If you want your diesel truck to stand above the crowd and be more capable off road all at the same time, one of the most popular modifications you can do is to install a lift kit. As its name implies, a lift kit will modify your trucks suspension so it sits higher than stock, and this allows you to install larger wheels and tires for better traction off road, increased ground clearance, and a more aggressive look. While most diesel trucks already stand pretty tall from the factory, installing a lift kit will allow you to run 35, 37, or even 40-inch-tall tires depending on the height of your lift kit, but with the myriad of options available how can you tell which lift kit or suspension system is best for your truck? As always, the answer depends on your wants, needs, and of course your budget but today we’ll discuss all the options and let you know which lift kit is best.
Best Truck Lift Kits for Mudding
There are generally two types of people who will be shopping for a lift kit on their diesel, and the first is a person who bought their truck to be used like you might see in a commercial on TV. Whether it’s getting to a jobsite in a muddy field, a remote cabin in the wilderness, working on the farm, or just off roading for fun, a lift kit is a great way to enhance your truck’s performance.
If you drive your truck in these conditions, maximum ground clearance should be the number one priority for a lift kit, because it will allow the undercarriage of the truck to clear any rocks or obstacles and keep the frame from dragging through the mud and slowing you down, plus the extra height can keep potential body damage to a minimum. If this best describes how you use your diesel, you should start with a 4.5” or 6” lift for your truck. Because of how rough the driving conditions will be when you’re off road, it’s important to invest in a lift kit that uses a premium shock to keep your ride quality smooth.
With most lift kits that are 4.5” and taller, the front suspension will usually be raised about 2” more than the rear of the truck since from the factory, all pickup trucks have a “raked” stance where the front is a bit lower than the rear, so on a 6” lift for example, the rear may only be raised 4”.
BDS Suspension makes high quality lift kits for every diesel pickup truck on the road, and they are designed to be able to take a beating. All of their lift kits feature heavy duty frame brackets to raise your suspension components while maintaining proper geometry and better than factory strength. For coil sprung trucks like the Ram 2500/3500 or Ford Superduty, BDS Suspension lift kits come with new coil springs which can give you a smoother ride both on and off the road, and while the basic NX2 shock offered with the kit will work great, for an even smoother ride and better performance in the rough stuff, upgrading to the Fox 2.0 shock option will be your best bet.
Best Truck Lift Kits for Towing
While a massive truck on 40-inch-tall tires looks great and will perform amazing off road, not every truck owner uses their vehicle this way. The second type of diesel truck owner will primarily use their truck for towing and hauling, and the majority of miles will be racked up while on a paved road with off-road driving being a secondary priority. Diesel trucks are great for towing because their heavy-duty chassis can carry tons of weight, and the immense torque of the diesel engine can effortlessly get that weight up to speed. Here, the objective for most owners will be to fit a slightly larger and more aggressive tire somewhere between 33 and 35 inches tall for increased traction for the occasional trip off the pavement.
If your truck falls into this category, you should be looking at a 1 to 3.5” leveling or lift kit which will raise the front to allow you to install your larger tires and give the truck a more aggressive look but will keep the rear at a stock height which has several advantages. First, when it comes to hooking up to a trailer, you won’t need a massive drop hitch for a bumper pull trailer, and you will still be able to hook up to most standard gooseneck or 5th wheel trailers without having to also lift the trailer. By not running a lift block between the leaf springs and rear axle you won’t introduce any excess spring wrap under acceleration, which could lead to damaged driveline components.
Cognito makes some great leveling kits for Ford, Ram, and Chevy/GMC trucks which will work perfectly on your tow rig. For solid front axle trucks like the Ram and Superduty, they come with taller front coil springs which provide the lift, and a heavy-duty track bar to keep the front axle centered. For GMC and Chevy trucks with independent front suspension, the Cognito leveling kit will come with new torsion bar keys which will provide the lift, and a pair of upper control arms which correct the ball joint angle and will allow for increased suspension up travel which prevents “topping out” your suspension, plus gives you a smoother ride.
Regardless of how you use your truck, the shock absorber is the single most important part of a smooth riding and great performing suspension system, so you still should consider using a premium shock like the Fox 2.0 on your tow rig all the way around. While you might not think the rear shocks need to be upgraded if you are only leveling up the front, the same benefits of a great shock out back still apply at a stock ride height.
Best Lift Kits by Truck
When it comes to suspension lift kits, there are tons of different choices, but each make and model of truck uses a slightly different suspension design which means there is no one-size-fits-all lift kit. A solid front axle 2007 Ram for example will need a very different lift kit from a 2020 Superduty, and an IFS equipped 2500HD Duramax lift kit will look nothing like either the Ram or Ford, so which lift kit is best for your particular truck? Let’s break it down by brand and discuss the best lift kit for each truck.
Best Lift Kit for Ram
The Cummins diesel engine is one of the reasons why the Ram heavy duty pickup is so popular, and while the engine is known for its reliability and fuel efficiency, the stock suspension on a Ram can leave a little to be desired. If you want the best leveling kit or suspension system for your Ram truck, look no further than Carli. They have some of the best engineered suspension lift kits that have been designed to improve both the function and ride quality of your solid axle Ram, and of course they will raise the truck so you can install larger wheels and tires.
Their 3” Starter System includes new taller front coils with a lighter spring rate than factory which will greatly improve the ride quality and comfort, and it also comes with a new set of Carli Signature Series shocks which have been tuned specifically to work with their springs. This kit will allow you to run up to a 35” tall tire, but you also get 50% more suspension travel than stock making this the perfect on and off-road suspension. While the starter kit alone will make your truck taller and ride smoother than stock, for optimum performance and the ultimate ride quality, it’s recommended you upgrade the starter kit with Carli extended length control arms, adjustable track bar, and their torsion front sway bar.
Best Lift Kit for Ford
Ford used two different suspension designs throughout the Superduty model, the first being a solid front axle with leaf springs used from 1999 to 2004, and the second being the updated coil spring and radius arm configuration used from 2005 to present. Of course, each will use a different design of lift kit, so if you have an early Superduty and you want to lift it, BDS Suspension has you covered. It’s worth noting here that while it is perfectly acceptable to lift the rear of a leaf sprung vehicle with lift blocks, you should NEVER install lift blocks on the front of a 4wd leaf spring suspension setup. BDS offers a 2” leveling kit which comes with taller front leaf springs and a set of four shocks, and this will allow you to run up to a 33” tall tire. If you want to run up to a 35” tall tire, BDS also offers a 4” lift kit with even taller front springs and rear lift blocks to raise the rear to match the front.
For your coil sprung 2005 and up Superduty, BDS has you covered as well with everything from a simple coil spacer and shock kit which gives you 2” of lift and enough clearance to run a 35” tall tire, all the way to a 8” kit that will fit massive 38-inch-tall tires. The 4” and 6” kits from BDS can come optioned with new radius arms that correct the suspension geometry in the lifted application without having to rely on a dropped radius arm bracket, and they even offer a coilover system in several different height options that will convert your front suspension to a 4-link style for the ultimate off-road performance.
Best Lift Kit for Chevy and GMC
GM is the only manufacturer currently building ¾ and 1-ton pickup trucks using independent front suspension, but unlike their half ton brethren, the HD trucks use a torsion bar spring instead of a coil or leaf spring. The independent front suspension will provide excellent on-road handling and ride quality, and it can also offer a little more ground clearance than a solid front axle, but in order to lift an IFS truck, the parts will look a lot different.
For 3 inches of lift or less, a leveling kit from Cognito gets the job done nicely. It comes with new torsion bar keys that are indexed different than stock which will raise the front of the truck, but in order for the suspension to operate correctly in its new raised position, longer Fox 2.0 shocks are included, as well as new upper control arms. The control arms are shaped differently to allow for a corrected ball joint angle and for increased droop or up-travel in the suspension.
If you want to raise your suspension more than 3” on a GM IFS truck and you want the best lift kit, you should once again check out BDS Suspension. Their 6.5” Suspension system for the 2011-2019 GM HD trucks will allow you to run up to a 37-inch-tall tire. Because of the increased height, this lift kit comes with a lot more brackets and hardware needed to relocate the suspension components, but the one thing that makes the BDS lift kit stand apart from the crowd is their unique torsion bar attachment. Normally to lift an IFS truck, the torsion bars and crossmember have to be lowered underneath the truck which can look odd and take up valuable ground clearance, but the BDS kit keeps the crossmember and torsion bars in place above the frame rails and relocates the opposite end at the lower control arm. This gives the truck a much cleaner profile from the side, but also gives you extra ground clearance which is extremely helpful when driving off road.
Best Lift Kit Upgrades
Just about every lift kit has optional extras that you can install to further enhance your trucks performance, but what are the best upgrades? If you have rear leaf springs with lift blocks, the number one upgrade you should get with your lift kit are traction bars like the BDS Recoil or Kryptonite Full Floating Traction Bars. Because of the added leverage on the axle from a lift block, the potential for rear spring wrap (and parts breakage) goes up significantly, but a traction bar can keep the rear suspension of you lifted diesel firmly planted on the ground and even prevent broken u-joints from excessive wheel hop.
If you have a solid front axle truck you are lifting, you should always opt for the adjustable or heavy-duty track bar from Carli, Synergy, BD Power, or Rock Krawler. This will allow the front axle to remain centered underneath the truck with the raised stance, plus it will be constructed from a more durable material with a better joint for a longer lifespan as well. Additionally, if you install longer control arms on a 4-link truck like the 2012 and older Ram 3500 (2013 and older Ram 2500) your wheels will stay centered in the fender opening and you will be less likely to rub your tires on the back of the fenders while turning.
For lifted GM trucks you should absolutely upgrade your steering components at the same time you are installing a lift kit. The stock steering linkage on the 2001 and up GM HD trucks is pretty weak, and larger tires and increased suspension angles will rapidly increase the wear and can easily break stock components. While it’s not directly related to the suspension lift kit, a stronger tie rod and center link along with an upgraded pitman arm and idler arm from Kryptonite or Cognito will do wonders to increase the durability and strength of your GM IFS truck, especially as you wheel your IFS truck off road.
Suspension Lift Kits & More from DPP
The best place to buy a lift kit for your diesel truck is from us here at Diesel Power Products, of course! We stock a wide range of suspension lift kits, leveling kits, traction bars, and even steering and suspension components for all popular diesel trucks. The best part is we’re staffed by enthusiasts and experts, so if you have a question for your specific application or you are unsure which lift kit will best suit your needs, don’t hesitate to give us a call and we’d be happy to point you in the right direction.