Pickup Trucks 101: How to Lift a Pickup

IMG_9857 II

By Matthew Barnes

You just got a new pickup truck and don't like how the rear end sits higher than the front. You've had your truck for years and keep scraping the bumpers getting in and out of your favorite fishing spot. The old truck just doesn't look good anymore and you want to do something to make it stand out.

One solution to these issues is to give your pickup an aftermarket suspension lift, but what kind of lift should you get? How much lift do you need? Why spend thousands of dollars when you can get the same amount of lift for a couple hundred? We've got the answers below.

Leveling Versus Lifting

Pickup trucks and full-size SUVs are the vehicles most commonly leveled. Many vehicles are built with the rear end higher than the front; this compensates for the rear end dropping when a vehicle is loaded with heavy cargo and/or is towing a trailer. Leveling raises the front of the vehicle to the same height as the rear. This gives the vehicle the level look that many people prefer. Because leveling kits don't change the rear suspension at all; the load capacity remains identical. Leveling the vehicle also allows for slightly larger than stock tires to be used, but be careful as this can decrease your rear departure angle. If the truck will be used for off-roading, then a full lift — for both the front and rear suspension systems — is likely a better option.

Lifting a truck can include leveling, but it also involves lifting the rear. For example, if a pickup is lifted 2 inches and leveled, that means if the rear is lifted 2 inches, the front might get lifted 3 1/2 inches so the vehicle is not only higher front and rear but level as well. Like leveling, lifting a vehicle typically allows for larger than stock tires to be used; as a result, ground clearance and approach, departure and break-over angles are all increased.

It's important to note that leveling and/or lifting a vehicle can negatively affect steering geometry. Larger tires also add stress to suspension and steering components. This is especially true for lifts of 3 inches and more. To compensate for this, other components may need to be added or replaced.

There are many types of lifts. We define them below and explain what they do.

Types of Lifts

Body lift: Body lifts place a spacer between the frame and body mounts. They are used to fit larger tires, add room for larger engines and transmissions, and add power takeoff implements. Body lifts don't change the steering or suspension geometry, which helps retain the factory driving feel. Because the cab and bed are raised off the frame instead of raising everything, the center of gravity isn't raised as much with a body lift as compared to a suspension lift. Body lifts are often less expensive than full suspension lifts. Because body lifts don't change the suspension, they don't increase the suspension travel or change the ride. Sometimes wiring and other components need to be lengthened to accommodate the larger gap between the body and the frame.

2017 Chevy 3500 Body Mount II

Spacer lift: Spacer lifts are also inexpensive and are generally used to lift the vehicle 1 to 2 inches. A spacer is placed between the suspension and the mounting location for the suspension. For coil springs, the spacer can be placed on top or bottom.

Xterra Spacer Lift 1 II

Leaf spring spacers, also referred to as blocks, are placed between the leaf spring and the axle. Air suspension lifts can benefit from a spacer to lower the amount of air needed to lift the vehicle when adjusting the ride-height sensor.

2012 Silverado Leaf Block II

Torsion bars: Torsion bars are one of the easiest ways to lift a vehicle when lifting in small amounts. Most torsion bars have a bolt that can be used to adjust the suspension height in small increments. For larger lifts, bracing is needed to lower where the torsion bars connect to the frame of the vehicle. The torsion bars also can be replaced with stronger ones to handle extra weight from steel bumpers, larger tires and front-end implements, such as a snow plow. Replacing the torsion bars also can change the spring rate for a stiffer or smoother ride.

2003 F-150 Torsion Bar Drop 1 II

Coil springs: To lift a vehicle with coil springs without using a spacer, the spring needs to be replaced. Coil springs can be custom-made for the exact height and spring rate desired. Replacing the springs can change the ride quality and suspension travel distance.

2015 Ram 2500 Front Coil Spring Lift II

With a coil-over suspension, there are aftermarket solutions that change the spring perch location on the strut to raise or lower the spring. There are even struts with adjustable perches so that the ride height can be changed as needed. The difficulty of installation varies with coil springs, coil-overs and vehicles, but all generally take the same amount of time as adding a spring spacer.

2013 Tacoma Adjustable Coilover II

Leaf springs: Leaf springs can be entirely replaced to lift the vehicle or a single leaf can be added. Like coil springs, leaf springs can be made for a smoother ride, more articulation or less sag when carrying heavy loads. Leaf spring suspensions also can be lifted by replacing the shackle where the spring mounts with a larger one. Most leaf spring lifts are easy to install and aren't visible to the casual observer.

Xterra Add A Leaf Lift II

Air suspension: Air suspensions are the easiest way to lift in small amounts. However, when lifting beyond 1 to 2 inches, they become difficult and may require expensive custom work. For small amounts, the ride height sensors can be moved to trick the vehicle into thinking that it is lower than it really is. To compensate for the low ride height, the vehicle adds air to raise the vehicle up to the height it thinks it should be. Without a spacer, this will increase the stiffness of the suspension and decrease the amount of down travel.

Ram Rebel Front Air Spring II

Independent: Independent suspension lifts more than 2 inches will cause the constant velocity joints and axles to be at sharper angles. This will cause more wear and tear on the boots and joints. To compensate for this, the front differential should be lowered according to the height of the lift. Lifts more than 2 inches benefit from having the upper, and in some cases the lower, control arms replaced. New control arms will allow the vehicle to be properly aligned, creating more stability and even tire wear.

2003 F-150 Front Diff Drop II

Solid axle: Solid axles may require some additional components, depending on the size of the lift. These parts include longer control arms, longer track bars and drop-limiting straps, which keep the axle from articulating so much that the coil spring falls out. With solid axles, lifts more than a couple of inches will need shims placed between the axle and the springs to correct the angle of the universal joints.

 

Other Things to Consider

Shocks: Longer shocks, or extended shock brackets, should be added for lifts of 2 inches or more to allow full travel of the suspension. If the shocks aren't changed, they can easily bottom out when driving over a hole or dip.

Steering: Larger tires put extra stress on steering components and the lift can change steering geometry. This may cause the vehicle to wander, bump steer and have a loose on-center feel. To accommodate for the changes in steering, stabilizers can be added and track bars and Panhard bars can be adjusted or replaced.

Headlights: Leveling and/or lifting a vehicle can change the angle that the headlights point. Be sure to check the headlights after adding any lift or leveling kit and tires.

Brakes: Larger tires can overload the brake system because of the extra mass. There are a variety of ways to upgrade the brake system: Install high-performance or larger pads, rotors and/or calipers. Many companies make big brake kits designed specifically for lifted vehicles and vehicles that regularly haul heavy loads.

Speedometer: When adding bigger tires, the speedometer will show a lower speed than the vehicle is actually traveling. This also affects the odometer. On modern vehicles, this is fixed electronically, and on older vehicles there are gears that can be changed.

Gearing: Putting nonstock tires on a vehicle changes the effective gear ratio. Larger tires will make the gearing taller, thus reducing the rpm at a given speed. Smaller tires will increase rpm at a given speed. Larger tires decrease low-end torque, which hurts acceleration. Smaller tires will increase low-end torque, improving acceleration. New gearing can be put into the axles to get the desired ratio for a given tire size and specific vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Before starting a lift project, decide what lift height you want for your pickup. Next, select the type of lift that best suits your truck. Different lift types can be combined to reach an overall goal. That may mean that a single vehicle has a body lift, spring spacers or blocks and longer springs. These same ideas apply to lowering a vehicle as well, but by using smaller tires, and shorter shocks and springs.

Spacer lifts and small lifts of 1 to 2 inches are inexpensive when compared to higher lifts that will require the replacement of more suspension and steering components. Lifts that cost thousands of dollars will often contain components that correct steering and alignment issues, provide for more wheel travel, have larger diameter shocks to reduce overheating and have adjustable suspension components to adjust the damping and/or height as desired.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes

 

2012 Silverado Lifted 8 inches II

 

Comments

can you afford this? Probably not.

I found the best way to lift is not to use blocks. This really is not the answer and I do believe it is illegal in Australia, even though it is practiced.

The best way to lift is to throw away your existing suspension and buy a lift kit.

This will consist of all the components required, ie, new leaves for the rearend. New coils for the front.

Also, shock absorbers that are the correct length and tune for the lift and type of work you expect from your new suspension.

Remember when lifting the body, this might cause issues down the track with electrics. We had a guy lift the body of his Toyota and had electrical issues due to the length of the harnesses (not quite long enough).

If you don't have a clue, go to a suspension specialist and let them work on your vehicle.

Don't forget to have your wheels aligned if you screw around with the front end (IFS vehicles)

Must be a GM vehicle with its torsion bars on the lower a-arms and leaf springs below the axle...

My old 1986 Toyota, I had a 3-inch body lift and 2" rear add-a-leafs, cranked the torsion bars (that are mounted on the upper a-arm, thus full protection from the frame) and 35" tires!

Could not do that with a GM S-10, Ford Ranger or Dakota back in the day!

I later desert raced that truck with same body lift, though mounted dual shocks up front on the upper a-arms and into the engine bay via hoop, larger diameter torsion bars with limiting straps, the rear was National Spring 9-pack rated for my trucks weight and basic dual shock mounts that never went below the axle line and tubing of rear axle to prevent axle flex with limiting straps.

Still raced with the same size 35" tires!

For modern trucks, shouldn't the stability control stuff be re-calibrated?

For modern trucks, shouldn't the stability control stuff be re-calibrated? Posted by: NoQDRTundra | Jul 20, 2017

@NoQDRTundra

Absolutely, or simply unplug it. We lived a long time without ESC and I'm not sold on it even today. Any significant change to wheel, tires, chassis, brakes will affect the precision of the ESC.

You made a very good point!

NoQDRTundra,
PAPAJIM IS INCORRECT AND DANGEROUS.

Don't take papajim's advice.

He is totally incorrect and this is why site like PUTC with jerks offering incorrect information can be dangerous to a young person with little knowledge of what is what.

PAPAJIM is INCORRECT.

First, if you are going to lift a vehicle go to a specialist. Don't do it on your own.

There are many lift kits available where your existing electronic suite of handling and braking will be able to use the existing system.

Don't disconnect anything.

Go to a suspension specialist and use a reputable supplier, supplying from a reputable company that has tested the suspension equipment.

My 2016 Tundra Platinum is lifted 3" with 34.5" tires, I did not have to recalibrate any VSC, traction control, ABS, or any safety system. Everything works as it did when the vehicle was 100% stock. IDK about others brands, but my experience with Toyota is nothing needs to be done to the safety system.


The truck actually rides better with 3" coilovers and remote resi shocks compared to the factory floaty ride.

Absolutely, or simply unplug it. We lived a long time without ESC and I'm not sold on it even today. Any significant change to wheel, tires, chassis, brakes will affect the precision of the ESC.

You made a very good point!


Posted by: papajim | Jul 20, 2017 10:25:55 AM

What is this fuckery!!! Good lord!

@ Frank - That kind of language show's us your mentality, quite low in my opinion. Time to grow up.

Nice truck on the top of the article.

Dang! those Chevy's sure look good lifted.

I do believe that the USA passed a law a while back stating that any lifts or suspension mods must work with on-board traction, stability and ABS systems unless you want to turn your vehicle into a "closed course only" machine.

@ Frank - That kind of language show's us your mentality, quite low in my opinion. Time to grow up.


Posted by: uglyfords | Jul 20, 2017 1:07:35 PM

@johnny doe/GMRSGREAT,

It's time you post under one name. It's a word used in the urban dictionary, not that you'd know what a dictionary is used for.

Used in the urban dictionary, not that you'd know what a dictionary is used for Posted by: Frank | Jul 20, 2017

@Frank

Evidently, irony knows no bounds! One of the least literate people I've ever known of attempts to school another of his commenters on PUTC about the use of a dictionary.

Perhaps someday you'll discover the thesaurus as well. Stranger things have happened.

Despite all of the noisy and dishonest stuff that BAFO has posted during years as a commenter on this site, he takes great personal offense if somebody else disagrees with him, even on the most technical minutiae.

Cheers!

@Frank

Evidently, irony knows no bounds! One of the least literate people I've ever known of attempts to school another of his commenters on PUTC about the use of a dictionary.

Perhaps someday you'll discover the thesaurus as well. Stranger things have happened.


Posted by: papajim | Jul 20, 2017 1:58:20 PM

I'll stay in 2017 and you can stay in 1960. Peace out!!!

I did a body lift and suspension lift on my Colorado in my garage. every vehicle I have owned since 1974 I have lifted in my garage. I do buy the name brand lifts, but why pay someone to install them if you can do it yourself? bunch of nancy's on here

Don't lift a Ford they come stock with weak junk parts that don't last at normal height tire size, add bigger tires more weight it just fail faster. Ford I mean FIALURE!

When I saw the title of this story, I thought gee:

how to lift a pickup...

first thing that crossed my mind was, make sure that Frank's girlfriend isn't sitting in the back of it (unless you have a five ton jack).

When I saw the title of this story, I thought gee:

how to lift a pickup...

first thing that crossed my mind was, make sure that Frank's girlfriend isn't sitting in the back of it (unless you have a five ton jack).


Posted by: papajim | Jul 20, 2017 3:32:29 PM


That's what old people say.....geeeeeeeeeeeeee

We all know you're here for the Body Lift.....because your balls are always drowning when you go pee.


Ford I mean FIALURE!


Posted by: johnny doe | Jul 20, 2017 3:11:59 PM

You can't even spell it correctly. :D

It's time you post under one name. It's a word used in the urban dictionary, not that you'd know what a dictionary is used for.

Posted by: Frank | Jul 20, 2017 1:29:07 PM

What word are you referring to? It's....time....you....post....under? What word?

I would never lift or buy a truck thats lifted,,its stupid..

Why its dumb to lift a truck

https://youtu.be/jAzl8k9S4k8

Dodge Dealer sold me my Prospector with all the goodies already in the package. Leather as well. All under warranty through the dealer. Love it. Built my last pickup. Didn't have to wait or guess what works.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqdVx0McAYA

A.E.V.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE4JPp7GEsw

You can't even spell it correctly. :D

Posted by: Frank | Jul 20, 2017 3:39:37 PM

Says the Fordclown using a fake internet dictionary that promotes non real words. When your a Ford clown it's not hard to show your dumb. LMBO!!!!!

My old 1986 Toyota, I had a 3-inch body lift and 2" rear add-a-leafs, cranked the torsion bars (that are mounted on the upper a-arm, thus full protection from the frame) and 35" tires!

Posted by: oxi | Jul 20, 2017 10:08:07 AM

A rust rotted frame won't offer much protection for the torsion bars.

@ Aldo,

How old are you?

I raced that 1986 Toyota truck down in Baja, so your hatred for Toyota's prove you are a sheeple!

That 1986 Toyota never had any frame issue, in fact not one single Toyota truck I have owned and currently own has never had a frame issue!

Stop listening to fake news and ask real Toyota owners like myself!

Now this are a good news!!!! That's why police prefer the best FORD and only the best and like always in front of the pack. Get jealous Garbage Motors fan girlies.


2018 Ford F-150 Police Responder is Ford's first pursuit-rated pickup

2018 Ford F-150 Police ResponderImage Credit: Ford

Ford introduced its latest police vehicle, theFord F-150 Police Responder, today. It isn't the first F-150 police vehicle ever, but it is the first one to achieve the same pursuit rating of other Ford police vehicles – including its Taurus- and Explorer-based Interceptors, and the newFusion hybrid-based Police Responder Hybrid Sedan. What this means is that it's fast enough for pursuits, and it can handle extended high-speed driving without risking overheating, reduced braking performance, or other mechanical issues. It also distinguishes it from the Expedition and F-150 SSV models that are already available, which are not pursuit-rated.

Under the hood is the familiar twin-turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 used in other F-150s and the Expedition. It makes 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, and will propel the truck to a limited top speed of 100 mph, which is 5 less than a civilian F-150. That engine is coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission and a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case.

All Police Responder F-150s also come standard with the FX4 off-road package, which adds a locking rear differential, skid plates, and off-road tuned shocks. The shocks are also supplemented by a stiffer front anti-roll bar specific to the Police Responder. Upgraded brake calipers are fitted that can better handle heat, with reformulated pads.

The aluminum wheel and all-terrain tire package is also exclusive to the Responder. According to a Ford representative, aluminum wheels were acceptable because of the thicker tires. To complete the Police Responder package, a 240-amp alternator is fitted, along with redesigned cloth seats to allow for utility belts, steel-plates in the seat backs, and a column-mounted shifter. The shifter frees up space in the center console for equipment, and allows for quicker shifting.

Start crying girls!!! Like always complaining of something good and better than the competition. Go Ford !!!!!.

@ Ford #1, Second to None
"specific to the Police Responder. Upgraded brake calipers are fitted that can better handle heat, with reformulated pads."

That's nice of Ford, because many of my friends have warped rotors on their newer F-150's by 30k miles. My friends have 2011, 2013, and 2015 and all 3 of those F150s have smoked the rotors before 30k miles. And 1 search on google shows this is a common F-150 issue.

@Ford 2nd.
So? Ford are using a pickup as a police vehicle.

We had F 100s in the 60s, 70s and 80s in Australia as police vehicles.

The sad thing is pickups are speed limited to 68mph. A Corolla will keep in front of it and out handle it.

98mph

Ford police truck?

That is a joke!

My old 2014 Corolla will destroy that police truck around city streets while the Ford crashes and burns because it cannot take corners or put the power down in rain!

On the freeway's, that Ford will be a danger because it cannot handle high speeds and corners, it will lode control and crash and burn!

I know this because I raced a pickup on road courses!

Half ton trucks make perfect sense for municipal policed departments. They have rugged chassis right out of the box.

Sedans used for cop duty require major suspension mods and beefed up components under the hood to handle the stress of daily police duty. As a result they are very expensive.

Pickups are already beefy and only require the communications upgrades and maybe a heavy duty charging system for the lights and AC.

papajimi,
Umm ......................... full chassis?

Maybe in the 30s.

Lift? LIFT? For heaven's sake, WHY? They're already too tall! Load leveling I might understand, but when you talk lift, take it to an off-road site!

@uglyfords: "That kind of language show's us your mentality,..."

Speaking of language use...



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