Blue Ford pickup truck with lift kit and off-road tires.

Leveling Kit vs. Lift Kit – What’s the Difference?

When it comes to modifying trucks, one of the most common places we see owners start is with their suspension. There’s a reason for this – suspension modifications allow for bigger wheels, sharper looks, improved ride height and quality, and the opportunity to install more rigorous equipment for better off-road performance. But before you go tearing apart your rig in the driveway, let’s take a look at the differences between two of the most popular suspension modifications we see today: lift and leveling kits.

truck with normal suspension vs truck with lift and level kit modifications

What’s the difference between leveling kits and lift kits?

A leveling kit is designed to raise the front of your truck to make it even with the rear. “Why don’t trucks come level from the factory?” you might ask. Well, manufacturers design most trucks to handle heavy cargo in the rear with beefier rear springs, resulting in a raised rear and the vehicle tilting forward, also known as a “forward rake”. To correct this, a leveling kit typically includes spacers or blocks that are installed on the front suspension. This is usually a more straightforward modification with fewer changes to the overall suspension system than a lift kit.

 

A lift kit is designed to, you guessed it, lift your truck. Instead of just raising the front end like leveling kits, a lift kit raises both the front and rear of the truck. These kits can include taller springs, coil spacers, shocks and struts, and new control and trailing arms. Lift kits tend to be more complex than leveling kits, which means installation is a much more involved, and expensive, process. The end result is more noticeable than a leveling kit, with greater changes to ground clearance, more room for larger wheels, and significant impact on handling and maneuverability.

 

Overall, leveling kits can be thought of as the slightly younger brother of the lift kit. Both lift the vehicle, improving wheel and ground clearance. But with a leveling kit, you get most of the aesthetics and function of a full-blown lift kit, without the expense and hours of work replacing every suspension component on your truck.

a mechanic installing a lift kit or leveling kit

Why should I level or lift my truck?

There are many reasons why you might be considering leveling or lifting your truck. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance one of these situations applies to you.

 

One of the most common reasons we see folks looking to level or lift their truck is to make enough room for larger wheels and tires. Without suspension modifications, it’s often difficult to seriously upgrade your wheel and tire size without risking rubbing your wheel well or running out of room. Leveling allows for the front wheel wells to share the same wheel clearance as the larger rear wheel wells, while lifting allows for more tire clearance all around.

 

If you’re looking to take your truck off-roading, you were probably considering larger and more aggressive tires already. Another important factor to consider is ground clearance, which can literally make or break your truck when it’s time to hit the trail. Factory ground clearance on most newer trucks, with the exception of off-road-oriented models or trim levels, is typically a lot lower than in decades past, leaving the undercarriage of your truck vulnerable to rocks, debris, or any other hazards out on the trail. Nothing ruins a day quite like a pierced oil pan. With a lift kit, that undercarriage is raised higher, so you’re less likely to suffer damage. Lift and leveling kits also allow for improved articulation and wheel travel, meaning your truck can handle more complex and challenging terrain. All of these combined result in a significantly improved off-roading experience.

 

Another reason to consider a leveling kit is if you have more weight on the front end of your truck than normal. If you have a custom bumper that’s made of heavier metal or if you’re using a snow plow, your truck will see even more forward rake. This can result in faster wear and tear on your front suspension and steering components as well as worse handling, so it’s important to get a leveling kit installed to prevent these things from happening.

Jeep Gladiator with a lift kit or leveling kit installed

How will a lift affect my truck?

As with any modification to your vehicle, there are things to consider about how leveling and lift kits can affect your truck. As you level or lift your truck, your driveline angle will vary, and it’s important to make sure this angle doesn’t become too severe. Beyond an angle of 3°, there’s a risk of vibration at higher speeds as well as excessive U-joint wear.

 

There are similar concerns with steering component angles, especially with higher lift kits. Ball joints can suffer excessive wear, so when you’re installing a lift kit, it’s an opportune time to install fresh ball joints and replace worn-out ones. Level and lift kits can also affect wheel alignment, so it’s a good idea to have your wheels aligned right after installing a new level or lift kit, especially if you’re planning on upgrading your wheels anyway. One of the most important things to consider is how level and lift kits affect your handling. The higher your truck, the higher the truck’s center of gravity becomes, meaning it can’t corner as fast as it did at stock height.

 

While there are a ton of benefits to both leveling and lift kits, it’s important to understand how both will affect other vehicle systems and plan accordingly. When choosing between lifting or leveling your truck, you should weigh the benefits for your application and keep up with preventative maintenance for the best results.

If you’re ready to level or lift your truck, whether for larger wheels, better off-road capabilities, or to balance out that heavy new aftermarket front bumper you just installed, be sure to check out our offerings here and find what’s right for you.

 

- Josh Wayman