Suspension Upgrades, Lift Kits, and Leveling Kits – Which solution is right for you?
Below is a compiled list of links to other lift kit pages on the site. This is not everything but we do try to update it often. If you see a link on the site that needs to be updated here, let us know.
- Top 10 Lift Kits for the 5th Gen 4Runner (buyers guide)
- Front Leveling Kit Only
- Front/Rear Leveling Kit Overview
- Front/Rear Leveling Kit Install
- Eibach Stage 1 Lift Kit
- 6112/5100 Bilstein Lift Kit Overview
- 6612/5160 Bilstein Lift Kit Overview
- Air Lift Install and Overview
- Dobinsons Lift Options
- TRD Pro Suspension
- Front/Rear Falcon Lift
- OME BP-51 Lift Kit
- Front/Rear KING Lift
- Icon Stage 2 Overview
- Icon Stage 2 Install
- Icon Stage 2 Vs. Stock Suspension
- 4.5″ Lift on 5th Gen 4Runner
What to Consider
When it comes to a 4Runner, it only looks right with a lift or leveling kit. There are quite a few different options available. Deciding on a lift kit is a big decision because of the wide variety of offerings on the market. If you are new to lifting your 4Runner or lifting an SUV – this overview should help you understand the different types of lift kits and leveling kits.
Cost, Options & Intended Use
You can lift your 4Runner in a wide range of prices but in most cases, you get what you pay for. Lift kits and leveling kits range from $100 – 10K+. Although you can lift your 4Runner for around $100 – it might not give you the results you’re looking for. First, consider your intended use before shopping. Once you have determined your intended use, then set yourself a budget. Seeing how there are such a wide variety of options, narrowing down your budget and intended use will drastically reduce the number of options to choose from.
Wheels and Tires
One of the most important factors when lifting your 4Runner is wheels and tires. We get questions almost weekly on “What is the biggest tire size I can fit on my 4Runner” along with trimming areas in your wheel well. Please read those posts before asking that question, please.
If you have stock wheels/tires and looking to upgrade your suspension, you should probably look into getting a new set of tires to match your lift. If you are upgrading to a 2″ or 3″ lift kit and leave on your factory 265/70R17 tires, it’s going to look… silly. If you are upgrading to a 2″ or 3″ lift kit, you should consider upgrading to at least 275/70R17 tires. This will give you a well-balanced look. Some guys prefer to reach the 285/70R17 mark, however that does come with a fender liner push back and 285 trimming.
With a 1.5″ front leveling kit only, your 4Runner will look somewhat normal with factory tires, although I would still personally prefer at least 275/70R17 tires with a leveling kit. Depending on the kit, your tires may look pretty small with the added height, so this is something to consider.
Quick Overview: Types of Lift Kits
Pictured: @anbu.rnr with KING suspension
Types of Lift Kits
- Front Shim or Spacer
- Front & Rear Spacers
- Strut Lift (Coilovers + Rear Springs) – most common
- LT (long travel)
- 6″ Drop Bracket Lift Kits
- Body Lift
- SAS (straight axle swap)
#1 – Front Shim or Spacer (front only = leveling kit)
For the most basic options, you have front spacers and shim kits. These are small metal or plastic spacers that rest on top of your factory struts. These are cheap and often designed to level the front of your 4Runner only. This is what you want if you are looking to reduce driver side 4Runner lean, KDSS passenger side lean, or remove the factory rake. It’s important to note that a .5″ spacer offers 1″ of total ride height lift.
#2 – Front & Rear Spacers (front & rear = leveling lift kit)
Then you have front and rear spacer lift kits (front and rear spacers – metal or plastic). The only difference between these kits is that they come with both front and rear spacers. You are adding a spacer on top of your front struts and rear spring which will lift both the front and rear of your 4Runner. Most common is a 2″ front and 1″ rear (2″/1″) but you can go with 3″/2″ as well.
Rule of thumb for ride height: 1″ in the front is level (removes factory rake). So for example, if you want to lift 4Runner 1″ all the around around, you want to 1″ in the rear and 2″ in the front.
Leveling lift kits are great for people who want a lifted look without enhanced off-road functionality and the performance of an upgraded suspension system.
#3 – Strut Lift (Coilovers + Rear Springs) – Most Common
For the most common lift kit for 4Runners, you have a strut and spring lift. With these lift kits, you get new shocks and springs which are also known as struts or coilovers (coil over struts), upper control arms “UCAs”, rear springs, and rear shocks. The height of these kits ranges from 1″ in the front to 3.5″+. The actual ride height or “lift” portion of a coilover is adjusted by threads wrapped around the front shock body. You can adjust the 4Runners ride height in the front to your desired setting by turning a collar on the shock. The more you adjust this collar, the more it will compress the spring around the shock (adjusting the pre-load). The more pre-load you have – the higher your ride height. Keep in mind, the more preload you have, the stiffer the ride quality will be. To lift the rear of the 4Runner, you do that by a certain size rear spring.
#4 – Long Travel Suspension
The next level would be a little more involved. To start, you have your Long Travel Suspension which includes a wide variety of upgraded parts including long travel coilovers, extended upper control arms, extended lower control arms, extended CV axles, extended tie-rods, extended brake lines, and often times an upgrades steering rack to support the larger tires. This usually gives you more shock travel up and down. LT provides usually between 3″ – 5″ of lift height but more important than the height is that you are gaining more shock travel.
#5 – Drop Bracket Lift Kits
These types of lifts are controversial.
For drop bracket lift kits, you cut out your front crossmember and weld in a new crossmember (drop bracket). Companies like FabTech & ProComp make these kits – most are around 6″ kits. They are supposed to keep the factory suspension geometry in place. The lower control arms, upper control arms, CV axles, and tie-rods are supposed to maintain close to the factory location while the bracket lifts the body of the 4Runner. The results are supposed to mimic close to factory ride quality all while allowing you to gain a lifted body appearance which also allows you to run larger tires. However, you sacrifice off-road performance in ground clearance as the new crossmember (provided bracket) will sit closer to the ground. The result is that you will end up bottoming out over obstacles quite often. Those bigger tires may get you over obstacles, but that lower crossmember will get you hung up.
#6 – Body Lift
Body lifts (usually 1″) separate the body from the frame. Body lifts are a touchy subject among many people in every automotive circle. Enter into a body lift at your own risk.
#7 – SAS (straight axle swap)
Straight axle swaps are you when you remove your factory IFS (independent front suspension) and replace your front CV axles with one front straight axle. This requires many expensive modifications and can cost well into the $10K-$25K+ range. If you are looking to build an off-road powerhouse out of your 5th gen – look at a SAS project. With a SAS build your goals will have to aim for the Rubicon, Fordyce, and other pretty rugged rock crawling trails.
Real-World Options: What to Buy
Pictured: OME BP-51 Lift Kit + 295/70R17 Cooper STT Pros
Shim Kit (driver lean or level front only)
- Ekstrom Design Strut Shims (2005-2019 4Runner): Check Price
- Street Dirt Track (2003-2020 4Runner): Check Price
TRD Pro Lift Kits
- Jeff Westcott Designs: Check Prices
ProComp Leveling Kit
- Pro Comp Front/ Rear Spacer Kit: Check Price
Bilstein Lift Kit
Eibach Lift Kit
- Eibach ProTruck Lift Kit: Check Price
OME BP-51 Suspension
Icon Stage 2 Suspension
- Front Coilover: Check Price
- Rear Shock: Check Price
- Rear Spring: Check Price
- UCAs (Upper Control Arms): Check Price
These are the parts that make stage 2. If you buy all the parts separately, you will save almost $200 (depending on state tax) as opposed to buying from Icon directly. I wish I would have known this before we bought ours. We paid almost $3000 after tax buying directly. Parting these options together will get you closer to $2500, and yes these are all the correct part numbers regardless of what Amazon says.
Limited Edition XREAS front level
- 1.5″ Spacer = Exactly Level: Check Price
- 2.0″ Spacer = 1/8″ Higher than level in the front: Check Price
Top lift kit & leveling kits (non-adjustable):
- Ekstrom Design shims: $20
- Daystar leveling kit: $150
- Rough County leveling kit: $200
- Toytec leveling kit: $250
- Pro Comp Nitro leveling kit: $350
- Westcott Design Preload Collar Lift Kit (great for TRD Pro and more): $350
- Dobinsons 3.5″ front 2″ rear: $1000
Top Non-Rebuildable & Adjustable with clip:
- Bilstein 5100/5100: $400
- Eibach Pro-Truck 2.75″ front 1″ rear: $779
- Bilstein 5100/5100: $600
- Bilstein 6112/5160: $1100
- ARB/OME 3″ front 2″ rear: $1200
- Falcon Tow Haul Kit: $1200
- TRD PRO Bilstein Shocks w/ TRD-tuned Springs – $1500+
Top Rebuildable & Adjustable Threaded Shock Body
- ARB/OME BP-51 0-3.5″: $3000+
- Icon Stage 2 – 3.5″ front 2″ rear: $3000+
- Elka 3.5″ front 2″ rear: $3000+
- FOX 2.5 lift kit 3.5″ front 2″ rear: $3500+
- KING 0-3.5″: $3500+
- Dirt King Long Travel UCAs and LCAs: $3000+
- Total Chaos Long Travel UCAs and LCAs: $3600+
- Rough Country
- Old Man Emu (OME)
- Dirt King (Long Travel)
- Total Chaos (Long Travel)
Leveling Kit Vs. Lift Kit – Explained
Pictured: @mtn_4r KING Suspension
Below we are going to look at the lift and leveling option as well as suspension options.
#1 – Leveling Kit: Pro Comp Level Kit
A leveling kit is typically done through a set of spacers on top of your factory struts and springs. Spacers are made of metal, rubber, or a wide variety of other materials. Spacer kits offer a good introductory solution to getting your truck off the ground. Spacers come with benefits and downsides.
The reason why most owners install a leveling kit (front only) or a leveling-lift kit (front and rear) is cost. Spacer kits are cheap. With an average range of $100-$300, spacers offer an affordable solution to lifting your truck. Some owners might also install a leveling kit because that might be all they need.
With a leveling kit, you are not going to see an increase in on-road or off-road performance. If you buy a leveling kit, do not expect your 4Runner to handle any better (body roll, nose dive, etc.). This might actually get worse with a spacer kit. With the addition of a spacer kit, you may experience a more floaty feel, more body roll, and even more nose dive than stock. But, this all depends on what leveling kit you buy. Not all leveling kits are made the same.
For the most part, leveling kits and leveling-lift kits serve as an affordable alternative to a suspension lift but lack the important functionality of a true suspension (coilovers, rear springs, rear shocks, and UCAs).
#2 – Suspension Lift Kit: Icon Stage 2
A complete suspension upgrade is going to offer better on-road and off-road performance.
Coilovers (Front Shocks)
In the picture above, you see a set of coilovers (coil spring over shock). These specific coilovers are adjustable which means you can adjust your ride height in the front. This is also known as preload (adjusting the height on your coilovers). In this case with the Icons, we can adjust our preload from 0-3.5″ and even higher but above 3.5″ is not recommended. Too much preload can make for a very stiff/bouncy/uncomfortable ride.
Aftermarket coilover suspension systems are designed to perform better than factory struts and springs for use on and off-road, although there is a fine line between the two. With an aftermarket suspension, you want to find a happy medium of increased on-road comfort (less nose dive, less body roll, etc.) while also offering better off-road performance (looser, more flex ride).
Shock manufacturers tune shocks differently. Shock tuning can be progressive, digressive, or liner. If you want to learn more about shock tuning, camping, and valving – see this video for an explanation between those three.
Digressive shocks are bad at small bumps and large bumps, but good at handling and g-outs (wash outs). Progressive shocks are good at small bumps and big hits, but bad at handling and g-outs. Linear shocks provide the best all around performance. – AccutuneOffroad.com
Icons, for example, are digressive – that means they will be a bit more stiff on road. The OME BP-51, for example, is an internal bypass shock which is typically designed to be a progressively tuned shock – that will offer a more comfortable ride quality on-road. The Bilstein line of shocks is also progressive.. a very comfortable ride quality on road with great performance offroad. There is nothing wrong with Icons, they are just a stiff shock on-road.
For the everyday driver with occasional off-road use, I would recommend the well rounded and affordable Bilstein 6112/5160. If you’re an everyday driver looking for a threaded shock body for max adjustability the OME BP-51 Suspension is a great option.
Upper Control Arms (UCAs)
Then you have upper control arms (UCAs).
UCAs are a part that connects your suspension system to the frame. This articulating part manages the up and down range of motion that your wheels go through. Depending on the height/ preload on your coilovers, you may need UCAs.
With a height of 3″ on your front coilovers, most companies recommend aftermarket UCAs. Aftermarket UCAs combined with larger shocks usually allow you to reach that happy medium 2° to 4° of caster or returning close to factory alignment.
If you are running 2″ of lift in the front, lots of guys still run aftermarket upper control arms in order to dial in their caster. SPC and JBA are both popular affordable options when it comes to aftermarket upper control arms.
In the back, you have rear springs. Springs handle your actual lift and can range in levels of load rate capacity. You have multi-rate springs, progressive-rate, dual-rate springs, and linear-rate springs. Each of these springs has their place in different suspension systems. Depending on the type of system you are going for will depend on the type of spring you will want.
Buying Rear Springs
In the rear springs section, you will see KG (kilograms). Just convert these Lbs to understand how much weight that spring can support (100KG = 220lbs). Dobinsons is a great resource for rear springs. OME also makes great springs; their most common is the 889 (medium) and 898 (heavy).
If you are planning on an aftermarket rear bumper (200lbs) rear drawer system plus a fridge (300lbs), then you want a spring that is designed to support that much weight. You are not just looking at the lift height of the springs but the weight rating as well. You first want to decide whether you want 2″ or 3″ of lift in the back, then decide how much weight you need to support. If you know you are going to add 600lbs to the back of your 4Runner, get a spring rated to support 600lbs or in most cases – a “heavy” spring.
Rear shocks are simple, they range in travel (how long is the shock) depending on the ride height of your rear springs. Larger shocks allow for more travel (longer up and down range of motion). Shocks can come with remote reservoirs that have more oil. More reservoirs = more oil = more heat dissipation. The more heat dissipation you have, the harder and longer you can push your shocks. Think about a Baja trophy truck racing through the desert, you want large reservoirs to support that amount of abuse on the shocks.
Factory 4Runner Suspensions
- SR5 Stock or Shocks and Springs: You have a coil-spring, independent double-wishbone (upper and lower control arms) front suspension with a stabilizer bar in the front. For the rear, you have a coil-spring 4 link with lateral rod rear suspension with a stabilizer bar in the rear. (Comes on most SR5s) – Check out our post on the strut spacer leveling kit install for the SR5 for more information.
- X-REAS Independent Counterpart Shocks: (Connects the Passenger Rear right to Driver Front Left and Vice Versa). X-REAS helps lessen body sway, pitch, and roll.
- K.D.S.S. Great for On and Off-Road: OFF-ROAD: Hydraulic Oil flows in loops from the front and rear cylinder which means the cylinder is not locked. ON-ROAD: Hydraulic Oil flow against each other from the front and rear cylinder which means the cylinder is locked. (Comes on Trail and TRD Off-Road models).
- Note: KDSS will limit your travel due to the KDSS specific sway bar. If you intend on going past 6″ of lift or want to run a long-travel suspension, KDSS may give you extra challenges.
What’s for you?
Pictured: Bilstein 6112/5160 4Runner Lift Kit
Deciding which of these is for you will depend on how you drive.
If your 4Runner is a street princess or you are going for appearance only, you might want to buy a basic leveling kit. But a leveling kit might also make your on-road driving a bit more floaty than stock. A leveling kit is just a means to an end. Leveling kits typically do not solve common issues like body roll and nose dive that are commonly experienced with our factory suspension.
If you plan for mild terrain, you may want to look at a mid-level suspension kit with adjustable clip coilovers as this will have the most flexibility off-road. This would be the Bilstein 6112 front coils and a 5100 or 5160 (remote reservoir) rear shock. You would also need a rear spring like a Dobinsons, Ico or OME spring.
If you plan to explore aggressive terrain, you might want to look into a fully adjustable threaded suspension like ICON, KING, Fox, or Radflo. These suspensions will offer the most up and down travel all while being rebuildable when that day comes. Taking it all the way with long travel would get you Total Chaos or Dirt King.
Understand your components
If you have an SR5, the options are almost endless and going to much different than if you have X-REAS. Alternatively, if you have KDSS on your Trail Edition Premium (TEP) or TRD Off-Road Premium (ORP), your options are going to be similar compared to the SR5.
Keep in mind, KDSS does have a hydraulic stabilizer bar front and rear that prevents you from going too high. We have hit 4.5″ of lift in the front with KDSS and have had no problems. So unless you want to go with a long-travel suspension, you should be fine with KDSS under around 4.5″. KDSS does make working on your suspension a little more challenging which is also important to note. If you want to utilize the most shock and suspension travel from an off-road perspective, look at an SR5 or a 4Runner without KDSS. If you want to ultimate in ride quality, then KDSS is your best bet.
Most websites and manufacturers do a good job of categorizing their products so you will know for sure whether that kit is made for NON-KDSS or KDSS equipped 4Runners.
You can always rip off your X-REAS or KDSS suspension (stabilizer sway bars and hydraulic lines) if you want to go higher, but do your research before you go pulling parts off.
If you need a solid company that you can call anytime, call Metal Tech 4×4. They are super cool, incredibly helpful and always around to answer any of your questions. Whether you are just getting started or looking to upgrade your current system, they make it all pretty simple and easy.
Research Parts & Prices
If you purchase a $3000 suspension and plan on doing it yourself, you should plan on having the right tools for the job.
If you are looking at spending $300 on a leveling kit, you may want to increase that dollar amount and just buy a Bilstein 6112/5100 kit. A full suspension is typically under $1000 and will work for many owners out there. Read that article. Lots of details in there.
Determine Your Budget
You don’t need a $2000 lift kit if you intend on rolling around your local mall. Sometimes guys overspend thinking they “need” extended travel lift kits like FOX, ICON, or KING. If you are going to do mostly forest service roads, a $1000 Bilstein kit with nice UCAs should get the job done.
If you are spending $6000 on an Icon stage 7 or big money on a Long Travel (LT) system… have fun!!