off-roading 101: Lifting your 4X4


For the looks alone, raising the stance of your four-wheel-drive (4X4) or utility vehicle makes for a more macho look. The much higher view also gives a feeling of being in total command as you have a better view of what is around you as compared to lower sedans.

However, contrary to what is felt when inside a raised vehicle; it does not really give you the ground clearance necessary to traverse difficult terrain, because true ground clearance comes from the size of your tires or how tall the tire diameter is. In the end, the lowest portion of the vehicle is usually your axle differential. You are only raising the body of the vehicle if you do not change to taller tires. strada

Having said that and contrary to what you have seen on the roads where you see huge diameter tires over 35 inches tall. Most 4WD vehicles sold nowadays are not built to handle humongous tires. In fact, if you look late model 4WD pickup trucks in the market, they are not designed to handle tires larger than 30 inches in diameter. Should one install tires that are bigger than 30 inches, there would definitely be serious body rubbing issues on the body.

This is where lifting a vehicle comes to play. Lifting the body of a vehicle allows one to be able to install larger tires. In some cases, lift kits also improve the ride quality of the vehicle.

There are various ways of raising the height of your 4WD. Most common for the ladder frame type is by placing a suspension kit available from aftermarket shops which can easily be found all over the country.

Adding body lift-kits that increase the distance between the frame and the body can also be done to add more height and clearance, as well as for the larger wheel to fit. But some additional modifications will need to be done if one opts for the body lift option. We will take more on the second part of this article.

First thing to keep in mind is to know how much height you want. Know how much you are willing to spend on your suspension modifications and most importantly, ask if you are willing to sacrifice your vehicle’s durability, reliability and void the manufacturer’s warranty, when you proceed with the modifications. I know a good number of vehicles out there that were lifted for looks only, and not for practical use. I’m not against this. If it’s just the looks that matter to the owner, then, to each his own, right? So, as long as it is done properly and road worthiness is kept in mind.

There are various forms of suspension system types that can be found on genuine 4WD vehicles. Most commonly found on pickup trucks are coil spring independent front suspension, with leaf springs in the rear. This system, coupled with a solid axle connecting the rear wheels, provide great load bearing features. However, leaf springs have been replaced by coil springs to provide better ride quality; just like in SUVs. One good example of a pickup truck having four coil springs in all four corners is the next generation Nissan Navara, which we think will be introduced in the Philippines next year.

There are different ways to raise a vehicle’s suspension system. One is to use coil spring spacers placed on top of the front coils. However, the using the spacers are limited to a maximum of only two inches; anything more will radically affect the steering and rolling geometry, and will make the vehicle unsafe for road use. For the rear, it can be raised by replacing the leaf spring hangers with longer, fabricated hangers. Take note that should you decide to use longer hangers, you will also need to add four inches more length to the standard hangers in order to achieve two inches of lift.

For coil sprung SUV’s on all four corners, one will only need four pieces of coil spacers. Again, the maximum height increase is limited to only two inches, so as not to alter and affect the vehicle’s stability and handling performance. I would still strongly advise that every time the suspension system is tweaked, the front wheels must be aligned to make sure that the vehicle is road worthy and assure proper tire wear. It would be best if the alignment is done the old school way, and not the electronic wheel alignment commonly found everywhere. Reason being is, the electronic alignment system has pre-determined variables and alignment settings that are based on a stock vehicle’s height. Do remember that having the vehicle body raised, it will no longer conform with the settings saved on the alignment machine’s data base, resulting in a misaligned set of front wheels.

Also do remember that as a rule, the higher you want your 4X4 to be, the higher its cost will also be. So plan accordingly and don’t get carried away with your lift because it may affect your vehicle’s steering as well as the drive components’ durability. We will tackle the complications as well as some solutions to the complications on part two of this article.


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