After I lifted my truck I went through ball joints way to quick and I couldn’t get it within proper alignment specs so I decided to take my problem truck to Fabtechs headquarters and see what they have to say about this! The gray haired tech that inspected my truck would only tell me that my rims and tires are not what Fabtech recommends with their kit because they’re too wide and that is causing my problem. He is the one that got me going on the leverage and pivot concept. Since I wasn’t going to take the only "legally responsible" suggestion of putting on 15x8 rims with 31/10.50 tires (30 inches by 8 inch tread, yuck!) I figured out an experiment to try. That was to buy another set of ¾ inch Fabtech spacers and yes, double them up. I bought aircraft grade 9 bolts and tried it. WOW! I actually had a smooth ride but I lost 1.5 inches of ground clearance under my cross member! I went from 20 inches to 18.5 but, problem solved I thought. I’ll just have the assembly Mig welded and gusseted. Until, I brought it down to the alignment shop that day. Now before with 1 set of spacers I had no caster or camber adjustment (but camber was within spec) because the Fabtech upper A-arms were too short, now with 2 sets of spacers the arms are too long! Now I have custom ¼ inch spacers. The ball joints are breaking because they are not meant to take lateral force. The weakness and stiff ride of the short arm lift kit isn't the kit but the ball joints and the stock suspension geometry. Let me explain. Since the stock upper arms are so much shorter then the lowers when the suspension travels down (like when the truck is catching air) the upper arm swings dramatically more down and is in a 7 O'clock position while the lower arm is at 8 O’clock. Stock both are at 9 O'clock (level) On the landing the upper ball joint is in it's weakest position when it takes the maximum force. Poorly setup lift kits will be setup with the upper A-arms at an extreme downward angle during normal operation and will be taking weight off of the coil spring! When I had this setup the ride was so bad I could hardly light my cigarette while driving on pavement without burning my mustache. Stock style ball joints are just not made to take horizontal force like that against the stamped sheet metal cup. That is where my Uniball ball joints, aftermarket limit straps and ball joint spacers come in handy. The trick to the setup is you have to use the proper amount of ball joint spacers to get the stress off of the upper arm during normal on and off road travel and use limit straps or larger droop stops for the occasional wild off roading. For me due to the 15x10 rims and 33x12.50 tires the proper ball joint spacing is about an inch. That's because wider tires and rims have a much greater leverage to push top of the tire horizontally toward the frame using the lower ball joint as its pivot axis. If my upper A-arm is at too much downward angle there is enough force horizontally to push the upper ball joint closer to the frame increasing my lift height and tearing up my upper; ball joints, A-arms and mounts. The Fabtechs spacers are 3/4 inch and are still too short. By using a set of longer A-arms this problem of transferring weight to the upper arms is eliminated and puts it all back to the lower A-arm and coil spring where it belongs. However you are now putting much more weight to the coil spring because of the increased leverage the longer arms have and the weight taken off of the upper A-arms.
So I do NOT suggest any short arm spring and A-arm lift kit even though I use one. It’s just too hit or miss with nasty ball joint or frame cracking problems. I have braced the upper mounts by welding in gussets under the cross bar bolts and where the stock droop stop was cut off. After those started cracking from my ball joint test sessions I went with 1/4 inch thick plates that run down the outside of the upper A-arm mounts 1 to 1.5 inches and across the frame for 3 to 4 inches.
If you just want a few inches then go with the 3.5 inch $400 Fabtech spindle and $100 stainless steal break lines, it’s a good choice. Fabtech has the best design and is used by other quality lift kit companies like California Super Trucks (CST) with their 5.5 inch lift kits. You won't be disappointed in the quality. Fabtech is the only company to make a spindle with a solid reputation. The $280 3.0 inch lift spindle by AIM industries (sold under several names like Chassis Tech ect) is the only other company to cast a S-10 lift spindle and they have been known to break. So stay away from the 3.0 lift spindles. If you decide to find a Fabtech set used on Ebay be sure to get the right style due to the different break caliper design from 99 to 03. Longer stainless steel brake lines will also be needed. This type of brake line has a plus and minus. The plus is that they will not expand under pressure (while the break pedal is depressed) like the factory nylon corded rubber break lines do. The result is a much firmer break peddle and increased pressure to the pads. This means it takes less foot pressure to stop the truck. The minus is that because they are so rigid they tend to flex most at the ends. DOT approved braided steal break lines will have some type of support near the ends of the braded steal hose. If the break lines don’t have this added support the line will fray near the fittings and will fail prematurely. Only get DOT approved Stainless steal break lines.
Next step for just a little more tire clearance I'd suggest a $120 Performance Accessories 3 inch body lift kit. Some people say a body lift raises the center of gravity too much. I disagree. To achieve increased tire clearance you have to raise the fenders or cut them. Since there isn’t much to cut on the second gens we’re stuck. A body lift will increase your center of gravity some, but not near as much as a suspension lift that raises the motor, trans, frame ect. The reason a 3 inch lift kit only fits the 94 model year of the second gens is due to a difference in the lower steering column shaft. The 95 and up use a splined shaft. If you want a custom shaft made try Borgeson.com. If your heater line on your truck is like my 94 V6 you'll need a Gates 18751 from your local parts store. My heater hose makes a sharp 90 degree turn down from the firewall to the back of the intake manifold. Both ends are different sizes 5/8 top and 1/2 at the bottom. With the kit I just got a 5/8 hose to use on the power break booster and the heater line. NO WAY was that hose going to make the bend down without kinking. The gap guards were originally made in southern California by a guy in his garage out of big rig inner tubes. He made templates with cardboard first.
For those of you that haven’t bought a lift kit yet you may want to consider the AIM long arms $650) and my Uniball joints ($300 to $350) verses the CST long arm kit ($1800 to $2500 depending on options). I am thinking that because they both use long arms and Uniballs so most of the problems we have with the short arm lift kits will be minimized if not eliminated. The AIM kit with Uniballs just does it for half the cash. Either setup is capable of being broken with enough abuse. The CST kit’s strength is a well earned reputation for quality parts and they have welded on a larger one inch Uniball ball joint. The only problems I have heard about with their setup is that they don’t use a factory style tapered pin. Instead they use a 5/8 inch grade 8 bolt that can oval out the spindle over time on street driven trucks and they use a softer coil spring that doesn’t give as much lift. The AIM and my Uniball setup have a tapered pin but the ¾ inch size of the Uniball is limited to what will fit between the bolt holes but will eliminate the side breaking out issues you have with stock ball joints. AIM has a questionable reputation that the company service and support sucks. People who have bought their long arm kits though are happy with the hardware and ride quality. I have no direct information other then what I have read and herd from the owners of each kit. For shocks, the so called front “3 inch S10 lift shocks” are actually shocks originally designed for the 91 through 99 Chevy C2500 (¾ ton) 2WD Suburban and are just relabeled. A quality self adjusting gas charged shock is highly recommended such as the Bilstein BE5-2422 and is what I use.
Lets talk about coil spring rates now. A mild 1.5 inch lift spring rate such as the Moog & TRW 5662's and 5664's are about 640 to 710 and can be used with stock upper A-arms. Some slightly longer (3/4 inch) springs that require tubular A-arms are the Fabtech 7268-2 for the 4 cylinder standard cab is 710. The Fabtech 7268-3 for the V-6 extended cab is 750. The Fabtech 7268-4 for their discontinued long arm setup is 800. Full size truck stock spring rates vary from 760 to 870 depending on the model and the ton capacity of the truck. If you plan on installing the lift kit yourself I have the trick to installing the coil springs. Only do this if you are an experienced mechanic and take all safety precautions. A compressed coil spring is vary dangerous. Follow the shop service manual instructions. This is merely an added technique I discovered to complete the job much faster. This at first took me all day. Now I can now start the job after work and be done in time for dinner. Place the coil spring on the lower A-arm and twist it to the groove so you know what half is facing the engine. Grease the threads on the inside coil spring compressor because your going to compress a 15 inch spring down to 10 inches. Insert the coil hooks from the compressor kit one coil in from each end. Now slide it off center towards the engine side of the spring until it stops but the hooks remain firmly in place. Now when you compress the spring it will bind it into a slight “C” shape. This will give you the added clearance to clear the lower section of the coil spring cup on the frame. Once in place as you release the pressure on the spring make sure it sets properly into the seat on the top too (as shown above). If you don’t seat it properly on top it will tear up your frame. After you bolt up the spindle and remove the spring compressor tool, double check the spring placement by looking up through the lower shock mounting hole.
Ok, now to the rear end. Since a spindle lift only lifts a little more then leveling out most trucks I will only look to the rear end as the last step. There are two ways to go. One is more dramatic then the other. The first way is to use hangers, shackles and shocks. Remember that if you put on a 2 inch lift shackle it will only give you 1 inch of lift. Think of it this way. If you have a 5 foot bar you raise one end 2 inches the net result for the middle of the bar is 1 inch. Now think of the spring as the bar with the axle in the middle. Since the axle is bolted to the middle of the spring the net result of the 2 inch shackle lift is 1 inch of lift. Next is the hanger, the leaf spring mount closest to the front of the truck. A CST 1.5 inch hanger will give a ¾ inch lift to the axle. For the shocks look for Suburban rear shocks for up to 1.5 inch of lift and go to the ZR2 rear shocks for a 2 to 3 inch lift. The second more dramatic lift is the flip kit. It puts the axle under the leaf spring instead of over it. It will be 4.5 to 5 inches of lift. You will have to weld it in or the flip kit will break off the stock spring perches. Mine broke the first day. The factory perches just aren't made to take pressure from the other side. From there you need to move the axle assembly forward 3/4 of an inch forward on the spring. This will help make up the distance in the driveshaft splines and e-brake cables. Lastly you have to keep the lower shock mounts under the spring to keep travel and ride quality. You keep your factory hydraulic break line but you will have to bend the bracket up that is bolted down to the pumpkin cover. Your pinion needs to point directly forward (level). Don't point it up towards the back of the trans. As the U-joints rotate on an angle the driveshaft speeds up and slows down with every revolution. One end equals out the other, unless they do not have the same angle. In that case they will speed up and slow down the pinion and you'll feel it vibrate the whole truck. With a flip kit your lower shock mounts will still be under the leaf springs. This means you got a 5 inch lift and you can use stock replacement S10 shocks. I use and recommend the $59 Bilstein B 46-1681 for the 82 through 99 S10.
If your going to get a whole new rear end to weld in the flip kit just make sure it's from a 2wd, the 4wd rear ends are wider. I got my 3.73 Posi at a pick your parts salvage yard for $65 axle to axle. Look in the glove box for the axle codes. The 2wd, 4wd S10 and full size trucks use the same codes. If it has a factory posi it will have a G80 code. The other G codes are GU2=2.73, GU4=3.08, GU6=3.42, GT4=3.73 and GT5=4.10. Happy hunting!
The specs of the ball joints are; 3/4 inch Teflon coated self lubricating Uniball. That’s the biggest Uniball that would fit between the bolt holes and still get a wrench on the heads. The cup is press fit and tig welded to two 3/16” steel mounting plates that are welded together and Zink plated for a total of 3/8 inch thick rust proof mounting plate. The plates are predrilled to use the same factory bolt holes as any other replacement S10 ball joint so you can still use your Fabtech ball joint spacers if you want to as shown in the pictures below. The pin is made of 85,000 PSI strength (side to side shearing resistance strength). What the racers want to know about ball joint pins. Almost all other bolts are tested on a pull apart strength and the Pounds per square Inch (PSI) it takes to pull it into two pieces. The pins are 150k PSI in that scale. They are made of stress proof spring steel that is black oxide coated and tapered to factory specs to fit the top of the Fabtech or stock spindle like a glove and to complete the direct bolt in replacement. I learned at the aircraft parts store the reason for the taper is to dissipate the shearing force over a larger area. So, if the shearing force is dissipated over half inch area (the contact length of the taper) verses an edge. If shearing were no longer an issue by design then it only makes sense to seek a non fatiguing type material such as what coil springs are made of. That is what the steal in the pins is made of, coil spring steal.
The Uniball ball joints will bolt right up to a 1983 to 2003 4wd too. The 4wd and 2wd ball joints use the same four bolt pattern and use the same tapered spindle pin. The only difference I could see was that the 4wd BJ had a different (higher) roll center axis, in other words the pivot point is closer to the A-arm then on the 2wd version by about a 1/4 inch. You can/should check for yourself by going to your local auto parts store and ask to see one of each. In the pic that I am holding the two ball joints side by side you'll notice two small spacers below the Uniball on the pin, one thicker (1/4 inch) silver one and a thinner (1/8 inch) gold one on the one that is bolted in. Those small spacers are to adjust the roll center (standard for all quality race car ball joints) and must be installed either above or below the Uniball. I would still recommend getting an alignment as you should after replacing any suspension components. Just to make myself perfectly clear, I am saying it will fit and you can adjust the roll center axis up to 3/8 of an inch, in increments of 1/8 inch. I wouldn't worry too much about the roll center unless you're trying to cut down your Daytona speedway track times. I move mine up and down by the inch. Up 3.5 inches with my lift spindles, down 1 inch with my ball joint spacers and down another 1/4 inch because I mounted my ball joints below the upper A-arm (very common practice) instead of through the top, and then up 3/8 inch with the spacers on the Uniball pins. Do ya see how for us in the truck world it's really no big deal?
I will be glad to answer questions about lifting my truck here
AKA The Red Baron