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Lift or Level Your Off-Road Vehicle?

Lift Kits and Leveling Kits are both popular modifications for vehicles. Choosing the right one for your vehicle depends on a few factors like the ultimate performance goal of the vehicle, amount you are willing to spend, and how much modification you want to have. Both can add value to the vehicle, but some are better suited for certain activities. Here we will cover the difference between a Lift Kit and a Levelling Kit.


LIFT KITS – BODY vs SUSPENSION LIFT KITS

Right out of the gate, you need to make a decision on budget and type of lift: Body lift kits (step above a leveling kit) or a more custom, in-depth suspension lift kit. Frequently, FlexBilt has a customer walk-in who does not understand the difference between a body lift and suspension lift. It’s important to know what a body lift and a suspension lift actually do. Looking at the names, it becomes pretty simple: a body lift raises the body away from the frame and a suspension lift extends the suspension and raises every part of the vehicle.


A suspension lift is oftentimes a better choice than a body lift only in situations where off-road performance is important to the truck or Jeep owner. Suspension lifts provide what’s critical in off-road performance – additional ground clearance! However, suspension lifts also provide additional room for larger performance wheels and tires. Any lift kit is basically designed to raise the body of your vehicle above the ground. Kits can raise the body from 2” to 10”. There are custom kits and any-level lifts that reach 18”+ high and can cost close to $30,000. Any kit that raises the body more than 6” gets more complicated and much more involved – suspension considerations, necessary supporting upgrades, fabrication, and engineering. Higher lift kits will feature a number of additional accessories like springs, shocks, control arms, and necessary brake line modifications. Extreme customized kits can require drive shaft alterations, thicker coils, high-performance shocks, and lot of custom cut fabrication & welding. These kits can necessitate larger tires and aftermarket wheels with increased offset.


SUSPENSION LIFT KIT COST

The average cost of a suspension lift kit is around $1,200. Depending on your desired lift and options you choose, suspension lifts can run as low as $300-500 and go above $5,000-6,000. Labor to install lift kits would be in addition to the cost of the kit. Labor rate and time is also dependent on the kit/options you choose. The hours to install a suspension lift can range from 8-12 hours. Suspension lifts provide what’s critical in off-road performance – additional ground clearance! However, suspension lifts also provide additional room for larger performance wheels and tires.


BODY LIFT COST

While a suspension lift is a better for off-road performance, a simple body lift might be your answer if you are wanting a better look. Body lifts are often less than $400-500 but if you are wanting a lift of 2”, often times there is a body lift for less than $120. Body lifts are much less complex than a full suspension lift so labor is much cheaper with a range of $200-$600.


Lift kits give the body of a vehicle more ground clearance, which is desirable for off-road performance. The higher the body, the less risk of rubbing the underbelly over rocks or dirt if off-roading is your thing. Lift kits are a good investment if your vehicle is used for camping trips, over inconsistent terrain, or just off-road somewhere in the mountains. The extra lift gives room for larger, off-road tires. The tire will have good turning geometry and traction. Lift kits allow you to consider tires 33”-37” or larger.

Body Lift vs Suspension Lift
Body Lift vs. Suspension Lift

LEVELING KITS


Leveling kits are used to make the front and back of the vehicle parallel to the ground. It basically levels the height of the vehicle so it is balanced. Most, if not all, pickup truck manufacturers engineer the rear of the trucks higher than the front of the truck for towing reasons. Leveling kits give extra room for larger tires, or redistribute the vehicle’s weight after adding a heavy bumper, winch kit, or other aftermarket accessory. This is accomplished by using hardware to slightly raise the front of the vehicle to match the height of the back. Leveling kits typically are 2”-3” for the front while leaving the rear axle alone. However, there are a lot of different scenarios/options on the market allowing 3” lift in the front and 1-2” on the rear, for example.


If a stock-style stance is your goal, front-end leveling kits can be used with spacer blocks on the rear leaf springs. This gives a slight lift on all four wheels. Most pickup trucks have plenty of clearance in the rear, but may not in the front after adding larger tires. A Leveling Kit may be enough bump to create the turning radius needed.


Leveling kits are generally easier to install and cost less than a lift kit. Kits generally cost $100-$450 + labor. There are hundreds of different leveling kits, and, quite frankly, choosing can be a little overwhelming. From old school blocks, new leveling torsion keys, spacers, to coil spring extensions, it will come down to how specific you want to get while maintaining your ride quality. In some cases, leveling kits are not simple. Some customers see a simple coil spring 2” extension kit that cost around $100 and think this is the optimal solution. Later they find out that the stock shocks on the front end do not support an additional 2” coil springs spacer or extension. It is always good to swing by your local custom shop and pay the nominal lift fee to get a true assessment of what you need.


CHOOSING


Lift Kits and Leveling Kits both add value to a vehicle. The choice really depends on how you plan to use the vehicle and the look you want.


Lift kits will provide the ground clearance for crawling over rock formations, negotiating dirt mounds, and navigating water obstacles in off-road journeys. It also allows room for larger, off-road tires which are important for varied terrain. Lift kits really transform the look of a vehicle, especially when coupled with larger tires. If you are wanting that off-road, oversized look to your vehicle, a lift kit with larger tires is the way to go.


Levelling kits simply even out the balance from front to back of the vehicle. This is important for proper balance of the vehicle and also the look of the vehicle. If you have added heavy after-market accessories or use the vehicle for towing, a leveling kit may be your better choice. Many newer trucks are built with some features like low bumpers, exhaust, or running boards that make them more car-like. A simple leveling kit may provide enough clearance to compensate for this lower design.


DISADVANTAGES OF LIFTING AND LEVELING


Modifying a stock vehicle has some disadvantages to consider. Leveling kits are very simple, and the biggest concern often is that people expected the leveling kit to make a bigger aesthetic change than it does. A leveling kit may also cause a truck to sit a little nose-high when hooked up to a trailer. This won’t affect the performance but may not look as expected.


Lift kits affect the suspension, and the main drawback is fuel economy. The extra weight and aerodynamic drag can create a 20% drop in fuel efficiency, all else being equal. Uncontrolled steering oscillation (“death wobble”) may occur. There are ways to improve this but it may not be eliminated. And an extreme lift will cause more systems to be involved, like shocks, drive shaft, etc.


Installing a leveling or lift kit may affect the vehicle’s warranty! Be sure to understand before you make the modification.


Both kits affect the balance and handling of the vehicle. Make sure you consult a professional, like FlexBilt Customs, before you decide which is right for you. Deciding on the right choice for you and your vehicle will make you the most satisfied in the long run.


HISTORY OF LIFTING & LEVELING VEHICLES


So, where did lifting and leveling trucks & Jeeps all start? It started over 135 years ago with the first truck, called the Motorwagen (1885). Karl Benz created the Motorwagen (correct spelling) with one objective – to allow a vehicle to go “off road” and haul anything at the same time. Once the idea was introduced by Mar Benz, the ball started to roll really fast with the Mack brothers, Henry Ford, and the Dodge Powerwagon got into the game.


The story is rather simple and straightforward. As the general public started seeing the use of pickup trucks in their daily lives, on the farm, and within their companies, the evolution from a cargo box being added to a Model T to Powerwagon’s introduction to a factory made 4WD in 1946, the rest is history. Aesthetically, California started the craze of customization in the early 1970’s with wider tires, wheels, graphics, and, ultimately, “lifting” trucks via blocking and altering leaf-springs. FlexBilt Customs considers the 1970’s the true birth of lifted trucks . Actual lift companies started popping up. Superlift Suspension Systems (“Superlift”) was founded in 1975 and is still one of the leading lift kit companies in the U.S. Since the mid 70’s, there are now over 100 manufacturers and distributors of lift & leveling kits just in the United States.

History of pickup truck customization and lifts