Are you a proud owner of a truck or SUV? If yes, then you might have contemplated installing a leveling kit to elevate the front end and create a more balanced appearance. However, do you know how leveling kits work and what are the components involved in its installation?
If you are curious to know more, then look no further. In this comprehensive blog post, we will delve deeper into leveling kits and provide a detailed explanation of their mechanics, components, and advantages and disadvantages.
What is a Leveling Kit?
A leveling kit is a specialized solution designed for vehicles, primarily trucks and SUVs, that aims to correct the uneven stance often present from the factory. This uneven stance, known as the ‘factory rake,’ is characterized by the rear of the vehicle being slightly higher than the front. It’s primarily a functional design, allowing for effective handling of heavy loads that might otherwise lower the rear end, impacting vehicle aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.
Without it, most trucks and SUVs tend to have a downward sloping stance where the rear suspension naturally sits 1-3 inches higher than the front right off the factory floor. This is known as a “nose down” stance and is an intentional design characteristic to compensate for engine weight up front. However, some owners prefer a more balanced, leveled-out stance. This is where leveling kits come into play.
However, for many vehicle owners who either don’t carry heavy loads or prefer a more balanced aesthetic, this factory rake can be seen as a downside, prompting the use of leveling kits.
But indeed, leveling kits are the budget-friendly little brother to full-blown suspension lift kits. They provide a modest lift up front for a relatively low cost and straightforward installation. The amount of lift is enough to fit slightly larger tires and give the truck a more powerful, planted look.
Now let’s talk about how a leveling kit works.
How Does a Leveling Kit Work? All You Need to Know
Understanding the mechanics of leveling kits requires a deeper dive into vehicle suspension systems and how these kits modify them to achieve a level stance.
a. The Concept of Vehicle Rake
Most stock trucks and SUVs are designed with a factory rake. This means the rear of the vehicle is slightly higher than the front. The reasons are mainly functional – to compensate for the added weight of cargo or towing, which would otherwise lower the back end, and for aerodynamics, which can improve fuel efficiency. Leveling kits are designed to eliminate this rake by raising the front of the vehicle to match the rear’s height.
b. Mechanics of Leveling Kits
Leveling kits work by making small but impactful adjustments to the vehicle’s suspension system. Here’s how different types of leveling kits operate:
- Strut Extension Kits: These kits are used for vehicles with a coilover strut suspension system. The kit includes extensions that are added to the top of the factory strut assembly, increasing its overall length and thus lifting the front of the vehicle. This type of kit is popular due to its simplicity and effectiveness in maintaining the factory ride quality.
- Coil Spring Spacers: For vehicles with coil springs, spacers are inserted either above or below the factory coil springs. This pushes the spring down or up, respectively, creating additional space and lifting the front of the vehicle. It’s a simple yet effective method that maintains the original spring rate, which helps in preserving ride comfort.
- Torsion Key Kits: These kits are designed for vehicles with torsion bar suspension systems. The torsion bar is an adjustable steel bar that controls the vehicle’s height. The leveling kit includes new torsion keys, which are essentially reindexed versions of the factory keys, allowing for more adjustment range. By increasing the torsion on the bar, the front end is lifted. This method can be more complex and may require additional adjustments to maintain ride quality.
c. Impact on Suspension Geometry
Installing a leveling kit changes the vehicle’s suspension geometry. This can affect everything from steering and handling to wear on suspension components. It’s crucial to understand these changes:
- Altering Angles: Leveling kits can change the angle of the suspension components, like control arms and CV joints. This can lead to increased wear over time, as these components were initially designed for the factory rake.
- Ride Height Adjustment: By increasing the front ride height, the leveling kit can change the vehicle’s center of gravity. This might slightly affect handling characteristics, especially at higher speeds or during sharp turns.
- Strut and Spring Compression: For kits involving strut extensions or coil spacers, the changes in strut and spring compression can impact the ride feel. While most kits are designed to maintain a comfortable ride, some may result in a firmer feel due to these changes.
d. Balancing Leveling with Vehicle Dynamics
It’s not just about lifting the front of the vehicle; it’s about maintaining or improving its overall dynamics. Leveling kits, when chosen and installed correctly, can enhance the vehicle’s appearance without sacrificing its performance. However, it’s important to consider factors like additional weight (e.g., installing a snow plow) and how it might affect the vehicle’s balance and suspension wear.
Types of Leveling Kits and Their Specifics
There are several types of leveling kits, each suited to different vehicle models and needs:
- Coil Spring Spacer Kits: Simple and effective for vehicles with coil springs.
- Strut Extension Kits: Ideal for vehicles with strut-based suspension systems, these extend the strut assembly.
- Torsion Key Kits: For vehicles with torsion bar systems, these adjust the height without altering the factory ride quality.
Each type has its pros and cons, such as ease of installation, cost, and impact on ride quality.
Potential Issues and Considerations
While leveling kits are generally safe, they can impact the vehicle’s dynamics:
- Ride Quality: Some drivers report a firmer ride post-installation.
- Suspension Wear: Altering the factory suspension setup can lead to increased wear on components like ball joints and control arms.
- Weight Impact: Adding weight to the front, like snow plows, can affect the suspension’s performance.
The Pros and Cons of Leveling Kits
As with any truck modification, leveling kits involve some trade-offs to consider. Here are some of the key pros and cons:
- Level, powerful stance right off the bat
- Fits slightly larger all-terrain tires
- Increased front-ground clearance
- Easy access to the vehicle
- Beginner-friendly DIY install
- Can reduce front suspension down travel
- Too much lift leads to drive-line vibrations
- Requires realignment and tuning
- Very short shock life if used off-road
- Rudimentary versus full lift kit
The small increase in ride height leads to a big visual impact by leveling out the stance. Just keep in mind leveling kits are best suited for modest all-terrain tires and occasional light off-roading. Anything beyond that, and you’ll want a full suspension lift kit.
Choosing the Right Leveling Kit
When considering a leveling kit, it’s essential to understand the specifics of your vehicle’s make and model, as well as your personal needs and preferences. For instance, if you frequently carry heavy loads or tow, the factory rake might be beneficial for your usage.
Additionally, the type of leveling kit used should be compatible with your vehicle’s suspension system, and the installation process can vary in complexity based on the type of kit and the vehicle. Here is a recap:
Selecting the right kit involves considering:
- Vehicle Model: Different kits are suited to different vehicle types.
- Intended Use: Off-road enthusiasts might prioritize different features compared to daily drivers.
- Brand and Quality: Options range from budget-friendly to high-end, with brands like Cognito Coilover and Ready Lift standing out.
Furthermore, if you have a Ford F150, you can check out our list of top 5 leveling kits for optimum performance.
Ready to Lift Your Truck?
Hopefully, this deep dive gives you a better understanding of how leveling kits work and what’s involved with installing one. The specific installation process varies quite a bit by vehicle, so be sure to get a kit specially engineered for your make, model, and year. And don’t hesitate to enlist a professional for installation if you’re not yet confident in your mechanical skills.
With the right leveling kit properly installed, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of an improved stance, smoother ride, and modestly enhanced capability. Just don’t go overboard on the lift height or you may start experiencing drive-line vibrations, suspension, and steering alignment issues, and decreased ride quality. When done right, leveling kits offer the perfect balance and proportions.
While exploring the intricacies of how leveling kits work and their role in achieving balance in your vehicle, it’s equally important to recognize whether your truck already has a leveling kit installed.
To bridge this gap, our comprehensive guide on ‘How to Tell if Your Truck Has a Leveling Kit?’ offers practical insights and easy-to-follow steps, ensuring you have all the necessary knowledge to identify the presence of a leveling kit in your truck.