lines and improve the suspension’s handling and travel, either a suspension leveling kit or a full suspension lift is the way to go. Both make way for the use of taller tires with beefed up aftermarket components.
Leveling kits are easy to install. The beauty of them is sometimes all your pickup needs is a couple more inches of body clearance (lift) in front to accommodate 3- to 4-inch taller tires, and thus 1-1/2- to 2 inches more ground clearance with minimal change in factory ride and handling.
Suspension lifts are more expensive and time consuming to install. But in most cases they’ll give a better ride quality and suspension articulation—something you’ll appreciate if you traverse a lot of uneven off-road terrain.
Most suspension lifts come with modified springs, shocks and other suspension components that compensate for the increased height of the truck. (The higher the vehicle, the higher its center-of-gravity.)
Note that a heavier duty suspension does not change tow ratings, and in some instances may reduce towing stability. If you use your pickup for a lot of towing, you shouldn’t go with more than 4 inches of suspension lift.
Brand makes a difference
The brand of truck you drive makes a difference as to what type of lift/level kit you buy. There are three basic suspensions used by the truck OEMs: torsion bar, coil springs/struts and leaf springs.
Torsion bar keys and strut spacers are used on trucks with independent front suspensions. In the 1/2-ton market, Toyota has used torsion bars since 1996, Ford since 2004, Dodge since 2009 and Nissan since 2005. Chevy ½-, ¾-, and 1-ton trucks use independent front suspensions with torsion bars. Dodge and Ford ¾ and 1-ton trucks use solid axles with coil springs. (There’s a mix of coils, struts/torsion bars and leaf springs.)
Aftermarket torsion bar indexing keys give you a range of lift from 0 to about 3 inches. Care must be taken with these, however, not to go too far with the adjustments.
“As you go up, you’re decreasing your extension travel and the suspension will top out,” McGee says. “If you or the previous owner have already cranked up the factory adjustment bolt, you can expect correspondingly less lift from an aftermarket kit, because you’ve already taken out some of that range.”
And different types of truck and different manufacturers will have different levels of adjustment on the torsion bars coming out of the factory.
“I’ve seen brand new trucks right off the line where the adjustment is maxed out, and others where there is very little,” McGee says. “It’s all over the map.”
If you need more height than a torsion bar adjustment can give without sacrificing ride quality, shock extenders or shock relocation brackets may be helpful. Also note you’ll need a torsion bar unloading tool to make adjustments, factory or aftermarket, on this type of system.
Coil spring spacers are a little simpler. They sit on top the springs to give the necessary lift. In many cases they’ll require shock extensions as well. Strut spacers bolt on top your pickup’s strut. They come in polyurethane or aluminum. As a general rule they maintain the factory suspension geometry and ride quality.
As long as you’re putting in a lift/level kit and have your pickup on the rack or up on jackstands, it only makes sense to examine all your other suspension components—tie rod ends, ball joints and such—and do some additional upgrades or repairs as necessary.
“If a truck has more than 50,000 miles on it, depending on how it’s been used, a lot of stuff can be slap worn out,” McGee says, “especially if it’s a truck that’s used in extreme service where it spends the majority of its life off pavement.”
McGee suggests upgrading factory rubber bushings with polyurethane replacements, especially on sway bars. If the truck is used a lot in hauling, a heavy-duty sway bar might be in order, he says.
Non-gas shocks typically are worn out after about 20,000 miles; gas shocks are usually shot at 40,000 miles. So at the least, replace the shocks, even if you’re just installing a front-end leveling kit on an older work truck.
“If they’re doing a lift a lot of guys will put some sort of suspension reinforcement in the rear, especially if they do a lot of towing or hauling,” says Leibfried.
McCormick adds that since most shops charge around $75 an hour for time on the lift you may as well plan to change out shocks, upgrade your exhaust, or install nerf bars, steps or running boards.
After you’ve completed your lift kit installation it is imperative that you get the front end realigned. Also adjust the headlights, to insure you’re not illuminating the treetops or blinding on-coming drivers.
The 2-inch forged torsion bar leveling kits from Daystar are available for a wide variety of makes and models that take into account the multiple different factory keys that can vary up to 18 degrees. The kits also include extended shock brackets so the factory shock absorbers can be retained.
Superlift offers a number of lift systems for 2010 Dodge Ram 2500/3500 4×4 applications including a 2-inch Level-It kit for front coil spacers and 4-inch and 6-inch lift kits with engine specific front coils for Hemi and Cummins applications, replacement upper and lower trailing arms, a track bar bracket, front sway bar extensions and rear leveling blocks.
Pro Comp Suspension’s 6-inch “Knuckle” suspension systems for the 1999-2009 GM 2500HD allows use of 35-inch x 12.50-inch tires. Kit features heavy-duty CNC-machined steering knuckles and laser cut drop-down cross members for improved ground clearance. Steering and suspension geometry is kept within factory specifications to allow for ease of alignment. These systems are also compatible with StabiliTrak Electronic Stability Control.
Give your Chevy or GM a much needed facelift with this torsion key leveling kit from Zone Offroad Products. Zone Offroad torsion keys are made in the USA and are 100-percent resonant frequency tested to ensure a solid casting. Once tested the keys are CNC machined to achieve a consistent 2 inches of lift with the adjustment bolts in the factory position, clearing the way to run 33-inch tires. Shock relocation brackets, or longer shocks, are recommended and also available through Zone Offroad.
IN THE ZONE
If you own a 2005-2010 Super Duty, you owe it to yourself to look into Zone Offroad Products for their affordable lift and leveling kits. Zone’s most recent 4-inch Super Duty system features massive front coil springs and radius arm drop-brackets to keep factory alignment and OE handling characteristics. The rear kit includes 5-inch blocks to replace the factory blocks and level the truck.
Skyjacker has added forged torsion keys to its product lineup. The torsion keys can provide lift for tire sizes up to 35 inches in some applications and install with metric or standard tools.
READY, SET, GO!
ReadyLift’s forged torsion keys can kick up the front end of your Chevy/GMC 2500/3500 2 to 3 inches. They are designed to grab the flat of the torsion bar for a tight and sturdy fit.
ProRyde’s Duck Head (because they’re shaped like a duck’s head) torsion bar keys allow for an increased range of adjustment and come with a forged adjuster that makes it easy to raise and lower your front end from season to season.
Fabtech’s replacement front coil springs provide a 4 ½ inches of increased ride height to accommodate 35-inch tires for 2009-10 Dodge 2500/3500 4WD diesels. Kit includes large diameter upper and lower control links, a pitman arm, trac bar bracket, bump stops and a rear block and u-bolt kit.
The ultimate suspension performance for the 2008-2010 Super Duty is Fabtech’s bolt-on 4 Link System that provides unsurpassed articulation and wheel travel. Two-inch diameter, heavy-wall links with race-style 1-inch Uniballs and ¼-inch steel brackets secure the 4 Links to the frame without cutting or welding. The system also includes sway bar drops, trac bar relocation bracket, Pitman Arm and a rear block kit.