Rancho Install Notes
New pics added 13 July 04, showing the addition 1" of lift I installed in the rear.
New pics added at the end on 6 Jun 04. They show my BFG AT KOs in 295/75R16.
The install was fairly straight forward. Rancho says the install will take 12 hours, but the assumption is experienced installers in a shop with all the tools and supplies on hand. The kit took me 24 hours to install, spread over three days. I did have to take 1-2 hours for lunch and chasing down tools/parts each day and this time is not included in the 24 hour install time. All of this was what I anticipated. My father-in-law helped me periodically when I needed an extra hand, and he owned and operated a transmission shop for 40ish years.<O</O
I installed a lift kit on an ‘87 4x4 Suburban a few years ago, but it is exceedingly simple to install a lift on a straight axle truck vs installing a lift on a IFS rig. For comparison, approximately 21 hours were needed to install the front suspension lift and about 3 hours for the rear lift. <O</O
This was my first attempt at lifting an IFS rig. I installed this kit on a large concrete pad with no cover—thank the good Lord it didn’t rain the entire time! I raised the truck up with a 3-ton floor jack and supported the frame with jack stands. However, per the instructions, I did not raise the whole truck at once—just one axle at a time.
My Skill Level<O</O
As a point of reference, my skill level with automotive mechanical repair/service/fabrication is that of a hobbyist. I have no formal training in this area. I have rebuilt a couple engines (all Chevy 350s), removed/installed engines, transmissions, rear ends, axles, etc. I have not rebuilt any transmissions though I have installed a couple of valve bodies. I restored a ’66 Vette to about 80% and a 74 Jag XJ-12 (w/Chevy 350 and 700R4) to about 90%. I drag raced off and on for about 9 years, and had two cars over that period of time--which always required a lot of maintenance.
I change my own oils, fuel filters, trans fluids, etc. I have very limited welding and fabrication skills. I am one of those guys who think I can do a better job than the average professional mechanic for those tasks I can perform, mainly because I obsess with something until it is right regardless of how long it takes. A perfect example of this is the alignment job I had done on my truck after the lift was installed. The steering wheel was not straight after the alignment was finished, so I went behind this average pro mechanic and fixed his work—IE, increased toe on one tie rod by 1.5 turns and reduced it by the same amount on the other. BTW, having to correct his work did irritate me, and had he been an above average mechanic I would not have had to correct his error.
If you are considering installing this kit yourself, it would be useful to download the Rancho instructions at www.gorancho.com/documents03/88148c.pdf and follow along.<O</O
- The instructions say to use a GM torsion bar unloading tool for removing the torsion bars, but form prior experience I knew an 8”, 2-jaw gear puller works well for this task.
- It is easier to remove the front axle half-shafts after removing the aluminum skid plate under the front diff. The instructions do not have you remove this skid plate until later in the process.
- The brake caliper bolts were extremely difficult to remove. I broke a 13/16” Craftsman socket on the second bolt. I was using an 18” breaker bar and a 3 foot section of pipe. I did not have access to a good air compressor, only a 2 or 3 HP unit, so my 500 ft lb impact wrench was of no use—it needs a 5-8 HP compressor that generates around 10 SCFM at 90 PSI for it to work right. We wound up breaking the bolts loose by applying an air chisel to the end of each bolt. After the air chisel, the breaker bar/pipe extension broke them loose. These bolts were only supposed to be torqued to 129 ft lbs, but I think the big culprit was the green Loctite we found on each bolt. I am fairly sure a decent torque wrench (like mine) and a decent compressor would have broke these caliper bolts loose with no problem.
- The instructions say to use a puller for removing tie rods and ball joints. By this they mean the style of puller that does not damage the rubber boots, which is definitely not a pickle fork style ball joint separator. The trick, according to both the installer and my father-in-law, is to remove the nuts and then pound on the steering knuckle (next to the ball joint) with a large ball peen hammer. This works great, but you must make heavy blows.
- The Rancho instructions and the GM Service Manual say to not reuse the prevailing torque (all-metallic lock nuts) on the axle shafts, the tie rod ends, and the upper ball joints. Rancho does not include these nuts with the kit. These nuts are very hard to find. In all of the DFW area, there was only one axle nut available, and the tie rod nuts only come with new tie rod ends. I called a couple of fastener shops and they didn’t have anything that would work either. The installer I spoke with said there was no problem reusing these nuts. The GM service manual says in general, you can re-use prevailing torque nuts as long as they apply their grip before they are fully torqued. In my case, each of these nuts gripped firmly before they were even snug. I used red Loctite on each of these. I am not concerned. The axle shaft nuts are torqued to 155 ft lbs, and when you see how and where they attach, you’ll see they would probably hold with a regular nut and no Loctite. Further, the ball joints and tie rod ends would likely stay attached even without a nut, so I can see why the installer doesn’t worry about reusing these nuts as long as they are in good shape. My father-in law concurred with reusing the nuts, and he has a lot of experience with automotive service work.<O></O><O
- After everything is removed/disconnected, the front diff comes out. You really should have two people for this and use a floor jack. We could not get the diff out by following the instructions. The upper diff mounting ear kept hanging up on the steering center link. I called Rancho and they just said “yeah, that’s a tricky one.” I tried to separate the left side of the steering center link, but since I didn’t want to hammer on it that hard and didn’t have a ball joint separator we decided to cut off the lower diff mount on the frame. The instructions don’t have you cut off this mount until later, and to be honest, it would be better to remove the left side ball joint of the center link with the appropriate puller. However, using a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade, we were able to get a very nice cutting job with the diff still in place. The recip saw also did an excellent job cutting off the upper diff mounting ear off the diff itself. Both of these cuts are clean enough that the pieces could be rewelded back on and the truck returned to stock—like that might ever happen………………..
- The only welding required is to weld a cover plate over where you cut off the front diff mount on the frame. This weld is really optional--the Rancho and Pro Comp Kit include a piece to be welded in this location, many of the other kits do not. The installer I spoke with does not weld this plate, he simply discards it. However, my father-in-law is an expert welder, so I had him weld the plate. To be honest, I could have welded this plate to the frame at home with my little 110 amp wire welder and my very limited welding skills.
- The subframe has a couple of mounting tabs that receive the stock front diff’s lower mount. These tabs were about 1/4” too wide. I had the same problem with the lower a-arm mounts—the rear mounting tabs on the subframe were 1/8” too wide and the front was a 1/4” too wide. I called Rancho, and they said 1/8” was normal but 1/4” was too much, so we used spacers on these locations. To be honest, just tightening the bolts and pulling these mounting tabs in would have worked and I imagine that is what most installers do—I just don’t think that is the best way to handle that and I think Rancho should include spacers with the kit. Each truck will be a bit different, and a half-dozen spacers would solve all this. If you do use or like we did make spacers for the a-arms be sure the inside diameter is tight in the bolt. There are metal sleeves inside the a-arm bushings that must contact metal. If the hole in your spacer is too big the sleeve will slide through it and you will bind the a-arms. A 9/16” drill bit made the perfect size hole or us. The spacer of the lower diff mount isn’t as critical in this regard.
- According to the instructions, we set a piece of plywood on the floor jack and set the subframe—with the diff mounted—on the plywood. In addition to two people and the floor jack, it took a small hydraulic jack and a big crowbar to get the subframe in place. It wasn’t that hard and I expected to have to apply force to get the subframe in place.
- The steering knuckles went on very straightforward and the way the brake line and ABS cable are relocated makes a very tidy and neat installation. The only issue was I thought the brake dust shield was squeezing the ABS cable too much, so we reworked the dust shields. This took a bit of doing in order to get good clearance at the ABS cable without having the dust shield rub the rotor. Of course, I know how to do it quickly now…………
- The kit has you reuse the stock rubber sway bar end links and the stock rubber a-arm bushings. It would have been nice if new, poly bushings had been included, but then again, maybe they reused the rubber to avoid squeaks.
- You re-use the factory aluminum skidplate. You drill two holes into the subframe and use the left aft factory mount. There is no reason they couldn’t have made the subframe to include a mounting bracket for the right rear skid plate mount. However, I don’t think I like how the factory skid mounts at all. You lose about 1.5” of ground clearance because of how this skid plate is shaped—it has ridges in it to give it strength, and these ridges are what causes the lost ground clearance. To be honest, I think a flat piece of aluminum of steel, 3/16” to 1/4” thick would be a better choice for a skid plate and I plan to eventually do that.
- I would up having to drill several holes in the underside of the truck’s frame. There was only about a 1/2” clearance between the drill and the floor, so this was a pain.
- The aft braces and torsion bar mounts were easy, except for having to drill the bottom of the frame. However, both of these components lose you ground clearance, especially the dropped torsion bar cross member. It winds up sticking down 4” from the bottom of the frame, and will no doubt hang up when driving over certain types of terrain. In fact, this dropped torsion bar cross member mount gives you less ground clearance for the frame than stock, even with larger tires. Because of that, I wound up installing the Real Lift Torsion Bar Relocators, and I will talk about that in a separate thread. Also, I plan to flip the aft brace assemblies to the top side of the frame, and when I do all that I will have more frame ground clearance than I have even with the 2” of torsion bar lift I had before.
- Only one note of the rear install, watch for the tendency of the rear axle to roll forward when disconnected form the frame. We used a small hydraulic jack under the nose of the rear diff to keep it from rolling.
- Before I installed the Real Lift Relocators, I took the truck for a drive with the Rancho installed. I used the Rancho 9000 shocks. The ride was better than my truck had ever rode before, mainly because I can soften the 9000s—without too much body roll—a tad more than my Bilsteins.
The Rancho kit is stout, and I think my truck frame is stronger now that it was before the lift. The suspension is lifted an honest 4” with the front axles at the stock angle, and with an inch of torsion bar adjust and possibly another one-inch spacer on the rear (there is about 2” of thread left on the u-bolts), I could run 315/75s with plenty of clearance. With the lift at its current setting and 285s on 16x8s, I have about 1.5” of clearance minimum and no rubbing, where with the 2” of torsion bar lift I has before I had 1/2” to 3/4” and got rubbing during turns.
The truck looks great. The thing “looks wise” I like the least is the 1.5” per side increase in track width in the front. However, I love the stability that increase in track provides. I seem to be able to corner at least as well as the lift, and that is with the same tires and wheels. I do plan to install 1.5” to 2” spacers on the rear. The GM 14 bolt is plenty capable of handling the additional load. The truck comes stock with about 2.5” per side more track width in the front than in the rear, so even a pair 2” rear spacers will not widen the rear more than the front. I will also probably install wider fender flares and paint them to match.
UPDATE on 1 May: Until mid-Mar, I had 2" of T-bar lift and Bilsteins. In Mar, I installed a Rancho 4" lift with RS9000X shocks. I found something interesting.
With the Bilsteins on a stock suspension, when the suspension was at full droop the shock limited travel. While it's better to hit a bump stop before a shock runs out of travel, the plus with this set-up was the CVs could never droop so too far be put in a bind.
The RS9000Xs for a 4" lift have a lot of travel. So much that the upper a-arm hits the frame "pad" and the shock still has travel left. While this is better for the shock, it's bad for the CVs if you drive aggressively off road.
If the CVs frequently go to full droop they can wear prematurely or even break--especially if you have a "knuckle" kit that has a steering knuckles that are much heavier than the stock knuckles. I have heard that the knuckle kits (like: Rancho, Fab Tech, Trailmaster, Tuff-Country, Skyjacker, RCD) have been known to tear apart CVs when aggressively off-roading, and I think too much travel is the reason.
The fix to all this is simple. I found that an 11/16" thick piece of plywood, placed on the metal pad on the frame under the upper a-arm, keeps the CV from binding. So I ordered some 11/16" x 1 5/8" poly bump stops. The place on the frame than contacts the upper a-arm at full droop looks like it was made for a bump stop, and all I have to do is drill a hole. I will experiment a bit and may need a 1/16" - 1/8" shim under the bump stop, depending on how far it compresses. Y2K suggests a limit strap for this purpose.
When I get them developed, I’ll post some pics.
Before and after form the side. Truck had 2"
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