Debunking the myths of lifting an IFS vehicle

Independent front suspension (IFS) is commonly used in the 4×4 industry. However, within the four-wheeling community and in online forums there are a few big myths floating around regarding lifting an IFS vehicle, especially when it comes to fitting larger tyres. The Canadian based fitment centre, Overland Outfitters, has been in business for a number of years now and although they mostly work on Toyotas, these myths apply to all A-arm style IFS vehicles. Braedan Hitchcock attempts to debunk some of these misconceptions.

The biggest misconception I’ve come across is that a suspension lift is a prerequisite when putting bigger tyres on a vehicle with independent front suspension (IFS). That is simply not the case. Excluding drop bracket lifts, a suspension lift will not give you any additional clearance for tyres.

I can explain it this way: let’s say your vehicle has eight inches of IFS travel. Standard ride height is close to the middle, giving you four inches of up travel, and four inches of down travel. This is a great ride height for good suspension performance over bumpy terrain, with equal parts up and down travel. Say you install a suspension lift that lifts your vehicle by two inches, this will give you six inches of up travel but only two inches of down travel from your total eight inches of suspension travel.

Regardless of where you sit within your eight inches of travel at ride height, at full extension or full compression, the wheel will still end up in the exact same position as it would have with your standard suspension. This means that whether you are on standard suspension or a high-end suspension setup, when you bottom out or turn your wheels, you will rub in all the same spots with bigger tyres, regardless of how much lift you have. With a suspension lift, you might clear bigger tyres at ride height, but that is only useful if you rarely leave the tar. We are a performance-oriented off-road shop, so I like to assume that our customers actually use their vehicles to go off-road. If that’s not you, a lift and bigger tyres will work fine for trips to the mall.

No matter what size lift you have, to properly clear bigger tyres is going to require modifications. And I don’t mean bolt-on modifications – we’re talking hammering, cutting, grinding, and welding to make more space in your wheel wells to clear tyres when your suspension is at full bump and your steering is at full lock. There is no way around this, no matter what you’ve read on the internet. It’s simple physics.

I find that, for most vehicles, 33-inch tyres offer the best compromise. They give more clearance, off-road comfort and traction but there’s no need to do any major cutting in the wheel well. There’s also no excessive impact on on-road performance and economy. All that is usually required for proper clearance is a mild cab mount chop, moving the pinch weld, and a bit of plastic trimming, depending on the specific wheel/tyre combo you go with. I’m not going to talk about drop bracket lifts (spacers) here because, in my opinion, they are not useful for overlanding.

Although they will give you additional room for larger tyres throughout the full range of travel, they will not give you better performance, and will raise your centre of gravity unnecessarily high (lower is better). All while giving you no additional clearance at the belly of your vehicle because all of the brackets have been extended down. In my opinion, it’s not the best way to lift a Toyota (or any other brand for that matter).

A performance lift?

This leads to the second myth that I have seen floating around: that lifting your vehicle equals better performance. I already touched on this, but want to elaborate a bit more.

When you lift your IFS vehicle by pre-loading the coil more, or installing longer or stiffer coils, you are only changing your ride height. The actual wheel travel remains the same. Thus, you will have less down travel. This means that the higher you lift your frontend, the more often you will feel your suspension top out (fully extend) over holes or after big speed bumps, which can give a rough ride, especially combined with the generally stiffer coils or additional pre-load. For this reason, I recommend keeping your lift between 2 to 2.5 inches.

Most of the lift options available, such as Bilstein 5100 or Old Man Emu Nitro chargers lift your vehicle by using more pre-load, or a stiffer/longer coil. While they will generally perform as well as or slightly better than a standard suspension, they generally do not add any travel to your vehicle. Higher-end suspension from brands like Fox usually have an “extended travel” option. These coil overs will allow you to lift your vehicle by three inches, but only lose two inches of down travel, giving much better performance (along with drastically superior strength, heat dissipation and damping). They will generally give you around one inch more travel than a non-extended coil-over. These extended-length coil-overs do require aftermarket upper control arms on some brands though, to clear the coil at full droop.

So, after all of this, what is the benefit of lifting your vehicle? Simply put, you gain a small amount of ground clearance in some areas, such as break-over angle. However, fitting larger tyres is the best way to gain more ground clearance. Unless you are only after the look of a lifted truck, lifting itself should not be the goal of changing the suspension on your vehicle. Performance should always be at the core of every modification, whether it be suspension, armour, lighting, or whatever else. I would prefer to set up a vehicle with less “lift”, knowing that it will perform better and put less strain on standard components off-road, even if a bit more trimming or cutting is required at ride height.

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