Please read this before you lift your Subaru

Everything you need to know Before adding a lift kit

If you’re interested in lifting your Subaru, we think you’re onto something great! Subaru owners looking to get additional off-road utility out of their cars should certainly consider lifting for a much more capable vehicle. However, lifting any automobile above its intended ride height, whether with bigger tires, spacers or different suspension, will come with definite changes in the car’s performance — for better and worse. So before you get started on your lift, it’s good to first make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Take a moment and read about four common side-effects lifting has on your car.

Handling

The first and most obvious side-effect that lifting will have on your car is in how it handles. When we raise the ride height of a car without being able to compensate by widening the wheelbase, we will throw the vehicle’s center of gravity off a bit. Think of how unsteady a tall building might be if its foundation was the same dimensions as its top floor. It would likely collapse in no time. A sound structure has its base as its widest portion. This is also true for our cars. After lifting, you will likely notice more body roll through turns and a diminished amount of nimbleness in steering. Because we’ve raised the car’s center of gravity without widening the wheelbase, all the weight is forced to lean a greater distance as we maneuver the vehicle. The result is less stability and ultimately a less comfortable ride. However, unless the plan is to somehow turn your Outback into a monster truck on the stock chassis, safety concerns such as flipping over in turns or any serious loss of control will not be a problem caused by a few inches of lift. Additionally, stiffer springs and anti-roll bars (or sway bars) can be fitted relatively easily into most Subarus to help compensate for the increase in body roll.

lifted 2020 subaru outback xt with off road tires

Braking

Next, lifting with larger tires and/or taller suspension can inhibit the car’s braking ability and dynamics. More rotational mass on the wheels from large all-terrain tires means more braking force will be required to slow the vehicle. While stock brakes in good condition on most Subarus can perform decently with typical all-terrain tires, the decrease in stopping power will certainly be obvious. Be aware that it will take longer to stop and that brake wear will be accelerated. One thing that can and should be done to help mitigate this issue would be to use high quality ceramic brake pads and good vented rotors (assuming the car is equipped with disc brakes and not drums). This is the most effective and straight-forward way to ensure your brakes deliver the optimal stopping power. Along with upgraded pads and rotors, some people have retro-fitted larger calipers from different Subarus for more grab and claim that steel brake lines improve stopping power and brake feel. Consider some of these options when lifting to help compensate for the added stress on the brake system.

Similar to the first side effect, do also anticipate additional nose dive with the taller suspension. Nose dive is the sudden transfer of weight to the car’s front when the brakes are applied while moving forward. Besides simply altering the vehicles original driving dynamics, more nose dive means more force is transferred to the front, which means there is more weight the brakes have to work against and a longer stopping distance. Stiffer springs will also help combat this common side effect.

Transmission and Axles

As well, it should be expected that the transmission and axles could wear out a bit faster after lifting. Likewise to brakes, the transmission will also have to deal with spinning more weight from the heavy A/T tires. The additional load causes more strain on the components than they have been designed to endure. Be sure to take care of your transmission by accelerating smoothly, keeping it lubed properly with good oil and by using good shifting technique if driving a manual. 

Furthermore, the axles are also put at a disadvantage when lifting. By design, the axles are meant to operate at an optimal angle in relation to the transmission to reduce resistance while transferring rotational movement from the transmission into the wheels. When we lift a car, the distance from the transmission to the wheel hub increases and the axle’s angle of operation is changed. The axles, of course, are connected to both the wheel hub and transmission simultaneously and are thus naturally forced to follow whatever path it must in order to keep the two parts connected. Therefore, when the position of the car’s wheel hub is changed during a lift without also adjusting the transmission position to compensate, the outcome is a misaligned and stressed axle. The harsher angle puts greater wear on the CV joint and boot, causing more frequent rips in the axle boot and CV joint failures. To remedy this problem, one can either use subframe spacers to restore the transmission and hub to their proper alignment or learn to enjoy replacing axles a few times every year or so.

Fuel Economy

The last major side effect–and essentially the summation of the above side effects–basically boils down into this one: fuel economy. Pretty unsurprising. More weight to spin from the tires means more gas is needed to accelerate. More body roll means less efficient transfer of energy through the car, meaning the car needs more gas to keep it moving forward. More gas required means more gas per mile. More gas per mile means less miles per gallon. Less miles per gallon means less miles per tank. More gas means more money–and that can be a little bit of a bummer sometimes. However, the drop in MPG’s should not be too drastic, most report only losing a few. Some people have even said they suffered no loss in fuel efficiency. It is probable a lifted car will not run as efficiently as it did in stock form, but how much less efficient it will become will depend on your car, what wheel and tire set up you run, driving style and what suspension components you choose. Also, remember that an increase in tire size will throw your odometer and speedometer off. When you check your MPG’s, know that the larger tires will cause the odom to show less miles than have actually been driven, so your MPG’s will be slightly better than they seem.

Most Common Question:
"How Much Gas Mileage Will I lose By Lifting My Subaru?"

This is a really common question. It varies widely, depending on what type of tires you use, what kind of gear you carry, how you drive, and if you add any engine modifications. However, most owners who install a lift with no additional changes find that it reduces mileage by maybe 1 MPG.

The biggest change to your gas mileage will likely come from putting heavy, non-aerodynamic gear on a roof rack. Items such as storage containers, rooftop tents, winches, off road bumpers, and full-size spare tires will create a large amount of drag. Winches, heavy off-road bumpers, and Bigger, heavier tires will also bring down your economy slightly.

A fully loaded Subaru with a lift kit and bigger tires may see a drop of anywhere from 3-8 MPG depending on driving style and speeds.

Check out Tim’s Crosstrek build. He explains how his off-road modifications affected his MPG’s.

lifted 2020 crosstrek with all terrain tiresjpeg

All in all, lifting a Subaru is a great way to get some affordable, effective and reliable off road capability out of a car. Nothing is more exciting than seeing your little four-cylinder, AWD grocery-getter transform into a savage, trail-smashing machine. You will feel deeply empowered.

There certainly are drawbacks to a project like this though: the handling does get a little sloppier, transmission parts can wear out faster, brakes die quicker and MPG’s might drop a bit, and it is valuable to be aware of these things before choosing whether-or-not to lift so that you’re sure it’s something you can enjoy. It is also equally important, though, to keep in mind that for every challenge that comes up, there’s an opportunity to find a solution. If lifting your Subaru is something you want to do (and you should want to do) don’t let the potential difficulties turn you away. Instead, get your hands dirty, think creatively to figure things out, be proud of your hard work and go for it.

Considering A Subaru Lift Kit? Check These Out:

LP Aventure Lift Kits

LP-Aventure-lift-kit-outback-subaru

ReadyLift Lift Kits

subaru crosstrek lift kit

Other Off-Road Subaru Articles:

Recommended Installers

Find an installer near you If you don’t have the time or tools to install a lift kit, lift springs, off-road accessories – or if

Read More »