Jeep Wranglers are some of the best off-roading vehicles; however, to optimize these vehicle’s performance many choose to lift their Wrangler a few inches. If this is your first lift, there are a few things to keep in mind, such as the lift kits affect on the vehicle’s control arms.
When putting a 2.5 inch lift on a Jeep Wrangler it is wise to replace the control arms. Without this modification, the strut and the control arm could rub against each other while driving leading to serious damage. New control arms may require some other modifications as well.
Adding New Control Arms
Before we discuss whether or not you should replace your control arms, it is important to know exactly what the control arms are and what they do for the vehicle. If you are new to the world of mechanics this can help you make an informed decision when lifting your Jeep Wrangler.
Control arms center the axle from back to front and allow for proper angle calibartion. One of the control arms’ functions for your vehicle is handling and rotation.
If you have spent much time off-roading or rock crawling you know that proper handling is a must have.
Lifting a Jeep Wrangler could throw off the control arms, your vehicle’s ability to handle will be impaired. As well as impairing handling, a 2.5 inch lift could have other negative side effects.
To get the best information, we spoke with Cole, a mechanic at Kolar Tire and Auto in Helena, Montana.
Cole informed us that with the installation of a 2.5 inch lift in a Jeep Wrangler it would be wise to upgrade the control arms as well. This modification will prevent the control arm from encroaching on the strut while driving.
“When you increase the ride height, the end of the lower control arm drops … as you go over bumps the upper control arms move … if it’s to close to the strut, it’ll rub/hit as you go over any bump in the road.”Cole, Kolar Tire and Auto
This rubbing could eventually lead to premature failure of the upper control arm and strut. The replacement of the control arms and struts will then add nearly $1,000 to your Jeep’s maintenance bills.
Some Jeep users insist that this upgrade is not necessary until a lift of three or four inches is used.
Marcus, a Jeep User who kept the stock control arms on his Wrangler after a 2.5 inch lift noted that his ride was “twitchy” on a Wrangler JK forum.
This is likely due to the improper camber, caster, and pinion angles created by the change in the vehicle’s height.
Learn more about the importance of these angles in the section below!
The Pinion, Caster, and Camber Angles
The pinion, caster, and camber angles are all used to measure your vehicle’s alignment. When a vehicle is lifted, these angles are thrown off and will change how the vehicle drives.
So what are these angles and how do they relate to the control arms of your Wrangler?
The pinion angle describes the difference between the driveshaft and the pinion shaft. Cole from Kolar Tire and Auto explained that an incorrect pinion angle could lead to some serious damage it your Jeep.
“It’ll shear the pinion gear i the differential, resulting in the differential internals ‘exploding’.”Cole, Kolar Tire and Auto
There are two gear sets contained in your differentials: a carrier assembly and a ring and pinion gear set. If the pinion angle is not corrected after lifting your Jeep Wrangler, the pinion bearing will break because it is not designed to bear the load from that direction.
As the pinion gear breaks pieces will get between the teeth of the gears, damaging both sets of gears in the differential.
While not a literal explosion, this will usually all happen at once because of the speed the gears move at while driving, producing a loud bang.
Replacing the differential could cost a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand depending on the extent of the damage.
The caster angle measures the slope of the steering axis. Having an improper caster angle will decrease stability as well as change the direction that the tires prefer to drive (which is usually straight).
Meanwhile, the camber angle describes the tilt of the tire. The camber angle is used to calculate load distribution across the tire’s tread. Incorrect camber angles will result in excessive wear on certain parts of the tire. An improper camber angle will also cause the vehicle to pull to one side reducing the vehicle’s handling capability.
Learn more about the alignment angles in your vehicle and what they mean from Exploration Outfitters here!
Still not sure how these angles will affect your Jeep’s suspension? Check out this video from Extreme Terrain to learn about how a lift will change your pinion and caster angles and the effect this will have while driving.
Although some Jeep users have lifted their Wranglers without new control arms and have experienced little to none of the problems above, it is better to be safe than sorry. New control arms cost about $300 while the cost of potentially repairs could be several thousand dollars.
If any of your alignment angles are off, replace the control arms to ensure your vehicle continues driving properly for as long as you have it.
While new control arms can help correct some of the alignment angle issues described above, they could still be off depending on the lift kit.
After installing the new control arms check the pinion, caster, and camber angles again. If any of these angles are off from the factory settings, even it is just off by a degree or two, you can use an offset ball joint to correct the alignment.
“A lift kit will usually have all the correct parts you need, but every now and then an offset ball joint will be required depending on the vehicle. You can’t really tell unless it’s on an alignment rack.”Cole, Kolar Tire and Auto
Installing an offset ball joint can be done in just a few steps; however, if you have little to no mechanic experience it may be best to take your Wrangler to a local professional.
Start by raising the vehicle with either a lift or jackstands and remove the tire. You will then need to remove any pieces blocking the spindle. This should include the brake caliper, brake rotor, tie rod end, and hub bearing.
Removing the spindle will give you access to both the upper and lower ball joints. Remove the upper ball joint and install the offset ball joint.
Be sure to set the new ball joint in the right direction to correct the angle issue.
Reinstall the pieces that were removed earlier in the correct order and then recalibrate the alignment angles. If the angles do not meet the factory specifications you will need to reposition the offset ball joint until they do.
Learn how to do this installation from Tredalign by clicking here!
Benefit of Lifting a Jeep
While the warnings above may feel like an attempt to scare you out of lifting your Jeep Wrangler, there are actually plenty of reasons you should install a lift kit in your Jeep.
Lifting your Wrangler can increase ground clearance from the standard ten inches to nearly twelve or thirteen inches. This will allow you to take your Jeep on adventures on more uneven ground without any fear of scraping. This is especially beneficial for those who enjoy taking their Wrangler rock crawling.
Liftin a Jeep also allows you to use bigger, better tires. The stock tires on a 2020 Jeep Wrangler range between 31.5 inches to 32.7 inches depending on the model. The Rubicon will have the largest tire size and ground clearance of all Wrangler models.
While Wranglers do not come with necessarily small tires, bigger tires can create better grip and even increase ground clearance for off-roading.
The last benefit to lifting a Jeep Wrangler is that it just looks cool! You can show off your lifted Jeep to your friends and even take them off-roading to show off its incredible abilities.
While Cole from Kolar Tire and Auto agreed that lifted Jeeps look cool he included a word of caution to keep in mind when lifting your Jeep.
“It raises the center of gravity so they’re a lot more likely to roll over.”Cole, Kolar Tire and Auto
Before lifting your Jeep, consider where and how you will be using it. If you will be using the Jeep primarily as a daily driver there really is no need to lift it; however, if you are a frequent off-roader and rock crawler take your Jeep to a certified mechanic to discuss the correct lift and modifications for your Wrangler.