At 10:30 p.m., I may or may not have been crawling under the Jeep to plan how a certain as-yet-unpurchased part is going to fit, when I discovered my right rear sway bar link about to come loose. (Must have forgotten to fully tighten it when replacing those springs.) Glad I caught it before it worked its way out!
Just as we did with our last suspension comparison, this report will compare and contrast the features of three popular 2.5- to 3-inch suspension kits for the Jeep JK. Again, the intended recipient of this suspension upgrade is a 2009 two-door soft-top JK that sees use on both street and trail, with most of the driving, sadly, coming on highways and surface streets. The Jeep currently wears a set of 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs, with 35-inch tires planned as their eventual replacement.
Let’s look at our suspension choices:
Metalcloak Overland Elite 2.5-inch system: The top of the line in Metalcloak’s overland-oriented suspension systems, the Overland Elite reduces cost by reusing the original-equipment control arms, instead utilizing drop brackets for caster correction. (MSRP: $1,269)
Rock Krawler Overland 2.5-inch system: A smooth on-road ride and improved off-road handling are among the top benefits of Rock Krawler’s 2.5-inch overland system. It features progressive coil springs, front sway bar disconnects and longer rear links, and includes Rock Krawler’s “abuse-proof” lifetime warranty. (MSRP: $1,242.10)
Teraflex 3-inch lift with four control arms & front track bar: To create a lift kit comparable to those from Metalcloak and Rock Krawler, Teraflex took their standard-issue three-inch lift kit and added front lower and rear upper adjustable control arms and a front adjustable track bar. (MSRP: $1,759.99)
Components & considerations
Coil springs: We’ve only started, and already our three kits couldn’t be more different. Teraflex uses traditional linear coil springs to achieve 2.5 inches of lift and a factory-like ride, then tops the springs with a half-inch spacer to achieve its advertised three inches. Metalcloak, on the other hand, issues two pair of its “true dual-rate” coils, which combines a traditional linear spring lower with a “flex rate” section that remains compressed at ride height. This design ensures the springs stay seated in their purchases, even at the extremes of articulation. Rock Krawler’s approach is more high-tech. Where Rock Krawler once used springs of different designs in the front and back, the company’s Overland lifts use progressive springs front and rear.
While many coil-spring lifts deliver slightly more lift than advertised to account for the varying weight of Jeep and armor, both Metalcloak and Rock Krawler kits are known to give significantly more than the stated height. (This is less an issue now that Rock Krawler offers specific springs for two- and four-door Jeep JKs.) For example, a survey of nearly a dozen owners of two-door JKs like mine reveals the average lift height from a 2.5-inch Metalcloak kit was about 3 3/8 inches!
Both the dual-rate and progressive coils provide an excellent on-road ride and trail manners, superior to a linear spring, but progressive springs can sometimes be difficult to pair with a suitable shock. Any shock not specifically valved for the spring will have a hard time adjusting to the progressive springs’ five spring rates (three load rates and two transitional rates). Advantage: Metalcloak
Shocks: None of the kits in today’s comparison include shocks. Each company offers house-branded or third-party standard or long-travel shocks as an option. For Teraflex, that’s a pair of Fox options headlining the available options, with a twin-tube design serving as an economic back-up. Rock Krawler offers monotube or external-reservoir versions of what I suspect is a rebadged Bilstein unit, similar to American Expedition Vehicles’ approach. For it’s part, Metalcloak touts its high-performance Six-Pack shocks, but also offers a long-travel option from Old Man Emu and a Chinese-sourced house brand. All these options are nice, but savvy consumers will look for the best standalone deal. Advantage: Tie
Bump stops: The Teraflex and Metalcloak units include adequate front and rear bump stops, while Rock Krawler requires the end user to determine his or her desired size and make a separate purchase. (Steel bump stops of varying sizes are a $59 option up front or $54 aft.) The two kits with included bump stops, then, take differing approaches. Teraflex boasts a more plug-and-play approach, adding a rubber bump-stop mount between the jounce tube and the factory Jeep bump stop. Metalcloak, on the other hand, requires drilling the front axle’s spring perch, but includes front and rear stops that are height-adjustable, enabling the user to customize his or her available up-travel. Advantage: Metalcloak
Front track bar: Any lift of 2.5 inches or above shifts the front axle a quarter-inch or more to the driver’s side. At 2.5 inches, many choose to overlook re-centering their axle under the Jeep. At three inches or more, however, the shift is a bit more noticeable, and so all three of these kits include a replacement unit. Metalcloak’s track bar is standard steel stock with an adjustment head on one end and, while Metalcloak and Rock Krawler both use a solid steel bar, Rock Krawler’s features adjustment heads on both ends. Teraflex’s Monster Adjustable Track Bar is unique in that it allows adjustment via an adjusting sleeve, providing the option to adjust its length while mounted to the Jeep. Any of these will get the job done, but I prefer the convenience Teraflex provides. Advantage: Teraflex
Rear track bar: All of these kits include a replacement track bar bracket to raise the Jeep’s roll center. Rock Krawler’s bracket raises the Jeep’s roll center three inches, according to the company website, while a visual inspection suggests the Teraflex and Metalcloak brackets provide a similar, if not larger, increase. Both the Teraflex and Metalcloak brackets mount on three planes, which some say negates the need to weld them in place. Teraflex and Rock Krawler provide powder-coated bracketry, while Metalcloak’s parts ship with a gilded covering of zinc chromate, which affords considerable protection against rust formation. The Metalcloak Overland Elite is the only kit among these offerings to include both front and rear replacement track bars. Advantage: Metalcloak
Sway bar links: All three kits include disconnecting front and solid rear sway bar links. The Rock Krawler units are height-adjustable. That inherent advantage is tempered, though, by Rock Krawler’s choice to use nylon straps as a method to secure the links when disconnected. It seems likely these straps will weather, fade and ultimately break over time. When compared to the other companies’ solid metal parking posts, it’s hard to see Rock Krawler’s straps as anything but a cost-saving maneuver. Advantage: Rock Krawler
Brake lines: Two of the three kits include four replacement brake lines to avoid overstretching. Not surprisingly, those two are the companies perhaps most noted in the industry for incredible flex and lifts that exceed their stated height — Metalcloak and Rock Krawler. Teraflex’s three-inch kit does include longer replacement lines for the front wheels. Were they going on my Jeep, I’d prefer Rock Krawler’s more understated steel-colored lines to Metalcloak’s bright red, but that’s a subjective argument, which others may see differently. Advantage: Two-way tie (Metalcloak, Rock Krawler)
Geometry correction: A lift of any height will change the factory caster and pinion angle and, the higher you go, the worse the resulting vibrations and driveline stress. Returning these figures to near-factory settings can be accomplished with aftermarket control arms or with brackets that adjust the mounting point of the front arms. The Metalcloak Overland Elite lift includes a set of brackets that maintain the factory Jeep control arms, while the Rock Krawler Overland kit includes a pair of solid 2″ diameter, 7/16″-wall (0.438″) steel alloy front lowers with impressive rebuildable joints. Teraflex adds a pair of 1.75″ diameter, 0.281 wall rear upper arms with natural rubber bushings to its competitor’s lineup, to replace four of the Jeep’s eight original arms. Hard-core wheelers will no-doubt find Rock Krawler’s arms beefy and resilient against the rocks, while average users likely will only suffer the costs of added weight without any of the gains in ruggedness. In other words, for most drivers, Rock Krawler’s arms are simply overkill. Many find drop brackets abhorrent, as they do reduce functional ground clearance by an inch or two, though Metalcloak’s choice to include them in its Overland kits allows drivers to enjoy corrected caster and pinion angles now, while saving costs that can be applied to a full set of fixed or adjustable arms down the road. In the end, though, Teraflex strikes an interesting balance by offering a half-set of arms at only a moderate increase in cost. Advantage: Teraflex
Instructions: How many shade-tree Jeep mechanics have been frustrated — or, worse, had their planned modifications delayed by — poorly written or incorrect instructions? Moreover, instructions must be written not only for expert installers, but for the first-timer, who’s figuring it out as he goes in his driveway. The choice by Metalcloak and Rock Krawler to provide a single set of instructions for all their suspension systems, in my view, is simply lazy and sloppy. More than one or two statements to the effect of “if your kit includes X, then do Y” can easily confound a novice Jeeper. In today’s world of computers and do-it-yourself desktop publishing, there’s simply no excuse for this approach.
Teraflex, on the other hand, includes thorough instructions (though I would prefer color photography or at least higher-quality black-and-white photos) specific to the product at hand. Additionally, the company’s online video collection, surely intended more as a marketing tool than a customer resource, is in fact a tremendous help when installing their products. Advantage: Teraflex
Customer service: The “Teraflex Advantage” wins again. While all three of these companies produce great products and offer satisfactory support after the sale, I’ve found Teraflex’s support staff easily accessible and eager to help. Advantage: Teraflex
Price: In the final MSRP category, the Teraflex entry in today’s roundup is burdened by the fact it contains more components than the Rock Krawler or Metalcloak kits. More components means a higher price and, at a penny shy of $1,760, the Utah company’s suspension system is the costliest of today’s bunch. In a true, apples-to-apples, part-for-part comparison, though, the Teraflex kit comes in more on par with its competitors. In an unusual twist, the Rock Krawler kit edges out Metalcloak in the price department by a scant $27. I’ve always suspected Rock Krawler kits were a little overpriced for their contents, so this comes as a very welcome surprise. Advantage: Rock Krawler
Each of these companies caters to a unique audience, each with its own specific needs. The important thing to remember about selecting parts for your Jeep is that within a large group of high-quality parts manufacturers, you really can’t go wrong. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to do business with Rock Krawler, Metalcloak or Teraflex. Each offers a variety of products suited to a number of driving styles and environments. Hopefully, comparing these products side by side is helpful in making a decision.
Followers of Smokey’s painfully slow build-up know I have many fun things planned for this go-anywhere dual-purpose Jeep. Why, then, one might ask, would I spend time and money installing coil spacers — and only going up an inch and a half, at that?
Good question. Here’s the answer.
I’m going to need tires early in 2016. (From the three new punctures I pulled when rotating the tires yesterday, I may need them a bit sooner!) When I replace those tires, the last thing I want to do is replace a worn set of 32-inch rubber with more 32-inch rubber. I’m well aware the Jeep JK will accept 33-inch tires, at least the skinny 10.5-inch wide models, without a lift. But, since only half a larger tire’s diameter translates to extra height, I really want to move to a 34-inch tire next. To do that without risking my fender flares under trail extension, I needed some kind of height boost.
The good folks at Teraflex had the answer I was looking for. They offer a 1.5-inch leveling kit that lifts the front of the Jeep two inches (four one-inch pucks) and the rear one inch. This not only will clear a slightly larger tire, but it eliminates that annoying nose-down look Jeeps come with from the factory. And, while Teraflex sells their kit for about $160 (prices will vary slightly by retailer), I was able to save some cost by ordering just the six coil spacers. (I installed a set of Teraflex quick disconnects, which are part of the complete leveling kit, about a year ago.)
Installation was a simple affair, though I do recommend the following:
- Don’t install your kit outdoors on a 99-degree sunny day
- Don’t attempt your installation if you’re still recovering from bronchitis
- If you are recovering from bronchitis — and are asthmatic to boot — do remember to keep your inhaler handy
Yeah, you can guess how I learned these oh, so obvious lessons. This guide is a little light on photos, as I quickly became less concerned with taking them as I was with (a) completing the job and (b) breathing.
NOTE: I owe a huge thanks to my friends Jeff L. and Don H. for helping with this install!
- 4 Teraflex 1″ front coil spacers (Part No. 1953075)
- 2 Teraflex 1″ rear coil guide & spacer (Part No. 1954100)
- 18 mm box wrench or socket
- 18 mm deep-well socket
- 19 mm box wrench or socket
- 10 mm box wrench or socket
- 10 mm deep-well socket (optional)
- Torque wrench
- Automotive grease
- Floor jack
- Lug wrench
- Flat-head screwdriver or trim puller
- Spring compressors (optional)
- Shop towels (optional)
Front spacer installation
Taking the installation one wheel at a time, loosen all five lug nuts and jack up the front axle to remove the wheel. Teraflex’s prudently cautious instructions call for the removal of any wiring harnesses (absent on my non-Rubicon) and of the hard brake line from the frame. We removed the brake line from the first wheel, only to realize Jeep accounted for plenty of slack. Use your best judgment on your own installation. Next, use an 18 mm socket and wrench to remove the lower shock bolt to allow the axle plenty of droop.
Using the floor jack, lower the axle. The front springs, in turn, should be easily removable. Next, remove the factory upper spring isolator and stack it at the bottom of the front Teraflex spacers. Use both spacers to remove the factory rake or only one to maintain it. Without the convenience of a floor lift, we used spring compressors to aid in getting the springs back into place.
Once the spring is in place and the compressors have been removed, reinstall the shock and brake line bolts. Repeat the process for the opposite side.
Rear spacer installation
Installation for the rear will proceed much like the front: jack up the axle and remove one tire, then the lower shock bolt and disconnect the sway bar links. (One of mine must’ve been cross-threaded at the factory, because the last corner took FOREVER to remove!) Next, use the spring compressors to remove the springs and original-equipment upper spring isolator.
We did find the factory brake line needed to be removed from the frame on the left side to prevent overstretching.The rear Teraflex spacers are designed with a bulb that fits into a hole in the body above the factory isolator. You’ll want to put a good bit of grease around this bulb to ease with fitment. Using the floor jack and a block of wood, push (yes, the fitment is that tight) the spacer into place. Use caution, as the spacer will try to twist and turn before settling in the hole. It doesn’t fit snugly, but will snap into place with an audible pop.
That’s all there is to it! Reinstall the rear shocks, brake lines and sway bars. Then, replace the wheels and lower the vehicle to the ground.You’ll also want to adjust the aim of your headlights, as I nearly blinded my wife on the hour-long drive home from our friend’s house.
While spacer lifts like this one won’t typically fluctuate in real-world lift height like a coil spring lift, here are the measurements from flat, level ground to the bottom edge of the fender flare (rounded to the nearest hundredth). Note, Smokey does wear a 69-pound aftermarket front bumper, which adds 43 pounds to the factory front-end weight, and that she has recently begun to exhibit a little “JK lean” to the right side.
Before: 35.75″ After: 37.88″ Net gain: 2.13″
Before: 35.75″ After: 37.75″ Net gain: 2.0″
Before: 35.75 After: 37.31″ Net gain: 1.56″
Before: 35.88″ After: 37.25″ Net gain: 1.37″
On the road, the differences are minimal, if noticeable at all. From the driver’s seat, I noted just the slightest decrease in steering wheel input at highway speeds, though in town driving was as normal. The low-speed ride also felt just a little less jarring on potholes or other sharp suspension changes, though my wife could not identify any change in ride quality. The suspension does squeak now over significant bumps, which I suspect is simply the springs rubbing against the new poly spacers. I’m hoping this diminishes over time as the spacers get broken in.
Total time to complete
About 4 hours (including a couple of lengthy breaks)
Total project cost
$127.24 (w/free shipping from Northridge 4×4)
While I’m still a ways off from purchasing a full-featured lift kit for my Jeep, I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the features of each lift I’m considering. Let me say up front that each of these companies makes outstanding products, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do business with any of them.
Smokey is a 2009 two-door soft top Jeep JK Wrangler with the 3.8-liter V6 mated to an automatic transmission. As a daily driver, easily 99 percent of my driving is on the road, with the all-too-infrequent jaunt to the trail. A comfortable highway ride is very important, as my post-brain surgery wife and our two young kids join me in taking this Jeep on at least one long-distance trip each year.
As a dual-purpose vehicle, Smokey needs to be capable of full-time, reliable use on the street, but be capable of moderate trail use. As my suspension is stock except for a set of Teraflex sway bar quick disconnects, I currently stick to mild or moderate trails. That said, there are a few more challenging obstacles in my area which I’d like to be better equipped to tackle.
I’ve defined my needs as a 2.5-inch lift (The three-inch Teraflex kit isn’t entirely out of the question.) and 35-inch tires. I’d prefer to avoid adjustable control arms, which means I’m looking at someone’s geometry correction brackets and a possible eventual upgrade to a set of longer-length fixed arms. I anticipate eventually moving to a set of flat fenders, as the idea of running 37-inch tires is tempting, even if I don’t currently wheel hard enough to need them. (Yes, I know other upgrades would be needed at that time.)
I’ve been going back and forth between the 2.5-inch kits from American Expedition Vehicles and Teraflex for some time, knowing each caters to drastically different audiences. I’ve also tentatively added Metalcloak’s 2.5-inch “Sport” expedition lift.
Components & considerations
Coil springs: The heart of any Jeep JK suspension is the coil springs. Each of my three contenders addresses this point in a different way. All use identical types of springs fore and aft, as opposed to some manufacturers, which use variable-rate springs in the front and linear out back. AEV’s DualSport XT includes, as AEV describes them, “frequency-tuned, triple-rate coils at all four corners.” Metalcloak, too, utilizes a variable-rate coil, in this case a dual-rate coil that holds its lighter, “flex rate” coils in full compression at normal ride height. Building a more traditional configuration, the Teraflex kit includes four linear-rate springs not unlike those currently on the Jeep. Keep in mind, too, that both AEV and Metalcloak maintain the stock front-end rake; only Teraflex among these three is designed to bring the Jeep’s nose up to level.
Which spring is best for my use? My instincts say the progressive or dual-rate springs will afford the best ride on pavement. While the complexity of the AEV spring (a triple-rate spring plus transitional rates in between means there are, in fact, five rates for the shocks to deal with) could pose unpredictability, especially for my light two-door, the added free length of the Metalcloak dual-rate springs promises additional down-travel, so crucial in any modest lift. Advantage: Unknown
Shocks: As crucial to ride quality as the springs are what shocks are teamed with it. The proprietary tune in the AEV-sourced Bilstein 5100s promise to work seamlessly with their springs, while the Metalcloak lift doesn’t ship with shocks at all. That firm’s six-pack shocks are highly regarded, but are beyond my needs in terms of practical use and price. Teraflex’s lift is available with a rebranded twin-tube design but, were I to go the Teraflex (or Metalcloak) route, I’d bypass these for the stronger design and better cooling of either a set of standard Bilstein 5100s or Fox 2.0 performance shocks. Both of these are rumored to be too firm until sufficiently broken in, but after that, the ride is said to be supreme. Advantage: AEV
Bump stops: All three kits ship with adequate front and rear bump stops, though the Metalcloak stops are adjustable, allowing the user to dial in the length to whatever is appropriate to his or her application. The attachment method of the Metalcloak front stops does give me a little concern, though. With a large washer and button-head bolt repeatedly coming into contact with the factory upper stop, I can’t help but wonder if this won’t tear the OEM stop over time. Advantage: Metalcloak
Front track bar: A lift of this height will result in the front axle shifting approximately a quarter-inch to the driver’s side. Such a subtle shift doesn’t necessitate addressing the axle movement, but the issue is easily fixed with an adjustable track bar, which many manufacturers offer. Of the kits I’m considering, only the Metalcloak kit ships with the track bar. Advantage: Metalcloak
Rear track bar: All of these kits include a replacement track bar bracket to raise the Jeep’s roll center. The AEV bracket claims an increase of 4.5 inches. While I’ve been unable to locate specific measurements for the Teraflex and Metalcloak lifts, an image comparison suggests the Metalcloak bracket also significantly raises the track bar’s mounting point. The AEV kit also ships with an OEM-quality (in other words, mediocre) replacement rear track bar, which has been bent to clear the rear differential. The Teraflex and Metalcloak brackets mount on three planes, which some say negates the need to weld them in place. Advantage: Tie
Front sway bar links: New front links are unnecessary for my build, as I’m already quite happy with my Teraflex disconnects. If I didn’t have those, though, the AEV kit would require the use of mounting brackets to extend the factory locations. The Teraflex kit repurposes the Jeep’s factory rear links to the front, while the Metalcloak lift includes front and rear links. Advantage: Metalcloak
Brake lines: All three kits include a bracket to lower the rear brake lines to avoid overstretching. AEV also adds such a bracket for the front. Metalcloak includes longer replacement front lines which, while an annoyance to replace, offer a better solution than a simple bracket. Advantage: Metalcloak
Geometry correction: A lift of any height will change the factory caster and pinion angle. Returning these figures to near-factory settings can be accomplished with aftermarket control arms or with brackets that adjust the mounting point of the front arms. The Metalcloak lift comes with a set of brackets that, save for their welded structure, look like they could have come off an AEV assembly line. The brackets are a $105 option with the AEV kit, while the Teraflex kit does not include an option for geometry correction. Advantage: Metalcloak
Instructions: Any product is only as good as the instructions that tell the user how to install it. And, it is here that Metalcloak, which has done very well in this comparison so far, falls off the cliff. Metalcloak offers a single set of instructions for all its suspension kits, leaving it to the end user to weed through which parts apply to his or her purchase. AEV’s instructions are thorough and contain a lot of well-constructed diagrams. Teraflex includes thorough instructions with mediocre black-and-white photos, but the company’s online video collection is a tremendous help when installing their products. Advantage: Teraflex
Customer service: This one isn’t even a horse race. While there certainly are examples in the Jeeping community of outstanding service from AEV and Metalcloak, customer service is really where Teraflex leads the field. How many forums are filled with stories of parts being replaced, no questions asked? For that matter, how many other companies have such a large sales & support team crawling the interwebs, only too happy to offer advice to fellow Jeepers. In my view, customer service is the real “Teraflex Advantage,” and by itself is reason enough to choose this company’s products. Advantage: Teraflex
Looking over the comparison, now that it’s written, I have to say it appears much more one-sided than I expected. For me, the big question mark remains spring characteristics. I’ll continue to research these lifts and companies and, as I get closer to time to make a final decision, I’ll begin looking for more local Jeepers running these lifts to give me a hands-on examination.
As is the case with all the above components, Jeepers’ opinions are a very low-cost commodity, and enthusiast forums are filled with people swearing each of these options is the best, worst and everything in between. Many decry AEV as overpriced brackets for mall crawlers, even though TJ fans adored their springs before the advent of the JK. A glance under many race vehicles will prove Teraflex is a popular choice. But, is this for reasons of pure performance, or money well spent by what is arguably the industry’s best marketing team? I don’t have the answers. I’ve spent countless hours reading everything I could get my hands on regarding things like spring rate, roll center, instant center and more — enough to make my brain matter ooze from my ears, screaming for mercy.
So, with only a few more conclusions now than when I started, I invite your input, clarifications and/or sarcasm.
Followers of this site know my long-range plan is to install a 2.5-inch coil spring lift, and that I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of Teraflex’s more off-road-oriented lift and American Expedition Vehicles’ long-drive road-friendly kit.
Like most Jeep owners, most of my time behind the wheel is spent on pavement. While I want maximum capability on the trail, I don’t want to pay for it in terms of ride quality when my family and I are taking a long highway trip. I’ve struggled to decide between these kits, as AEV’s progressive springs hold the promise of a better-than-stock ride, but Teraflex’s more affordable option might offer better articulation.
I now wonder if I haven’t stumbled upon a best-of-both worlds solution. But, is this too good to be true?
The Metalcloak Overland “Sport” kit (http://www.metalcloak.com/JK-Overland-Preferred-2-5-3-5-Suspension-Syste-p/7123.htm) offers the 2.5-inch height I’m looking for, the comfort of a dual-rate coil spring (as opposed to AEV’s progressive springs) and significantly raises the Jeep’s roll center, just as the AEV kit does. The Metalcloak kit also boasts loads of down-travel, though, giving it an edge over the AEV lift and matching, if not exceeding Teraflex, in terms of articulation. The Metalcloak kit also includes geometry correction brackets, which eliminate the need for aftermarket control arms to adjust caster and pinion angle. (These are a $99 option with the AEV kit.) The kit’s adjustable bump stops would allow me to dial in exactly the amount of bump stop I want to run without buying additional parts post-lift.
In my mind, the drawbacks to the kit (and AEV’s), aside from a slightly higher cost (when compared apples-to-apples with the other manufacturers’ kits — see chart below), is the question of using a variable-rate spring on steep inclines. Could the front springs’ push-back really lead to a flop when climbing the steep hills along the nearby Canadian River? The fact is, I don’t have enough experience to say. This sounds like a competitor’s fear mongering, but I want more information to make an informed decision.
So, how about it, my fellow Jeepers? Lets hear your experiences with Metalcloak suspension systems, the good, the bad and the ugly. What do you like and dislike? Are their coils, which hold the lighter rate at coil bind in normal driving, all marketing, or do they really make a difference? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!