Low and lazy is the new tall and crazy; learn from my mistakes, folks…
I’m going to let you in on a secret: 4X4s don’t need huge lift kits to go off-road. Sure, if hard-core competition is your thing, you might disagree – but for 99% of off-road tourers, a reputable off-the-shelf 35mm/50mm lift kit is what you want. And here are the seven reasons why I believe this to be true. You don’t have to agree with me, and in fact 18-year-old me driving a 6in lifted HiLux is calling present me a boring git who should take up a different hobby, like knitting. Calm down past Evan, I’ve got a few things to explain to you. You best have a seat, mate. And can you turn that music down a little bit please?
There is an old saying that goes ‘for every inch of lift past the first, add $1,000 to the bill’. This is because the higher you go, the more components and fine tuning will be required to make the vehicle acceptable to drive on- and off-road. In vehicles with independent front suspension, this could involve differential drop kits, or extended upper control arms that aren’t 100% necessary with a bolt-in 35mm/50mm lift. In solid-axle vehicles, you will need to look at brake lines, adjustable Panhard rods and castor correction. You have to ask yourself: Will that extra inch of ground clearance actually get you further, or will it just look cool while you are forced work a second job to pay off the parts? Which brings me to the next point…
PERFORMANCE OVER LOOKS
We all do this; we fall into the trap of focusing on the looks over the performance attributes. I once worked in a 4WD shop where a customer asked me if the coil springs in our lift kits were painted yellow. This was all he wanted. He didn’t ask about price, or the spring rates… he just wanted yellow coil springs. I replied if his credit card had money on it, I’d paint them fluoro pink if he wanted. While it is one thing to have pride in your vehicle’s appearance, the performance of your suspension (suited to the places you want to drive) is much more important than how the vehicle looks. I know, call in the fun police; but I’ve seen people make this mistake too many times, and I don’t want you to fall victim. Ask about warranty, parts back-up, ride quality… don’t ask what colour the coil springs will be.
HIGHER CENTRE OF GRAVITY
This one is fairly obvious: As you raise a vehicle higher, the centre of gravity increases also. This is further exacerbated by roof racks loaded up to the hilt. So basically, the higher you go the worse the vehicle will handle unless serious modifications to the vehicle’s sway bars and so on are undertaken. Sure, you can do it… plenty of people have, and had their vehicles successfully engineered to handle well in the process too. The question is though, how deep are your pockets? For touring work, a low centre of gravity is extremely beneficial. How would a 6in-lifted vehicle handle an emergency-braking situation compared to a mildly-lifted vehicle? I think you see where I’m going with this.
FLEX IS OVERRATED
I own a GQ Patrol, it has a 2in lift and 33in tyres. This is what we have always been told is the Mc’way to build a touring Patrol. And it works well, with enough wheel articulation to push through most obstacles. I guarantee you however, a modern Pajero or Land Rover with independent suspension on all four corners would spank my truck silly off-road thanks to their advanced traction control systems. And they’d be nicer to drive on-road; much nicer. While wheel travel is a good thing over uneven terrain, it isn’t everything. A well-balanced suspension system will perform better than a floppy flex machine all day long. Traction is key, and modern four-wheel drives have the traction department stitched up nicely.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM… LEGALITIES
Rules vary State-by-State regarding suspension modification laws, despite the push for a nationwide National Code of Practice to be adopted (something that makes loads of sense if I’m honest). The proposed code signifies a lift of 75mm being compliant for road use; basically this would allow for a 50mm suspension lift and a 50mm increase in tyre size (which nets 25mm of lift). This is a fine setup, and anything outside this window would require the consultation of an automotive engineer first to determine if what you want to achieve could actually be feasible.
To read more about the NCOP and VSB 14, CLICK HERE – https://infrastructure.gov.au/roads/vehicle_regulation/bulletin/vsb_ncop.aspx
ACCESS TO THE ROOF (AND CARPARKS)
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. The higher you lift your vehicle, the harder it will be to access the roof area. If you have a rooftop tent, or a roof rack, naturally this makes things harder for the vertically challenged. Also, if you use your four-wheel drive for daily duties – such as shopping centre and school runs – good luck fitting in the local shopping centre’s car park without doing an unexpected DIY roof chop upon entry. You have to weigh this up with serious consideration. Is that extra few inches of lift worth the hassle of carrying a week’s worth of groceries a few kilometres to outdoor parking in the rain or heat? Yeah, nah. This also extends to your garage at home. Construction costs for lifting the internal height of a garage make the cost of lifting a 4X4 look like chump change.
TRACTION IS KING… LONG LIVE LOCKERS (AND TRACTION CONTROL)
Something I used to ask people who wanted ‘just another inch or so of lift’: Do you have lockers installed? Now modern traction control is rather clever, and in some ways it has taken away the need for diff locks. But if you have an older vehicle (GQ Patrol and 80 Series owners, I’m looking at you) then locking differentials will be the most potent addition you will make to your vehicle’s off-road performance. Fit the lockers first (unless your suspension is in poor condition, naturally). Just make sure you bring your recovery gear (not that you wouldn’t) as lockers can get you into more trouble if you are feeling adventurous.