While this thread is mostly self-serving, I know it will be useful to others who are noobs at working on their vehicles as well. A lot of what I assume will be discussed here is already covered piecemeal in other areas, so I anticipate frequent inter-forum links and references. But the topic itself is one I haven't found addressed directly or in general, but rather implied in answer to more specific questions regarding suspension products and their installation. The topic is this:
Should you DIY your suspension?
Unless you're physically unable, you certainly can do the work, but should
you? Undoubtedly, the more mechanically inclined and experienced here will say "yes." But are there exceptions?
The PROS of DIY are apparent:
—Labor isn't cheap. The going rate at most shops is $100/hour or more. And unless your mechanic is a stud and honest, he’s going to pad his estimated labor hours. The amount of time it should take him to install your lift is dependent upon the lift itself, more specifically, the number and type of components it has. If a mechanic tells you it’s going to take 8 hours to put in spacers, run. That much I know. But if he says it’s going to take 5.5 hours to put an OME suspension front and rear with some uniball upper control arms, is he being straight, or is he padding? I’m not so sure, because I’ve never done the work myself.
Quality of Work
—A mechanic’s quality of work is not a given. You have to ask yourself, would you rather deal with the devil you know (yourself) or the devil you don’t (your mechanic)? If you DIY your suspension, you know if you’re cutting corners or not. You know if you’ve tightened the bolts to torque specs (or not). Finding a trusted mechanic and developing a rapport with him isn’t always easy. I live in rural area. There’s only one professional in the county who installs lifts. The next nearest is 90+ minutes away. Which brings me to…
—If you DIY your suspension, you don’t have to hassle with the logistics of dropping off your vehicle or picking it up. Again, this is especially a factor for those of us who live in rural areas. Instead, you do the work in your own garage or driveway, on your own time, with your own tools.
—The more you work on your FJ, the better you know your FJ, and the more capable you are of working on it in the future. There’s no substitute for experience. Those of us once timid about working our own vehicles become less and less so the more we overcome that fear, get our hands dirty, and just get it done. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with this as well. But not enough to deserve its own bold-font heading.
But what about the CONS?
—Are you truly prepared to DIY your suspension? Do you have all the tools? Most people when they first get into working on their FJ don’t just have everything they need lying around in their garage. Some people have an embarrassing inventory consisting of a hammer, a screwdriver (hopefully two), and maybe an incomplete wrench set. Amassing all the tools needed to DIY your suspension isn’t for the passive or the poor. Sure, there are often workarounds for those who lack specific tools. And if there aren’t, you may be lucky enough to find a buddy who has what you need. But if not, you could be in for a bit of sticker-shock when you head to the local hardware or automotive store in search of the just the right tool for the job.
Quality of Work
—I know. You don’t half-ass anything. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right. After all, this is your FJ we’re talking about. Your baby. There’s no way you’re going to risk hurting your baby (or yourself, or your passengers) by doing shoddy work. But what if your best—limited by knowledge and experience—is not up to snuff? What if you think you’ve done everything correctly, but you really haven’t? That’s quite a gamble.
—Unless you’re a professional mechanic, retired professional mechanic, or have gained that experience mentioned above, it’s not going to go smoothly the first time. You’re going to break stuff. You’re going to strip that bolt, or bend this cotter pin, or lose a socket. You’re going to bleed a little. You’re going to run out of daylight. Instead of the 8 hours your less-than-honest local shop quoted you, it’s going to take you all weekend to put in that mall-crawler spacer lift. Maybe longer. And you probably shouldn’t drive it with the wheels off.
—And here’s the culmination of all the CONS. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what tools you’re going to need. You know you’ll need a wrench set that has, at the very least, the sockets required by the job. You know you’ll need a jack capable of lifting an SUV to a decent height (after discovering the one in the trunk of your wife’s Camry won’t do) and some jack stands and some wheel chocks. But did you also know that you’ll need Penetrating Oil to loosen things up before you get started? A torque wrench? Replacement bolts if you strip yours? Touch up paint when you throw your wrench in some random direction, only to watch in horror as it bounces off something that shouldn’t have been there and ricochets back into your rear quarter panel? Even if you’ve poured through the forums for weeks, you’re going to encounter something you didn’t anticipate and for which you have no knowledge or experience to help you overcome. And it’s going to suck. And you’re going to throw your wrench again.
Know what you’re getting yourself into. “But FJFool, you basically just said you can’t know.” You’re right. I did. And now you know that.
: But my hope is that this thread could be a hub of information to help those on the fence about wrenching on their suspension (or anything else for that matter) decide if it’s right for them. I’d like to see our more experienced forum guys lay some mysteries bare. For example:
1) How long does it take to install different stages of lifts? A spacer lift? A stage 1, 2, 3, etc.? So we can know if it’s worth paying our one and only lift shop mechanic in town $550 dollars to put in that OME front and rear kit with a unibal UCA.
2) Is a DIY suspension too technical for the uninitiated? If so, is the answer that they should team up with an experienced wrencher the first time? Or should they just let a pro do it?
3) Is it worth risking all those possible mistakes and mishaps to learn about your FJ? The answers will undoubtedly depend on how you intend to use your vehicle. If you’re “building” something that just looks nice, but won’t ever have to function at a high level, just take it to a professional. But if you plan on taking it where it will be required to negotiate real off-road challenges, it might be a good idea to get under the fenders and learn what makes it tic.
4) What are some of the costs that don’t immediately come to mind when it comes to a DIY suspension? What, aside from the most basic tools, would someone new to wrenching need, not only to do it right, but in anticipation for common problems?
5) How do you know if you’ve done the job right? Can you afford not to?
6) What else? What else do the pros and the experienced know about DIY suspensions that us noobs should know going in?
Please impart your wisdom in your replies below!