Ready to lift your Subaru for some offroad trail action? There’s four common ways to give your Subie some additional lift: bigger tires, strut spacers, lift springs, and longer suspension assemblies. We’ll explore these options for creating a little more clearance under your car and help you decide which is best for you.
It’s important to recognize that you can use one of these methods alone or a few together to build your car for offroad use. Let’s jump in and start with tires!
Install Bigger All-Terrain Tires On Your Subaru:
Okay, maybe we won’t be able to fit 42’s on our Subie, but we can all install a slightly bigger offroad tire than what the car came with from the factory.
Putting bigger tires isn’t considered actually “lifting” your Subaru. But this is the most basic and easy way to add a little more ground clearance and off-road capability to your Subaru. While it may require some minor modifications to ensure proper fitment, you can typically add about .5-1 inch of ground clearance to most Subarus by simply upgrading tires. In my experience, I’ve had the best luck not exceeding more than an inch of overall diameter on stock height vehicles.
For example, on our 2000 Forester we were able to fit up to a 28.5” tire without a lift kit. This gave over a half inch of new clearance but we had to massage fenders, remove mudflaps, and hammer the pinch welds- all things that most people can do with basic tools and some elbow grease. However, most people may want to avoid making permanent modifications.
The tires will only give minimal ground clearance gains, but using a bigger and more aggressive tire will allow you to tackle rugged terrain much easier. So it may be a good idea to purchase an aggressive tire first as it may fulfill all the requirements for your desired driving.
An all-terrain tire will also provide peace of mind on long off-road trips and forest service roads. This will allow you to confidently make your way deeper into the backcountry without worrying about losing a tire. A highway all-season tire simply doesn’t have the same durability or reinforcement to hold up against rugged conditions. As always, double-check your measurements prior to installation and ensure that you are ready to make any necessary modifications.
Check out our favorite offroad tires to find the best option for you.
If you want to take your Subaru to the next level, strut spacers are the easiest option. They come in a wide variety of sizes and allow you to add ground clearance relatively easy.
Many Subaru owners simply install a 1” strut spacer lift with aggressive tires and call it good. This creates more ground clearance and allows for slightly bigger tire fitment within the wheel well. Most manufacturers offer strut spacers from 1 to 2 inches with a couple of boutique brands going all the way up to 4 and even 6 inches.
You will need a set of trailing arm or multi link spacers (most newer Subarus require multi link spacers) to make sure that your rear wheels are centered in the wheel well after the lift. Some owners have done a small lift without them, but we recommend using them for any lift.
Lifting a Subaru above 2 inches is usually where a large number of problems emerge. Once you go past 2 inches, the CV axles and control arms are placed in a position that maxes out their ability to articulate properly. If you do want to lift more than 2 inches, this can be done but it is a more involved process and takes a lot of work and parts to restore proper suspension geometry. In these cases, you’ll want to install a comprehensive subframe spacer kit. This will bring your CV axles back into proper alignment.
A large lift kit is very enticing. But going higher than a 2 inch lift is usually a large undertaking and requires professional help. There is some minor fabrication work involved and a lot of mechanical knowledge is needed.
A caveat here, there are some lift kits that have a taller rear lift such as a 2.5 inch rear strut spacer. This is used in vehicles that carry heavy loads or have a heavy rear tire carrier.
Installing an aftermarket set of springs in your Subaru’s suspension is a great way to get ground clearance without losing much on-pavement performance. Lift springs will typically be stiffer and counteract the body roll that you experience when lifting a vehicle.
Using a spring lift is good for anyone who is planning to carry heavy camping equipment or a spare tire carrier. The aggressive spring rates cut down on rear end sag that many people experience in their Subarus. However, you may notice a bumpier ride off-road with lift springs. This might be a deal breaker for some, but airing down the tires makes trail rides comfortable again.
It is common for people to install a combination of lift springs and strut spacers. A popular choice is a set of King Springs and 1 inch spacers from Primitive Racing. Going this route allows people to retain OEM shocks while getting a lift and improved spring rates for better handling.
Aftermarket Suspension Assemblies
Subaru owners now have a wide range of aftermarket suspension lifts that completely replace their stock struts and springs. There are companies making long travel coilovers and extended strut/shock assemblies. Lifting a Subaru this way provides more ground clearance and added suspension travel which can be very useful offroad.
Our friend Ryan lifted his 2019 Outback 3 inches using aftermarket coilovers and has been really happy with the outcome. You can check out his full offroad build list HERE.
Using aftermarket suspension assemblies is a great option, but it does present a few challenges. Here are some things to consider before using this method:
- Not readily available locally if a replacement is needed quickly
- Aftermarket suspension can require tedious setup and maintenance
- Some argue that they’re not as reliable as OEM suspension options
- Most expensive lift option
Choose a Combination That Fits Your Off-Road Needs:
You can install many of these components together, or a select one that fits your needs and budget. A good option is to talk with others who have used these on their Subaru and get their personal feedback.
When we lifted our first Subaru, we read endless forum discussions and watched YouTube builds to learn everything we could. The results were exactly what we expected, and the parts fit our budget.
Remember, it’s your build. Do it in whatever way makes you happy, but do it wisely and with safety in mind. Always double check your ideas with a professional to ensure proper performance.