There are essentially two ways to lift your vehicle for off-road use: suspension lift or body lift. Each one has their pros and cons such as performance, price, and ease of installation. First, let’s distinguish between a suspension lift and a body lift.
A suspension lift raises the vehicle’s frame (chassis) away from the ground. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways such as installing taller springs or spring spacers, differential drop brackets, lift blocks, cranked up torsion bars, or any combination thereof.
A body lift is much simpler in that it raises only the body away from the frame with spacers. The frame remains in the same location relative to the ground.
A suspension lift is recommended for anyone planning to spend a lot of time off-road. A body lift is recommended for anyone that wants to make their vehicle look lifted with no true intentions of going off-road. This doesn’t mean that a body lifted vehicle can’t go off-road. It just won’t perform as well as a suspension lifted vehicle because it hasn’t gained any ground clearance.
Suspension lifts typically range between 2-inches to 6-inches (though there are some companies that produce “extreme” kits in excess of this), while body lifts range between 1-inch to 3-inches.
Suspension lifts are more complicated than body lifts because they alter the suspension components that give the vehicle its factory ride characteristics. Taller springs are typically stiffer than factory springs so the vehicle will have a harsher ride quality than with original equipment factory engineered springs. Longer shock absorbers will be needed. The vehicle will also have a higher center of gravity because the entireweight of the vehicle (everything except the axles) will now be raised further from the ground. Depending on the vehicle, the transfer case may need to be lowered and the rear differential repositioned to minimize driveline vibrations. This is especially true for short wheelbase vehicles such as Jeeps because of their short rear driveline that isn’t readily accepting to increased u-joint angles.
Pros: Higher ground clearance, raised approach and departure angles, allows installation of larger wheels and tires.
Cons: Costs more, longer installation time, driveline angles are increased (more likely to vibrate), brake lines need to be re-routed or lengthened, new shocks needed, increased center of gravity.
A body lift is relatively simple in that it primarily consists of a set of spacers that are inserted at the mounting points between the frame and body of the vehicle. This leaves all the heavy parts of the vehicle (frame, engine, transmission, transfer case, etc) at their factory locations so the vehicle’s center of gravity (though increased) will not be increased as much as a suspension lift.
Pros: Cheap, can be installed quickly with basic hand tools, allows installation of larger tires, simple (all components come in a container about the size of a shoe box).
Cons: Appearance (depending how tall the body lift is, there will be a gap that size between the body tub and the frame), extra leverage is placed on the mounting points (the higher the lift, the more leverage there is working against it), ground clearance remains the same.
Ultimately, a body lift provides no benefits other than allowing the installation of larger tires whereas a suspension lift is designed for improved performance off-road (while also allowing the installation of larger tires). If you’re on a budget and want to make your 4WD look like a tough off-road vehicle but have no real intentions of ever going off-road, then a body lift would be adequate for you. However, if cost isn’t a factor and you’re looking to make your 4WD more off-road capable and trail ready, then a suspension lift highly recommended.
- Nate Marquardt’s Suspension Lifted By Pennsylvania Authorities (sbnation.com)
- Air Lift Suspension of Benefits (athingforcars.com)