Lift, Level, or System
Written By: L.T. Tolman
We all like big trucks. While some lift their pickup simply for the looks, other drivers want to make their suspension much more capable from a performance standpoint. There are many different options out there, so let’s take a closer look at the different ways you can raise your truck, and how to optimize the performance of its suspension system.
Lifting for looks
The most popular lift kits on the market will raise a truck somewhere between 4 and 8 inches. It mainly includes brackets which relocate the stock suspension components further away from the frame, making the truck higher. Major parts like the control arms or radius arms, sway bar, front differential and track bar all get moved. This way the suspension parts are still operating at the same angle relative to each other as they were from the factory, except they are now several inches further away from the frame. On the rear of a leaf sprung truck, a lift block is added between the rear axle and the leaf spring, which raises the rear, and of course you’ll get longer shocks all around to match the increased ride height.
One important thing to note, is a lift kit doesn’t necessarily change how the truck rides or drives, its main purpose is to make the truck sit higher and to fit larger tires underneath. Since diesel trucks were designed for maximum payload and towing ability, as a result they have a harsh ride quality. If you only drive on perfectly smooth roads, it might not be a big deal, and some just consider it part of the experience of owning a heavy-duty truck. A lift kit is a good middle of the road option for the guy or gal who needs a few extra inches of ground clearance and doesn’t mind the feel of the stock suspension.
While a taller truck sitting on big ol’ tires is a dream to some, others simply want a truck that rides and performs much better than stock. A performance suspension system doesn’t necessarily lift the truck any higher than a lift kit does, but rather focuses more on a smooth ride, increasing wheel travel, and better overall vehicle control over rough surfaces at higher speed.
One company we lean on heavily for providing top-notch performance suspension systems we are very familiar with is Carli Suspension. They manufacture systems for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gen Ram HDs (’94-present), 2005+ Ford Superdutys, ‘09+ Ram 1500’s, and most recently, the ever-popular Jeep JK. Let’s say for example you own an 03-09 Dodge 2500 as a daily driver, you’re sick of the rough ride on the highways, and you take the occasional trip off road. Carli’s Commuter system might be for you. It lifts the truck three inches with a taller replacement coil that has a softer spring rate than factory; this improves ride quality and wheel travel. The suspension’s movement is kept under control with a set Fox 2.0 shocks. Rather than an off the shelf set, these have been custom tuned by Carli to work with their spring rate, specific to each vehicle application. Matching a shocks valving to a spring rate is one important part of a good quality suspension system, but Carli also includes a longer track bar to center the front axle at its higher height, offers longer control arms, and a torsion sway bar which makes a HUGE improvement in ride quality since the stock one is so stiff. Remember, factory parts that have been designed for towing massive weights aren’t going to give you a smooth ride or work well for high-performance driving. The Commuter system is a great entry level performance suspension system for a truck that spends most of its time driving on the roads, with the occasional off-road romp.
If you really love driving fast through the rough stuff, and still drive your truck on the street, you need to consider stepping up a few notches to the Dominator 6” long-travel system. It gives your Ram a whopping 12-inches of wheel travel up front, and 13 out back to soak up the nastiest bumps you can find. A system of this level has a ton of options to suit your preferences and includes custom valved King 3.0” remote reservoir shocks, which wont fade under extreme conditions. Out front, the stock control arms are tossed in favor of a 3-link style long-arm with an axle control shock made from 3/16” steel for greatly improved articulation with zero chance of bind. While the stock leaf springs do OK towing a gooseneck, they are tossed in favor of a progressive-rate spring pack to get 13-inches of suspension travel, and you only give up 15% of your payload capacity, which is a worthwhile sacrifice considering the amount of wheel travel and ride comfort you gain.
One great thing about a performance suspension system over a simple lift kit is the amount of customizability. While we highlighted two ends of the spectrum, there are tons of different choices from mild to wild, and everything in between. Personally, my favorite thing about the Carli systems, is you can have a great performing off-road setup with a lower center of gravity by choosing the Pintop 3” system. Its based around 2.5” King shocks that have valving to match a progressive-rate coil spring, and by optimizing the suspension geometry you get the best combination of performance and cost.
Carli also offers solutions to problematic factory parts which can work in conjunction with your suspension system or even a stock height truck. Factory parts like ball joints tend to wear out rather quickly on a heavy diesel truck, and the track bar that centers the front axle can become worn and loose over time, causing issues like sloppy steering or even “death wobble”. By upgrading to a set of Extreme Duty Ball Joints you’ll never have to replace a set again, and their adjustable track bar is designed to last much longer than stock, and replaces the weak rubber bushings with a much more reliable Heim and “CUB” Uni-ball style joints which will tighten up the front end of your truck and keep you driving straight down the road, wobble free.
Which is best?
There is no one size fits all option when it comes to suspension. It all comes down to how you use your truck, what size tire you want to run, how hard you want to push your truck, and how much money you want to spend. Don’t get me wrong, a basic lift kit has its place. They are affordable, durable, and will add the ground clearance you need for larger tires. But if you want to push your truck to the limit, maybe take it off some sweet jumps, and improve its comfort at the same time, you have options there as well.