Off Road 101: Suspension Upgrades

Off Road 101: Suspension Upgrades

In the past few Off Road 101 articles, we’ve discussed what we feel are the most important first modifications for your FJ Cruiser. First, you should know how everything on your truck works and what its capabilities are. Second, consider upgrading tires and possibly wheels. Most recently, we talked about trail armor and why it’s so important. Now that we have this great foundation, the time has come to touch on one of the most popular upgrades for your FJ: your suspension.

We use the term ‘upgrades’ because we’re not just talking about lift kits. Many owners choose not to lift their truck, but maybe add spacers only to just level it. Let’s discuss some of the more common upgrades for the FJ Cruiser.

“Leveling” Kits
These kits usually include a spacer that is placed above the front coils. This provides approximately 1” of lift to the front of the truck and decreases or eliminates the ‘rake’ or forward leaning stance of a stock FJ. This is a very popular first step in the suspension upgrade arena and typically costs around $100 plus installation.

2” – 6” Lift Kits
There are several lift kit options for FJ Cruisers:
The most economical kits include springs for the front of the truck along with a spacer (similar to a leveling spacer), and taller springs for the rear. There are also different spring rates available, which affects the stiffness of your ride. It’s common to go with stiffer springs when adding heavy bumpers and winches to minimize sagging in the rear and diving in the front.  While it is possible to install some kits with stock shocks, most owners choose to upgrade their shocks as well. This is where special edition FJ owners have an advantage, since the Bilstein shocks that come on TRD & Trail Teams models do not necessarily need to be upgraded.

As you move up in quality of components, the pricing of lift kits can increase dramatically. Eliminating the spacer and using a taller spring in the front improves ride quality and opens up more options. Adding longer shocks will provide excellent wheel travel & articulation and will affect the way your truck rides both on and off road. Many of the high end kits now include remote reservoir shocks. This is very beneficial for higher speed (rally style) driving where the suspension cycles quickly for long periods of time.

Most 6” kits include shocks, springs, differential drop brackets, and other relocation hardware to extensively modify your FJ. Some even include extended steering knuckles, upper control arms (UCA’s) and new lower crossmembers. These systems are significantly more difficult to install than basic 3” lift kits, but they raise your FJ enough to put 35” (or larger) tires on. These systems may also put more strain on other stock components so, research all the options and requirements before you go this route.

Adjustable Lift Kits
A relatively new option for lifting your truck are adjustable kits. These usually range from 1” to 3” of total lift, depending on the kit. These are great for many owners because you can adjust the lift as you add components. If you get a new front bumper and your front end sags a little, just dial the lift up another inch or so until you get the look you want. Raising or lowering your truck is as easy as removing the tires and turning the adjuster. Note that adjustable kits are usually for the front end only, most manufacturers don’t offer an adjustable rear suspension. For details on the Toytec 3” adjustable kit, see “Toytec Lift Upgrade” on page ??

I hope this brief discussion of lift options helps you decide what is best for you. The great thing about the FJ Cruiser is that it’s very capable with no lift at all. Adding an extra couple of inches of clearance and enhancing articulation are a great and relatively inexpensive way to get you to more places safely. For more information and to find the kit that’s right for you, check out the vendors directory at