So, lifting that new truck has been on your mind for a while now. You’ve got some automotive DIY skills, and it’s no secret that you can save yourself quite a bit of money by taking on the process in your home garage. But before you lift that baby up and smack on some new rubber, there are a few things you may want to take into consideration. Let’s address a few areas of concern if a do-it-yourself suspension kit is on your radar.
Level of Difficulty
First, it’s important to note that each lift type has a unique installation method that can vary by level of difficulty. Let’s start with leveling kits, as they’re often considered to be the easiest suspension kit.
Leveling kits, in general, lift the front end of the vehicle to correct stance and provide some additional clearance for wheels and tires. Depending on the truck, this is done with either torsion bar keys or spacers placed within the suspension itself. Sometimes, the lift can be achieved through other methods. But generally speaking, the job isn’t an overly complicated task. Most anyone who can turn a wrench can take this on at home, provided they have the appropriate tools for the job.
The next step up involves full lift kits. By full lift, we are referring to lifting up both the front and rear of the vehicle. In many cases, smaller lift kits apply the same concept as a leveling kit, using spacers to provide the lift. But this isn’t true for every small suspension kit, and you may find that yours requires a little more skill or specialty equipment. It’s important to do your research beforehand and make note of any extra supplies or know-how you may need before you start.
Often, the greater the lift the more complex the job. This is because the further the suspension is lifted, the more other factors—like the geometry of the powertrain or the suspension components—are impacted. Transfer cases and differentials may need to be lowered, and control arms and shocks may need to be replaced with longer units. Almost all lift kits that consequently affect these areas will provide customers with the necessary components to make things work, but it can add a substantial amount of time and difficulty to the process.
Tools and Supplies
As mentioned above, you’ll need to have certain equipment on hand in order to install a suspension kit. To start, you’ll need a range of hand tools. While you may be able to get by with the basic wrenches and ratchets that you have on hand in the garage, there are a few items that are absolute necessities—and a few that will just make your life easier.
You’ll definitely need quality jacks and jack stands that are rated for your vehicle so you can safely raise it for the job. Locate some good penetrating oil and a handy pry bar to help remove any stubborn old parts. You should also have a torque wrench on hand so you can accurately install fasteners. If you don’t have any of these items, now’s a good time to stock up your amateur workshop. But be aware that this can quickly drive up the cost of the project, putting you in a scenario where it would be easier (and cheaper) to just have a garage install the suspension kit for you.
If, however, you already have the right tools on hand and feel confident in your DIYing capabilities, great—but you’re still going to need to go to a garage for one step of the process. Any time you alter the suspension in any way, you want to have a professional ensure that the rig is properly aligned. Sure, you can eyeball this step, but you’ll see that the tires will wear quickly and the vehicle won’t drive straight. Getting an alignment is not a big deal, but it’s one more thing to keep in mind when you take on a suspension kit yourself.
One big thing that often scares people away from a suspension kit is the chance of voiding the warranty. Well, here’s the thing: it does and it doesn’t.
A factory warranty does not cover aftermarket parts, plain and simple. This is why most aftermarket products you purchase come with their own warranty, provided by that product’s manufacturer. So, if you install a suspension kit and a component fails, you need to take that claim to the product’s manufacturer.
Simple, right? Well, here’s where it gets a little muddy. If the aftermarket product was defective or you did a sloppy job installing it, and the product itself directly caused damage to something that would normally fall under your vehicle’s warranty, the manufacturer or dealer does not have to honor that warranty. Again, this seems fair, as a factory warranty shouldn’t be responsible for an aftermarket part. But, some less-than-honest dealers will try to wiggle out of a warranty by claiming damage was caused by a shoddy aftermarket product, even in cases where it clearly wasn’t. This makes it all the more important that you both know your rights going into a claim AND that you do a thorough and conscientious job when installing these products.
If you want to know more about warranty protection, click here to read up on the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which was passed by Congress to protect your consumer rights.
Luckily, quality aftermarket products are almost always backed by their own extensive warranties, as respectable companies stand behind their products. For example, TrailFX backs their suspension components with a very generous 5 year – 60,000 mile X-GUARD Plus Powertrain warranty that covers both the product and all major powertrain parts so customers can enjoy their vehicle modifications with peace of mind.
Obviously, not everyone who is installing a suspension kit is worried about warranties. But whether you’re lifting a new ride or an old project car, what you may not have considered is the sheer amount of time that the job can take. Many unforeseen obstacles can come up, and all those extra runs to the parts store or tool shop can take a simple job of a few hours and stretch it into a project that runs a period of days.
While this may not be a deal-breaker for a toy or secondary ride, if you’re wrenching on your daily driver this can become a real issue. So, before diving into a DIY suspension lift, consider how much faster a professional team of technicians can accomplish this task. And if your heart is set on doing the job yourself, plan ahead of time and have a back-up mode of transportation in case something goes wrong.
Ultimately, lifting a vehicle is a great starting point for those who have a general set of auto skills and are looking to move up to the next level. None of the above factors are meant to scare off first time DIYers. Instead, they should be used as a guide to help you prepare for the job. And if you’re feeling ready and eager to take on your first suspension kit install, we have one last bit of advice: call a friend. You’re literally going to be lifting a massive vehicle up off the ground and spending some time underneath it. Having a friend on hand not only keeps you safe, it also means you’ll have someone there to help you speed up the process and have some fun.