Lifting 101: Bronco Edition | 4 Ways to Alter Suspension with Pros and Cons of Each
While the Bronco’s stock suspension has thousands of hours of design and testing in it, it is a compromise for street use and does not mean it’s always enough for you and me. Often, standard just won’t do and is not suitable for our tastes or uses.
In the Bronco’s case, it is an off-road powerhouse with its sights set on rocks, trails, and adventures. Those adventures could require a thoughtful revision of the suspension –– or wild modifications to fit some big meaty tires.
There are a multitude of different ways that we can spring and dampen these vehicles to suit our needs and budgets. We break down the full list and discuss their merits and drawbacks.
1: Puck Spacers
Puck spacers get their name from way back in the day: hogging out the middle of a hockey puck and stacking it in the shock and spring assembly, effectively pre-loading the spring and giving lift. These days, aftermarket suppliers make ready-made and vehicle-specific spacers to stack inside the assembly. They function by simply moving the mounting surface that the springs sit on further down. This alteration pre-loads the spring, causing it to want to push back, lifting the suspension higher than it previously was. This is a great budget method for getting additional height out of coils, but it does have drawbacks.
By pre-loading the coils, you are changing the spring rate, which effects how the vehicle handles and deals with compression and rebound on the damper side of things, often negatively. You can experience things like harsher ride, and since you are not addressing other parts of the suspension that are no longer in the same place as they were stock (suspension angles), you can get some other feedback that might feel like you just turned your silky-smooth independent suspension into a dump truck running down Michigan highways.
These kits are often designed as budget options for 1-2” of lift, or for those that want to continue to utilize stock components for ease of maintenance and reliability.
- Pros: Inexpensive and effective at providing lift
- Cons: Harsher ride and handling compromises, utilizes stock components
The standard go-to for performance enhanced suspension, the coilover is a one-stop shop for improved suspension dynamics and lift. The coilover is the entire strut assembly that the Bronco ships with, tuned and improved for the desired suspension qualifications. The whole assembly is the upper and lower mounts, the shock itself, and coils. These are heavy-duty –– and sometimes race-grade –– components that can be fine-tuned to the user’s needs, being able to alter compression and rebound characteristics of the shocks and the spring rates of the coil springs being used. These setups work best, because the tailored fit does not force you to compromise handling characteristics in the quest for more height. They do have drawbacks however: cost, and not all of the suspension alterations are addressed just by the coilover itself. Being that these are full replacements, and as mentioned, often with race-grade components, they are considerably more expensive, often nearing as much as $2,000 for a bolt-in pair.
While coilovers might be the attractive option to go with, they still do not address the different angles in the suspension induced by lifting that compromise handling characteristics. To appropriately address these, you need to get those control arm angles under control and get your alignment specs back to the OEM-specified parameters. Depending on how far you want to go with suspension lift, you often can get pretty close by getting a simple alignment at your nearest tire shop. The techs will take measurements of your vehicle’s suspension angles, compare them to the OE spec sheet and adjust the camber and steering links. To really dial in another key measurement –– caster –– you need to add aftermarket upper-control arms that have adjustments built in or are adjustable, to zero in on those specifications.
Coilover kits also are available for those wanting to lift beyond the standard 3” faire, by utilizing a drop suspension bracket. The drop brackets are full cradles that attach themselves to the underside of the frame rails and allow you to drop the front differential lower down to alleviate the angles being placed upon the CV shafts. Remember, correcting your suspension component angles back as close as you can to the OEM specifications should be your No.1 goal, so if you are wanting to go sky-high, consider if you need to work up to a drop bracket kit. These should generally be avoided however, as that bracket causes loss of ground clearance, and you are back to rubbing your belly all over the rocks you just tried to get off of.
- Pros: Heavy-duty and race-grade components give you adjustability and are rebuildable. Improved ride and handling dynamics over stock. Increased suspension travel. Go faster, further.
- Cons: Expensive, complex, and require a working knowledge of suspension dynamics. Drop bracket kits come at expense of ground clearance.
The Holy Grail of speed-demons and stance-lovers the world over, long-travel suspension systems replace the entire front suspension with race-grade aftermarket components. We’re talking coilovers, upper and lower control arms, CV shafts, bump stops, and sometimes even the addition of a second set of shocks known as bypass shocks. These are the real-deal setups for getting someplace in a hurry, and they often add more than six inches of track width increase to cope with the demands of increased suspension travel. These suspensions can often double the amount of independent travel available at each wheel, providing precious cushioning if you happen to leave the ground while getting frisky.
- Pros: The Baja 1000 never stood a chance
- Cons: Suspension costs over $20,000, and expert knowledge required of suspension engineering and dynamics
4: Solid Axle Swap
People started solid axle swapping the front ends of Broncos before most people could even pick theirs up for the dealership. This is the rock-crawler’s dream. A full custom setup, it requires breaking out the plasma torch, saying goodbye to your warranty, and cutting every last suspension bracket off of the frame and welding on links that will cradle a one-ton pickup axle where that cushy independent front suspension used to be. Open your pocketbooks; it’s going to be an expensive one.
- Pros: Rock crawler king/queen
- Cons: Expensive; expert fabrication and engineering knowledge required
Making the Decision
There is no cut-and-dried methodology to changing suspension that will work best for everyone. Not everyone needs to lift their vehicle –– some just want to perfect what is already there. The Bronco is an extremely capable vehicle right out of the box that can be made even more so with simple fine-tuning.
But, if you have an itch that needs scratched, and there are more advanced trails you find yourself wanting to go down, the best way to determine what you need before you write that check is to take your Bronco out and explore with it. Document what should be addressed and make modifications there, and over a couple of fun weekends in the dirt, you will have been able to determine exactly what you need to push yourself even further into the backcountry.