This series of posts will desribe how I selected a lift kit for my 2009 Ford Ranger, installed it, and then further tweaked it to to make what I think is the optimal lift setup for this kind of truck. I installed a Superlift suspension lift kit and 305-70/16 tires over a few days in 2012. Then over a few days in 2013, I converted the front suspension from torsion bars to coilovers, and replaced the rear lift blocks with a taller Skyjacker leaf spring.
I finished this project several months ago and posted a summary to one of the Ford Ranger forums but realized that it could probably be useful to more people if I hosted it here and reorganized it a bit. The information I used for my project is scattered all over the web, so this is an attempt to collect it all in one place. If you own a 4×4 Ford Ranger or Mazda B-series pickup from 2000 to 2011 model years, most of this information should be applicable to your truck.This post is part of a full series on lifting your late model Ford Ranger or Mazda B-Series:
- Chapter 1: Lift Basics
- Chapter 2: The Superlift K358 Kit
- Chapter 3: Wheels & Tires
- Chapter 4: Coilover Conversion Overview & Planning
- Chapter 5: Leaf Spring Swap Overview & Prep
- Chapter 6: Replacing the Leaf Springs
- Chapter 7: Installing the Superlift & Coilovers
- Appendix: Full Shopping List & Budget
Chapter 1: Lift Basics
Let’s face it: the Ranger is a little truck. It’s also probably the lowest-riding 4×4 truck in its stock form. Before I noticed that the 4×2 Rangers’ wheels were different, I couldn’t tell which ones were 4x4s unless I saw the sticker on the rear bedside.
I admit it’s a matter of taste, but I think a four wheel drive truck needs to ride tall. It just looks better. With a lift, the Ranger loudly and proudly proclaims your choice of vehicle: “Hell yeah, I’m a truck guy.” Your grille looms large in the rear-view mirrors of left lane dawdlers. There’s no confusion about your truck being a Truck with a capital T when it’s riding tall on 33s. It’s badass.
But besides all the juvenile, culturally dubious reasons listed above, there are also practical reasons for a lift:
- You gain ground clearance so the truck doesn’t get hung up in mud, rock crawling or deep snow. It’s much better off road.
- You can hop the odd curb in the city. This has gotten me out of parking lots with malfunctioning gates. (No, I don’t use that ability to get free parking, but I could.)
- It makes room for larger tires (for better traction, floatation on soft terrain and even more ground clearance).
- It helps you see over the roof of most other vehicles in traffic.
- If a misguided animal crosses your path at night on the highway, you’re more likely to escape with less damage if your truck sits higher. I experienced this personally with a small bear that decided to practice its sprinting technique across the 400 in front of me one night. If my truck had been at stock height, I’d have gotten a grille full of Boo-Boo and a possible airbag deployment, but the lifted Ranger ran over it, receiving minimal damage.
That said, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind overall when you lift your truck.
- It’s likely to be less fuel efficient. Either because of the larger tires you’re going to want to install or the worsened aerodynamics (more airflow under the truck), you’ll be spending more on gas.
- It’s not going to handle quite as well, and will be slightly more prone to rollovers, so start paying more attention to that ugly yellow warning sticker on your sun visor. This is basic physics: the truck’s center of gravity is being increased. The truck will still be safe and perfectly drivable, but forget about any Fast & Furious reenactments or autocross.
- If you go 3″ or taller on your lift, some people will have trouble getting in and out of the truck if you don’t install running boards and extra grab handles.
- Your truck may no longer fit in underground parking garages. Mine just squeaks into a garage with indicated 6′-0″ clearance after taking the roof racks off my truck cap.
If the pros still outweigh the cons for you, read on!
Overview of Lift Types
There are a few broad types of lift available for the Ranger and several reasons why you’d choose one over another. The front and rear suspensions are of different types so I’ll describe the separate possibilities for lifting each. The stock front suspension on the 2001-11 Rangers is of independent type (IFS), with upper and lower control arms and torsion-bar springs. IFS makes a real front suspension lift expensive compared to the solid front axle of a Jeep Wrangler or 3/4 + ton Fords and Dodges. The torsion bar adds a layer of complication that I’ll explain later. The stock rear suspension uses leaf springs, as most trucks do, so lifting the rear is actually very easy. My 2009 also had a 1.25″ block between the spring and the axle for a tiny bit of lift from the factory.
The following diagrams provide a rough sense of how the truck gets lifted for each type.
A body lift replaces the stock body-to-frame mounts with taller units to make the truck sit higher. They provide 1″ to 3″ of increased overall height. The suspension is not touched so stock ride quality is retained, and the front and rear of the truck receive an equal increase in height. The main reason you’d use a lift like this is for its low cost, with kits going for $200-300, and relative simplicity of installation; it’s an easy way to provide clearance for larger tires.
However, it does not provide the truck with any additional ground clearance for crawling over rocks and obstacles off road (except for what larger tires might net you.) The truck ends up with its frame visible and you then need to re-align the bumpers with the body somehow. I’ve read you can go up to 33″ tires with just a body lift, and up to 35″ tires if you combine a body lift with a suspension lift. I did not opt for a body lift on my truck.
Front Suspension Lift Types
Torsion Bar Keys or “Cranking the T-Bars”
The cheapest and lowest-effort way to lift the front of the truck and gain real ground clearance and make room for larger tires is to increase the preload (torsion force) on the torsion bars. You can get some lift just by torquing the preload adjustor bolts but you can get even more lift by replacing the torsion bar keys (cheap kits including rear add-a-leafs on ebay are going for around $140). To replace the torsion bar keys you need a special tool to safely remove the torsion bar. An alignment is required after the adjustment, whether you replace the keys or just crank the adjustor bolts.
The main drawback of this type of lift is that the suspension geometry is adversely altered. As you can see in Figure 3, suspensions need the ability to both compress (like when going over a bump) and droop (like when driving through a pothole) so that the vehicle can remain stable with all four wheels in contact with the driving surface. The springs on the vehicle need to let the wheels sit roughly in the middle of their travel when the vehicle is at rest on a level surface to allow both compression and droop. When you crank the torsion bars, you remove any droop from the suspension so the wheel’s got nowhere to go when you pass through a dip. Net result: the ride quality degrades significantly from stock.
IFS Suspension Lift
With this option, the front axle and wheels are relocated to a lower position relative to the truck’s frame. For this range of model years, there are two kit choices that I know of: Dixon Brothers makes the ultimate kit, which re-engineers the suspension completely and increases the track (width between wheels) by 4.5 inches per side and provides 14″ of travel (up-and-down motion). It would be what you’d choose if you plan to go desert racing with your Ranger, jumping it a lot. It is also expensive, at $3500 (not including coilovers or rear lift), and requires massively invasive, irreversible mods. You’d also need new flared front fenders so the wheels don’t stick out ridiculously (not to mention a wider rear axle and new bedside fenders if you want front and rear tracks to match.)
The other kit, the one I picked, is the Superlift K358. It’s a complete kit for front and rear lift using brackets and taller steering knuckles for the front and blocks for the rear. At around $1,400 for the kit alone, it isn’t cheap, but it provides 4″ of front suspension lift without altering the vehicle’s ride quality. The suspension geometry is essentially unaltered from factory, so there’s no additional travel or track. Installation effort is significant: figure on a weekend’s worth of effort for a couple of people with intermediate-advanced skills required. I’ll describe the process and additional gotchas and costs in a later chapter.
The stock suspension geometry poses a slight problem when you consider that the rear mounting point of the torsion bars is lowered by 4″ to keep them aligned with the lower control arms. This negates any ground clearance gains near the center of the truck, leaving a very prominent point to get hung up on when you’re off road. (See Figure 2.) I think it also looks stupid, but that’s subjective. It’s still an improvement overall, but the dangling torsion bars are why I proceeded to the coilover conversion afterward to remove the torsion bars altogether. If you have the funds and time available, I would highly recommend doing the coilover conversion at the same time as you install the Superlift kit.
Solid Axle Swap
This option replaces the front axle and suspension completely with a solid axle and coil or leaf springs. There are no kits for this – you need to be skilled at welding, fabrication and suspension/steering setups, not to mention adventurous, to take this on. A solid axle is the hardcore off-roader’s choice, best for trail and rock crawling or just extreme lifts for show trucks. Going this route nets you the most potential lift, plus you get serious suspension articulation. This is an expensive route because you’ll need a replacement front axle assembly including brakes, hubs, steering linkage, etc. You get to use upgraded components but it’s a serious investment. The ride quality and handling on-road will suffer a bit with this setup, even assuming you’ve done everything right with setting up the steering, shocks and springs. But that’s the price of having the mac-daddy of all lifts. If you’re curious about this option, here is a list of Ranger SAS build threads at ranger-forums.com.
Rear Suspension Lift Types
The rear suspension on a Ranger is of the ubiquitous leaf spring type, which is both simple and cheap to modify and upgrade. Again, the available options have pros and cons. The following diagram gives an overview of the different approaches, and the sections below go into a bit more detail. Note that these options can, to a certain extent, be combined, but look out for factors that can pop up when there’s a lot of lift, e.g. the need for longer shocks, longer brake lines, longer driveshaft, etc.
This adds a cast iron block between the axle and the leaf spring, along with extended U-Bolts.
This is a relatively cheap option and stock ride quality is unaffected. If you’re only using a single set of blocks, it’s all good. However, with all the extra height you don’t get any added articulation/travel if you retain the stock springs.
The Superlift K358 kit comes with the blocks and extended u-bolts pictured here, as well as longer shocks. I’d estimate it’s a couple of hundred dollars to buy just the blocks and shocks.
The major drawback with this kit is that My Ranger came with 1.25″ blocks and these 3″ lift blocks are supposed to stack on top of them, to level with the front lift they provide. For years, the off-road magazines have been warning against stacking blocks to gain lift because it poses a risk that the blocks will slip and get “spat out” under heavy duty conditions, crippling the truck, or worse, hurting someone.
This option adds height by bolting an extra leaf onto the bottom of the leaf spring pack, thus increasing the spring preload and giving it a more pronounced curvature. It is a very low cost option, at anywhere from $40-$80 for 1.5″ to 2.5″ of lift. However, it does make for a noticeably stiffer ride. Add-a-leafs are best used in situations where you frequently carry heavy loads in your truck and you just need to keep the truck level.
The front eyelet of the leaf spring is attached directly to the truck’s frame, but the rear eyelet is attached to a shackle that swings to let the spring to lengthen as it’s compressed. By using a longer shackle like the BellTech 6400, (about $50) you can get 1″-1.5″ or so of lift. There don’t seem to be any drawbacks from what I’ve read, though I haven’t gone this route for my truck.
If you want to go extra tall, get the most travel/articulation or simply want to eliminate one or both blocks from the setup, replacement leaf spring with a different arch are the way to go. In my experience, ride quality is not identical to stock, but it’s pretty close. Longer shocks are a must, but if you’ve already got the Superlift K358 kit installed, the shocks it provides are long enough. There are Ranger-specific leaf springs available from Skyjacker to provide 4″ (FR34S) or 6″ (FR36S) of lift. The cost ranges from $420 to $500 for both sides, depending on where you buy. Note that these springs are not a direct fit for the 2000-2011 Rangers, but they do work with a few changes; I’ll explain more about this later.
- For the front suspension, the best kit still on the market (that I could afford) was the Superlift K358. I did the Superlift one year and eliminated the torsion bars with a coilover setup the following year, which meant a lot of extra work taking things apart and putting them together again, and an extra trip to the wheel alignment shop. As mentioned previously, you can save a lot of time and cost by planning the coilover conversion for when you put your Superlift kit on.
- For the rear, I drove around on stacked blocks for a year because that’s what the Superlift kit came with. As soon as I could, I purchased a set of Skyjacker FR36S 6″ springs for my truck but got rid of the factory blocks, so my net lift was 6″ – 1.25″ = 4.75″ over stock, which is a nice match for the 4″ Superlift up front. I’ve got the preload on my coilovers set to give me about 0.5″ of lift over stock, which is still within spec for sag/droop so my total lift at the front is 4.5″.
I hope this has been a useful introduction to the different lift kit types available for 2000-2011 Ford Rangers and Mazda B-Series trucks. In the coming chapters, I’ll go into more depth on the path I picked for my truck’s lift, namely:
- Planning for the Superlift IFS Kit
- Wheel & Tire Considerations
- Planning for the Coilover Conversion
- Planning for the Rear Spring Swap
- Installing the Rear Leafs
- Installing the Superlift and Coilovers
- Comprehensive Shopping List