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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
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. :wink: 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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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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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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Discussion Starter #4
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 ?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
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.
 

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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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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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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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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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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.
Well put, I like this. I do my own work because I started as a frugal college student. I realized it's not that hard with a few tools. Now that I have $ I still do it myself because I want to learn all I can in case something goes wrong out in the bush. Too many people down on their luck get taken advantage of when they have nowhere else to turn.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
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. :)
Yeah, I'm not totally inept mechanically. I replaced my home's submersible well pump on my own (because the pros wanted $10k+ for the job). I've built a very sturdy loft bed for my daughter. I've maintained small gas powered engines over the years and changed the oil in my various vehicles. I swapped out the FJ's alternator. I can handle this. Just trying to gauge if the risk is worth the reward. At the moment, I believe it is.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
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).
I've watched a few of these install videos. They do make it look easy. It's encouraging. And so are your comments. I'm about 98% sure I'll be doing this myself. And if it goes sideways, you'll be sure to hear about it. >:D
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
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.

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.
This is incredibly helpful. I've seen some of these things on the videos I've watched, or mentioned randomly throughout the forum. But to see all these tips in one place make it a convenient place to reference.

Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
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.
Great, guys. Now I need to buy a Sawzall. Kidding. That's another tool I'm lucky enough to own already. :grin
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Well put, I like this. I do my own work because I started as a frugal college student. I realized it's not that hard with a few tools. Now that I have $ I still do it myself because I want to learn all I can in case something goes wrong out in the bush. Too many people down on their luck get taken advantage of when they have nowhere else to turn.
Great points. Earning the knowledge to troubleshoot problems on the trail or at home is one of the biggest motivations for learning how to do this and other things myself. Tinkering with the FJ will be a lifelong hobby if I can keep it running that long. So I'd better get to know it works.

Now, I'm not a college student, neither am I poor. But I am Scottish (read "notoriously frugal"). So I tend not to spend a dime on something until I'm sure there's not a better buy out there. But I'm not willing to sacrifice quality either. I just find it hard to justify paying someone $100+ per hour for something I can do myself, especially when by doing it myself, I'm rewarded with knowledge and experience.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Being a newb, I only recently discovered that to do this install right (it's happening this weekend), I may need a way to compress my springs. Reading through posts, ToyTec BOSS install instructions, and seeing a few videos, it looks like this might not be an issue with the front coil-overs, as I can use the "no spring compressor" method." But ToyTec recommends using a spring compressor for the rears. I'd rather not.

Is there a "no spring compressor" method for the rears as well?
 

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Being a newb, I only recently discovered that to do this install right (it's happening this weekend), I may need a way to compress my springs. Reading through posts, ToyTec BOSS install instructions, and seeing a few videos, it looks like this might not be an issue with the front coil-overs, as I can use the "no spring compressor" method." But ToyTec recommends using a spring compressor for the rears. I'd rather not.

Is there a "no spring compressor" method for the rears as well?
We don't use compressors on the rear. Not seen it necessary. Some are stiffer than others and you may have to get a little 'western'. We also have lifts so we are always standing and have the advantage of body weight and leverage.
 

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I did my own suspension, went Kings. DIYer at best. Took my time, and knocked it out over 3 days. For the rears, no spring compressor needed, I was able to finesse them out...
 

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Being a newb, I only recently discovered that to do this install right (it's happening this weekend), I may need a way to compress my springs. Reading through posts, ToyTec BOSS install instructions, and seeing a few videos, it looks like this might not be an issue with the front coil-overs, as I can use the "no spring compressor" method." But ToyTec recommends using a spring compressor for the rears. I'd rather not.

Is there a "no spring compressor" method for the rears as well?
Pretty sure the Toytec Boss, Toytec Ultimate and Toytec Bilstein lift kits come with the front coilovers already assembled. There is no need to compress springs or use the no spring compressor method. You just bolt them into place. Do you have the kit already....if so just take a look at the front coilovers right now to confirm.

I didnt have to use a spring compressor for the rear coil springs. Just get the FJ up on Jackstands...pretty high up there and then let rear axle hang. Might need to loosen the brake cables etc and push up on one side while pushing down on the other to slip the spring in. You can also use your jack up on one side of the axle while pulling down on other side. Worst case is you might have to remove one of the lower rear control arm bolts to get some further movement. Then ratchet the rear axle assembly back in alignment to reinstall lower control arm bolt.

Edit: It might actually give you more movement by removing the rear track bar bolt so you can move either side of rear axle up/or down independently.
 
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