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Discussion Starter #1
As many of you know, I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while now and time just seems to keep getting away from me so I’ve been adding bits and pieces here and there for the last several months in order to get it finished. I’m still working on the Calmini section with regards to getting the perspective of someone with personal experience so feel free let me know if you’d like to add some insight on that. You can post here or just PM me for my email and shoot me a word doc or something and I’ll edit the thread. The point is to try to answer as many of the FAQs about DB lifts as possible so members and guests trying to get answers have somewhere to go.
I’ll cover personal experience, what’s available for the Fronty, what’s included in the kits and some pros and cons of DB kits in general as well as how to improve on them for various uses. Feel free to let me know if you think I missed anything but please try to keep it content related. This is not an English grammar class. I’ve done my proof reading and spell check so if I missed something get over it and enjoy the read. Go grab a cold one (or 3) and get comfy cause this might take a while…

I’ll get to the nuts and bolts of the DB kits and what’s good, bad and sometimes ugly about them in a sec but first a little background on my personal experience with them.

My story goes something like this;
When I traded in my old ʼ06 Nismo for my new ʼ11 Pro-4X I wanted to take it to another level, literally.





I had been researching DB lifts for a while and heard the good and bad about the Calmini and Fabtech lifts and had decided that I wanted to go with the Fabtech kit mostly due to it’s heavier gauge construction and the fact that it comes powder coated black to match my truck. Only problem was that it hadn’t been tested on anything beyond ʼ09, though Fabtech was looking for donor “Guinea Pig” trucks for test fitting. Being in So Cal and about 18 miles from Fabtech HQ I figured that I was in a pretty good position to not only help Fabtech develop their product for another model year (how much different could it be for a truck that’s basically the same as the previous years right?) but also to get my truck lifted for a pretty ridiculous discount. So off to Fabtech I went with my brand new truck and a set of freshly mounted 33 MTs on 17x9 Level 8s.



So a week and a half later I get the call I’ve been waiting for. The truck’s finished, looks great, everything went well and they’re taking it out for a photo shoot for the new catalog. Cool, my truck’s a star haha. When I arrive to pick it up I’m stoked. It looks sick, just what I’d hoped for.



It looks a bit low in the rear in the pic but that’s all the extra weight from the parts kit and the stock wheels and tires in the bed. Pulling out of the parking lot and driving home I notice that the steering doesn’t return to center like it should but I figure I’ll give it some break-in time as well as some time for me to enjoy my new monster truck. The next day I started to notice a moaning sound when hitting the brakes in slow parking lot turns so I give the guys at Fabtech a call to let them know and schedule a time to take it back in for a check up. Unfortunately the truck didn’t really feel like waiting for its scheduled appointment. The next morning I’m cruising down the 91 on my way to work at about 65 mph when BOOM! No idea what just happened but pretty sure it’s not good. Truck is making very unhappy sounds and something is putting a serious drag on the power output. I thought I’d probably just lost my front drive shaft so I pulled over to the side of the road to check it out. Turns out it’s a bit more serious as I’m pretty sure the diff oil shouldn’t be falling out of the diff. Hmmm, that can’t be good. I don’t think that giant crack is supposed to be there either.





So long story slightly shortened, I had the truck towed back to Fabtech. They had no idea what could have happened cause “That’s never happened before” but they tell me that it was “probably” because the diff oil hadn’t been topped off properly. So 2 weeks later (did I mention that this happened the day before Christmas break?) the diffʼs been replaced and my truck is on its way back to me for the second time with no explanation as to why it exploded while driving in a straight line on the freeway in 2 wheel drive. So you can imagine how super comfy I am now with my new rig considering I have no idea if it’s actually fixed or if I’m just counting time until the next one explodes with my big travel season right in front of me.
All of my trepidations aside, the truck made it through my travel season unscathed and has been on several off road trips with no further issues with the exception of the fact that it still eats the outside edges of the front tires in tight parking lot type maneuvers and refuses to return to center from anything past ¾ lock (think circling jet ski, pretty sure I could step out and watch it circle the parking lot at idle).
Granted, I would never have expected my front diff to take a hike in the middle of the freeway and had hoped that I wouldn’t have to re-engineer half of the ancillary bracket geometry but at least the brass at Fabtech never gave me a hard time about taking care of the repairs and even the towing and rental car charges. I still think that their kit needs some serious R&D upgrades to remedy some of the more blatant flaws in the design, which I’ll cover shortly, but they stand behind their product and the structure itself is nearly bullet proof.
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
The new rig has been fitted with the Calmini kit for several months now so I have better comparison info having had both kits. Below has been updated with the new info.

So here’s the lowdown on drop bracket lifts for Frontys;

What’s available;
Fabtech 6” lift. Available for 2x and 4x Frontys
Priced from 1900 – 2200

Calmini 5” lift. Available for 2x and 4x Frontys
Priced from 1400 - 2000 for the combo kit with front SAW COs.
Also available as a front half only kit.

SLR 5” kit, Unfortunately our friend Spencer Low is no longer in the business of producing lift components for mass consumption. The only way you can get one of these is to find the owner of a used kit and talk him/her out of it (I know, I tried). Yes, his kit and many of his upgraded suspension and steering components were expensive, mostly because they were worth it. Ultimately he didn’t sell enough of them to offset the production and design costs so he closed up his retail shop and went back to making his own race trucks go way faster than yours before falling off the planet a few years back. Maybe he's hangin with Hoffa??


What’s included;
Fabtech
6” lift, 1/4” plate construction, includes lift cross members, brace struts, front diff skid/mounting plate, steel extension brackets for the stock front struts (also work on 5100s), rear 4” blocks and u-bolts, rear gas shocks and all required mounting/relocation brackets and hardware. DOES NOT INCLUDE extended brake lines

Calmini
5” lift, 3/16” plate construction, includes lift cross members, brace struts, front diff/eng skid plate, steel spacers for the stock front struts, extended stainless brake lines, rear 2” blocks, 2” shackles and u-bolts, rear gas shocks and all required mounting/relocation brackets and hardware. Also available in a combo kit that includes SAW COs.

SLR
Don’t worry about it, you’re not going to get one anyway.

The Good;
• The most effective way to create room for bigger tires without having to totally butcher your fenders. Though keep in mind that you may still need to do some trimming depending on tire size/width and wheel width/offset. I had to trim the body seam pinch weld and “adjust” the liner but I’m running really wide, aggressive tires on wheels that are an inch wider with almost an inch less backspacing than stock.





• Gets your rockers and undercarriage vitals (with the obvious exception of the diffs) farther away from rocks and other things with bad intentions towards your bodywork. IF you have a good spotter or can pick a decent line, this part alone can make your truck more capable off road by allowing you to clear bigger trail obstacles like rocks and ledges.
• Great look if you want a big truck – I still get jazzed every time I walk out to the driveway in the morning or see it in the parking lot.
• Significant improvement in approach/departure/break-over angles
• Much easier to work underneath the truck (BIG fan of this one)
• “Levels” rear of truck (gets rid of factory rake)
• Includes front diff skids to protect the low-hanging parts
• Makes it much easier to find in a crowded parking lot.

The Bad;
• Instantly deletes 2-4 Hwy MPG depending on tire choice (both kits, or any substantial lift kit for that matter) - Think the aerodynamic equivalent of a giant brick riding on performance enhanced erasers. Not super conducive to fuel sipping mileage numbers. Just try to remember how cool it looks all jacked up in the driveway towering over all of your neighbors’ puny little econo boxes and how much fun you have messing with people around town looking at the bottom of your bumper mouth in their rear view mirrors.
• Requires upgrades for improved off road performance (both kits) – Just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean the suspension works any better. It’s just bigger, which actually means the suspension has more weight to carry thanks to 150lbs of plate steel brackets. All that extra sprung and unsprung weight is just added mass for our friend gravity to work on. Basically it adds extra payload to your suspension and steering components making them less effective at controlling the forces created by bouncing around off road.
• Shock spacer/extension (both kits) – See above. They suck unless you never plan on your truck leaving the paved security of the Hwy. If you want to wheel it, ditch the spacers and get some COs as soon as budget allows. Extended length COs for DB lifted trucks are avail from several manufacturers (Radflo, SAW, King etc..).



• Rear blocks significantly accelerate rear spring fatigue (both kits, though more so on the Fabtech kit due to bigger block) – We all know that the stock Fronty springs tend to leave a little to be desired in the durability department. In short, they tend to sag like month old celery stalks when subjected to anything remotely resembling truck-like behavior. Add a set of 4” cast iron spacers underneath the overload springs and this deterioration is accelerated by at least two times. Mine lasted almost a year and they are now beyond flat into full sag. If you wheel or haul do yourself a favor and invest in a set of custom spring packs, you won’t regret it (I’ve since replaced mine with custom Deaver packs, which are AMAZING btw!)!
• Axle wrap (both kits) – Axle wrap is a function of leverage. Adding that giant block underneath the springs is like giving your drivetrain a 10’ pry bar to go at your axle assembly. Any of you with these lifts have most certainly noticed this even if you don’t know what it is or what’s causing it. Every time you leave a stop at throttle angles beyond 10% you’ve felt the delayed acceleration and whip of the axle wrapping and unwrapping. Most of you have probably noticed the muted clunk when coming to a stop as well, same deal here in reverse. This is also a major contributor to the spring sag issue above. Luckily it has the same fix! Get a decent spring pack and you solve both problems. One of those “have your cake and eat it too” rarities in life.
• Tougher to get into the truck - This one is pretty self explanatory and, if you’re like me and have a petite significant other, you’ve heard about it on several occasions. “Why does your truck have to be so damn tall”?! Sound familiar? As luck would have it, it also does wonders for your seat cushion bolsters. I’ve added sliders (“steps, just for her”) that I use as a step to get into and out of my seat without sliding over the bolsters so they still look new, not to mention the many times they’ve saved my rocker panels from damage.
• Loss of clearance under front diffs/cross members (both kits) – This is one of the more unfortunate aspects of both kits, but especially the Fabtech kit. Half of Fabtech’s marketing campaign revolves around their “Legendary Patented Arched Super Grand Poo Bah Cross Member” for added ground clearance. Yeah right! Only problem with that for Nissan owners is the retarded angle of the front diff mount (So why do Nissan’s need this and Fords and Chevys don’t?) which effectively cuts just over an inch OFF of your ground clearance under the front diff. The Calmini kit costs you almost 3/4". As mentioned above, the Calmini kit also uses a lighter gauge steel for their brackets. The one area where it's been an issue is at the outside front corners where the camber bolts are located. I've bent the brackets pretty good in the rocks on a couple of occasions but nothing that's been cause for concern. I didn't bend far enough to interfere with the LCA motion or affect alignment substantially though it's certainly possible if you hit it hard enough. I simply bent them back with a large crescent wrench. With the giant center skid bolted up the middle section is pretty bullet proof.



The only good news about this is that you probably added this lift to get taller tires under your rig, which is the only way you can get that ground clearance back (at least until I come up with a way to improve on that stupid diff mounting bracket anyway ; ) And yes, I know that if you crank up your 5100s or your COs you can gain some ground clearance but that goes for any truck, not just DB lifted trucks and this is a DB lift thread. Get it? And we’re moving on…
The other half of Fabtech’s marketing campaign is that “It’s the only true 6” lift kit available”. Again, total BS! If the drop brackets and strut extension brackets measure 5” from center bolt hole to center bolt hole then it’s a 5” lift, NOT a 6” lift. The only thing that gets dropped 6” is the front of the front diff. Of course the back only gets dropped 2” for some reason I have yet to understand (see below under driveshaft angles).
Calmini doesn’t have the luxury of that “Legendary blah blah blah” patent so their cross member is basically a giant road grader that cuts a straight line across from one LCA to the other. Works great for marking your way back on trail obstacles with shiny blue paint though, which is an unexpected added bonus.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
The Ugly;
• Possible detonation of front diff for no apparent reason (not a big fan of this one personally, wouldn’t recommend it) – This may have been an isolated case but seems unlikely that I’m the only one this has ever happened to. In any case Fabtech has no idea why it happened. I have had no issues whatsoever with the Calmini kit in this respect. I've put it through hundreds of miles of off road from mild to wild and no vibrations or anything that might lead me to believe my diff is in any more danger than it would have been completely stock.

• Extension brackets for the LCA bump stop (Fabtech kit) – Besides the fact that they are too long and limit suspension compression stroke, I also had to grind the front edge of the driver’s side down about 3/8” because it was rubbing on the axle (see pic). As for the Calmini kit, they have issues here as well though not as bad. The front mounting bolt makes contact with the drop spindle body at full outward lock. Other than the fact that it clunks and wears a bit of a groove in the spindle it hasn't been an issue. You could always forgo the self tapping bolt and just tack them on with your welder and it would never be an issue.





How do you not notice that during the install if that’s what you do for a living??
• Sway bar link extension brackets (Fabtech/Not sure on the Calmini) – They mount with a single center bolt so they “rock” when the suspension cycles causing a substantial clunk on turns or when one tire hits a bump/hole that the other tire misses. Calmini uses a better bracket but I never installed it since I added COs from the get go so can't really comment on their function.



Had to reef on it with a 30” breaker bar to get it tight enough to eliminate movement. I will be removing the sway bar once I get the COs so this hasn’t really been a concern (once I figured out what the clunk was anyway). May also be possible to eliminate the extension bracket altogether and get a longer end link, possibly with a disconnect? I’ll research further and edit if/when I find any options.
• Steering knuckle (Fabtech/Have had some response from Calmini owners that they have this issue as well) – The steering knuckle on the spindle actually rubs on the strut/CO at full lock. This is more noticeable with bigger COs like the 2.5s but mine also hits the extension bracket on my 5100s so it would also hit the stock set up. I’ve had feedback from owners of both kits with regards to this. Will have to grind on that a bit and experiment with alignment angles when I get the COs. The Calmini knuckle itself does NOT contact the CO. Only the tie rod end makes contact at full lock and only just barely. I hear a slight clunk every once in a while when I'm at full lock and bouncing over a rock but it's barely left a nick in the powder coat of the springs so not really a concern.
• More fun with steering geometry. Not sure why and whether it’s a combination of the spindles and the tire/wheel selection but my truck eats the outer edges off of the front tires during parking lot maneuvers and u-turns. The steering also does not return to center once I get past about ¾ turn to lock in either direction. No issues with this at all with the Calmini kit. Steering feel is great, returns to center just like stock, no abnormal tire wear and it actually took almost a foot OFF of my turning radius!
• Front diff drop bracket/front DS angle (Fabtech) – The front drive shaft angles are somewhat less than ideal with the front diff mounting angle on the Fabtech kit. They angle the front of the front diff downward to cut down on axle shaft angles or something but it’s much more than is really necessary. Not only does it eat mass amounts of ground clearance but it also creates a very odd double negative DS angle (neg angle coming off of t-case flange and a neg angle going into front diff pinion. See pic). Ideally you want any u-joint angles to cancel each other out (ie, one angles down at 3*, the other end angles back up at 3*), especially if they rotate at high speeds but maybe their suspension designers were out sick from suspension design class that day? I haven’t noticed any significant vibrations in the front driveline but it still kinda sketches me out when I think about it and whether or not that contributed to the diff catastrophe. Seems like there are thousands of us Nissan owners out there with this design so you’d think the word would be out so to speak if this was happening a lot. In any case, I’m working on a re-design of the diff mounting brackets to alleviate this issue and my concerns with it. It basically amounts to raising the front of the diff back up an inch or two. There is plenty of room for this as the front axle shafts are short of parallel to the LCAs. I realize that this particular section may be a bit confusing if you don’t have this lift or haven’t studied one up close but I have included some pix and can provide more for clarification if needed.
The front diff drop on the Calmini kit is nice and level, just like stock only lower. No funky DS angles and no vibrations at all. I did have to make a slight adjustment to the trans cross member as the front DS balance weight made very slight contact with it. I took the cross member down, heated it up and peened a small recess in the affected area and that's all it took. No further issues with either the DS or the diff.


• Bolts get missed during installation! Even if you had a “professional” install your kit, take the time to re-check as many of the fasteners as you can reach just to make sure. The ham-fisted knucklehead that did mine forgot to tighten both rear shocks, the sway bar end links, the pass side lower strut mount, pinched holes in BOTH front, outer axle boots



and left the rear brake line extension bracket lined up perfectly to smash into my tail pipe when the rear squatted any more than 3 or 4 inches. Save yourself some headaches and possible damages and crawl under the truck and put a wrench on everything. Would also recommend doing it again after a few thousand miles just to make sure nothing worked itself loose.

Installation;
Either kit can be installed by a competent tech in a day with the right tools and a helper (beer helps as a bribe here but try not to consume it all before you start, see above about forgetting to torque bolts). If you have trouble changing brake pads this installation is NOT for you, pay a professional. At least that way when your diff explodes someone else gets to pay for it ; ) I did the Calmini lift myself in my garage with floor jacks and jack stands and it took me a total of about 6 hours.
Keep in mind that both kits require some cutting to fit the drop brackets so returning the vehicle to stock when your wife tells you she hates it is not a simple reversal of the process. The driver’s side mounting tabs for the front diff need to be removed from the frame with a cut off wheel or sawzall in order to fit the rear drop bracket and will need to be welded back on to remove the lift so keep the tabs if you ever plan to remove the kit!
I’m not going to go into full detail on one of these installations here. Suffice to say I’ve done lots of them on all kinds of vehicles and it’s not that big of a deal if you’re qualified and/or really good at following instructions. Just do your homework first so you don’t end up over your head with your truck scattered all over the driveway.

Installation Instruction links

http://www.fabtechmotorsports.com/files/FT25006i.pdf

http://www.calmini.com/docs/manual-np17500-3-install.pdf

So that's my piece. Hope you guys and gals enjoyed the read and more importantly, that some of you found this info useful. Feel free to let me know your thoughts or if you have any info that might be missing.
Thanks


Edits:
Replaced Fabtech install instructions link
 

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Thanks for the info. Great photos!
I'd like to see a tape measure of ground to front crossmember before and ground to new db afterward for both kits, same tires obviously.

Think about a solid front axle setup, Jeep for example...no change in clearance after lift until larger tires are installed. I read that the Calmini actually gains you an inch.

The thing I don't like about the Fabtech kit is the 2 square brackets you see hanging below the db. The Calmini isn't like that.


 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Thanks for the info. Great photos!
I'd like to see a tape measure of ground to front crossmember before and ground to new db afterward for both kits, same tires obviously.

Think about a solid front axle setup, Jeep for example...no change in clearance after lift until larger tires are installed. I read that the Calmini actually gains you an inch.

The thing I don't like about the Fabtech kit is the 2 square brackets you see hanging below the db. The Calmini isn't like that.


It's a bit of a pain on occasion but at least they are serious steel and take a pretty good shot without damage. Ask me how I know...
You can see how much lower the Fabtech brackets are than the LCA mounting bolts. That's how much clearance you lose.
The Calmini isn't nearly as bad but it still nets a loss of clearance.

nice informative post.

The Fabtech pdf is an invalid link for me.
Thanks. I've been screwing around with this thing for way too long so that link may have expired. I'll re-check/re-post an active link
 

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Great information from experience. Thanks for posting up what you have been through and learned.
 

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Nice write-up.
I can attest to the calmini "road grader". When I put the rancho quick lift struts on, I gained maybe an inch or two of extra clearance.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Replaced the outdated Fabtech install instructions link with the current location
Edits will be added to the end of the third post at the end of my write-up.
 

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"DB Lifts: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"


Do not use in vain the title of the greatest film of all time.
 

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"DB Lifts: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"


Do not use in vain the title of the greatest film of all time.
My second favorite film after "A Fistful of Dollars" but thought it was a fitting title for the subject matter.
 

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I just bought a brand new 2013 pro-4x, havent even picked it up yet. I think ill be going with the calmini since replacing my diff on what will more than likely be my dime is not exactly what I would like to do with my brand new pickup. Not to mention Im probly at least 2000 miles away from fabtech HQ lol.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
The diff issue was definitely a bummer. Especially since there was never any real explanation. No issues since at least. If you're not going to beat it in the rocks there's no real advantage of one over the other so Calmini will work just as well as long as you don't mind the blue or a little paint work to cover it
 

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Has your turning radius greatly diminished after install the Fabtech? My turning radius is aweful and I almost always have to pull in to a stall then reverse and go back forward to get into a parking stall. Also when driving over painted stripes on a road my tires will chirp while going over the lines.
 

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DB Lifts; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Don't use the title of the world's best film in vain !!!

#4 on IMDB film database (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo). And actually a great anti-war film...
 
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