Buyers Guide - Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits

It's not often that truck modifications get mistaken for each other. A Truck Bed Mat is obviously different from a Tonneau cover, as is a Nerf Bar from a Running Board.  However, there are two relatively popular truck performance conversions that are commonly mistaken as being either exactly the same thing, or nearly identical – Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits. In this article, we attempt to clear up the confusion by looking at the key differences and similarities of each modification, or as we like to call them in this context, “modifi-cautions.”

On the surface, it's easy to confuse Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits for one another; both boost the overall height of the vehicle and provide increased protection from the road as well as clearance for other modifications such as larger tires, a fuel tank or transfer case. If you look underneath the body however, differences in their design and installation start to become clear – Suspension Lift Kits increase the space between the axles and the ground, while Body Lift Kits raise only the body of the vehicle. Aside from this variance in mechanics, Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits also differ in the ways that alter the handling, center of gravity, and load capacity of your truck or SUV.

Before we discuss the more detailed performance issues, we need a more complete understanding of the way in which both Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits are constructed as well as their intended purpose. Knowing this information will make all the difference in deciding which one is best for your vehicle.

Assembly and Purpose

A Body Lift Kit consists of blocks or coil spacers made from either hard-polymer or a rubber material. By simply placing these between the bed and frame mounting pads, a height increase ranging from 1 to 3 inches can be achieved. Although it looks as if the entire body has been lifted, a Body Lift Kit modification only expands the space between the tires and the wheel wells, typically to accommodate larger tire sizes – usually mud or off road tires. For Body Lift Kits, there isn’t much competition out there in the way of Performance Accessories.

Suspension lift kits on the other hand, are made up of front and rear shocks; pass bump, torsion bar and differential brackets; skid plates; front and rear cross members and Axle spacers. Aside from providing additional clearance between the frame and the ground – a true increase in height – Suspension Lift Kits provide greater articulation of the axels, enable steeper ascent, departure and breakover angles as well as increase the payload capacity of the vehicle.

To make the right choice between installing a Body Lift kit or a Suspension Lift kit for your truck or SUV, you must know what you want out of the modification as well as what the final result of each one will be. In the following section, we discuss some of the benefits, installation snags and safety issues of each one.

Types, Benefits and Results

As previously mentioned, Body Lift Kits consist of blocks or spacers placed between the body and the frame to “lift” the vehicle from 1” to 3”. They are the cheapest and easiest of all lift modifications to install.

Overall, Body Lift Kits are pretty predictable in terms of parts and results and don’t require any more explanation than what we’ve already described above in the Assembly and Purpose section. Suspension Lift Kits on the other hand are much more customizable and come many varieties across manufacturers. The common types of Suspension Lift Kits and their main purpose are:

  • Full Lift Kit – As the everything-you-need modification, full Suspension Lift Kits can vary significantly in price – from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending on the quality of parts and of course the desired height of the lift, which ranges from 2” all the way up to 12”.
  • Spacers – These are relatively inexpensive and easy to install, consisting of a “puck” that is placed at the bottom of the coil spring to give a little extra lift – up to a maximum of 3”. Apart from aesthetics, this kind of Suspension Lift is often used as a shock absorber; i.e. leveling a heavy grill or bumper.
  • Spring Over Axle – This inexpensive but effective modification uses your existing suspension components to reverse the leaf springs to fit over the axle, rather than under. Installing this modification requires a little more experience than Spacers, but can result in a lift of up to 6” at a fraction of the cost of other lift kits.

After installing a Suspension Lift Kit on your vehicle, there are additional parts that can be added to further the performance as well as give an extra little boost in height. These include:

  • Leaf Springs – These bolt in to correct or add a little more height to your vehicle, Leaf Springs absorb impact on a large scale and result in a more evenly distributed load.
  • Coil Springs – These work to increase height through the spring itself, providing up to 2” in increased height. Although inexpensive, coil springs can be difficult to install since they require you to raise the entire vehicle into the air and do not include attachment points.  

As with anything else, informing yourself before you get to the checkout will save you time, money and maybe even your sanity - well, we can't make any promises on that one, but we can assure you that making a hasty decision on a Body Lift kit or a Suspension Lift kit without familiarizing yourself with the technical and functional basics of each will contribute to driving you crazy come installation time.

Installation and Safety

Contrary to what a mechanic might tell you, installing either a Body Lift Kit or a Suspension Lift kit are will within the capabilities of any do-it-yourselfer. All you need are the right tools, about four to six hours and a friend to assist with some of the necessary lifting.

It must be noted that taking the time to read the instructions and prepare in way of taking all safety precautions is a must in this installation. For example, certain corrections may be necessary when installing a lift, as the vibrations caused by the altered driveshaft angle can wear out U-joints or cause the suspension to eventually fail altogether. As a safety precaution, all manufacturers include a list of recommended adjustments that will ensure safety of operation and longevity of the product. Some of these additional modifications include longer throw shocks, extended brake lines, a CV driveshaft and stronger U-joints. Attempting to install a Body Lift or Suspension Lift without knowing or taking such precautions may jeopardize the integrity and operating safety of the vehicle.

Of final mention concerning safety in installing and operating your vehicle with a lift modification is that Body Lift Kits and Suspension Lift Kits should never be combined, as this can cause what is referred to as a “death wobble.” It should be pretty easy to figure out what that one means, and what it can result in.

Conclusion

Both suspension lift kits and body lift kits are great for enhancing the look and feel of your truck or SUV.  While they may look similar, there are some key differences in the way they affect the performance and handling of your vehicle. We hope the information in this article has clarified some of these distinctions, thus making the choice between a Suspension Lift Kit and a Body Lift Kit for your vehicle an easy one.

As with anything else, choosing a lift modification with quality parts and carrying out a proper installation is critical to its performance and life span as well as your safety in operation. For more information about suspension lift kits and body lift kits, check our articles section for updates regularly.

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Posted on February 1st, 2013
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