My experience with a spacer lift

Discussion in 'Aftermarket Products, Reviews & Installation' started by geekyadam, May 15, 2018.

  1. geekyadam

    geekyadam Well-Known Member

    With some simple searching on TacomaForum, TacomaWorld, and countless other sites, it is easy to find many opinions on using a spacer lift. Here's my experience and recommendations from actually installing one myself on my daily driver which I occasionally take on some light to medium trails.

    I have a 2017 TRD Sport DCSBMT. Of the many differences between the TRD Off-Road and TRD Sport models, one of the possibly lesser-known areas is that the Off-Road comes with Bilstein struts which are somewhat softer/looser, whereas the Sport comes with Hitachi struts and are a good bit tighter. This just means that the Off-Road has some better/smoother travel when offroading or popping a curb when you're mallcrawling. Since I've gotten more into offroading than intended, I started to notice the tightness of my Sport's suspension...especially when following my buddy's stock TRD Off-Road and watching his suspension travel, then hitting the same line and my truck practically bounces off the rock instead. I wanted to replace the suspension but didn't want to spend a lot of money on a nice kit yet until I put some money into more important areas like sliders, AT tires (Sport comes with all-seasons which work okay, but are crap in mud/slippery trails), etc. So my plan was to just get some Bilstein 5100s and OME coils and ride those into the ground before upgrading to a proper suspension kit. However, I found someone on Craigslist nearby me that was selling full TRD Off-Road suspension (the factory Bilsteins) with a pre-load/in-coil spacer kit already installed, rear blocks, and uni-ball upper control arms, all for $200! (take 10 minutes to search around online for a 3" spacer kit alone and you'll see that's a steal of a price for everything included) Here's everything that he sold me for $200:
    • 2015 TRD Off-Road front factory Bilsteins with pre-loaded 3" spacer
    • additional top-mounted 1" spacers for front
    • 2" rear blocks
    • uni-ball upper control arms
    • longer rear struts to accommodate for lifted height
    • diff-drop kit
    • all related installation hardware, including extended leaf u-bolts for the blocks
    • this is a stock image of the Tuff Country lift kit:
    A pre-load spacer kit means the spacer is inside of the coilover, rather than on top, which means that to remove the spacer [safely] you need a proper strut compression machine, which you can usually only find at a decent garage/mechanic.
    (you can see the 3" pre-load spacer pushing the spring down + the 1" top-mount spacer on top of the coilover)

    I try to do everything with my own two hands whenever possible, that's just my thing. So I decided to leave the spacers on and install the whole kit rather than taking to a garage to disassemble the pre-load spacers. I installed the entire kit, including 3" pre-load spacers + 1" top-mount spacers in front on the Off-Road factory Bilsteins, longer rear struts, rear blocks, and upper control arms. I've been driving it for a few months now. While it is cool that I'm higher up in the truck, I intend to remove all spacers soon. Here's why...

    First off, with the loss of both upward and downward travel from a combination spacer lift like mine, you feel everything. You start to go out of your way to avoid potholes and the like, because you cringe every time a front wheel hits one with a loud CLUNK sound, which could mean your UCAs are hitting your spring, which is never good.
    Besides that, one of the best uses for a spacer lift is to fit larger tires on a stock truck without rubbing etc. However, many experienced offroaders and truck-modders will tell you the same thing when it comes to replacing stock tires and other factory equipment; if you want to upgrade something drive it til it needs replaced then replace and upgrade as you replace it. Since I agree with that mentality, I won't be replacing these tires with AT 33s until Spring 2019 [or maybe this Winter 2018 if they're worn down enough to be crap in the snow]. So I don't have a need for the spacer lift at this time, except for the cool-factor of driving a lifted truck. And while I fully admit it is fun driving a lifted truck, my suspension is now just as stiff as when I rode stock Sport suspension (potentially a little more stiff honestly). When I did a trail with my buddy earlier this year, I was still bouncing when I should have been traveling, which was most of the original reason I wanted to change my stock suspension in the first place.

    I gave the spacers a try because they were already installed in the coilover, but I'll be removing the spacers and going to just stock Off-Road suspension on my Sport. I did get a pair of AALs for the rear for cheap from the same guy (he replaced is suspension all around so was selling all his old gear), however that would give me big-time rake without a lift up front, so going to wait until I get 5100s + OME coils to lift the front without spacers. Luckily the uni-ball UCAs are great and the longer rear struts and diff drop kit are all still useful to me, so I now only need just front 5100s and the OME coils and I have everything else for a decent non-spacer lift. I should have good travel, and can fit larger tires more easily. So once I order those 5100s and OME coils and get everything installed, this will be my suspension setup:
    • front Bilstein 5100 HAs + OME coils
    • uni-ball UCAs
    • longer rear struts
    • AALs
    • diff drop kit (if I want to...going to do lift and see if I want to do it or not)

    In conclusion, I don't think spacer lifts are a terrible option, but if you intend to flex (at all, even a little bit) you won't be happy. If you flex a lot, you could easily cause damage, especially if you run stock UCAs. My tip for those thinking about getting spacers: save your money and put it towards a cheap suspension lift such as Bilstein 5100s or even just switching from a tight suspension to the Off-Road factory Bilsteins. This is the same thing nearly everyone says on the subject, but not everyone has actual first-hand experience using a spacer lift for both daily-driver and offroading, they just say "DON'T USE SPACERS NOOB!". Granted, I only go offroading on some light-medium trails once every month or two, a small enough level of offroading that I could easily justify keeping the spacer lift and I'm confident it wouldn't cause damage to the truck...but I'm still removing them. The way I see it, if you get spacers, it is very likely you will replace them in a matter of time, so you're better off saving that money for a little bit longer and getting actual suspension upgrades piece by piece.

    For technical knowledge of spacer lifts, this is my opinion of the best resource:
    Read that before doing anything spacer-related.

    Hope this helps someone.
    Toki, TacoToy4JC and Bogunn like this.
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  3. Bogunn

    Bogunn Well-Known Member

    Good write up.
    geekyadam likes this.
  4. Bojangles

    Bojangles Well-Known Member

    Buy once, cry once.
    Spacers are great

    At snapping shocks

    Also, did the offroad stop coming with progressive coils?
    Bogunn likes this.
  5. OR17TRD

    OR17TRD Well-Known Member

    I like to cry :(
    Bogunn and Bojangles like this.
  6. Bojangles

    Bojangles Well-Known Member

    Get sumdem 4000 lumenx2 auxbeamlights and have a friend drive your truck behind you while you drive their vehicle.... make it a civic or something.
    Bogunn and OR17TRD like this.
  7. OR17TRD

    OR17TRD Well-Known Member

    Trying to think if I know anyone with a civich
    Bogunn and Bojangles like this.
  8. Bojangles

    Bojangles Well-Known Member

    Maybe just walk in front of the truck. Without shades or tint over ur face.
    Bogunn and OR17TRD like this.
  9. OR17TRD

    OR17TRD Well-Known Member

    I wear my sunglasses at night.
    Bojangles likes this.
  10. Bogunn

    Bogunn Well-Known Member

    Thanks for giving me my next mod. 8,000,000.48483 lumen headlights.
    Bojangles and OR17TRD like this.
  11. Bogunn

    Bogunn Well-Known Member

    Haha. Great advice.
    Bojangles likes this.
  12. Bogunn

    Bogunn Well-Known Member

    Chin up slugger. No need to cry.
    Bojangles and OR17TRD like this.

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