Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install - Toyota FJ Cruiser Forum
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post #1 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-06-2019, 04:40 PM Thread Starter
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Question Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

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:

Cost Savings
—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…

Convenience
—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.

Knowledge
—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?

Hidden Costs
—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.

Inconvenience
—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.

Ignorance
—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.


The Takeaway:

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!
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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has caused all the damage to my FJ.
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Last edited by FJFool; 03-06-2019 at 08:41 PM.
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post #2 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-06-2019, 05:41 PM
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

I installed my own and probly installed 10 more lifts on FJs. Average time took me about 5 to 6 hours to front, rear and UCAs. Thats taking a break for lunch in the middle . I usually charged about $200 to $250 to install the entire lift. Its not near as difficult as a person may think. If you have a decent tool set and a torque wrench your good to go.
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post #3 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-06-2019, 08:16 PM
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

I'm almost embarrassed to say this but it took my brother and I 11.5 hours with a break for dinner. We had no lift but the biggest problem (as it goes with these things) was that I had two frozen cam bolts. This is a well-known problem with older FJ's but mine is a '14 and only had 42k on it at the time. We spent about 7.5 hours on the front and about 3 hours on the back. I have built race cars from the ground up so I know a little bit about working on most parts of a vehicle. I have not torn down an engine to its core and I will not tear down a transmission without an expert around me. Everything else is free game.

It wan't a hard job and I am confident that without the agony of the LCA's, it would have been done in 7 hours. Doing it again, it could be done in 6 hours. To me, it was all worth it. I enjoy working on my own stuff and learning my cars and guns inside and out.

Good write up!
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post #4 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-06-2019, 08:29 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

Quote:
Sanderhawk previously said: View Post
I installed my own and probly installed 10 more lifts on FJs. Average time took me about 5 to 6 hours to front, rear and UCAs. Thats taking a break for lunch in the middle . I usually charged about $200 to $250 to install the entire lift. Its not near as difficult as a person may think. If you have a decent tool set and a torque wrench your good to go.
And as you've done so many, I imagine they've become easier, barring the occasionaly one-off headache. This strengthens the point that if you never try it, it'll never get easy.

What would you say to someone new to working on their vehicle who's waffling between purchasing a basic suspension (installed professionally) and the next step up (DIY) because the difference in cost is negligible ?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has caused all the damage to my FJ.
~ Robert Frost





I have an FJ. It has stuff on it.
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post #5 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-06-2019, 08:33 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

Quote:
Overboost44 previously said: View Post
I'm almost embarrassed to say this but it took my brother and I 11.5 hours with a break for dinner. We had no lift but the biggest problem (as it goes with these things) was that I had two frozen cam bolts. This is a well-known problem with older FJ's but mine is a '14 and only had 42k on it at the time. We spent about 7.5 hours on the front and about 3 hours on the back. I have built race cars from the ground up so I know a little bit about working on most parts of a vehicle. I have not torn down an engine to its core and I will not tear down a transmission without an expert around me. Everything else is free game.

It wan't a hard job and I am confident that without the agony of the LCA's, it would have been done in 7 hours. Doing it again, it could be done in 6 hours. To me, it was all worth it. I enjoy working on my own stuff and learning my cars and guns inside and out.

Good write up!
Thanks, and thank for your input. I've an '07 (bought in '06) I've never f'd with until last year. I'm dreading the suspension dismantle. But I picked up some PB Blaster the other day. I'm hoping that'll loosen things up some before I get cranking.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has caused all the damage to my FJ.
~ Robert Frost





I have an FJ. It has stuff on it.
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post #6 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-07-2019, 06:46 AM
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

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FJFool previously said: View Post
And as you've done so many, I imagine they've become easier, barring the occasionaly one-off headache. This strengthens the point that if you never try it, it'll never get easy.

What would you say to someone new to working on their vehicle who's waffling between purchasing a basic suspension (installed professionally) and the next step up (DIY) because the difference in cost is negligible ?
I would do it yourself. I had never installed a lift before I did mine. You learn by doing. There is really only about 7 or 8 bolts to take off to remove the front coilovers and 4 of them are actually holding on the coilover. There is less than that in the back. If you have any mechanical abilties which I`m guessing you do or you wouldn`t be pondering doing it yourself. Go for it its not hard to do. Good luck with your project.

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post #7 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-07-2019, 07:02 AM
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

I agree with Sanderhawk, do it yourself. Its actually very easy. There are many good videos on youtube that can help. I have had the front suspension off so many times that when I upgraded to my Kings, I had them installed in under 2 hours (front coilovers only, rears are on backorder).

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post #8 of 50 (permalink) Old 03-07-2019, 07:57 AM
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

I have done my suspension twice on my FJ. Before that I paid someone to do my suspension work on my F-150. I had multiple problems with the F-150, and regretted the money I spent on sub par work.

The FJ is relatively easy. The bolts on top of the strut towers are a little tough to get to, and 1 of mine cross-threaded itself coming off, which was a pain, but over all the whole thing is just a series of basic steps.

Just make sure you have the torque specs handy for the different bolts, and a torque wrench. Metric sockets and wrenches, pry bar, ball joint separator or a hammer to knock them loose. I needed small vice grips to get the sway bar links loose as the bolt wanted to turn when I tried to loosen the nuts.

When disassembling the front, use bungie cords to keep the loose spindle from falling and putting pressure on your brake lines. Be careful also of the Atrac cables, as they are right there in the way, and a pinched cable could end up costing you a $50 replacement.

Honestly it was a little nerve wracking the first time, but I am so glad I did it as I understand it all so much better, and I have the confidence to diagnose and make repairs now. Also doing the work yourself allows you to also be looking for other issues, like rust spots, etc and can tend to them now, or make a note to do so later.

I do every bit of work I can on my own on the FJ and I have found it to be incredibly fun and rewarding.

My first lift was a rough country spacer lift, which was better than nothing at the time, but I replaced it as soon as I had the money. The silver lining to that was I sold the spacer lift and re-couped 2/3 of my money, but also their instructions were pretty good, and gave torque specs for everything.

Good luck!

edit: 1 more thing. Always check your work. Put it back together and torque everything correctly, and take a test drive. After you have put some miles on it, some say 100, recheck all your bolts and make sure they are torqued correctly. I have never had a problem, but it will give you piece of mind if nothing else.
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Last edited by fidelityflip; 03-07-2019 at 08:06 AM.
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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

For the rears - don't even waster your time trying to take the top nut off. Sawzall that pig off - its faster and less aggravating.

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Re: Suspensions: DIY vs Pro Install

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For the rears - don't even waster your time trying to take the top nut off. Sawzall that pig off - its faster and less aggravating.
Absolutely! If they have been on there a while, this is the route to take. Mine were rusted on and after an hour of trying to figure out how to get them off, I broke out the saw.
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