How to Lift Your Vehicle Cheaply

by Richard Rowe
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Big lifts are big business these days, just like they've always been. Biologists noticed a long time ago that male animals fighting for dominance in the wild would often rear up as tall as they could to appear larger and more threatening to their adversaries. These days, a vehicle lift is the automotive equivalent of standing on one's toes to look down on a rival, a way of showing the world just how impressive and awesome you really are. However, it's worth remembering that lifting a vehicle is only the means to an end, and that doing it well and on the cheap means allowing form to follow function.

Step 1

Measure the inner wheel wells from front to rear; this will be your maximum tire diameter with a given chassis. For instance, if the front-to-rear measurement of a Ford Expedition is 40 inches, then that is its maximum tire diameter. Don't worry about the vertical measurement -- we'll deal with that shortly.

Step 2

Attempt to fit the tires onto your truck. We say "attempt" because they almost certainly won't fit past the sheetmetal, which is where your Sawz-All, grinder and welder come in. Start hacking at the sheet-metal fender lips until you can fit the tire into the opening, then weld the exposed seams back together. This "radiusing" procedure will allow you to get the maximum amount of lift from your increase in tire diameter (which is good) without lifting the body excessively (which is bad).

Step 3

Screw on a set of plastic aftermarket fender extensions to give your truck a more finished appearance. Odds are good that no one will make a set of fender extensions to fit your newly radiused wheel wells, so you'll need to look around to find something that comes close. Take a look at the huge fender extensions offered for Ford Broncos and Jeeps, both of which have fairly large wheel openings and are commonly radiused for off-road duty.

Step 4

Have a couple of heavy friends push down as hard as they can on the truck's fenders and check the clearance between the top of your tire and the wheel-well. Subtract one to two inches for any additional spring compression. Your adjusted figure should be no less than three inches. If the tire contacts your wheel-well, you'll need at least a four-inch lift.

Step 5

Check under the vehicle to make sure that the suspension or axles aren't sitting on the bump stops. If it is, remove the bump stops and re-test.

Step 6

Install a set of longer front springs and rear lift blocks that will give you the clearance that you'll need under full suspension compression, and check with your manufacturer to ensure that the new springs utilize the same spring rate as your old ones. Don't worry about overall vehicle height, since that will take care of itself. Focus only on tire clearance within the wheel well.

Step 7

Reinstall your bump stops. The bump stops should do exactly that: stop the suspension travel just before the tire hits your inner wheel well. You may be able to cut down your stock bump stops to set them at the correct height, but odds are you won't need to unless your tire hit the wheel well during your suspension compression test.

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