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Lift Kits vs. Leveling Kits: What’s the Difference?

Rough Country Suspension lift 20x10 -12 offset 33x12.50 Nitto Mud Grapplers

By Mike Cote - February 15, 2020

Whether it’s for form or function, riding around in a truck with a new leveling kit or lift kit is a rite of passage in any truck owner’s life. Just like a Ferrari is supposed to be low — a truck is supposed to be high. It’s built into their DNA. So, you’ve made up your mind to lift your truck and begin to do some research. But we’ve been there. And, trust us, before long your head will be spinning from all the choices: lift kits, leveling kits, air suspension, load levelers.

What is a Lift Kit?

Any conversation about a leveling kit will probably include at least a side discussion about these bad boys. Basically, any of our truck lift kits are going to raise your entire rig – front and rear – anywhere from a subtle 1” to high enough where you feel the need to duck under overpasses. Nevermind you’re in a king cab and not a convertible.

Lift kits come in two varieties, each with their own pros/cons: suspension lift vs body lift kits.

A body lift utilizes blocks and lift spacers to lift the body higher onto the frame of the vehicle without altering any of the suspension geometry. With a body lift kit (vs a suspension lift), your ground clearance remains unchanged, but the extra height allows you to run larger wheels and tires. You’ll happily notice that the steering geometry remains unaltered, too, so your rig retains most of its original driving and handling characteristics. Just take note that stability can be negatively impacted, due to the increased ride height. Most people find that they get used to this after a few drives with their new mod. Body lifts tend to be more affordable and easier to install than their counterparts — suspension lift kits. So, if your budget is a big factor, a body lift may win out on the body lift vs suspension lift debate. On the other hand, our suspension lift fans might just tell you that the added cost is worth every penny. Even when you factor in a more involved installation.

Suspension lifts typically involve replacing everything from the shocks/struts and leaf springs to the control arms, trailing arms and sometimes even the driveshafts and steering components. Like we said, a bit more involved than some simple lift spacers. Replacing and upgrading these components allows for more suspension articulation, more ground clearance, the ability to run even larger tires, and an all-around more capable off-road vehicle. As with body lift kits, stability and driving dynamics can be affected, however, as your truck will now have a higher center of gravity and altered steering and suspension geometry. Truck lift kits can range from $120 to $500 and more, depending on brand, body lift vs. suspension lift and the level of performance you are looking for.

What is a Leveling Kit?

When talking about lift kits vs leveling kits, it’s really a discussion of how much height you want and where you need it. A leveling kit does exactly what it sounds like — it levels the truck. By raising the front end up a few inches, you can eliminate the factory rake in your truck and bring the front and rear level. This is primarily done for looks, but it can also add a small amount of ground clearance to the front of your truck and give you the ability to run larger tires.

Let’s back up and cover that factory rake that has you out looking for the answers to what a leveling kit can do for you in the first place. From the factory, most trucks come with a certain degree of “rake” built into their suspension, meaning the rear end sits higher than the front. Yup, they are intentionally not level. And the reason for this is that trucks were designed to haul heavy loads in the bed. Fair enough. With an extra thousand pounds in the back, the rear springs compress and cause the rear end to drop a few inches to accommodate the added weight. But since the rear started out higher than the front, this won’t create such a dramatic “sag” in the rear. This is done for two reasons.

First, if the front and rear were level and you then put 1,000 pounds in the bed, it would bottom out the suspension and cause the bushings, shocks, etc. to wear out prematurely. Second, driving with the suspension fully compressed is not only uncomfortable for the vehicle’s occupants but also dangerous because it severely and negatively affects your truck’s handling.

So, what does a truck leveling kit do when you need to haul big loads? And does that mean you have to pick between hauling your weekend toys or your leveling kit? Not at all. Leveling kits are a very simple design, utilizing coil spacers, strut extensions or torsion keys (depending on your truck’s suspension), and many can be installed without having to jack up your vehicle. Even better, leveling kits only raise the front of your truck – instead of lowering the rear. So, your payload capacity remains unchanged. You can still put just as much weight in the bed without fear of the suspension bottoming out. Unlike with truck lift kits, your driving experience and truck’s stability should be more or less the same. Where you’ll see the difference in your leveling kit before and after is going to be mostly looks.

One other thing you may notice when comparing leveling kits vs. lift kits is the price tag. A leveling kit costs anywhere from $45 to $200 or more, which is quite a bit less than a lift kit. That will definitely leave room in your mod budget for other add-ons.

Leveling Kit vs. Lift Kit: Which One is Right?

Like so many things on your truck, making the decision between a leveling kit vs lift kit comes down to your own personal style, preferences and #truckgoals. Be sure your objectives are clear and know what you’re getting into before deciding on a particular style of lift for your truck. A lift kit can truly transform your truck from a city cruiser to the off-road monster you’ve always dreamed of. If you go this route, you’ll also need to deliberate between suspension lift vs body lift, as we detailed above. If your goal isn’t to turn your rig into an all-out off-road warrior, and just want an aggressive stance and look from your truck, a leveling kit is the way to go. And luckily, AT has countless customer reviews on our full line up of both lift kits and leveling kits from people just like you. Just think of them as your trusted friends, here to help you make a decision. And, if you’re still stumped, we also have knowledgeable staff that is just a click or a phone call away, ready to answer any of your lift kit questions!