Project F-150 Earns A Lift, Wheels And Tires, And A Finance Degree

So you’re looking at new trucks? Who isn’t. Every time one of us drives by a dealership and sees all that shiny new paint, we just naturally slow down and ogle the new pickups sitting on the lot. The really smart dealerships have now taken to working with outfitters and local shops to set up those new trucks with all sorts of goodies to catch your attention.

It’s an attractive proposition. You can drive that brand-new truck off the lot with aftermarket wheels and tires, a lift or leveling kit, and possibly even bumpers, lights, fender flares, and a few other customizations that normally you might have to wait to save up the money to add.

Blue Collar Blue Oval sits perched on the lift about to undergo its ProLift two-inch leveling kit, Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheel, and Toyo LT305/55R20 Open Country A/T II Xtreme tire transformation.

In addition, you don’t have to worry about locating a shop to do the installations (or do it yourself) and have the truck out of your possession while installations are being done. However nice all that sounds, there is a downside. Let’s discuss that.

What if those parts and accessories are not exactly what you want? How long do you shop for the perfectly accessorized truck on a dealer lot before realizing that no matter what you can’t find the combination you desire?

As well, have you considered that those accessories the dealership received from the outfitter or custom shop were certainly done so at a considerable mark-up? Now those same parts are almost assuredly being marked-up again as they are being passed on to you.

The Prolift two-inch leveling kit for 2004 to 2013 Ford F-150 pickups consists of 6061-T6 aircraft grade billet aluminum spacers with special elastomer vibration dampers.

Also take into account that unless you just won the lottery, inherited a windfall from rich Uncle Ernie, or are just plain wealthy, you are most likely financing this entire deal, aftermarket accessories and all. Now those wonderful accessories are costing you a few points interest every month, instead of being bought and paid for in the first place.

Now shopping for a new truck that’s been customized doesn’t sound like such a great deal does it? It may be more practical to purchase a base truck, choose the exact parts and accessories you truly desire, rather than accept what the dealer has chosen, and either install them yourself or have them installed by a local shop.

Our special elastomer ring set into the spacer interrupts harmonics (vibrations) moving through the spacer. – Randy Haflich, Prolift

Real World

Well, just for argument’s sake, we decided to do some comparison pricing to see what the numbers really look like as part of the first installment of our Project Blue Collar Blue Oval 2013 Ford F-150 XLT 4×4 CrewCab EcoBoost build.

The idea for this project is to do a real-world build that most truck owners can do on their own at a reasonable budget. Upgrades along the way may include suspension, wheels tires, fender flares, power steps, light bar with LED lights, a spray-in bedliner, cold air intake, exhaust, and a performance tune.

We want to showcase upgrades that won’t negatively affect ride quality or towing performance, and take the base truck to a higher level of appearance with mild performance enhancements.

Once the steering was centered and locked, and wheels removed, we began unbuttoning the outer tire rod nut, ball joint nuts, and separating the ball joints front the knuckles.

We couldn’t find a perfect apples-to-apples comparison for our first shot, but what we did find will suit the purpose, and is typical of what sits on thousands of new automotive dealer lots. The suspension, wheel, and tire alterations were the first group of modifications we tackled since that is where most new truck buyers begin.

On The Level

First, let’s discuss our choice of suspension upgrade. Prolift Suspension offers a number of suspension upgrade products for 4×4 vehicles, including GM, Ram, Jeep, Nissan, Toyota, and Ford. It has a two-inch front leveling kit for the 2004 to 2013 Ford F-140 4×4 that will bring the nose high enough to allow the fitment of tires up to 33/12.50 without fender mods or obstruction.

The Prolift Suspension kit Number 2000 consists of two integrated front spacers and uses the stock front springs and shocks to maintain the factory ride quality and comfort, while delivering the extra two inches of height in the front suspension. In addition, this is just enough to give the F-150 a slightly more aggressive stance, as opposed to its sloping factory droop.

Other features and benefits of the Prolift Suspension kit components are aircraft-grade hot-forged 6061-T6 billet aluminum construction, CAD-CAM machining, Mil-spec hardcoat nickel anodized surface for corrosion and wear resistance, and the company’s anti-vibration technologies that include tuned damping design and a special elastomer built into the spacer that help absorb vibrations.

At this point, we also removed the three nuts around the top of the struts, but did not remove the center nut on the strut yet. Using a white marker, we then noted the alignment of the coil to the shock inside, as well as which was passenger side and driver side for proper reassembly.

Randy Haflich of Prolift Suspension explains the action of the elastomer. “Imagine a wine glass. If you tap it, the vibration makes the entire glass ring, but if you place a rubber band around the glass, the harmonic can’t travel up past the rubber band. Our special elastomer ring set into the spacer interrupts harmonics (vibrations) moving through the spacer.”

… in the final step the wheel is painted in a high quality gloss clear coat, making maintenance as easy as washing your truck. – Carl Robinson – Dick Cepek

They are designed to help keep the factory suspension geometry for proper alignment, handling, performance, and safety. They are also installer friendly with no cutting, drilling, grinding or welding needed. When was the last time you saw that?

The struts were removed; but first, they both were marked for alignment to the coil and marked passenger- and driver-side for proper re-assembly. The struts are under extreme pressure, and if you don’t have a suitable spring compressor, Prolift recommends the vehicle be taken to a qualified service center for this operation.

Installation of the Prolift Suspension kit was relatively easy. Once the truck was properly supported and secured with jack stands, the front wheels, outer tie rods and lower struts could be removed. The upper ball joint nuts were removed and the ball joint separated from the knuckle.

The entire coil/shock strut assemblies were removed from the vehicle. The alignment of the factory top plates and the coils were marked for proper reassembly. A spring compressor was mounted and the coils compressed.

We removed the factory top plates from the struts. The upper factory shock tube guards were removed and discarded. Prolift’s spacers were installed between the coil spring steel top plates and the rubber isolators, making sure the small diameters of the Prolift spacers faced toward the coil springs, and that the rubber isolators fit over the small diameters.

The shocks were slid back through the coils, making sure the shock shafts were centered through the factory top plate holes. With the previously marked alignment correct, the center strut nuts were tightened to factory specifications. We then reinstalled the struts, and tightening all hardware to factory specifications.

Run And Gun

The next step, once the tie rods, ball joint, knuckle, and brake lines were all tightened up again and inspected, was to move on to the new wheels and tires. For Project Blue Collar Blue Oval we picked a set of Dick Cepek 20×8.5-inch Gun Metal 7 wheels.

Made in two sizes, 17×8.5 and 20×8.5, the Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 (GM7) wheels were designed especially for light duty pickups in lifted and “leveled” configurations. Leveled trucks are becoming a huge target for aftermarket wheel and tire packages, and the fitment range developed for the GM7 is ideal for this application, as the wheel addresses the hub-centric needs of vehicles such as the 2003 and newer F-150.

The factory top plates were removed from the strut assemblies. We removed and discarded the factory upper shock tube guards. Then the Prolift spacers were installed in the factory coil spring top plates with the small diameter of the spacer facing toward the coil spring.

The GM7 is a low-pressure cast poured wheel made from premium A-356 aluminum, is TPMS sensor-friendly (perfect, since we re-installed a set of Dorman TPMS sensors available through Summit Racing), and designed to exceed all O.E. standards for load rating. To get its perfect fit and finish, the GM7 wheel goes through a two-step process.

Carl Robinson at Dick Cepek Tires and Wheels explained, “Before finish, the raw casting enters a series of lathe and mill operations to insure centricity and surface texture. The wheel is then powdercoated in its namesake Gun Metal hue, returned to the lathe for a secondary “diamond-cut” machining operation, and in the final step the wheel is painted in a high quality gloss clear coat, making maintenance as easy as washing your truck.”

We installed the factory rubber isolators on the Prolift spacers making sure they fit over the small diameters of the spacers (top left). Then the Prolift spacers and rubber isolators were reinstalled on their matching strut assemblies (top right). After that was completed, the strut assemblies were reinserted into their respective front driver and passenger suspension positions to be reinstalled (bottom).

One of the things that attracted us to the GM7 was the seven-spoke design. It offered a diversion from the typical five-spoke wheel. As well, the curved-lip transition into the barrel area looks good and should help make the wheel easier to clean.

The saying “where the rubber meets the road” is what is called an idiom, or the moment of truth, and that certainly applies in this case. The tires of a vehicle are the contact between the road or the earth, depending upon where you are are driving at the moment. Tires determine how much traction and control you either do or do not have.

All Terrain Action

The Toyo Open Country A/T, was a huge seller for Toyo Tires. The next-generation A/T II was of ultimate importance. Drew Dayton of Toyo Tire told us, “The development goals for the Open Country A/T II were to increase mileage and reduced noise while maintaining the aggressive all-terrain tread design and off-road performance the Open Country A/T was known for. The Open Country A/T II is available in select sizes as an “Xtreme” version with a more aggressive tread design for improved off-road performance.”

The Open Country A/T II is also available in select sizes as an “Xtreme” version with a more aggressive tread design for improved off-road performance. – Drew Dayton

That is why we went with the Toyo Open Country A/T II tire for Project Blue Oval. It’s a good choice for overall performance and wear on any light truck, but it looks especially well suited for the F-150. The LT305/55R20 Open Country A/T II we chose is an “Xtreme” version and fills the wheel wells nicely with an aggressive tread that lends the truck a tough edge without making the sleek XLT look like something out of the new Mad Max movie.

Load ratings for the Toyo Open Country A/T II climb as high as 4,079 pounds and up to a load rating E; and nearly 100 sizes are available to fit 15- through 22-inch wheels with sizes ranging from 30×9.5R15 all the way up to LT325/50R22. Tread construction, depending upon designation is either a two- or three-ply poly casing, with two steel belts and either a single- or two-ply nylon cap. The tire comes in either a two- or three-ply poly sidewall construction depending upon size and load rating.

The sharp look of the Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheels lend an attractive style to the F-150; and the Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme tires provide all-terrain traction and long tread life wrapped in a handsome package.

So now that we have taken a good look at what we bolted up to our 2013 Ford F-150, as well as the major benefits and features of the Prolift Suspension two-inch leveling kit, Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheels, and Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme tires, let’s examine the economic comparisons we mentioned earlier.

The Crunch

The pricing of the aftermarket parts on the dealer lot truck (typical of what we saw during our surveys of Southern California area dealers) were not listed individually on the window sticker. We found them on the website of the source manufacturer.

From any angle, the new tires and wheels make the truck look pretty darn good, and it's still on the rack. Let's get it on the ground and take some measurements.

The prices of the products we installed are those found on the sources highlighted. Keep in mind, we’re not making any judgments about product quality, this is all about money and how and where you’re going to spend it.

The pre-built truck from the dealer offered a ProComp six-inch suspension system ($1,782.99), four ProComp 20-inch chrome wheels ($1,163.96), and four ProComp 35/12.50R20 all-terrain tires ($1,719.96). The spline lug nuts were $36. That brings the parts sub-total we found to $4,702.91.With the dealer credit ($995) for take-off of the stock tires/wheels, that brings the sub-total to $3,707.91. However, the complete dealer price for the package after installation was $10,995.

Chux Trux was offering the The Prolift Suspension system for $149.99. We found the four Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheels and the four Dorman Multi-fit TPMS sensors at Summit Racing for $852.32 and $199.82, respectively. And the four Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme tires were had at $1,231.96 from Express Tire. The spine lug nuts were again $36, but this time we added a $10 key. Labor was $300, plus another $100 for mounting and balancing the tires. That comes to a grand total of $2,880.15.

We don’t mean to be Captain Obvious, but even in the slightly apples-to-oranges components comparison, one can see there is a huge and mysterious gap in mark-up and labor costs. In addition, the MSRP value of the 18-inch chrome wheels and 18-inch Goodyear tires on our 2013 Ford F-150 totaled $4,073.60. The dealership did provide a $995 credit. Hmmmm.

With the truck on the pavement we used a tape measure and took before (far and center left) and after (center and far right) measurements of the differences in overall ride height and wheel well gap. We gained 2-3/4 inches in overall ride height and about an inch in wheel well clearance with the installation of the Prolift two-inch leveling kit, 20-inch Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheels, and LT305/55R20 Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme tires.

There is simply no reason to leave the stock tires with the dealer. Even if you do choose to purchase and finance a dealer accessorized truck, you should always ask for the factory wheels/wheels back. In this case, a consumer would be losing $3,078.60 on the OE wheels/tires by leaving them behind. Sure, you’re probably never going to get that kind of money for those wheels/tires on Craigslist or at the swap meet, but nonetheless, at any value, there’s just no reason to leave them with the dealer.

Another very important consideration is how much cash you will be laying out in dealer finance charges and monthly payments on those pre-installed accessories. If you assume a 3.00 percent interest rate on a six year/72 month loan of that $10,995, it will mean an additional $167.05 per month to your monthly auto loan payment! This now brings your total accessory package cost to $12,027.60 after financing.

To be sure the F-150's tire pressure monitoring system continued operating, we installed a set of Dorman TPMS units on the Dick Cepek wheels prior to mounting the Toyo tires. These sweet little things were easy to assemble and install.

Bring It On Home

So here’s our point, and we’ll sharpen it to razor fine. You have a choice; that’s what this great country is all about. You can go to any one of the thousands of auto dealerships across the USA and find a very cool truck tricked out with at the very least suspension, tire, and wheel mods already done and finance it all into one monthly sum.

Or you can find the truck you want, and then shop around for exactly those accessories you desire one by one. Then, you can either perform the installation yourself if you are so inclined, talented, and have the proper equipment; or find a qualified shop to do the work.

We are not saying one way is wrong or right for everyone, or that any of these manufacturers mentioned are of lesser quality. We simply want to encourage you to be smart with your money. After all, the more money you save, the more money you can spend on parts for your truck, right?

When you compare the appearance before (top) and after (bottom) the installation of the Prolift two-inch leveling kit, Dick Cepek Gun Metal 7 wheels, and 305/55R20 Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme tires the change is remarkable. It’s amazing what something so simple can do.

Say tuned to Off Road Xtreme for more of Project Blue Collar Blue Oval. We have a lot more planned, and with the money we saved on the suspension modification, wheel choice, and tire selection, we will be using the banked savings to get creative with future appearance and performance upgrades that make sense for the 2013 Ford F-150 4×4 CrewCab EcoBoost project truck.

For a line-by-line cost comparison break out of the project so far, take a look at the chart below. What would you like to see next? Let us know in the Comments section.

Blue Collar build comparison

About the author

Stuart Bourdon

A passion for anything automotive (especially off-road vehicles), camping, and photography led to a life exploring the mountains and deserts of the Southwest and Baja, and a career in automotive, outdoor, and RV journalism.
Read My Articles

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