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How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Factors to consider before purchasing a Lift System

How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby Onlyina_Chevy [OP] » Feb 08 2012, 4:55am

Well, you’ve decided that it is time to give your truck a new look. Whether it is because you don’t like the way it sets (what most would refer to as ‘rake’, nose down; ass up), maybe you want to put a little bit larger tire underneath her, or just because you have in excess of $3000 burning a hole in your pocket (I know that sounds like an exorbitant amount of money, but I’ll explain as we go on).

Choosing the lift kit system is dramatically dependent upon your budget, and you have to keep that in mind when deciding your final outcome, e.g. price of replacement tires, suspension (wear & tear), wheels (if applicable), price of gas, etc. You also need to decide whether or not you want to park your truck in your garage; if you put enough lift under it, you can forget about fitting that truck in the garage. In Oklahoma, we have these things that drop out of the sky called tornadoes, and they don’t just shuffle baseball-sized hail, they may shuffle your next door neighbor’s Prius into your front seat…just something to consider. Of course, friends don’t let friends drive a Prius, but that’s another story.

Leveling Kits

Pros:

• Get a little more air under your truck for a larger tire
• Inexpensive
• Anyone with any mechanical skills could do it without having a heart attack or headache
• Pre 2007 – allows for steering geometrics to remain the same as well as ride

Cons:

• Mileage (only applicable when increasing tire size)
• Additional cost of alignment (the process of lifting the front end will change the camber; you MUST have the vehicle aligned as soon as possible)

Let’s say you just want to remove the ‘rake’ look from your truck AND you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time, money, and/or effort. You want the truck to set level; front and rear are at an even height. This is what many people like to do just for that ‘level look’ or so they can put a little bit larger set of tires underneath their vehicle. In most cases, as with the 2007 & up Chevy or GMC C/K1500, this will allow for a tire that is 33” tall as long as you don’t go wild and add a 10” wide wheel. If you retain the stock wheels, this will not be a problem. Remember, the stock wheel is classified as the OEM wheels that GM uses for their trucks. If you buy a new/used truck, and custom order a taller/wider wheel than what GM uses, then I can’t be responsible for any mishaps (I’m not very responsible regardless).

Your basic Leveling Kit from Rough Country Suspensions will run about $65 for a 2007 & up 2WD or 4WD 1500. It is very basic as it just adds a space beneath the shock tower, lifting the front end up right around 2”. The average Joe can do it in their driveway in about 2 hours or less depending on tool availability and strength (I recommend getting a partner to help hoist the half shaft back in place).
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The earlier models of GM trucks use torsion keys and they will put you out about $100 for your 1999 – 2006 K1500 ($200 for the full kit that includes 4 shocks and 2, 3” blocks for the rear). They replace the position of the stock key giving the vehicle back some of its ‘droop’ to allow for a little bit smoother ride. Your HD 2500 trucks from 2002 – 2010 use torsion keys as well. They run for $130, and the 2011 HD 2500/3500 keys run for $200 (all prices stated are on Rough Country Suspension web site and do not included shipping/handling charges).
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Back in the old days, before most of us realized ‘keys’, people would just crawl under their trucks and crank the torsion bars via the 19mm bolt. This made for a very rough ride; ask me, I know (and I don’t in any way recommend it as a cheaper alternative). Although this method has no ill effects on your truck, it will eventually burn a hole in your pocket because it runs the wheels/tires at an odd angle creating bad spots in the tires; it will not be able to be aligned correctly.

Body Lifts

Pros:

• Inexpensive
• Doesn’t affect ride comfort or steering geometrics
• Allows for 33” tires (3” lift…don’t know anyone that paid that much for 2” when a leveling kit does the same job for 1/8 the price)

Cons:

• Separating the body and frame leaves a see-through gap at the rear wheels (can be remedied with wheel liners…a little bit more expense, but still far less than a suspension lift)
• In the event of a side impact, you might go for a ride you wouldn’t otherwise expect

A body lift is a set of spacers that separates the frame of the truck from the suspension. The spacers are made of a composite plastic. They come in sizes of 2” or 3” and are put in place of each bolt that connects the frame to the body (usually 12).
Image

Your body kits will also supply you with extenders. There are a few pieces that connect to or line-up evenly between the body and frame, such as the front and rear bumper, radiator hoses, fuel lines (nothing important). Body lifts should be installed by a certified professional. Something to remember…separating your body from frame can make the truck a less than desirable place to be in the event of a side impact…just think about that for a second. Good.

Body lifts, while more expensive than Leveling Kits, are far less expensive than a full suspension lift. The lift itself is fairly inexpensive, but the installation cost is in the ballpark of $400 - $600 depending on the ‘rape charge factor’ of the installer. If you think about it, someone is going to SEPARATE the body of your truck from the frame…it is a long process. Be prepared to lose the use of your truck for 1 – 2 full days.

Suspension Lifts


Pros:

• Sky’s the limit on height
• Allows for more suspension articulation
• Allows for very large tires (and any good redneck knows, he who has the largest tires at a 4-way stop usually has right-of-way)

Cons:

• Budget’s Limit trumps Sky’s Limit
• Climbing in and out of this beast can get annoying after a while
• Up keep of various supporting pieces both exponentially and non-exponentially

A suspension lift is truly the way to go in order to get that tire and wheel size you prefer, but you may have to sacrifice the overall comfort of the ride. I don’t think I am going overboard when I say that the Chevy/GMC line of C/K 1500 trucks ride like a caddy from stock. That being said, once you start messing with the suspension, it may cause a difference in this comfort from the stock suspension depending upon your year of Chevy/GMC.

Now that we have the mild reasons on why you may want to consider not changing your needs, let’s concentrate on why you would want to change your overall set up. The reasons why we opt to change the stock setup are varied and somewhat purposeful. Some may want to create something that looks more appealing (let’s face it, our chests swell up with pride driving a lifted truck), you might need a little extra space between you and the ground because you are a truck owner and you will use your truck as such (for this reason, suspension articulation is your friend), or you may use your truck for your livelihood and lifting it just makes business sense, i.e. snowplowing, lawn service, land clearing (actually none of these are a really good reason, but you can probably make up some good excuse with your tax advisor and write it all off as a business expense).

Suspension lifts come in many sizes, made by many big name manufacturers (ProComp, BDS, Rancho, Rough Country, Superlift, SkyJacker, Fab-Tech, RCD, Ready Lift), and many price tags. The average suspension lift in excess of 4” and up to 6” will run you $1000 - $1800, just for the lift. The cost of installing this lift can range from $400, and upwards of $600 depending on the amount of time needed to correctly install the system.
Image

Some systems are bolt-on; remove and replace; some are cut-out, weld-in to replace, and some use a varying degree of both and more. Yes, cut out. This means that the vehicle that you have, that has been engineered for strength and safety by those who have more intelligence than common man, will now be cut up to make space for new pieces that may be as good or better than OEM parts (there is also the possibility that these pieces, while stronger than original, may be installed by the guy that started welding yesterday). Keep in mind though; your more reputable manufacturers will use the highest grade of replacement parts, usually 3/8” tubular, flat and angled steel (Fab-Tech uses ¼” steel, but they do not make a system for 2007 & up, sorry). Along with the lift system you are thinking about purchasing, many of these manufactures may also add in pieces that you may not already have, such as a skid plate (a skid plate protects the front axle and differential from objects like logs and medium to small boulders).

You really need to have your thoughts on what tire size you want to use, as well as wheel size. When I say wheel size, diameter is a given, but width needs to be determined along with backspacing. A very important point needs to be made here…If you go up, you must go out! Backspacing, tire tread width, and wheel width are no longer optional, rather they need to be of the utmost importance.
(For further information on tread width and backspacing, and their effects; follow link)

Will this tire fit? Tire sizing and wheel spacing explained


All trucks, regardless of height are prone to rollover. Once you lift a truck beyond the engineered safe height, they become unstable due to being top heavy. If you are going to lift your truck 4” to 6” higher, then you need to also create a wider stance. If you are lifting your truck so that you can drive it straight through the mud bog without the thought of a sharp turn at an increased speed, then width probably isn’t your main concern. For all others that will be using our trucks for daily drivers, put that wider tire on it and allow the tires to stick out from the sides of the truck using a wheel with a negative offset. A negative offset pushes the hub of the wheel toward the centerline of the truck, thus pushing more of the tire past the side of the truck. The picture below, while almost ‘stick figure-ish’, serves a greater purpose of understanding than my Visio talents will allow.

Image

Having this image in your mind, you will need to set your mind more into that budget that we have spoken so much about. When you consider a lift of say $1600, plus the installation of at least $500, and then tires that will cost you at least $300 a piece, you can understand the “$3000 burning a hole in your pocket” comment from earlier.

A final note on all lifts …

When figuring your budget for the lift you choose, you have to look toward the future. Your truck was designed with a particular wheel and tire in mind by GM. That combination also had many factors such as weight, ground friction, and wear on supporting suspension components, as well as suspension sag that may be disturbed with a negative offset wheel. Over time, your Pitman and Pullman arms will deteriorate, tire rods may warp, and steering box may overwork due to the added change in steering dimensions.


I’m not a professional mechanic, but I am a logical thinker. I am also sure that I may have missed a couple of key components on a subject such as this. Please be sure you follow the replies to this thread as there are quite a few more knowledgeable members than myself that will no doubt clear up any misconceptions about lift kits that I may have missed.
Last edited by Onlyina_Chevy on Jul 22 2013, 7:17am, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Broken links.
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Related Topics  what suspension lift kit to buy?   check list before I buy a lift kit   RC lift & level v.s. Tuff Country 2" lift kit   Lift Kit & Tires   Help with which lift to choose   What tires to choose with 5" lift?   Rancho 4 inch lift...What shocks do I have to choose from?   2014 Silverado 5.3L Intake, HID Kit & Sub/Amp For Sale   Tire Preference & which brand to buy?   which kit to buy   Which lift to buy around 6/7 inches?   Where to buy a 2" level kit for 2010 Silverado   what to buy first? 2.5" leveling kit, or wheels and tires?   Do i have to remove level kit for lift kit? 
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby Chasmanian » Feb 08 2012, 5:03am

Nice write up, good job.
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby tcarr25 » Feb 08 2012, 5:24am

Very good write up.
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How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby gmctruckguy » Feb 08 2012, 6:06am

I hope this answers some questions for the noobs. Good write up.
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby ChevyinBendOR » Feb 08 2012, 6:45am

Well done....you know, why I woulda done...just kidding. You rock, bro!!!
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby codysown » Feb 08 2012, 6:50am

Great write up...

Something you may add to the leveling kit section is not to stack leveling kits and the negative aspects of maxing out the suspension droop.
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby Onlyina_Chevy [OP] » Feb 08 2012, 7:13am

I can't add at this point, but thank you for mentioning it. As long as others follow up on the responses, then they should get anything that I may have forgotten.
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby quickdrraw » Feb 08 2012, 9:15am

Thank you! Helped me in my decision. All I need is a 2' rough country leveling kit. I like the idea of having a little more clearance because I do like to take back trails every once in a while but honestly it is about 90% looks for me.
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby SLCCHEVY » Feb 09 2012, 12:27am

This helped out alot in my decision on a level kit
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Re: How to Choose & Buy a Lift Kit

Postby allterrainjoe » Feb 09 2012, 12:39am

WTG
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