It’s great to have choices when it comes to modifying your truck, but is there such a thing as too many options? If you don’t know how to navigate the plethora of possibilities in front of you, it can be a bit overwhelming, but on the plus side, the more options you have to pick from, the closer you can get to your exact needs. Carli Suspension has made a name for themselves by developing some of the highest quality systems available for solid axle pickups, and they have products for 1994 and up Rams and 2005 and newer Fords.
The most common complaint almost every ¾ and 1-ton pickup owner makes is about the rough ride you get when the truck is unloaded. The factory springs are designed to carry a ton of weight without sagging, but every time you go over a bridge deck, pothole, or even those seemingly invisible expansion joints in a concrete roadway, the whole truck violently rebounds in the same way I imagine the Wells Fargo Stagecoach would as it crossed the plains nearly 200 years ago. Some people will try and tell you just to live with it because “you don’t buy a diesel truck for a smooth ride” but Carli makes it possible for you to have a heavy-duty truck which rides like a Cadillac both on the pavement and in the dirt, with options available for the basic daily driver all the way up to a truck which could pre-run the Baja 1000 in comfort. Let’s say you drive a 2003 to 2009 Ram and you want to create a much smoother ride at the same time as you raise the ride height to fit a 35-inch-tall tire: Carli offers 9 (yes NINE) different systems which will lift your Ram 3” and there are a bunch of add-ons available for each kit on top of that. At first, that sounds like way too many options, but each system is tailored around specific uses and budgets, so there is truly a system for everyone. Of the nine kits, the four most popular are the Starter, the Commuter, the Back Country, and the Pintop, so we’ll take a detailed look at each. Although the specific systems listed here apply to a Ram, the same names will apply to systems used on the Ford trucks as well.
As its name suggests, this is their most basic system, but don’t confuse it with a spacer style leveling kit. The one thing which sets all Carli kits apart from the competition is the increased ride quality and performance, and the Starter is no different. The new front springs are taller than stock and have a lighter rate which will raise the truck 3” higher in the front so you can fit your 35’s, but you will also gain an additional 50% more wheel-travel than stock and a smoother ride. To match the increased wheel travel, the Starter does come with a complete set of Signature Series Shocks for the front and rear to round out the package. While it will perform better than stock in off road situations as well, the Starter system will be primarily used by a driver seeking a smoother ride and extra comfort on the road.
The Commuter kit is for the driver who wants the best ride quality from his ¾ or 1-ton rig while sticking to a budget. It uses the same 3” spring as the Starter, but this time the shocks are upgraded to Fox 2.0 IFP’s which have been valved specifically to work with the coil springs. This kit comes standard with an adjustable track bar which will correctly center the front axle at its new raised height, but it’s also made from much stronger materials like the 7/8” axle-side Heim joint which will give you a longer service life, but because it locates the front axle much more precisely without any deflection, your steering wheel will have less play and you’ll have a tighter feel driving down the road. The Commuter kit will be ideal for the owner who spends the majority of commute time driving on paved roads, but it will serve you well for the occasional low-speed jaunt down a logging road or into the hay field.
The Backcountry system still uses the same 3” coil spring as the Starter and Commuter, but the major difference between each system is the shock package. The Backcountry utilizes Fox 2.0 External Reservoir shocks which will let you hustle your rig down a bumpy dirt road with no drama at all. When it comes to shocks, the more fluid it has, the better it will be able to absorb bumps and movement without overheating because it is able to disperse the energy into a greater fluid volume. An external or remote reservoir is a great to way add a lot more fluid to a shock without making the main body bulky or extra-long, plus the extra surface area of the reservoir helps radiate more heat away from the shocks. One additional upgrade the Backcountry kit includes are the limit straps which help prevent shock damage as your axle droops away from the chassis. If you find yourself driving your truck off-road more than a couple times a year, the Backcountry is really the place you want to start.
One of the main reasons you install a Carli kit onto your truck is the combination of a silky-smooth ride on pavement and impressive performance in the dirt. Of course, you’ll also need to balance your inner Robby Gordon with your budget, and the Pintop system is right in the sweet spot between comfort, capability, and cost. In order to control the axles, this kit includes King 2.5” remote reservoir shocks for both the front and rear axle, but they’re not just off-the-shelf shocks. Instead, they have been custom valved to Carli’s specs to work with the weight of a diesel truck and their spring rates. While both the Backcountry and Pintop are equipped with remote reservoir shocks, you’ll notice the Kings in the Pintop are half-an-inch larger. While that ½” doesn’t seem like a lot, if you do some basic math, you’ll find that equates to an additional 56% surface area for valving and about the same increase in fluid volume. Basically, the larger shocks can be pushed harder for a longer time through bumpy conditions, but because of the valve stack chosen by Carli, the 2.5” King’s will also offer a very plush ride on the streets. You can maintain an intense pace through the roughest terrain with the truck under complete control; basically, your pickup will feel like a totally different vehicle from where you started, and in terms of performance per dollar spent, the Pintop is your best option available from Carli.
There are some extras you can add to any of these systems, but the number one bang for the buck upgrade for an even smoother ride is the Torsion Sway Bar. The stock sway bar is so stiff it hinders individual wheel movement, and if you’ve ever entered a gas station driveway at an angle and felt the harsh side to side feedback, you know how uncomfortable this can be. The Carli sway bar lets your solid front axle behave almost like an IFS truck where one wheel can hit a bump without affecting the other, which greatly improves your driving experience. Close behind the torsion sway bar in terms of added comfort per dollar spent is the Full Progressive Leaf Spring Pack for the rear. Carli teamed up with Deaver Spring Mfg. to design a progressive spring pack with a much softer rate during the initial stages of travel, and as the spring compresses further, the rate stiffens up. This is what creates the smooth ride while unloaded, and the progressive design means you only give up about 15% of your load capacity, which is a welcome trade-off if you actually drive your truck. If you have a Pintop system with the 2.5” King’s, you should really invest in the springs as well, because the valving of the rear shocks was designed around these springs.
Above and Beyond
If you need even more capability from a 3” system than the Pintop offers, there are still four more levels of performance to go, and the Dominator offers the very best on-road ride quality and off road performance of any of the above short-arm kits, thanks to its top-of-the-line King 3.0 remote reservoir shocks. From there, the next three kits will do away with the factory link geometry and add about 50% more length to the control arms. The Performance Long Arm system works great if you drive your truck fast on dirt but don’t necessarily get the tires off the ground, and if you need the absolutely best all-around system money can buy for both highway duty and off road use, then the Dominator Long Arm System is the way to go which again uses King 3.0’s. For the top 10% of truck owners who want to take their Diesel off some sweet jumps, the Unchained 3.5 Long Arm System is unrivaled in terms of its off-road performance and bump soaking ability, but you do have to sacrifice some on road comfort with a system of this caliber. The Unchained system is not for the faint of heart or wallet either, as it has much more potential than most drivers have skill and will require substantial modifications to the rest of your truck to get the most out of the suspension, like a roll cage, race seats, 5-point harnesses, and much more.
Build As You Go
Carli systems are designed for drivers who want to improve the ride quality of their truck while increasing its off-road capability, and the best part is you can start small and have your kit grow with your needs. Between the first four kits we detailed here, the only major difference is the really the shocks. They all use the same exact springs up front, so if you needed to build in stages to work with your budget, you could easily begin with a Starter kit, and later on add the sway bar and track bar, different control arms, the rear progressive spring pack, and finally step up to King 2.5’s and you’ll have your very own Pintop kit. As always, if you have any questions or need some help navigating the options available for your truck, feel free to give us a call at Diesel Power Products and we’ll be happy to go over the options and make a recommendation based on your specific needs.