Utes and 4WDs are the preferred vehicle choice for the majority of Aussies. They’re equally at home on tarmac or off-road, sit higher up, and offer generous space. Engines are becoming more refined, and allow for towing almost anything without issue. And most are equipped with a 4×4 drivetrain that lets you explore any corner of the vast Aussie Outback.
But this is not the only reason why they’re bestsellers. There’s a level of customisation that no other car type can come close to. Need extra protection? Bolt-on a full triple hoop bull bar. More space for that camping trip or extra luggage? Add a roof rack. How about added ground clearance? Swap out your stock suspension for a custom suspension lift kit.
Apart from road-based SUVs with front-wheel drive and just a few paltry centimetres off the ground, full-on utes and purebred 4WD station wagons have all the basics covered. Most utes will have 200mm+ of ground clearance. And this makes easy work of light dirt trails. The likes of the Toyota Landcruiser 300, the Range Rover and Land Rover Defender and Nissan Patrol push the stakes even higher, nearing almost 300mm and enough to take you just about anywhere. But in terrain where you run the risk of damaging differentials, annihilating the exhaust, and ripping out the transmission altogether, a higher set of coils and springs comes to the rescue.
What are Suspension Lift Kits?
Suspension lift kits are aftermarket modifications to the stock suspension with the main goal of increasing vehicle height and ground clearance. Parts vary and are dependent on the type of suspension the ute or 4WD comes with. Lift kits often include modified leaf springs (usually at the rear axle) and modified coil springs (either at the front, or all-round). Both sit on sturdier and longer travel shock absorbers than what you have as stock. Additional parts like shackles, U-bolts, and bushes can be changed out to add more ground clearance and provide for better articulation when tackling difficult terrain littered with bigger obstacles and undulations.
Types of Suspension Lift Kits
Leaf Spring Kits
Leaf springs are what you’d find on the rear axle of most utes for the simple reason that they can aptly handle the weight of a fully laden tray or tub without bottoming out. Another reason is that they’ve been around for ages and are simpler in design, and thus cheaper to make. To get more height, you can either add an extra leaf into the leaf pack and firm up the ride. Or you can change everything for a new set of bigger springs. Leaf spring setups can be sprung to handle different weight loadings, and will depend on the vehicle as well as the weight of what you intend to carry. Modifications like longer travel shackles offer a bit more flex to the leaf pack as the vehicle wallows through uneven terrain, but going overboard in shackle lengths can affect approach and departure angles as well as handling.
Coil Spring Kits
Coils are common at the front axle in most utes, and all-round in something like the new Land Rover Defender. Cheaper modifications can use the stock coils along with spacers to increase ground clearance by up to 50mm. If you’re making your way through tougher terrain, then added clearance is achieved with springs with longer travel and (most often monotube) shocks for better absorption and a plusher ride. These can lift the chassis by up to 100mm (and 150mm in some cases). What’s important is to look for adjustable compression in the coils and dampening and rebound adjustments in the absorbers to suit the weight of the vehicle. This will cater to any other changes you’ve made to the car, like a bull bar complete with an operational winch, or added lights.
Lift Kit Pros and Why You Want One
If you’re into serious off-roading, then a custom suspension lift kit tuned just right for your vehicle is a no-brainer. This is miles better than the standard setup in most utes. The added few centimetres, or more precisely between 50 to 150 mm, will make a world of difference when attempting undulations, ruts, deeper water, mud, and sand. And any sizeable obstacles, like boulders and stumps, won’t be much of an issue either.
The higher ground clearance also makes way for bigger wheels and off-road tyres. So, besides sitting higher, the car also has more grip on loose and difficult surfaces. In addition, the added height helps with safety, with better all-around visibility. In short, a vehicle fitted with the right suspension lift kit will outperform unmodified off-roaders costing twice the price. To top off, you get the real off-road looks that your rig was meant for in the first place.
But there are some minor compromises to balance out the sheer performance you get when off-road. Getting in and out of the ute or 4WD might be a bit harder, but that’s expected. What takes more getting used to is the changed handling, with the higher centre of gravity, so abrupt or sharp high-speed turns can bring some nasty surprises. If you don’t have sway bars to balance out the weight shift, the car can roll over.
And then there’s the price. Costs vary from vehicle to vehicle and are often upwards of four figures. Getting what’s right and fitted by a pro will be easier on the pocket in the long term. There’ll be less wear and maintenance and better performance where it matters most.