The Lift Paradox

by AJ Deysel

A phrase coined by me, although not used widespread at all, and nobody really knows it. It does however describe a scenario that every single off road enthusiast I have ever met has been faced with or experienced.

Most offroaders, both beginners and somewhat experienced, want to lift their vehicle higher. This is mostly because lifting your vehicle higher, provides more clearance underneath various low hanging parts or it that get caught up on obstacles when driving off road, but also because this is ingrained into most of us off-road lovers since we were kids, you know, when we were playing outside in the sand with our big-wheeled, high-lifted Tonka trucks, and monster truck toys.

Seeing any truck, Jeep or off-roader lifted high with big tires, ignites that kid in us, however, when it gets down to actual off-road performance and capability, it is mostly counter-productive to performance and capability, often limiting it more than helping it.

Yes more ground clearance helps in most off road scenarios and situations, but at what cost?

You see, there are a few ways to gain ground clearance on a truck, and those are either a bigger tire, a higher suspension, or both.

A bigger tire, lifts the axles and differentials higher off the ground, increasing approach, break-over and departure angles, also increasing the distance of the differential between the wheels from the ground, so providing overall more clearance.

A higher suspension lift, raises the body and frame higher off the ground, improving approach, break-over and departure angles on a solid beam axle vehicle, and also lifts the differential between the tires higher off the ground on an independent suspension vehicle.

A combination of the bigger tire and higher suspension, increases all the above mentioned improvements, often even more as a higher suspension lift also allows an even bitter tire to be fitted which again increases all improvements once more, so you can end up with a HUGE skyscraper of a truck that needs a ladder to get into, and has zero chance of hitting any obstacles smaller than another truck.

So, whats the downside? Why am I calling this a paradox, if more off-road performance and capability was the goal, and more clearance helps achieve that goal, what is wrong with that?

Well, ground clearance is just one aspect of off-road capability, and often not the most importance aspect at that. Another big aspect of off-road performance, which is important to consider, is the center of gravity of the vehicle. This determines not only when your suspension will load and unload, but also the tipping or roll-over point of your vehicle. This roll-over angle is very important for many types of off-roading, including rock crawling, desert racing, mud racing, dune driving and so forth.

When you are crawling over a rock obstacle, your clearance underneath is important so that a part of your vehicle like your axle or differential does not get hung-up on a pointy, rock, but also your roll-over angle, as you will be going nowhere, with your vehicle lying upside down or on it’s side. A lower center of gravity helps the vehicle stay upright and in it’s wheels, even on steep sideways angles, inclines or declines. Hence, the Lift Paradox.

Purely lifting the sprung weight (the parts of your vehicle that is above the suspension springs), raises your center of gravity of your vehicle, so how do you gain clearance underneath without raising your center of gravity?

It’s all about the tires. Bigger tires raises your clearance underneath, but fitting them requires clearance between the tires and the body panels of the vehicle. The easy way to usually gain clearance for big tires, is by lifting the body or suspension, but we now know that this also necessarily also raises the center of gravity. This is reason why Jeep wranglers, with their separate fender flares and wheel arches from the body, are easy to remove or modify. On most other vehicles and trucks, body panels need to be cut in order to accommodate bigger tires.

What Goes Up, Must Go Wider

Center of gravity being not only about the weight of a vehicle, but also about how high that weight is above the ground, in relation to the furthest points on contact with the ground, preventing the vehicle from tipping over. So, if you lift your vehicle, we also recommend widening the ground contact point at the same time to bring the center of gravity back down to the same point that it was before the lift. So we recommend doing 2 inches wider, for every inch of lift. How do you do this, either by fitting wider offset wheels, or wider tires.

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