Should You Lift Your 4WD?

side by side comparison of stock suspension from D22 Navara and lift kit suspension

“Never let someone else define your adventure, or tell you how to do it. Not even us.”

This is the message we put at the beginning of each post. 

The Rough As Guts mandate is that we must always tell it like it is, regardless of popular opinion. Sometimes it may seem like we’re trying to gate keep the word “adventure” when we say things like “real four wheel driving” or “real camping”. That’s not our intent, but what we damn-sure are hell-bent on, is to make sure people are never putting their limitations on others, advising against reasonable risk and lowering the bar for people who just might have gone and done something incredible if they hadn’t been talked out of it.

Your life is your adventure. Live it however the hell you want.

Table of Contents

To Lift or Not to Lift – Should You Raise the Height of Your 4WD?

Yes you should. If you’re reading this here, then chances are you’re looking to do a bit of 4wd touring and maybe even some more serious hard wheeling on some gnarly tracks. Both call for installing a lift kit, but how far you want to take it depends on what you’re four wheel driving plans are.

It’s reasonable to have some hesitation, when it’s so common to see lifted fourbies cruising around on the bitumen that never go off-road. The height of your car seems to have become a pissing contest and the new fashion statement for wankers that want to fit into an image but live in the suburbs and never spend any time in the bush. The problem is that most “off-road” vehicles are destined for a suburban life with wagons like a 200 series cruiser now being a soccer mums’ car and most dual cabs either ending up as a work ute or for a suburban bloke trying to hold on to the crumbs of what he thought his life would be. Heaven forbid the dual cab ends up with a pink “hers not his” sticker, signalling that it’s only use is going to be to take a sheila in flannelette to the bottle-o to buy premix Jim Beam while listening to Karaoke versions of Carrie Underwood.

The problem is that even though the manufacturers spend a lot of time to make these cars off-road capable, they know that the majority are going to be used exclusively on bitumen, so they roll off the factory floor in that specification. So while there’s usually no need to lift a car to the heavens and run 37’s, it’s often prudent to do some work to have it touring ready.

 

2” Lift is Suitable for Most Off-Road Endeavours

A 50mm (2 inch) lift is suitable for most applications, except more of the hard-wheeling side of things. A 2” lift isn’t a dramatic change to a vehicle.

Most modern 4WD cars are an IFS (independent front suspension) instead of a solid axle. This means that as you raise the suspension height, the control arms (some might call them wishbones) increase their angle which also increases the angle of the CV, which is what connects the wheel to the diff, to drive it when in 4WD. As you increase the lift, you increase the angle in the joints in the CV, making it more susceptible to breakage. The other thing that happens is that as the angle of the control arms increases relative to the chassis, it increases the camber of the wheels. The camber can be adjusted, but if you go too high it will take you out of the adjustment range.

2” is usually enough to make an improvement and allow larger tyres, without running into any of the above problems. A lot of models, such as the V6 Amarok actually see an improvement in handling and camber adjustment as the suspensions is quite squat in the front from factory.

The problem you’ll then run into, is that a lot of states such as WA only allow a 50mm total lift increase, including tyres, before it requires engineering. So look into your states’ laws to make sure that you’re not running afoul of the regulations and becoming uninsured by running 50mm lift and then changing tyre size.

Take a Spare CV for IFS Vehicles Lifted over 2”

If you are going to go for more than 2” of lift without running a diff drop and custom control arms, then you should take spare CV/s with you. If you’re only running 2” but you’re really giving it some curry and working the front wheels hard, you should also take a spare.

 

D22 being held up by engine lifter for suspension installation
Installing a Fulcrum 2″ Lift Kit in My Driveway – Don’t Take the Same Shortcuts That I Do.

 

You Can Change Your Spring Rates at the Same Time

Designed for the average user, most cars are coming off the line optimised for comfort instead of capability. They’ve got spring load ratings for the weight that the vehicle is manufactured with and these are already on the low side, for ride comfort.

 

Stuck in the Mid-Stroke of the Suspension

As soon as you add a steel bulbar, you’re already overloaded for the factory springs. Not by a lot, but it’s enough to keep you in the mid-range of the suspension rather than in the plush top-range which is designed to soak small bumps and the mid-range of the stroke has more aggressive dampening as that usually means you’ve hit more of an obstacle such as a wash-out and the suspension is designed to not bottom out easily. If you add a winch to the bulbar, you now have even more weight hanging right out the front of the car where it has the most leverage against the suspension. Assuming the driver and front passenger aren’t the average 80kg that’s used for calculating spring rates, you’re now well into the mid-stroke of the suspension. Not only is that less comfortable, it means you have less suspension travel for when you do hit something unexpected.

 

 Upside-Down Springs in the Rear

Some models of dual cab will come with sufficient spring rates in the rear if they’re designed as a work ute, but this is usually only the case for single cabs. You can usually tell if this is the case if the rear of your ute is bouncing around when there’s no load but becomes more comfortable with a few hundred kilos or more loaded into the tray.

Most dual cabs will have rear springs in the back that are designed for small loads or none at all. As soon as you start loading spare fuel, water, fridge and spare beer and camping supplies you’ll be over what it performs best at and that’s if you’re not running a canopy at all.

On our Desert to Dune filming trip, I took an aluminium canopy with swag, fridge, food, beer, cooking equipment, 40L of diesel, 200ah lithium battery, dual battery setup and an inverter to charge the drone batteries. Even without going crazy and overloading it, it was heavy enough to invert my leaf springs by the end of the trip and I was already running springs that were good for 350kg more than stock. If I’d been running the stock springs the car would have been sitting very low, scrubbing the wheels and I might have even snapped one of them.

 

close-up of rear leaf spring being installed
350kg Constant Loads Being Installed

 

Same Price as Upgrading Springs Without Lifting

We’ve established that any decent touring set-up is going to be heavier than what the stock springs are designed for. Even if you’re not going to run a canopy and large 12v setup, just the supplies will be heavier than ideal.

Most 2” lift kits are comprised of the same components as simply changing the spring rates. If you’re going to change the suspension load rating modestly (not doing a whole GVM upgrade), then it’s often comparable or even cheaper to do it by way of a lift kit. Lift kits with heavier springs are in higher demand than stock height heavier springs, so there’s often better deals to be found, particularly if you’re willing to do the work yourself.

 

 

Freedom does not come automatically, it is achieved. And it is not gained in a single bound; it must be achieved each day”

– Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself

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