Which Lift Is Right For Your Vehicle?
Body lifts and suspension lifts both offer a taller ride and room for larger wheels and tires, but they do have differences like cost, center of gravity and handling changes, and ground clearance. We’re going to take a look at some of these characteristics in-depth and hopefully give you a better idea of which lifting method you need.
Here is the “at a glance” version of the similarities and differences between body lifts and suspension lifts:
Comparison of Body Lifts and Suspension Lifts
|Lift||Cost||Larger Tires||Ride Height||Ground Clearance||Handling||Lift Size||DIY|
|Body Lift||Cheap||Possible||Increase||None||Factory Ride||2 to 5 Inches||Easy-Moderate|
|Suspension Lift||Expensive||Possible||Increase||Increase||Body Roll Increase||2 to 9 Inches||Difficult-Very Difficult*|
* Strut spacers are fairly easy to install and usually lift between 2-3 inches.
Lift Kits Defined
First it’s important to know what a body lift and a suspension lift actually do, and looking at the names it’s pretty simple: a body lift raises the body away from the frame and a suspension lift extends the suspension and raises every part of the vehicle. A leveling kit is basically a front suspension lift that raises the front suspension level with the rear in a vehicle with a raked stance, equalizing the height of the front and rear suspension.
Body Lift VS Suspension Lift
Goals for Lifting your Vehicle
Before we dive deeper into the differences it’s important to decide what your goals are for lifting your truck or SUV. Do you want to install bigger tires? Do you want taller ride height? Do you want maximum ground clearance to push the limits of your vehicle’s offroad capabilities? There are lift kit options that will accomplish one or all of these goals, but they all have their trade-offs. Even with an unlimited budget just buying the biggest, most expensive lift kit is not always going to be the best option if you care about how your vehicle handles. So, if you have a good idea of what your goals are all that’s left is to consider the different options.
If you’re asking “How much does it cost to lift my truck?” the answer is that it depends whether you’re talking about ride height or ground clearance. A body lift is the most inexpensive way to get ride height, but a suspension lift or bigger tires are your only options for more ground clearance.
If you’re modding on a budget then the total cost of accomplishing your lift is going to be a factor. In this area, body lifts are the best hands down. They are often simple kits of body blocks and usually do not require suspension or steering adjustment.
Leveling kits can be cheaper since they are often made up of just 2 strut spacers for the front Macpherson struts, but a full suspension lift is a complicated project that can include modifications to the steering, suspension, spindle and can easily double the price of a body lift of the same size. If larger wheels and tires are your ultimate goal then a body lift is going to be the cheapest option.
As a side note body lift kits can usually be installed in a home garage making their total cost even lower. A full suspension lift kit can be a challenging install and require a shop and an experienced auto tech meaning you’ll have shop fees to add to your project’s cost.
No contest here – Suspension lift wins. Body lifts only raise the body so there is no change in the distance between the bottom of your vehicle and the ground. A suspension lift raises every part of the vehicle so a 3 inch suspension lift nets you 3 inches of ground clearance. Leveling kits only raise the front suspension but since the front is the lowest point of the frame in a truck or SUV with a raked stance you will gain total ground clearance in the amount of the height of your leveling kit.
If you want the tallest conceivable ride height then a suspension lift is going to be your go to. Theoretically, a body lift could be made that will give you a ridiculous amount of ride height but it would look, well, ridiculous. For most vehicles, 3 to 5 inches is the max for body lifts. Suspension lifts can soar up to 9 inches and beyond but these will be very expensive with broad changes to steering and suspension and are really all about serious rock crawling or the aesthetic of a sky-high truck or SUV. At extreme heights, even the most well-designed kits can not completely overcome the stability issues that a dramatically raised center of gravity imposes.
There is a philosophy that is often quoted when it comes to lifting a vehicle – Lift as much as necessary, but as little as possible. This might seem like someone throwing a wet blanket over your dreams of installing a rope ladder to your cab but it’s really sound advice.
It has to do with your vehicle’s center of gravity. Every vehicle is engineered to handle at its best according to where the center of gravity of the vehicle is located. Every lifting method (including larger diameter tires) changes the center of gravity since the weight of the vehicle is being lifted. This means that you will experience more body roll during a turn since more weight is riding higher on the vehicle. This can affect stability during a hard quick turn as weight shifts to the outside.
Let’s look at how weight is generally distributed around a half-ton truck:
- 10% – Tires, Wheels, and Axles
- 20% – Body, along with all components inside of the body
- 70% – Frame, Engine, Transmission, and Drive Train
Center of Gravity:
Obviously increasing the tire size raises almost all vehicle weight and the center of gravity along with it, but only half as much as the tire diameter increase (3 inch tire increase = 1.5 inch center of gravity increase). A suspension lift also raises about 90% of the vehicle’s total weight increasing center of gravity almost as many inches as the lift size. Body lifts only raise 20% of the vehicle’s weight, giving you the lowest center of gravity increase of all the options and causing the least amount of change in how your vehicle handles.
Here is a breakdown of how body lifts, suspension lifts, and bigger tires affect a vehicle’s center of gravity:
|Lift Type||Lift Size||Center of Gravity Increase|
|Body Lift||3 inch lift||.60 inch|
|Wheels and Tires||3 inch diameter increase||1.5 inches|
|Suspension Lift||3 inch lift||3 inches|
Body and Suspension Lift Combo
It is possible to get the best of both worlds by stacking a body lift and a suspension lift. This is a great way to raise a vehicle and keep the handling characteristics of your truck or SUV intact. You can also get similar ground clearance increase by combining a suspension and body lift + bigger tires as you would with a full suspension lift – for about the same price.
Let’s say you wanted to lift your truck to achieve 4 inches of ground clearance and make room for 33 inch offroad tires. You could buy a 4 inch full suspension lift and have it installed at the shop, but a good quality kit is going to run you about $1,700 before installation fees so that may not leave much room in your budget for the tires that you want. Another option is combining a 2 inch lift and leveling kit with a 3 inch body lift kit, which is about half the price saving money for your 33 inch tires that will bring ground clearance up to about 3.5 inches. All this for about the same price plus less change to the factory suspension geometry and how your truck handles.
*This information is based on a 2016 Toyota Tundra model with 30″ stock tires.
Prices evaluated for:
- Daystar Suspension (3″ Front | 2″ Rear) Lift and Leveling Kit
- Performance Accessories 3″ Body Lift Kit
- Set of four 33″ offroad tires at $250/tire
Hopefully you now have a really good idea of what the pros and cons are of the different lifting options that are available. Remember – lift as much as needed, but as little as possible. Think about what your lifting goals are. If you want more ride height and bigger tires then a body lift is least expensive and causes minimal changes to how your vehicle handles. If you need some ground clearance for rough trails then a suspension lift is the ticket. A lot of times the best kit you can get is somewhere in-between, like a leveling/lift + body lift kit that balances cost, results, and handling of your vehicle.
From all of us here at DST: Ride Smooth (and tall), and Drive Hard.