Asking The Right Question FJ Cruiser Lift Kits

Seems like a reoccurring question I hear from new FJ Cruiser guys is “What lift should I get”?  Not that I’m an expert on all the lifts available but I thought it was time to address this question in a bit more public forum.

The question is not necessarily wrong, but it is incomplete.  The question should be  “What lift should I get for my style of off-road adventures…  I enjoy wheeling my rig… in the sand, on 4×4 trails, crawling up gnarly boulders, racing down desert roads, or just looking good on the street”.  The best lift for one style of wheeling is not necessarily the best for another style.  And as the saying goes one man’s garbage is another man’s gold, it all depends on what you’re planning to do with your rig, what your after and your budget.  Don’t worry if others tell you how they think you should enjoy you’re rig… Consider what will make you happy.

First of all, lifting your truck does not increase ground clearance.  A lift provides more room for larger (taller) tires.  Larger tires provide the increased ground clearance.

Second lift kits for the Toyota FJ Cruiser mainly address the front-end.  This is because the factory stance has the rig on a significant rack with the rear higher than the front.  However when lifting the front end, you should consider upgrading the rear suspension components (springs and shocks) to a quality that matches your front-end choice.

Third, springs provide lift and shocks provide dampening.  If you upgrade the shock you will feel a difference in ride but without changing the geometry of the coil (spacers or longer coils), the height remains the same.

Lift kits can be broken down into a couple of groups. There are a lots of choices and the number of inches of various lifts may vary, the basic groups of lifts available for the FJ Cruiser are:

  • spacer lift
  • 3″ suspension lift
  • 6″ lift (anything from 4″ – 6″ will fall into this group)
  • long travel
  • solid axle swap

A spacer lift, sometimes referred to as a leveling kit, is the least expensive lift available with height achieved by placing a spacer between the top of the strut mount and the coil-over spring.  The spacer effectively compresses the spring which pushes the rig up as the spring tries to reach equilibrium.  A spacer lift does not increase travel and is now stretching your factory shocks to their limit.  This method of lifting your rig will level it out and allow you to put on larger tires (although depending on tire choice you may still need a body mount chop to avoid rubbing).  A lift that uses spacers to raise the rig is best suited for those who do not plan on going off road and simply want the look of a more rugged stance and bigger tires.  If you add a heavy bumper or winch to a spacer lift your springs will give back all the lift under the additional weight.

The second 4×4 lift category, a 3″ suspension lifts use longer shocks, stiffer springs and coil-overs to provide the lift.  A 3″ lift will allow  for 33″ tires (yeah you still need the body mount chop), although some folks have stuffed 35″ tires into the FJ Cruiser’s wheel well accepting the rub that comes with them in this setup.  Unlike a spacer lift which simply compress the springs, suspension lifts gives you additional travel along with lift because of the longer components. Adding aftermarket front upper control arms will extend that travel even further.  That additional travel equates to a smoother ride in most cases along with improved handling.

3″ suspension lifts can be broken down further into kits that are adjustable and those that are not.  With a non-adjustable suspension lift you select the stiffness of spring you want (or in some cases spacers to compress the springs) based on the weight of your front end. If you are running a heavy bumper and winch select a stiffer rated spring, if not choose a medium or light coil-over spring. Spring ratings can be heavy up front with medium in the rear allowing for some customization. If you change your front-end’s weight down the road, you have to change out your springs to maintain the same ride.

On an adjustable suspension lift kit, in addition to spring rating choices, the coil-over comes with a built in collar that will increase or decrease the pre-load tension on the coil-over spring, compensating for any additional weight.  A few turns of the collar allows you to dial-in the ride most suited to your liking.  Each side of the front-end can be tuned individually to compensate for the extra weight of the driver or dual batter stack.

Because a 3″ lift increases travel and in most cases upgrades the quality of shock, as well as providing lift, it is well suited to individuals looking to wheel their off-road vehicle through many different terrains including 4×4 trails, sand dunes and two track dirt roads as well as miles of washboard gravel or dirt.

As you would expect their is a difference in price between the adjustable and non-adjustable suspension lift options.  Non-adjustable suspension lifts will cost up to $700 for a quality setup.  Adjustable suspension lifts kits can cost upwards of $2,600 depending on manufacturer…  The religious debate on the best manufacturer of coil-overs and shocks makes the holy war crusades look like a minor disagreement on the play ground.

The next type of lift, a 6″ lift, will put you high off the ground.   Part suspension lift part body lift, a 6″ lift involves adding spacers that separate the body from the frame along with a number of suspension components including  longer rear upper and lower control arms (or relocation mounts for stock trailing arms)  longer shocks, springs, coil-overs, and steering knuckles.  A 6″ lift allows you to easily slide in larger 35″ tires (most tires over 275x70x17 will likely require a body mount chop).  The center of gravity is now six inches higher (think hard now before putting any weight up in the roof rack…  like a tent, gas cans, spare tire…).  The suspension travel gain and increased ground clearance of a 6″ lift is only about 3″ although 35″ tires will add to the ground clearance.  This lift is not for the budget conscious with parts running up to $3,700 depending on how complete the kit is and the quality of the suspension components.  Those who plan to drive slow on the trails and need larger tires to get over rocks and can stay away form the off chamber stuff will find the height of a body lift to their liking.  If you are seeking the big rugged 4×4 look you will also find the 6″ lift appealing.

When you start talking about long-travel lift kits, you move into the more specialized lifts. With a long travel lift you replace almost all of the stock IFS components including upper and lower control arms, axles, and in some cases new shock mounts to allow for dual shocks up front.   The long travel kit pushes out the wheels extending the distance between the shock tower and lower arm mount.  2″ and 3.5″ kits are available from Total Choas for the Toyota’s FJ Cruiser.  The increased distance between the shock tower and lower control arm shock mount is now filled with a longer coil-over increasing the total travel available to soak up the bumps, ruts and pot holes in the trails.  Up to 13″ of travel can be achieved when you push each wheels out 3.5″.  The coil-over components of a long travel kit operates the same as an adjustable suspension lift but with more coil-over spring to work with.

The long travel kits are designed with desert racing in mind.  In this style of wheeling, height is not as important as keeping the wheels in contact with the ground to maintain forward momentum and steering control.  With a long travel kit the droop, a measure of how far the wheel can fall down from its resting stance, is just as important as the lift that is achieved.  More lift means less droop and vice verses.  But with those long coil-overs there is a lot to work with.  On a 4×4 tail the longer travel will bring addition flex allowing the rig to remain stable while traversing all sorts of contours.  As you would expect the price for replacing your entire stock IFS  is steep.  Depending on the long travel kit and the coil-overs, secondary front shocks and rear shocks you choose expect to pay between $4,000 and $7,000.  And just in case you were wondering, no you can not use the coil-overs from a 3″ suspension lift, they are just too short.

A solid axle is considered the holly grail of hard core off-road rock crawlers.  Tons of flex, high lift, locking front differential and armor plated toughness, a solid axle swap turns the FJ Cruiser into a point and shot rig.  Lift height and tire size is only limited by the shocks length you can throw down with and the amount of cutting on the wheel wells your willing to do. Of course what you gain in trail worthiness you loose in daily driving on-road manners.  The rigs that under go what today is mostly a one-off custom front end build, tend to be purpose built rock crawls.  Building a solid axle that can incorporate all the front end electronics including ABS and other sensors will set you back about $10,000.  But don’t worry, the kids dreams of college where never that realistic anyway with their grades.  Just let them know you spending their inheritance while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.

What is the right lift for your FJ Cruiser, I don’t know.  How do you plan to wheel your rig?  How much are you looking to spend?  Have you considered the additional cost of tires to fill all that space?  What are you looking to gain by raising your FJ Cruiser, good looks, bigger tires, smoother ride, unlimited flex?  Of course if you were thinking of in stuffing 35″ tires so you could go rock crawling and have a $2oo budget; learn to live with disappointment.  If however your dream is to run logging roads and some 4×4 trails while still maintaining the rig as a daily driver on 33″ tires using a 3″ suspension lift and spending about $800, plus tires; you will most like see huge value from your investment, along with a little compromise on adjustablity. In other words if you are comfortable with the what you want to do and set aside the appropriate budget, you’ll get miles of smiles (sorry it just came out) from your lift, out on the trail or anywhere else you want to wheel you rig…  Even the Denny’s parking lot.

And now thanks to Metal Tech 4×4 there is an option specifically designed to improve FJ Cruiser rear travel for a long travel option with more travel and flex for the rear end of the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

4 thoughts on “Asking The Right Question FJ Cruiser Lift Kits”

  1. Great write up, we are torn by getting the SAW lift or holding out a bit longer to get a long travel set up. Decisions decisions…

  2. i am wanting the height if the 6″ and the agility of a long travel kit. imagine muddin’, water crossing, baja 1000 machine… Any suggestions?

  3. Have an 07 FJ with standard tires/wheels. Like the look of the Toyo 295/70/17s in one of your other articles. FJ is daily driver with only light dirt/grass road usage. Do you think the 295s will rub with just light off road usage?

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