Choosing The Right Size Lift For Your 4WD Vehicle

Body Lift Kits Explained

Man standing in back of off road vehicle, looking at mountain view
(Mike Powell/Getty Images)

If you want to lift your ride a bit (or a lot!), and you're eager to have a smoother ride on larger tires, then a body lift might be just what you're looking for.

The following information will help you choose the right size lift and get the job done right -- whether you choose to do the work yourself or have it done by a professional.

Keep in mind: Even if you KNOW that you want a 3" or 4" (or larger) lift, you should always start with a small lift first and eventually work your way up. The reason is this: The faster you build, the more problems you're likely to encounter.

Building in steps allows you to work out the kinks along the way. So, your best bet is to start small, and learn to handle your vehicle in increments -- a little bit taller at a time -- rather than going for the VERY tall lift right away.

You also need to determine whether you will do the install yourself, or whether you'll leave the job to a trusted mechanic. True, there are a number of lift kits that you can bolt on right in your driveway, however you need to be realistic about the complications which could arise.

Just know that if you install the lift yourself, you will likely spend hours under your rig tweaking everything over and over again until it is just right.

The real issues usually don't become evident until after the lift is installed when you have to get the steering, alignment, track, and everything else back to spec.

So, before you even start the install, consider how the control arms, steering linkage, slip yoke, drive shaft length, U-joint angle, brake lines, gearing, braking and axle strength will all be affected by the vehicle's new height.

Some things you should know straight up: If you're going for a larger lift (3" plus), then you will most likely need longer lower control arms and longer shocks. You will also need to lengthen the front and rear brake lines. If you lift 4" or more, then you will need longer upper control arms as well. Plus, you will want a longer trackbar, and you might need to add longer emergency brake lines.

Just A Little Lift

If you want just a little more clearance under the transfer case, or a little more room to run 30x9.5's, then a small lift is the way to go.

Typically, this type of lift will consist of coil spacers in front with long shackles in the rear. You could go with blocks in the rear IF you have new or strong springs. 1.5" is the most common "small lift."

Pros & Cons:

  • Inexpensive, most affordable
  • Quick and easy to install
  • Few installation complications

Medium-Sized Lift

You might choose the middle-of-the-road option if you want the best tire clearance, yet you don't do a lot of extreme offroading.

The medium-sized option typically consists of spacer and add-a-leaf (AAL) lifts; get the full-length ones. These kits often come with new shocks too. 2" is the most common "medium lift."

Pros & Cons:

  • You need to have strong rear springs
  • AALs are only designed to lift stock springs (though you could add shackles to taller springs later)
  • More noticeable handling performance

Bigger Lift

A larger lift typically results in a more aggressive look and better off-road performance -- with the ability to retain a stock on-road ride.

Larger lift kits typically come with with new front coils and Add-A-Leafs (AAL's) in the rear, plus some combination of new front coils and new rear springs. These kits often come with a matched set of shocks too. 3-4" are common "large lift" sizes for a body lift.

Pros & Cons:

  • Most expensive
  • Some complications are to be expected, since some lifts basically re-design the entire front suspension
  • They have their tradeoffs when it comes to on-highway handling and performance