I wrote this up the other day, and figured I'd publish it today.
I've done extensive research on the suspension of the Tacoma, and plan to do more, but here is what I have...
2nd generation Toyota Tacoma Suspension
The Tacoma uses coilover shocks, with progressive coils to support the front of the vehicle. There is 4’’ of up travel, and 4’’ of down travel when stock, when the suspension articulates and reaches full “droop” on down travel, it is stopped by a ball joint, and when the suspension articulates all the way up, there is a bump stop on the lower control arm that will hit the frame and stop the suspension.
There are a few basic lift kits I want to go over, first we have an in coil spacer. This is often a piece of polyurethane that is placed between the coil and the “hat” of the coilover, compressing the coil, making the assembly longer to achieve lift.
This type of lift kit is cheap to buy, but requires a coil compressor for install, which is usually a job to bring to a mechanic.
Unfortunately when you add a spacer like that inside the coil of a progressive spring, it has a large effect on ride comfort, this would be the least comfortable way of lifting your Tacoma.
The next lift is an above coil spacer, this is usually a piece of steel or aluminum that is bolted to the top of the coil over assembly, which is then bolted into the stock mounting location. This is also easy on the wallet.
This lift can be installed in your home garage with basic tools, and ride comfort won’t suffer, as the coilover hasn’t been changed, just moved down.
The problem you may encounter with this lift, is that the suspension articulation is now changed, where we had 4’’of up travel and 4’’ of down travel at stock, it is now moved a few inches depending on the size of the spacer, common spacers are around 3’’, when you add the inches to the top, it means you will now have 7 inches from where the lower control arm sits, to where it will hit the bump stop, the problem is that the shock itself isn’t long enough, and will bottom out before the bump stop touches the frame, resulting in shock failure over time.
This lift is great if you simply drive on the road and dirt roads to camping spots etc, but is not a great option for more hardcore wheeling.
The next option is new coilovers, you can buy parts to assemble your own which is quite common, or you can buy the entire assembly.
To build your own coilovers, you will need a set of Bilstein 5100 series ride height adjustable shocks, paired with longer, non-progressive coil springs.
Bilstein 5100 series shocks are adjustable, there are clips on the bottom part of the shock, with these you can set the clip to stock height, .85’’ of lift, 1.75’’ of lift, and 2.5’’ of lift, if these are used with the stock coils, it works the exact same as an in coil spacer, which remember, will have a negative effect on ride quality.
Now to fix this issue, we use a longer, non-progressive coil spring with the Bilstein 5100 shocks.
Longer non-progressive coil springs.
These coils are longer than the stock coils, for instance the Eibach coils alone provide 1.6’’ of lift. These are also non-progressive coils, meaning if they are compressed using the adjustability of the Bilstein shocks, ride quality won’t suffer like it would with stock coils.
Often, the Bilstein adjustable shock will be set at .85’’ of lift, with 1.6’’ lift Eibach coils, this will net you roughly 2.5’’ of lift. If you would like slightly more lift, you can buy a very small top plate spacer, MUCH smaller than the ones used as a lift kit.
These will be in the ¼’’ to ½’’ range.
Commonly the Tacoma has a slight lean to the left, as that is where the battery, driver, and gas tank are located. To compensate, you can use a smaller spacer on the pass side than the driver’s side. If you are happy with the 2.5’’ of lift you have, then you can add a small spacer to the drivers side to level the truck.
Tip: Old Man Emu (OME) is also a great option for lifting the truck, they have different coil springs for different applications, that are made to work with their shocks. Some people prefer the Old Man Emu lift over bilstein/eibach lift, and vice versa, both lifts would fit into the same category.
These are a better option than the in coil spacer and top spacer, because you won’t lose suspension travel, and you won’t risk damaging a shock due to bottoming out.
Next is pre assembled coil overs. These are the best option in lifting a Tacoma, and gaining suspension performance, they can be adjusted with a “spanner wrench” while on the truck. These use very high end shocks and coils, and can be adjusted much more precisely than the Bilstein 5100 shocks, that means you can set the drivers side to compensate for the Tacoma lean, and you can set the lift height wherever you want. These coilovers will outperform the other options because they often use a larger shock body, and even a remote reservoir, this helps keep the oil inside the shock cool, and performing it’s best when being used hard.
These coilovers can also be valved to your specific needs, based on intended use and desired ride performance. These are the best, and of course the most expensive way of lifting your Tacoma.
Rear lift options
Lifting the rear of the Tacoma is fairly simple.
You can use a lift block, which is a small block, usually between 1’’ and 2.5’’ placed between the bottom of the leaf pack and the on top of the axle. With a block, your ride quality will be as stock, however there is more leverage allowing more “axle wrap” than stock, which will slightly decrease the longevity of your leaf springs.
Next is an Add A Leaf (AAL) this is either a single leaf, or a progressive 3-leaf pack, placed between the overload leaf, and the rest of the leaf pack, these are usually 1.5’’-2’’. These will help keep a healthy bend in your leaf springs, and allow you to carry weight in the bed of the truck, with less sagging than stock.
A single AAL will have a slightly negative effect on ride quality when the truck bed is unloaded, the progressive 3 leaf pack will still be a stiffer ride than stock, but smoother than the single leaf AAL.
Tip: If your leaf springs are older and starting to sag, an AAL is a great option to bring them back to life for a bit.
A new leaf pack is a great way to lift the rear of the Tacoma, there are options for a more comfortable ride that will flex more, but sag more with weight, or a similar leaf pack to stock that achieves desired lift, while keeping your weight carrying abilities. Some of these leaf packs will have an overload leaf, and some will not, and some will have more leafs in the pack than others, you’ll need to decide what you intend to do with the truck, to decide on the best application for you.
Tip: If you would like you truck to sit level while lifting the front 3’’, use a 1.5’’ rear lift.
A common lift kit for the Tacoma is Bilstein 5100 series shocks set at .85’’ setting, matched with Eibach coil springs to achieve 2.5’’ lift, add ½’’ top spacer on drivers side, and ¼’’ top spacer on pass side to achieve roughly 3’’ lift and sit level. (Also look at OME for a similar set up)
An AAL or block to achieve 1-2’’ lift in the rear, paired also with bilstein shocks (rear are not adjustable)
That is a budget friendly lift kit worth spending your money on.
I hope this guide has helped you understand the mechanics of the Tacoma suspension, as well as decide what lift kit is best suited for your application.
All lift numbers provided are average.
If you are installing a suspension lift yourself, I have used this method in the past, and it worked extremely well, and I felt safe doing it.
However, I will not be held liable for any injuries that may occur during install, I am simply showing you what I have done in the past.