Do You Need Expensive Off-Road Suspension for Your Truck or SUV?

Just like street cars, a good set of shocks and springs can make or break your modified off-road rig before you even get the chance to break it yourself. It’s one of the most popular mods for an off-roader out there, and it’s not just for aesthetics if done correctly. There’s a lot of mysticism surrounding the real-world benefits of off-road suspension, and now it’s time to talk about it.

Donut Media says no, with an asterisk

An overhead view of Donut Media's off-road suspension course
Minimal gains for suspension mods | Donut Media

Now, normally when I write something like this I struggle with visual aids. I can’t show you with my eyes and hands what I’m talking about. Fortunately, James Pumphrey and Donut Media did the hard work for me, because they’re just good like that. Effectively what Donut did was compare off-road suspension setups and nothing else. Convenient, right?

In their video, the group compared a Toyota Tacoma with a $700 lift kit and suspension, and one with $3,200 of the same hardware. The vehicles are represented by the lines, with the stock on the left, the mid-tier Taco in the middle, and the pricey one on the right. Evidently, their $3,200 in suspension didn’t get them much further, and the middling suspension failed to perform. However, I should note that the mid-tier team’s spotter work was, by their own admission, spotty.

Where should you put your money instead?

A modified SUV participates in an off-road rally in Russia
Wading through the muck | Yelena Afonina via Getty Images

So, clearly, a whole car’s worth of off-road suspension can only get you so far. About eight feet father. Why? Tires. That’s it. No film trickery, nothing. Good old-fashioned tires should be where you put your money before even contemplating dropping that money on suspension. Just like a performance street car, tires are everything. More grip means you won’t spend time hanging off of rocks spinning wheels like the Donut crew.

Moreover, tires are going to (generally) be a whole lot cheaper than a full off-road suspension upgrade. There’s also one other benefit to tires that I’ve neglected. No, you won’t have the cool-guy lift, but that’s a good thing. Get some tires and learn first. Go do some easy trails with a spotter and work on that most important modification: your driving skill.

Off-road suspension can be worth it if done properly

Off-road suspension seen on a modified truck
A Toyota modified with off-road suspension | Roland Weihrauch via Getty Images

That said, eventually, off-road suspension is a must if you’re going to get serious about things. You’ll need the ground clearance it provides one day or another. But know that, as Donut so kindly illustrated, you won’t be getting your money’s worth without some rubber.

Sure, the lift is more fun to look at, but you’ll get so much more fun and savings out of doing things properly and fitting some solid tires first. So, in summary, make sure you’ve done the prerequisite tire and driver mods before getting suspension going. Or, do tires and suspension all in one go for maximum off-road cool points.

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