A Call to Arms
A lift is no doubt the most common off-road mod out there, but there’s more to it than improved clearance and bigger tires. Tuning the way an IFS vehicle handles after upgrading its suspension is more than an alignment alone can accommodate.
This post tackles a common lift ailment: squishy, unresponsive steering. What you need to know before your next lift is how to restore geometry for the best driving experience – and the role upper control arms play in making your rig a joy to drive on any terrain.
What are Upper Control Arms?
If you are new to the game of four-wheeling, you have likely seen the term upper control arms, or UCAs for short, floating around during your quest of planning the ultimate off-road or overland build.
Upper control arms can be found on independent front suspension (IFS) vehicles, acting as the middleman between the vehicle frame and knuckle spindle. Upper control arms are designed to keep your front wheels aligned, limit articulation, and ensure optimum handling on and off-road.
When do I need to upgrade?
When you lift your vehicle, you are changing the geometry of the suspension. Aftermarket control arms may not always be necessary but are recommended when you lift your vehicle over a certain height – especially if you plan to take it off-road. Ultimately factory upper control arms are not designed for aftermarket suspensions that will lift your vehicle.
A problem you may face with the combination of factory upper control arms and aftermarket suspensions is the clearance between the arm and coil spring; they may come in contact when articulating the suspension. Most aftermarket upper control arms provide additional clearance to prevent this issue.
The gray line represents the imaginary vertical axis. The red line represents the vehicle’s strut and coil assembly.
But the main issue reverts to caster and camber. Caster is the measurement of how far forward or rearward the steering axis is from the imaginary yet crucial vertical axis. Camber is the tilt away from the axle from the top of the wheel to the bottom of the wheel. When lifting a vehicle, you are impacting this geometry.
After lifting your vehicle, you should always take it to an alignment shop so they can adjust the caster, camber, and toe. However, the issue that many face is the limited caster and camber adjustment with factory upper control arms. Ultimately, having to settle with a number outside of the factory specifications leads to premature tire and steering component wear. Depending on the size of the lift, you can get within a tolerable range, but it is not always the best long-term setup, especially if you take the vehicle off-road.
What sets Old Man Emu UCA’s apart?
An aftermarket set of upper control arms, such as the sets from Old Man Emu, are designed and manufactured with additional caster and camber to reach the desired range specified by the OE specifications. Old Man Emu upper control arms will provide an increase of caster between +2.5 and +3.5 degrees and up to 1.5 degrees of camber increase (based on 2” lift).
Most avid off-roaders upgrade their suspension for greater articulation and clearance while also increasing their tire size for better traction and ground clearance. Odds are your build plans are no exception to this popular route, which also means you plan to take your rig off-road. And when off-road – the roads are bumpy, our suspension articulates, and we have these massive tires to push. All of which, cause wear on your ball joints.
Ball joint failures are common off-road, if you have not seen one yourself, take a second to search “ball joint failure off-road” and you will be very inspired not to end up on the blooper reel. The key is heavy-duty greasable ball joints that are sealed and rebuildable. Old Man Emu Upper Control Arms use the OE ball joint that offers all of these features, however most other upper control arms commonly use a uniball joint that is not sealed and must be replaced often. Especially in regions where roads are treated with salt in the winter, uniball joints wear out quickly versus their sealed counterparts.
Whether you are planning to tackle the black diamond trails in Moab, cruise the fire roads in the Northwest, or remain on the pavement, upper control arms are something to consider.
Old Man Emu Upper Control Arms Features
Available for the following applications
Upper control arms sets are also available for the following solid-axle models
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