By Brendan O'Keefe
If you plan on touring, towing, need more clearance or would just like a better driving and handling 4X4, then you’ll be wanting to upgrade its suspension, sooner rather than later, and there are plenty of aftermarket options available for the popular 4X4 makes and models. But what about fitting it yourself and saving a few dollars, dollars that could be better spent on buying a better quality suspension kit in the first place?
In this DIY series, we’re going to take a look at fitting new suspension to popular late-model 4X4s at home, on the ground and with a minimum of fuss. Or in other words, we’re going to pass on some of our model specific fitting tricks, to save you time and keep your frustration levels in check.
So let’s get the fine print out of the way!
This suspension fitment guide is based on what I consider to be an ideal way to fit suspension to the specific vehicle model this article is covering. It’s not necessarily the only way, nor should it be considered gospel. Suspension components are safety-critical items which must be fitted correctly, and they must be fitted by a person with an acceptable level of competence when it comes to working with vehicles and the tools used. If that isn’t you, then please have your vehicle’s new suspension fitted by a professional. No liability for issues arising from the incorrect installation of suspension components will be accepted by myself or the publishers of this article.
1 – Patience Grasshopper
A suspension upgrade should be one of the last modifications that you make to your 4X4. You only want to select spring rates after you have all of the major accessories fitted and have a solid idea of the weight the new springs will need to deal with. If you do this arse about, you’ll end up having to upgrade the springs, again, after they’ve sagged. If you try getting tricky with it and fit higher rate springs than you need now, knowing that you’ll be adding a lot of accessories later, then you’ll end up with a high riding bag of poo, and compromise wheel alignment, ride quality and handling. So, fit all of your major (heavy) accessories and then work out what spring rates you need.
2 – Buy smart
Purchase a suspension kit that includes pre-assembled struts. Coils to suit modern IFS vehicles can have spring rates exceeding 1,000lb/in, and that is far too high for common DIY coil spring compressors, which makes assembling them at home extremely dangerous. The struts should be assembled using either a hydraulic or Branick style coil spring compressor.
3 – Prepare and work smart
Mark the position of all wheel alignment eccentric bolts. This will help stop the alignment from moving too far out of spec if you loosen or remove the bolts during the assembly process.
Measure your trim heights before you start! It is recommended that trim height measurements are done from the centre of the wheel to the lip of the guard or factory flare. This keeps the measurement in line with the records kept by transport authorities and eliminates variance between wheel sizes. If the supplier requires the measurement from the bottom of the wheel, keep both on record.
Make sure you fill out all of the necessary paperwork for warranty! Many suppliers require you to record all measurements and part numbers for warranty purposes.
Do not fully tighten any pivoting bolts (e.g. control arm, lower strut bolt, shackle and fixed end pins) in the air. These must be fully tensioned to the manufacturer’s specs when the vehicle is lowered back down onto the ground.
4 – Check that you have all parts needed
2 x Pre-assembled front struts and coils
2 x Rear Shocks Absorbers
2 x Rear Leaf Springs
1 x Leaf Spring Bush Kit
4 x High tensile u-bolts
Step by Step Guides
Front suspension fitted on the ground
- Measure trim heights.
- Chock the rear wheels and jack up the front of the Amarok.
- Place jack stands under chassis allowing the front suspension to be at full droop.
- Remove wheel - the factory lock nut key is stored behind the rear seat.
- Undo the lower shock nut but do not remove the bolt.
- Undo and remove the ABS cable bracket from the spindle.
- Undo and remove the top sway bar link nut.
- Loosen the lower sway bar link nut. Rotate the link and remove the top bolt so you move the link out of the way.
- Undo the upper ball joint nut but leave it on a few threads.
- Crack the upper ball joint by hitting the spindle with a hammer. Leave the spindle attached to the ball joint, for now, to make undoing the CV shaft easier.
- Remove all six CV shaft bolts. The easiest way to do this is to use a ½” extension and swivel with an M12 spline. Undo two at a time then rotate the CV shaft by turning the disc rotor to get to the next two.
- Undo upper ball joint nut.
- Remove lower strut bolt.
- Undo the top strut nut and remove the strut assembly from the vehicle.
- Insert the new strut assembly and loosely fasten the top nut to hold the strut in place.
- Refit the lower strut bolt but leave loose for now. A bottle or floor jack will help you lift the lower control arm into place making it easier to line up the bolt.
- Refit the upper ball joint nut but do not tighten. Use the jack to raise the lower control arm and use a lever bar (off the coil) to bring the upper control arm down.
- Thread locker must be applied to the CV shaft bolts before refitting them.
- Lift CV shafts into place and refit bolts. Ensure they have started properly before using any power tools as these bolts will cross-thread easily. The key is to take your time and hold the CV shaft cup as straight as possible.
- Tighten the CV shaft bolts, refit the sway bar link and ABS bracket.
- Fully tension the upper ball joint nut and top strut nut.
- Refit the wheels and lower the Amarok back down onto the ground and then fully tension the lower strut bolt.
Rear suspension fitted on ground
- Chock the front wheels and then use a floor jack to lift the Amarok from the centre of the rear diff. Jack the Amarok high enough to fit your jack stands on their highest setting and place stands under chassis.
- Lower the jack so the rear suspension is near full droop but ensure that the jack is still supporting the rear axle assembly to avoid having too much pressure on the shock absorber bolts.
- Remove a rear wheel.
- Remove the rear shock absorber on the same side.
- Undo and remove the U-bolts and U-bolt plate from the leaf spring.
- Using a breaker bar, crack the leaf spring shackle bolts.
- Using a long spanner, crack the leaf spring fixed end bolt.
- Remove the top shackle bolt.
- Remove the grommet in the body to allow room for the fixed end bolt to be removed.
- Remove fixed end bolt while ensuring that the spring is supported and won’t fall out.
- With the help of a second person, remove the leaf spring. The leaf will come out from in front of the diff.
- Grease bushes and fit them to the new leaf springs.
- With the help of another person, lift the new leaf spring into position.
- Line up the front end and fit the fixed end pin. Take care starting the bolt to ensure you don’t cross the thread and do not fully tighten at this stage. The body grommet can now be carefully pushed back into place noting that if you lose the grommet in the body, it’s gone.
- Line up the leaf spring rear eye and reinstall the shackle bolt. Do not fully tension the shackle bolt yet.
- Refit the U-bolts and U-bolt plate.
- Refit the shock absorber and then the wheel.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
- Once both sides are complete and the wheels are both refitted, lower the Amarok back down on the ground and then fully tension all bolts.
Post fitment notes
A wheel alignment and headlight adjustment must be completed after the suspension is fitted. Many modern vehicles also require the steering angle sensor to be reset to suit the new height and alignment. All of this can be done by your local tyre shop.
Aftermarket control arms or offset/eccentric control arms bushes may be required to perfect the wheel alignment.
Re-tension and inspect all suspension components after 1,000km. Components like U-bolts will loosen as the spring pack settles in. It is also important to inspect the shock absorbers for any signs of leaking. If there is an issue with the seal on a shock absorber, it will normally be present after 1,000km of use.