Numerous options are available to improve your four-wheeler’s facade, off-roading capabilities, and tire clearance. Among them are two popular mods — body lift and suspension lift kits. Both can improve the stance and overall performance of a rig. However, you must first know the weak and strong points to choose the best for your vehicle.
Generally, suspension lifts are more beneficial than body lifts; however, some may find a body lift’s affordability and ease of installation more appealing.
Ultimately, the value a lift kit adds to a vehicle is predominantly construed as subjective. And while this practice is neither wrong nor right, it does not necessarily mean that anyone should do away with planning and just throw caution to the wind. On the contrary, it is important to know their differences in terms of ride comfort, tire clearance, and ease of installation (among other things).
Body Lift vs. Suspension Lift, Defined
A body lift is a popular lift option that adds style to a vehicle, making it look taller and more imposing. It allows for mounting of larger tires but does not necessarily improve trail capability. This lift type involves raising the vehicle body from its frame and adding shocks like LUFT MEISTER 84176675 Rear Air Shocks (view on Amazon) to provide 1—3 inches of lift.
On average, a body lift costs around $40—$200. A taller lift height requirement increases this price range further. However, extra costs will depend on the name brand and quality of the lift kit and the number of additional components awaiting purchase.
Meanwhile, a suspension lift is another frequently selected solution better known among off-roading enthusiasts and serious adventurers. Unlike the body lift, this provides added trail capability as the entire suspension system of a vehicle (together with the center of gravity) is elevated.
These kits come in different sizes, with large kits offering at least 4 inches of lift. They also improve ground clearance, maintain proper suspension geometry, and accommodate tires larger than what a body lift supports.
Why Favor One over the Other?
Ease of Installation
If you ask the average Joe, you would probably be told that there is no difference between suspension and body lift kits when it comes to this. According to Extreme Terrain, lift kit installation entails an average of six steps. And in one of my previous articles, I cited that there are eight steps to a lift kit installation (as seen below):
- Choose the right kit.
- Verify compatibility.
- Determine the proper lift height.
- Check for clearance issues.
- Upgrade other components.
- Properly install the kit.
- Check alignment and adjust accordingly.
- Select tire and wheel size.
But really, is the process that straightforward for both? Or does it entail additional intricate steps — as is the case with some lifted Jeep Wranglers?
The answer is “It varies.” For some body lift kits, there may be a need to relocate other system components that could potentially interfere with the body lift. Extending the shift linkage and a few steering components to accommodate the increased body height may also be occasionally warranted. Similarly, modifications to steering components may be required to maintain proper handling and alignment following a suspension lift installation.
Although the specific contents of each lift kit vary, suspension lifts generally have more inclusions than body lifts and are, therefore, more expensive. This is expected since suspension lifts involve elevating the entire suspension system and require more extensive mods and adjustments.
In a suspension lift kit, you will find new springs, shocks, control arms, and steering components (on top of blocks or spacers). Meanwhile, body lifts typically contain only spacers or pucks, necessary hardware, and brackets to raise the body from the frame.
On average, suspension lift kits can cost up to $5,300, and body lift kits up to $1,500 (or more). Note that these prices exclude expenditures on component upgrades or replacements that may be required to install either lift.
Provided that we are comparing premium-quality lift kits, I think everyone can agree that suspension lifts offer better ride comfort than body lifts. Aside from maintaining the stock suspension system, suspension lift kits often come with new shocks and several components designed to improve ride quality. They also enhance ground clearance without adversely affecting a vehicle’s center of gravity — thus augmenting its stability and overall handling.
Contrarily, body lifts use spacers to lift the body of a vehicle away from its frame. Unfortunately, the gap between these components can negatively affect ride quality and make the vehicle feel unstable. Because this type of lift does not improve suspension performance, installation can result in impaired handling and, ultimately, a harsher riding experience.
Suspension and body lift kits can allow for larger tires. However, these kits achieve tire clearance in different ways. This also means that each lift kit comes with its own set of constraints.
Suspension lifts increase ground clearance by raising the entire suspension system (chassis and body included). Such a lift provides more space between the top of the tire and the body or fenders, naturally allowing the installation of larger-than-stock knobbies.
The tire size that it can accommodate depends on the vehicle make and model and the lift kit’s height. But generally, a suspension kit tolerates tire size upgrades better — with some kits accommodating 35-inch tires or larger.
On the other hand, body lifts merely raise a vehicle’s body off its frame, increasing the clearance between these two components. Because this type of lift does not affect suspension travel or ground clearance, it does not have as high a tolerance for tire mods as a suspension lift. If anything, it can only accommodate tires slightly larger than the stock size, with the largest being considerably smaller than what a suspension lift kit like Rugged Ridge 18415.60 4-Inch Suspension Lift Kit (view on Amazon) can handle.
According to Extreme Terrain, compared to body lifts, installing a suspension lift is more likely to result in driveshaft issues. This is because the latter raises the entire suspension system.
When the suspension is lifted, the angle of the driveshaft changes, and its tendency to vibrate or bind during operation may increase. This can lead to premature driveshaft wear and failure and other drivetrain issues.
In contrast, a body lift is less likely to result in the same proclivities since its installation does not affect the angle or alignment of the driveshaft. However, it is still important to ensure that the driveshaft and other relevant components are properly aligned and adjusted after installing either lift to prevent any drivetrain-related issues from arising.
Impact on Handling and Performance
In determining which lift positively affects handling, look into how it affects a vehicle’s center of gravity. You would want a lift that keeps this equilibrium point close to its original position even after installation.
Suspension lifts have the upper hand here since they elevate the entire suspension system (not just portions), effectively providing a more balanced lift closer to stock placement while complementing a vehicle’s suspension geometry.
Not that body lifts do not support suspension geometry — in fact, they do. However, they create a gap between the body and the frame in the process, which brings a vehicle’s center of gravity farther from its original position than a suspension lift would. Ultimately, this added space can impact the alignment of suspension and steering systems and cause problems with handling and steering control.
Even correctly installed body lifts can cause a vehicle to sway side to side, especially when making quick maneuvers or cornering. To make things worse, body lifts fall behind suspension lifts in improving performance.
Fortunately, a body lift fares better than its counterparts in its ability to increase rollover tendencies. As it turns out, the lowered centroid of a vehicle equipped with a body lift aptly compensates for its shaky handling.
Range of Supported Vehicles
Between the two types, body lifts can service a wider range of vehicles since they do not affect the suspension system or drivetrain components. They can be installed in most trucks and SUVs without significant mods, regardless of the suspension or drivetrain configuration of the vehicle in question.
Conversely, suspension lifts are more restricted regarding the vehicle types they can be installed on. Some kits require extra modifications to relevant system components to ensure proper alignment and function. Certain suspension lift kits may also be limited to specific makes and models due to incompatibility with the given vehicle’s suspension layout.
So long as your vehicle is in production and not too old, you can expect abundant aftermarket lift kit options. That said, either type of lift gains an advantage over the other if the vehicle in question is vintage-y and has limited aftermarket support. However, abundance can be interpreted figuratively, especially if money is a concern.
Pricing is an important determinant of how much aftermarket support a specific lift kit enjoys. No matter how extensive aftermarket solutions are, they are deemed non-existent if the average Joe or Jane cannot afford them.
A vehicle owner who favors suspension lifts may be compelled to go for cheaper body lifts with limited options. Inversely, someone who is not budget-constrained may gravitate towards a wider spread of aftermarket lift kits from 3rd party resellers and professional outfitters.
Shared Benefits and Drawbacks
- Increased ground clearance
- Ability to support larger-than-stock tires
- Enhanced off-road performance
- Improved vehicle stance and appearance
- Decreased stability and handling (more apparent at higher speeds)
- Additional stress on the drivetrain, brakes, and steering system
- Higher center of gravity, increasing rollover tendencies
- Lift kit restrictions in certain states or jurisdictions
- Additional cost for installation and maintenance
- Reduced ride comfort (particularly with larger lifts or low-quality kits)
Conclusion — Body Lift vs. Suspension Lift
The choice between each lift depends on three important things — vehicle make and model, personal preferences, and specific needs. While a body lift is more affordable and easier to install, a suspension lift provides better off-road performance and overall vehicle handling.
So before you decide, finish reading this guide, research, and consider your priorities. By the time you accomplish all these, you will have gained more confidence in determining which type of lift is best for your rig.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.