Tackling the Aussie bush can’t be done in any regular vehicle. You’d need a well-equipped 4WD that can handle the terrain. With higher ground clearance than other cars, 4WDs will get you through almost anything. Yes, almost. Ruts, boulders, sand and washouts can get you stuck without the right suspension setup on a fully-loaded car with days’ worth of gear and supplies. And you’ll encounter even worse terrain in the dozens of frequented desert tracks so loved by 4WD adventurers. Experience and skill can help, but not on an unmodified car. This means adding a few basic off-roading accessories. In addition, you’ll need a quality lift kit, obviously to raise the vehicle height that much more and have better approach angles.
What are Lift kits?
Lift kits are the aftermarket parts and equipment used to raise your 4WD’s height. There are body kits and suspension lifts kits, each raising the vehicle in a different way, and something I’ll get to below. Some of the best lift kits are designed and made in Australia and available for all 4WDs.
What are the Pros and Cons of Lift Kits?
As with everything, there are pros and cons to modifying your stock suspension to something higher.
I’ve mentioned ground clearance, and I’ll mention it again. The few centimetres higher can be a life-saver in many situations. There’s more distance between the undercarriage and the ground so you’ll avoid damage to steering, trannies and exhausts. You can comfortably drive through river crossings, tackle sand dunes and beaches, and negotiate steeper paths.
Increased visibility – The higher you are the more you can see. The obvious reason you got a 4WD in the first place. This gives you a better view of the surroundings and allows you to adjust how you drive quicker to avoid trouble. And also take in more of that Aussie scenery.
Bigger tyres – With the car set higher, you can fit bigger tyres designed for anything you come by. Off-road tyres also have better traction so dig in deeper and better.
Looks – A lift kit just looks good. It shouts that you and your car are ready for anything.
These are few and far between, but nevertheless important. With the vehicle raised, the centre of gravity changes, so you’ll need to get used to the vague steering feel. Also, the added parts and bigger tyres add some weight, meaning slightly higher fuel consumption. Comfort levels are reduced, especially on the tarmac, but let’s face it – you’re going off-road. Might as well go prepared.
What are the Two Most Common Types of Lift Kits?
Body Lift Kits:
With most current 4WDs having a body-over-frame configuration, a body lift kit raises the body using heavy-duty spacers fitted just above the coils. Vehicles can be raised up to 10 centimetres, allowing for bigger tyres and yet the handling remains the same. This is the cheapest way to get better ground clearance, though suspension lift kits do a much better job here.
Suspension Lift Kits
Suspension lift kits replace your stock suspension with beefier parts, in effect raising the whole vehicle. A vehicle can be raised up to 15 centimetres. The parts vary according to the suspension your car comes with, either leaf springs or coil springs. Mixed setups of leaf springs in the rear and coil springs in the front are common.
Suspension Lift Kits Types:
Leaf Spring Suspension Lift Kits – Leaf springs are found on many 4WDs, like various models of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Landcruiser 70 series, Holden Colorado and Nissan Navara. The simplest way to increase height is by adding another leaf spring to the existing springs. The safest way is by replacing the springs with new ones. The connecting U-bolts are also changed. In more thorough suspension upgrades with bigger height gains, additional parts are added. Higher rated shock absorbers and longer shackles, or the parts that connect the springs to the chassis, are changed as are the bushes for both the springs and shackles.
Coil Spring Suspension Lift Kits – Coil springs are found on the Landcruiser 100 and 200 series, the Nissan Patrol, Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Pajero. A simple upgrade is using bigger coil springs and longer shock absorbers. To correct the changes in the angles of the suspension setup, uprated track rods and bushings are used. In taller coil spring suspension lift kits, you may need to replace the brake hoses with longer ones. Installing new coils up front also affects the steering. This can be corrected with steering dampers and upper control arms for more precise steering and less wear to tyres.
Considerations and Installing Lift Kits
Body kits are cheaper and easier to install than suspension lift kits. Also, for suspension lift kits, the type of modifications, and the added parts will mean more time in the shop and higher labour costs. Alternately you can do the work with a mate and save some money. To be able to use the car both on and off-road you’ll need some sort of steering correction when changing out the front coils. Take in mind that there are regulations in each state for legal height limits and that manufacturers may void warranties on any work done outside the dealer workshop.