Off Road Xtreme presents Ask a Counter Guy, a new series that will explore common questions that off-road enthusiasts may bring into a local shop such as which Toyota Tacoma suspension upgrades are right for me. The world of performance modifications can be a tricky one to navigate, especially when you are a novice to truck upgrades or simply just a new vehicle owner unfamiliar with the platform. We hope this might preface some challenges and offer solutions.
“I just bought a 2021 Tacoma TRD off-road and I want to level it out. What should I budget for and will this get me the off-road performance I need?” – Freddy H. Fontana, CA
Leveling a Tacoma can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. But first you should determine the level of performance that you desire out of the truck. With this customer living in Fontana, he has easy access to the High Desert and miles of sprawling flat-lands, but also a quick jaunt away from the challenging Jeep trails of Big Bear. While high-speed desert driving and low-speed rock crawling are entirely different styles of driving, the Tacoma’s suspension does not need to differ much. The TRD off-road truck suspension is decent from the factory, but handling issues off-road, especially at speed, may become an issue.
Bottom Option Tacoma Suspension Upgrade: Budget Leveling Kit Is Not Ideal For Off-Road Use.
The most obvious and cheapest option is to level a truck with a spacer. Adding a spacer on top of the strut will allow more room for a somewhat larger tire. The negative drawback is that it effectively removes down travel from your suspension. The Tacoma only has around 8-inches of total suspension travel, with usually around 5-6-inches reserved for droop. By removing 2-inches of that droop, you’re limiting travel and harshening ride. The factory dampers are tuned to work within a specific range of travel and now they will no longer match up. While larger tires will absorb some of the negative ride quality, spacers are the cheapest option far and wide. Budget around $600 to have a shop install a leveling kit and perform an alignment. Always align a vehicle after modifying the suspension!
Middle Tacoma Suspension Upgrade: Entry Level Performance For Moderate Dirt Exposure.
If you have been talked out of the spacer route, the next option is ditching the factory shocks. Replacement shock options are all over the off-road industry, but it is extremely hard to argue with the Bilstein offerings. From OE replacements like the B6 4600, to the 5100 Ride Height Adjustable shocks, and 6112 series kit shocks, Bilstein has perfected the on-road comfort while maintaining off-road capability. The German company’s long history of OE manufacturing also leads to low-maintenance and minimal squeaking with long life expectancy. Fox’s IFP 2.0 line is a great option if you’re looking for a bit of an upgrade. Comparable to the 6112s, but packaged as a complete unit, Fox uses an Eibach coil to improve handling on- and off-road. For suspension only, plan on spending $1000 (Bilstein 5100) to $1500 (Fox 2.0) to have this package professionally installed.
Ask The Expert: Pro Tip. A Little Work Goes A Long Ways!
In my experience, 10 out of 10 times this customer is also going to be changing out wheels and tires at the same time. The Tacoma platform redesign in 2017 made the wheel-wells even smaller than the previous generation. Unless you’re planning on fiberglass fenders, the biggest tire size you’ll squeeze under a Taco is probably 285/70R17 (33-inch x 11.5-inch equivalent). If your shop does not go out of their way and recommend it, ask if they can perform a body mount chop to clear the extra space behind the front wheel-well and the forward-most body mount. It is a simple modification that could be easily be done at home but does require a bit of fabrication know how and a welder.
Skip to 1:42 to see the frame opened up
The body mount chop requires notching out the frame and welding in a new plate, so make sure you understand how that type of modification will affect your vehicle’s warranty. This type of job should take no more than 2 hours of shop labor by a competent welder.
Top Choice Option: For The Frequent Off-Roader, Save Up And Do It The Right Way!
If you find yourself as the customer who has dollars burning a hole in their pocket, or absolutely needs the best setup, this is where you’re looking. There are two schools of thought with the Tacoma market specifically, but ultimately you’re looking at a complete suspension swap – your struts, shocks, control arms and leaf springs are all getting upgraded! Struts will get swapped out for coilovers and the OE rears will get replaced with a reservoir shock, which houses substantially more shock fluid.
Frequent compression and expansion in the shocks from aggressive, off-road driving heats up and thins the shock fluid, lessening how well the shock performs. Performance coilovers and reservoir shocks are designed to handle this heat build-up much better than an OE replacement style shock. King, Fox, Icon Vehicle Dynamics, Old Man Emu, and Bilstein are the dominant players in this market. By replacing your control arms, you’re gaining back the droop lost from the additional height and the leaf springs will come in a variety of load capacities depending on how much static weight you plan on carrying. While the idea is to improve handling and comfort, each manufacturer approaches the solution differently.
Consider Acquiring Parts Over Time To Help Spread Out The Cost.
Icon and Old Man Emu are the only manufacturers that will replace your entire suspension under one roof – leaf springs included. Icon designs their suspension for high speed, heavy off-road use with adjustable valving as an option. Old Man Emu comes from the Outback and builds their suspension for the overland crowd; OME leaf springs can be found on just about any Tacoma with a bed rack and a rooftop tent. King and Fox strictly manufacture coilovers and shocks, but will work very well with a Deaver or Atlas leaf pack and Camburg control arms. Long story short, this segment has a ton of brand loyalty; but, you cannot go wrong upgrading within this tier. Depending on what direction you go, expect a complete package here to run anywhere from $5000 to $7000 plus wheels and tires.
Ask The Expert Credentials:
Joe has years of experience working an off-road parts counter and wants to change the stigma surrounding “parts guys”. While we have all experienced the counter person who has to ask what your trim is to figure out a replacement starter, not all are incompetent. This recurring article will explore various scenarios and the good, better, and best solutions available for each situation. Submit your questions on what parts you’re thinking about buying in the comment section below!