How to pick the right lift kit for your truck

How to pick the right lift kit for your truck

Choosing between a body or a suspension lift kit

Whether your daily travels have you on the 405 freeway or Rubicon Trail, no doubt you’ve encountered juiced-up trucks and Jeeps fitted with a lift kit.Enhancing the look and/or performance of a 4x4 vehicle with an increase in ride height is practically an American tradition. Truth be told, we all probably want our own versions of Grave Digger and Bigfoot.Whether you’re drawn to a lift kit for the looks, performance, or both factors, there are many important considerations before taking the plunge. So what exactly is a lift kit? How is it done? Should you have one installed? Will your stock truck or Jeep handle rough terrain without it?

Lifting a vehicle is a big decision, and not just because it can be expensive. While there are affordable lift kits, factoring in the cost of wheels and tires and other additional work you may have to do, it’s important to have all of the facts and get it right the first time. No to mention, you want to be happy with your decision to lift your vehicle, not regret it!

So let’s get into it…

What is a lift kit?

No matter the type, every lift kit produces a common result: An increase in the height of the vehicle.

A lift kit can raise a vehicle from as little as 1.5-inches up to 6-inches or more. It can be fitted to Jeeps, trucks, SUVs, or if you’re the unique, individualistic type, just about any other type of vehicle too. (Google search: “Lifted station wagon” is highly recommended once you’re done here.)

You have a couple of choices when it comes to a lift kit. Do you primarily want to affect the look of your truck or its off-road performance? Do you want a mix of both? Once you’ve decided that, there are other considerations as well. What size tires do you want on your truck? What kind of wheels? Will you do the work yourself or hire someone to do it for you?

When it comes to lift kit types, you have two options to choose from. What are the details, differences, pros and cons of each?

Body lift kit

This type of kit raises the cab/body of the vehicle from its chassis. It’s done by adding spacers over the original body mount bushings. Importantly, and true to the name, a body lift kit raises the body of the vehicle only – the wheels and suspension components remain in the same position. This means that actual ground clearance is not gained with a body lift kit, although it can free up space to fit larger wheels and tires.

Pros/advantages:

  • It raises the body ride height enabling the installation of bigger wheels and tires. It will also add clearance for a potential improvement in vehicle turning radius.
  • Because it’s built over the (unchanged) stock suspension systems, it doesn’t necessarily require a wheel realignment.
  • Alone, it doesn’t fundamentally affect ride quality or handling. It works to change the look, not the vehicle performance characteristics.
  • It’s very cost effective as compared to a suspension lift kit. It’s a more affordable way to boost your vehicle’s height.
  • It’s relatively simple and easy to install – a potential DIY modification project for those who are mechanically inclined with their vehicles.

Cons/disadvantages:

  • Installing bigger tires can still affect clearance to vulnerable vehicle components in the wheel well areas.
  • There’s no real ground clearance gain, which means no tangible advantage for serious off-roading.
  • It create a visible gap between the body and chassis, which isn’t to everyone’s liking.
  • It puts added strain on various vehicle components, which, after time, can weaken, break and lead to repair bills.
  • It creates no optimization of the vehicle’s suspension system, or improvement in overall performance.
  • Although the more simple option, it may still require additional modifications. For example, spacers to relocate the radiator and transmission cooler so that they remain in the optimal cooling position, as well as other engine modifications.

Suspension lift kit

This type of lift kit raises the height of the vehicle’s suspension system. Unlike with a body lift kit, a suspension lift kit involves a true overhaul of the stock suspension components, including longer coil springs, torsion bar keys, coil spring spacers, and heightened leaf springs.

With a suspension lift kit, ground clearance is gained, which make them the preferred choice for off-road purposes. As with a body lift kit, a suspension lift kit allows for the fitment of larger wheels and tires.

Pros/advantages:

  • It can greatly improve suspension capability for tough off-road conditions, including rock crawling, and other obstacles that you may encounter.
  • Higher ground clearance is achieved.
  • No visible gap between the vehicle chassis and the body, which improves the overall aesthetic.
  • It can increase clearance around the tires, which improves wheel articulation and turning radius. (Both of which are important to the successful navigation of all kinds of off-road terrain.)
  • It’s sturdier and more beneficial in the long-term if off-roading is the goal.

Cons/disadvantages:

  • It affects the ride quality and handling of a truck or Jeep. Once again, a suspension lift kit involves a true overhaul of the vehicles suspension system, so “stock” handling and performance characteristics will very likely not be maintained.
  • It’s more costly than a body lift.
  • The suspension geometry is altered, and a wheel realignment is required.
  • Install can be a bit tricky and requires notably more time. The install work is best left to an automotive professional.
  • The vehicle’s center of gravity is elevated, which has potential ramifications both on- and off-road.
  • More accompanying modifications are required or advisable, such as modification of the rear end and driveshaft to prevent excessive u-joint wear and other issues, as well as the front CV axles to prevent joint separation.

Form vs. function

As you’ve probably noticed, the decision of body lift kit vs. suspension lift kit is essentially a choice of form vs. function.

Do you primarily want to change the look of your truck or Jeep, and achieve a gain in height without affecting vehicle handling and performance? Will you spend the majority of time driving on-road? A body lift kit may be the best option, and is definitely the more affordable route.

Do you have true, challenging, off-road adventures in mind? A suspension lift kit is unquestionably the superior choice.

Additional advice, info, & considerations on choosing a lift kit

  • A lift kit almost always requires additional vehicle modification. For example, with either type of lift, extended brake lines are a likely requirement.
  • Maintaining alignment (especially) on a lifted truck or Jeep is very important. If out of alignment, vehicle handling is compromised, and there’ll be increased wear on tires, steering, suspension, and driveline components. To help keep your vehicle in alignment, additional modifications should be considered, including tougher tie rod ends, ball joints, A-arms, idler arms, and more. The more you beef up the components around your suspension, the less likely they are to fail and the easier it will be to achieve and maintain a good alignment.
  • A general rule of thumb: The higher (more extreme) the lift, the more components you’ll have to replace and modifications to keep it functional.
  • Expect lower fuel mileage due to the higher vehicle profile and greater rolling resistance of larger tires. These factors reduce the responsiveness of your truck or Jeep during cornering as well. (The wider and taller your tires, the more rolling resistance, and the greater the reduction in fuel mileage.)Keep in mind that with a lift kit, you’re increasing the gross vehicle weight of your vehicle by adding heavier duty components, tires and wheels. This means your motor will work harder to move everything along, so you’ll be sacrificing some acceleration, braking, and maneuverability along with fuel economy.

Stay stock or lift?

So many of today’s 4x4s are immensely capable straight from the factory, and a simple All-Terrain or Mud-Terrain tire upgrade will help achieve even better off-road results. If you’re planning to encounter more serious off-road terrain, adding skid plates or armor, and investing in quality recovery equipment like a winch will further increase capabilities.

A lift kit can add visual appeal and serious off-road performance, but it’s not without tradeoffs. You’ll save time, money, and potential frustration by keeping your rig stock.

However, fitting more capable tires alone doesn’t get you much closer to Grave Digger or Bigfoot status. There are plenty of reasons why enthusiasts from the 405 freeway to the Rubicon Trail have decided to go for it.

If you decide to lift your vehicle and you’re not a mechanical whiz, be sure to link up with a capable shop for the install, alignment, and any corresponding modifications. Learning from the experiences of other enthusiasts, and soliciting advice can also give you a leg up.

Have a question about lifting your truck or Jeep and what size wheels and tires you’ll need? Shop for tires today or give us a call at (866) 961-8668 and we’ll be happy to help.

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Get the right tires for your car or truck!

Tell us what you drive and we’ll show you all the best options.