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How Lift Kits Impact Driving Performance: Speed, Towing, and Gas

Some drivers pay big bucks for lift kits, so their ride stands out and looks cool. Others prefer to sit high when off-roading. Read on to learn about the different types of lift kits, what they do, and how raising your vehicle’s body can impact how fast you can go, your towing capacity, and gas mileage.

What Is a Lift Kit?

A lift kit is a scheme to raise the body of a vehicle to create more separation between the body and axles. Most often, the vehicle is a truck or SUV.

Lift kits take the form of a leveling kit, a body lift kit, or a suspension lift kit.

What Do Lift Kits Do?

Lift kits achieve three goals:

  • Provides separation. Lift kits create more separation between axles and the vehicle body. For example, they allow drivers to shoe their vehicles with bigger wheels and tires. Moreover, a suspension lift kit creates additional space between the driving surface and the vehicle’s frame. This is known as ground clearance. More ground clearance improves off-road capability.
  • Gives style. For people who like the hulking looks of a taller truck, lift kits create a more stylish visual appearance.
  • Improves vision field. Lifting a vehicle provides a more commanding driving position. Consequently, it improves the driver’s field of vision.

Types of Lift Kits

For the sake of this discussion, we are lumping leveling kits in with lift kits because they may serve your needs.

What Is a Leveling Kit?

A leveling kit does just what it implies. It levels the front end of the vehicle with the rear end.

Manufacturers engineer trucks, more so than SUVs, with a front-to-rear rake. In other words, they are an inch or two taller in the rear than the front. Primarily functional, this design cue results from building up the rear end to prevent sag when hauling or towing a heavy load.

To improve the truck’s appearance, many truck owners opt to install a front leveling kit. Relatively easy to install and inexpensive, such kits typically include strut spacers. They fit between the truck chassis and the upper spring.

After installation, not only is your truck level, but it gets you a bit more ground clearance between the front bumper and the drive surface. Moreover, it gives you possibilities, in case you want to run larger wheels and tires.

How Much Is a Leveling Kit?

The cost of a leveling kit depends on how advanced it is. A ballpark average is $200-$500, but the cost can approach $1,000.

What Is a Body Lift Kit?

In simplest terms, a body lift kit raises the body of the vehicle off the frame. The lift range is 1 to 3 inches.

With only a couple of exceptions, for example, the Honda Ridgeline, most trucks are engineered as body-on-frame. That is, the body and frame are separate components bolted together.

On the other hand, cars and the Ridgeline are made with the body and frame formed as one piece.

To install a body lift kit, you must first unbolt the body from the frame. You then insert spacers or blocks between the body and frame before using longer bolts to reattach them.

Adding a body leveling kit has no real impact on the suspension system. However, it can affect handling. It raises the vehicle’s center of gravity, which may make it a little tippy around corners.

A body leveling kit is another fairly inexpensive method for adding needed space for larger wheels and tires.

It will also create a little more daylight between the driving surface and body components like bumpers. However, it won’t increase the ground clearance between the vehicle’s undercarriage and the driving surface.

How Much Is a Body Lift Kit?

Although the truck model and lift height have a small impact on price, the average is $150-$300.

What Is a Suspension Lift Kit?

A suspension lift kit uses suspension components to raise the frame of the vehicle higher off the axles. The range can be 1-12 inches or more.

This is the most expensive and complicated solution to raising a vehicle. However, it also allows for adding the most height.

Increasing the height of the suspension itself, such kits may require changes to the driveshaft, brake lines, and other underbody components.

A suspension lift kit could improve or negatively impact handling, depending on how you use your lifted vehicle. As with the body lift kit, it does raise the vehicle’s center of gravity, which does impact cornering.

How Much Is a Suspension Lift Kit?

Because it’s so much more involved, a suspension lift kit is much more expensive than the other two lift-kit solutions. In addition, the wide range of height possibilities affects the cost, as well.

A 2-inch suspension lift kit can set you back $400-$800.

What to Check-out Before Buying a Lift Kit?

We believe raising a truck, particularly for a specific purpose like off-roading, is a solid idea. However, you may want to consider the following:

  • Warranty: Any time you alter the structure of a vehicle, you run the risk of voiding your vehicle warranty. Manufacturers differ on what does and doesn’t affect the warranty. If the warranty protections are important to you, check with your vehicle’s manufacturer to ensure the lift kit you are considering won’t impact the warranty.
  • State Laws: Vehicle regulations vary by state. Before pulling the trigger on a lift kit, ensure the result doesn’t place the bumpers above your state’s maximum legal height.
  • Insurance: As long as it’s within legal limits, a lift kit shouldn’t increase your car insurance premium. However, you probably need an insurance rider to cover the cost of repairing or replacing aftermarket components in case of an accident, theft, or natural disaster. To be safe, check with your insurance agent.
  • Garage: Unless you park your vehicle overnight in a barn or an airplane hanger, raising its height may well mean it won’t fit in your garage or carport.

Do Lift Kits Affect Performance?

How we answer this question depends on how you define “performance.” In a nutshell, the general answer is: not substantially.

Whether it’s a lift kit or a leveling kit, it does raise the vehicle’s center of gravity. The effects of a higher center of gravity are more profound in lift kits than leveling kits.

The higher the lift, the more pronounced, the higher center-of-gravity effect.

It can alter how a vehicle behaves when turning corners or taking curves. It can also create different dynamics in strong crosswinds.

You may notice a change in ride quality with a suspension lift kit because the kit has actually altered components in the suspension.

Speed

The impact on speed from lifting a vehicle depends on the type of lift kit and the extent of the height increase. You can still drive fast in a lifted truck — but should you? A leveling kit doesn’t change the overall dynamics enough to worry about.

Body Lift Kit

Because with a body lift kit, you can only raise your vehicle a maximum of 3 inches, speed isn’t as great an issue when turning a corner or going through a curve.

However, keep in mind, you didn’t adjust the suspension to accommodate that higher center of gravity.

Yes, the higher center of gravity should give you some pause. It should alter your behavior when cornering. It should make you think a little more. The tighter the curve or, the steeper the turn, the slower you should go.

Suspension Lift Kit

If you have gone hog wild and lifted your vehicle by several inches, speed is a much bigger factor when taking a curve or corner.

The changes you made to the suspension to achieve that height may compensate for the higher center of gravity. However, it’s not enough to negate the physics involved in going around corners in a significantly taller vehicle.

Towing Capacity

In picking a lift kit, you need to determine exactly what your main goal is. That is to say, are you doing it for appearance, off-roading, or towing. If it’s towing, you probably want to stick with a body lift kit.

Body Lift Kit

Besides changing the vehicle’s center of gravity, a body lift kit is more cosmetic than anything else.

Sure, you can now mount larger wheels and tires, but you aren’t changing the vehicle’s mechanics. Consequently, adding the body lift kit, in itself, doesn’t increase or decrease a vehicle’s towing capabilities.

If you tow with the vehicle’s bumper, however, a body lift will raise the bumper. You will need a drop hitch to lower the hitch to trailer height.

If your hitch comes attached to the vehicle frame, you’ll be fine because the frame remains at factory height.

Suspension Lift Kit

Adding multiple inches of suspension lift to a vehicle not only alters its mechanics but its geometry, too.

You will need to employ a drop hitch to lower the hitch to trailer height with the higher frame. This usually scrubs off some number of pounds from the maximum towing capacity.

If towing remains important, carefully consider the ramifications of raising the suspension of your vehicle.

Gas Mileage

A lift kit can negatively affect fuel economy in a couple of ways. The first is added weight. If your vehicle weighs more after installing a lift kit, it will reduce mileage. The second is increased wind resistance. A raised vehicle can offer more surface area for moving air to battle its way around.

Body Lift Kit

Theoretically, lifting the body from the frame adds some extra surface area, but it’s minimal. That in itself probably won’t do much to reduce fuel economy. However, mounting bigger wheels and tires to that raised vehicle does add weight. Still, we doubt the impact on gas mileage will be hugely significant.

Suspension Lift Kit

Although a leveling kit shouldn’t affect mileage and a body lift kit only marginally, a suspension lift kit can have a real impact on mpg.

Also, the greater the lift, the greater the impact. Because you are really increasing the height of the suspension components, you are exposing more surface area to moving air. Moreover, whatever aerodynamics the vehicle offered for smoothly directing air under the vehicle disappear. Everything hanging below the frame creates wind resistance and burns gasoline.

With nearly every lift comes larger wheels and tires. If your suspension lift increases several inches, it will tempt you to stick massive wheels and tires on your raised beast. Not only do larger tires weigh more, but they also tend to have more treads for off-road surfaces. Both of these characteristics minimize fuel economy.

That bigger footprint and those numerous deep treads conspire to rob you of several miles per gallon. Don’t buy more tire than you absolutely need for what you want the vehicle to do.

Is a Lift Right for You?

If you are or want to be an avid off-roader, the answer is likely, yes. Or, if your work takes you into some gnarly places, sure, a lift kit is worth considering. Raising your vehicle by several inches creates greater ground clearance. Slap on some ground-pounding big tires, and all that extra wheel travel will serve you well when rock crawling.

Otherwise, less is more.

For drivers who never leave the pavement, which is most drivers, the only reason to lift your vehicle is for appearances: a little higher ride and somewhat larger wheels. You can achieve this with a leveling kit or a body lift kit.

Either is less expensive than a suspension lift kit, requires less maintenance, doesn’t affect fuel economy, and won’t void your vehicle’s warranty. Yet, your vehicle will still look cool. If you tow, there is nothing about a suspension lift kit that will help you pull a real load.

Find a vehicle you can add a lift kit to

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Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

FAQ

How Much Does a Lift Kit Cost?

The cost of a lift kit is determined by the type of kit and the amount of lift. A leveling kit, which raises only the front end, averages $200-$500. A body lift kit, which raises the body off the frame by 1-3 inches, averages $150-$300. A suspension lift kit, which can raise the frame off the wheels by as much as a foot or more, can cost thousands. The more height, the higher the cost. However, the average 2-inch suspension lift kit costs between $400 and $800.

Who Installs Lift Kits?

As an aftermarket item, lift kits get installed by specialty shops. Often the kits can be installed at the same place they are bought. If you purchase a kit online or from a retailer, use your search engine and type “who installs lift kits.” A long list of local aftermarket specialty shops should appear.

Is a Lift Kit Bad for a Truck?

A suspension lift kit can void your new truck warranty. That is a dire warning. However, in practice, a suspension lift kit can make your truck much more capable off-road when properly installed. You might want to know that a lift kit adds to a truck’s wear and tear. Suspension lift kits require extra maintenance and often wear out more quickly than the rest of the truck.

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