Congratulations — you bought your first UTV! You’ve been riding around all over the dang place and having a stinking blast. You no longer have to sit shotgun with that one friend that convinced you to take the plunge in the first place. Now you look forward to the weekends when you don’t have any plans because that means it’s a riding weekend.
There’s one problem: Just about everybody you talk to has a lift kit… and now you want one too. But where to start? Your buddy has a small lift kit that he paid a few hundred bucks for. Maybe that’s for you. Betty went big with her lift and now she brings a step ladder with her to get into the driver’s seat. Is that too big? Jimmy went the cheap route and built his own lift out of bits of other people’s leftover scraps. You know you don’t want that.
You’ve come to the right place, you first-time lifter. We’ll break it down so you can figure out how much effort a lift takes to install, how much money you can expect to spend, and the benefits of each. Let’s get started.
What Can a Lift Kit Do for You?
I’m guessing that you have three reasons for getting a lift kit.
1.) You want more clearance.
2.) You want bigger tires.
3.) They make your machine (and you by extension) look good.
One or more of those apply to you right now, so let's see how each type of lift accomplishes those three goals and for what price.
What Kind of Lifts are Available?
There are really just three types of lifts you’ll come across: spring spacer lifts, bracket lifts, and portal gear lifts. Spring spacer lifts and bracket lifts involve making your shocks and suspension reach further—portal lifts put the lift right out in the hub instead of at the shock.
Spring Spacer Lift
Spring spacer lifts are your most basic lift. I’m tempted to call them “entry level” but that doesn’t really go far enough.
Spring spacer lift kits typically include 4 machined aluminum spacers (one for each shock) and nothing else. That’s right, no bolts, brackets, or hardware. You will need tools to get your shocks off your machine, and you’ll want a dedicated spring compressor tool to get the spacer on safely. It’s all super basic stuff that won’t put a dent in your wallet. You can install a spring spacer kit by yourself in under 2 hours.
The benefits of a spring spacer lift are obvious: they’re cheap and easy to install. They’re limited in the amount of lift they can deliver—typically 1-2 inches only—but they’re a decent bang for your buck.
Spring Spacer Lift Breakdown
1.) Clearance: When it comes to our three goals for a lift kit, a spring spacer lift might come up a little short. You get a modest amount of clearance (the aforementioned 1-2 inches) and you’ll clear some obstacles that tangled you up before, but it won’t be a major game changer.
2.) Tire Size: It’s hard to quantify how much a lift will increase your max tire size exactly because every make, model, and year is different. You'll probably be able to sneak in another inch or so of tire diameter. A small increase, but it can make big differences in certain circumstances.
3.) Style: Finally, and most importantly, the coolishness factor. This is a pretty straight-forward scale: bigger = better. This one is right at the bottom of the scale—it's better than nothing and it looks cool, but we're just getting started here.
Bracket lifts are the most common type of lift in the industry. They can be big (5"-10") or small (2"-4") in size. You'll find a greater variety of bracket lifts than any other style. That means that more companies are fighting to make the best most affordable bracket lifts possible.
Bracket lifts work by moving the mounting points of your shocks, which essentially make your shocks longer. That pushes you’re A-arms and/or trailing arms down further giving you lift. These lifts are built with welded steel plates that fit around your factory shock mounting points in order to move them. This is usually done at the upper mounting point but can also be done at the lower mounting point on the A-arm itself.
Small bracket lifts (2"-4") usually include these brackets for the front and rear suspension and nothing else. They're simple to install and shouldn't take longer than 2 hours. Some bracket lifts will include one bracket for one end and one pair of spring spacers for the opposite end.
Big bracket lifts (5"-10") are much more involved and require new trailing arms, radius arms, A-arms, axles, tie rods, and brake lines. Occasionally they'll come with new shock springs or new, longer shocks altogether which forego the need for brackets. Any good big lift kit will come with everything you need in the box (or several boxes) including a steering stop kit to keep you form binding your axles.
Installation takes time. If you've never done work like this on your machine before, you should plan a full weekend. If you can coax an experienced friend or neighbor to help you out, you can finish it in half a day. The holdups come from installing new brake lines (bleeding brakes can be aggravating the first few times you do it) and the sheer volume of parts you're replacing. Just offer to buy your buddy lunch and get him in the garage with you.
Small Bracket Lift Breakdown
1.) Clearance: Up to 4" of clearance is a game changer. You'll notice a major difference in the types of terrain your machine can handle and the types of obstacles you can roll right over. Smaller rocks and bushes ain't got nothing on your extra 4" of lift... the big ones will still give you grief though.
2.) Tire Size: Now we're talking. You should be able to upgrade your tire size by two or three inches with a 4" lift. You'll see major changes in your ride height and your terrain tackling ability with bigger tires. Not to mention they look good.
3.) Style: Speaking of looking good, a small bracket lift is starting to break into that "lift look" that caught your attention in the first place. But let's see how far we can push it.
4.) Price: $200-$500
Big Bracket Lift Breakdown
1.) Clearance: 10" of lift, are you kidding me? You're on your way to clearing fifty-gallon barrels with a lift like that.
2.) Tire Size: With a 10" lift you're only limited by your machine. We're talking 36"+ on most machines. With tires that big and heavy, you'll want to think about installing a gear reduction kit to keep from destroying your drive train and burning up belts.
3.) Style: This is it. As big as it gets without some serious custom fab. You'll get complements everywhere you go, just make sure you bring that step ladder with you.
4.) Price: $1000-$3000
Portal Gear Lifts
Portal Gear Lifts are a whole other beast with some serious benefits over traditional lifts. You can get this kit as a 4" or a 6" lift. The lift itself comes in the form of a box hub that replaces your OEM hub. That means this kit comes with four hubs—one for each wheel.
Each hub has an input where the outer end of your axle goes in, and an output shaft four or six inches lower where your wheel attaches. The lower output shaft is driven by gears inside the box that also give you gear reduction which increases your torque.
What does all that mean for you? Keep your stock A-arms trailing arms, axles, and tie-rods. Your suspension geometry is unchanged, so you don't put any extra stress on your drive train even with bigger tires. Portal gear lifts change everything. Even those impossible looking trails are child's play with a portal gear lift installed. Other lifts don't have that major performance boost. The price tag might be a little higher than your average bracket lift, but the benefits are worth the investment.
A portal gear lift includes four hubs, brackets and steering arms for each of those arms, and brake lines. The installation is not terribly complicated (apart from bleeding the brake lines) but it takes time to get everything mounted in place. This is another buddy job: less than one day with a buddy; two or more days by yourself.
Portal Gear Lift Breakdown
1.) Clearance: Not as big as the biggest bracket lifts but six inches is nothing to scoff at. You'll find your way over tough obstacles like they were flat ground with six extra inches of clearance combined with that 45% gear reduction. SuperATV Portal Gear Lifts make your machine 8" wider, granting more stability.
2.) Tire Size: With 2" or 3" larger tires, you will increase your clearance further and notice a huge difference in your capabilities. The best part is that you have no need for a gear reduction kit—it's built right in!
3.) Style: That huge clearance, those monster tires, and killer ride performance to boot? It's the full package, and it's sure to turn eyes from coast to coast.
4.) Price: $2,899.95-$3,399.95
The Mega Lift
There's one more thing you can do to take your lift game over-the-top. It's unbeatable, and unstoppable. It's the Coup de Grace of lift kits and it's reserved only for the most experience and ambitious lift fanatics.
I'm talking about putting a big 10" lift on top of a 6" portal gear lift. It's possible (portals don't screw with your suspension, remember?), it's been done, and we do it all the time here at SuperATV.
10" Lift Kit + 6" Portal Kit Breakdown
1.) Clearance: !?
2.) Tire Size: Tractor++
3.) Style: ∞
4.) Price: Who cares!
Now that you've got the knowlege to find the perfect lift for you, it's time to go out and get one. Whether you go with a spacer lift or a portal gear lift, you won't have any regrets. Spending money on your machine is all about having more fun. So have fun in the best possible way by riding a little higher than you used to.