Buying a Suspension Lift: Everything you should know

Before you jump into purchasing or fitting a suspension lift for your 4WD there’s a few basics you need to know. It’s always good to gain knowledge about your car and how things work, not just to help you make the right choices with purchases but also if something ever breaks. When you’re in the middle of nowhere a little bit of knowledge about how your car works is a valuable thing.

Why get a lift?
Stock suspension is basically a pay off between on road comfort, load carrying and off-road ability to accommodate for all the different drivers out there. A quality and properly spec’d suspension kit will give you the best setup for your specific needs. Quality aftermarket suspension can also provide better handling, stand-up to higher levels of punishment and last longer.

What does a lift do?
Despite the obvious, that a lift gives you more wheel and ground clearance, there’s some less obvious advantages. Gaining ground clearance translates to increased approach, ramp over and departure angles which is a great advantage for off-roading. Another thing a lift does is give you more suspension travel. Most lift kits make use of long travel shock absorbers, that means even a small 2” lift can have a huge improvement in wheel articulation over the stock setup (depending on your vehicle).

How high to go, and what’s involved?
Think about what you’re setting up your 4WD for and select the most appropriate height for your needs not for what looks good. As a basic guide here is our advice based on our experiences. Be sure to also consider the legalities in your State.

2″ Lift
A 50mm (2”) suspension lift is a great all rounder setup. Handling should not be adversely effected and could possibly even improve with a quality kit. The vehicle will still be a practical daily driver, be suitable for touring and be able to tackle some reasonable off-roading. Generally, 2” lifts don’t require components other than Springs & Shock absorbers but always consider upgraded or heavy duty components for added durability.

3-4″ Lift
If you’re a more serious 4WD’er than a 75-100mm (3-4”) lift may be for you. 3-4” of lift is suitable for a tough tourer, mild to hard off-roading and provides plenty of clearance for larger sized tyres.

Anything over a 2” lift generally requires more than just slapping in some new springs and shocks. Geometry of the vehicle is largely effected and some OEM components will no longer be suitable. If geometry isn’t corrected properly it can lead to premature failure of suspension and steering components, poor handling or even damage to major components.

On solid axel 4WD’s like Patrol’s, 80/105 series Landcruiser’s for example, a 3-4” lift will likely require:

>Castor correction – via offset bushes or suitable control arms.
>Upgraded draglink – when lifting a vehicle, the distance between the steering box and where the Draglink connects on the wheel hub is increased. OEM Draglinks may not have the adjustability required or may be at the limit of what’s safe.
>Panhard rods – to realign the front and rear diffs to the chassis.
>Driveline/Pinion angle correction – via rear upper control arms.
>Extended Break lines – Stock break lines are designed for stock travel. If you don’t change them to a suitable length, you’ll rip the lines off and have no breaks!
>Sway-bar Links – extended links so the sway-bar doesn’t bind or limit travel.

On IFS (Independent front suspension) 4WD’s like a Hilux, Ranger, etc, you’ll need to consider the angle put on the CV’s and other joints. The CV’s will now be running constantly at an angle, this will add to the wear of the joint and increase its risk of failure. Diff drops, upper & lower control arms are required to reset the suspension and diff angles, but may require extensive modification to fit.

5-6″ Lift
For the serious off-roader. 125-150mm of lift is not suitable on a daily driver or a tourer. If you’re a hard-core off-roader who only goes out to challenge yourself and vehicle on the hardest tracks you can find, then this amount of lift may be suitable for you. You’ll require all the components as with 3-4” of lift, plus you’ll possibly have to look at some custom modifications to the chassis or other components.

6″ or More
If you’re even considering putting more than 6” of lift in your 4WD you shouldn’t be reading posts like this. You should already know everything there possibly is to know about suspension and have a legitimate reason to go so high.

How to spec your lift: Shock Absorbers
Comfort, firm, adjustable, remote reservoir, are things you see/hear, so what’s it mean and what should you choose?

Comfort or firm valving. If your 4WD is heavily loaded with accessories and you carry a lot of camping gear the firm option will be a better option to control your ride. If you drive mainly on the road and only occasionally load up the car to get to a campsite, the comfort option may be better suited for you.

Adjustable shock absorbers are great if you are constantly changing the load in your car or the terrain you’re driving on. Firm up the shock for highway speed then soften them up when hitting the corrugations. Or if you tow a trailer you can adjust the rear shocks as you unhitch.

Remote reservoir shocks are about giving long lasting performance. As a shock absorber heats up its performance decreases (known as shock fade). Remote reservoir’s give the shock more oil capacity and better cooling characteristics. They’re great for high-speed work like corrugated and rough roads.

How to spec your lift: Springs, Coils/Leafs
There are many options for springs, coil or leaf. The best way to work out what you need is to calculate the weight of all your accessories, bulbar, winch, even a second battery, and then choose the most suitable spring duty. For the rear do the same, remember to add the weight for things like drawer unit, larger fuel tank, steel tray, then also consider what you pack into the car. Pick a spring with a little extra load carrying capacity then your constant load to account for gear that gets put in and taken out. If the weight of your 4WD changes drastically when you load up, you may want to consider an airbag system or airbag assists.

Recap
Suspension certainly isn’t a modification that should be done half-assed, if it’s not done properly you may never be happy with how your 4WD performs or worse, you could have major issues. If it all seems to complex, then talk to your local 4WD store and have them help guide you in the right direction. Just remember these things when choosing a lift for your 4WD:

What is your car mostly used for and what will you be doing offroad?
How much lift do you need and what’s involved in going that high?
What kind of shock absorber is best suited for your needs?
What duty spring best suits the weight of your car and the gear you carry?