You may notice that your stock truck comes with the front axle slightly lower than the read axle. This is called rake.
The purpose of this is to create a level truck when towing or carrying heavy loads.
A leveling kit is a truck lift that only affects the front of the truck. It lifts the front a couple of inches to match the back suspension. This is done mostly for aesthetics. The front of the truck can be lifted with a spacer, coil spring, adjustable strut, and a torsion key.
How do leveling kits work?
When a car comes out of a factory, the front of the truck sits slightly lower than the back of the truck.
This is called the rake. Rake in a truck refers to the position of the front of the truck lower than the back of the truck. This usually is a difference of 2-3 inches.
The purpose of a truck rake is to improve aerodynamics when nothing is loaded on the truck, but more importantly, it allows the truck to level out when weight is either added to the truck bed or a trailer is towed.
The extra weight in the back of the truck makes the rear sink so that the truck sits level when towing.
Leveling kits simply heighten the front of the truck so that the truck sits level without any cargo or towing.
This means that a truck with a front axle that sits 2 inches below the rear axle will need a 2-inch leveling kit to flatten out the truck suspension.
Leveling kits vs Lift kits
Leveling kits focus on bringing the front end of the truck up a few inches without moving the back.
A lift kit often adjusts the height of both the back and the front.
Very frequently a lift kit does in fact end up leveling a truck. If there is a 2 in rake difference between the front and the back and you buy a 3 in lift kit, it is likely that the front will only be lifted 3 inches, but the back will only be lifted 1 inch to make the truck level.
Both are typically used for cosmetic purposes and/or to make space for bigger tires.
Lift kits also usually affect the actual suspension components of the truck. Leveling kits often just use simple spacers above the strut.
Types of Leveling Kits
Strut Spacer Leveling Kit
This seems to be the most common type of leveling kit. What this does is add a small piece of metal that sits above the strut.
It is cheap, relatively easy to install, and performs similarly to stock trucks for most everyday use.
The metal thickness provides an exact amount of how much a truck axle can be lifted.
A strut is a component of the car that holds the weight in the framework of the truck. It is a major part of the suspension system but it is designed so that it doesn’t compress.
It is more of a structural support to hold the weight of the vehicle. They connect the wheel to the body of the truck (JD Power).
For a good visual of how these work, check out the video below on a full installation on a Toyota Tacoma.
Adjustable Height Strut Leveling Kit
Another way to adjust the height of the front of your truck is to use an adjustable strut leveling kit.
One of the best examples of this is the Bilstein 5100. This is a strut designed to be used for various heights. It is best used for half-ton trucks, though (See product here).
How this works is that you replace the stock strut with this adjustable strut but fit directly into the coilover springs and mountain hardware.
In the video below at 3:52 they start actually talking about this type of leveler.
Essentially they say that although this can change the height of a truck, adjusting the strut does not change the stiffness of the spring. This height difference creates more compression travel and less droop travel in the end.
Coil Spring or Spacer Leveling Kit
Coil springs are part of a suspension system that surrounds a strut. These are known more under the term of coilover; standing for coil spring over shock absorber.
Like adjustable heigh leveling kits, these types of components are most commonly associated with lifting a truck rather than leveling a truck, but if only applied to the front end, it certainly has the capability to level a truck.
Coil springs actually restructure the suspension unit and require many more modifications to other parts such as steering components and extra brackets to fix geometry.
Unfortunately with these types of replacements, the exact amount of lift is not as predictable. Because it changes pieces within the suspension system, it doesn’t take into account the wear of the current suspension or lack thereof.
It is not recommended that this type of lifting mechanism be used for leveling because it will be hard to align the front with the back due to the unpredictable nature of the lift and rigidity.
The video below does a good job explaining the difference between a coil lift and a spacer lift. Check it out!
The coil spring spacer is slightly different than the spring lift because it adds a spacer that sits on top of the coil spring. It creates spring compression yielding a lift and stiffer spring. This type of kit typically yields a stiffer rid.
Torsion Bar Key Leveling Kit
This process involves changing out the torsion key of a car. The torsion key is connected to the torsion bar of the car.
The torsion bar is a ”long spring-steel element with one end held rigidly to the frame and the other end twisted by a lever connected to the axle” (Brittanica).
The torsion key is responsible for keeping the torsion bar at the right height. So altering the torsion key can change the torsion bar which can then, in turn, lift a truck.
Doing this type of leveling does not require any new shocks and integrates with stock suspension systems (Suspension Maxx).
For a great visual on these types of kits, take a look at the video below! This shows the removal and installation of torsion keys in a GMC Sierra.
What do leveling kits do?
Some of the main reasons that you would want to install a leveling kit are to accommodate larger tires/wheels and for aesthetics. There aren’t many functional reasons to level a truck other than adding ground clearance to the front of the truck for something like offroading and attaching a load on the front of your truck such as a plow.
Take a look at the pros and cons of installing a leveling kit on your truck
- Higher clearance
- Easy to install and remove
- Improves off road capability
- Operate equipment on front end (such as plow)
- Fit larger than stock wheels
- Potentially void warranty
- Lower gas mileage
- Wear and tear – altering geometry could put stress on components
- Creates sag if heavy cargo or towing is attached
Do leveling kits hurt your truck?
For the most part, leveling kits will not hurt your truck. If installed correctly, the minor changes in a couple of inches should not damage truck suspension too much for day-to-day driving.
For offroading, towing, or carrying large cargo and more aggressive driving, you could see a negative impact on the suspension.
The most common spacer leveling kit does not typically come with any other suspensions components, but this shouldn’t affect the ride all that much because the factory suspension system stays in tact below the spacer.
However, with other lifts, such as coilovers, this can add a change to the geometry of the front suspension. What can happen here is that the other components such as control arms and other geometrical components may experience stress.
Certainly if installed incorrectly, you could experience serious damage to your truck.
Though I disagree with the statement made in the video below, it does demonstrate the potential impacts you could see in your truck if you don’t adjust the rest of the suspension system.
Finding the right leveling kit for your truck
Depending on your year and model, you may require a different leveling kit for your truck.
There is no one-size-fits-all necessarily.
Custom Offsets has an extensive shop to search by year, make, model, and drive to ensure you get the right fit.
Leveling kit Brands
These are some of the top leveling kit brands.
Before making the decision to level your truck you need to ask yourself this question.
Do I plan to tow or carry equipment frequently with my truck?
If you answered YES to this question, you should not level your truck.
If you plan to only use your truck for regular driving and light loads, want to upgrade your tires, and just want to remove stock rake, then a leveling kit is for you.
I suggest you do your due diligence before you attempt to install these yourself as you could damage the suspension if done incorrectly.
Find the right leveling kit for you right now!