No. 1 BDS Suspension 2-inch Leveling Kit
There’s three schools of thought when it comes to dealing with a truck and the tires you want to run on it.
The first option is to leave it at the stock height. Stock front end components, no lift at all. That limits you on tire size—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have ran 20x9 wheels with a plus-0mm offset for the last few years on a stock Ram 2500. With that wheel size and no lift on the front end, we can comfortably fit a 275/65R20 tire, which is about 34 inches tall. Since we tow trailers the majority of our miles, that’s a good setup.
The second option is to go big or go home with a 6-inch lift kit (or bigger… or even a 4-inch lift kit). This obviously is the most labor-intensive option and requires some big alterations to OEM equipment. But, it’s the only option to run a 37-inch tire or larger. If that’s the look you’re after, open your wallet and start shopping lift kits.
Option three is where we wound up. It’s the middle-of-the-road compromise. We went with a 2-inch leveling system from BDS Suspension. It creates enough room for a set of 35x12.50R20 tires to clear without issues.
The beauty with a BDS 2-inch leveling system lies in its simplicity. It’s easy to install (you can do it in your driveway with a couple floor jacks and jack stands). It’s a very clean kit. It utilizes much of the OEM components, so the fit is clean and the cost stays low (our BDS 2-inch leveling kit for a 2018 Ram 2500 with factory air-ride cost less than $400).
The added lift height comes from uniquely-designed spring spacers. The BDS leveling kit spacers retain the spring’s forward bow geometry, so the ride quality isn’t compromised at all. The BDS kit also replaces the OEM bump stops with bigger, taller bump stops. And our kit included Fox NX2 shock absorbers front and rear, so ride quality still feels as good as stock. Better, in fact, than stock in many conditions thanks to the improved damping abilities of the Fox shocks.
Speaking of rear, we’re not big on lifted trucks that sit perfectly level; mainly because we don’t do show trucks. Level lifts tend to squat the rear with any kind of payload in the bed or pin weight on the trailer. Our trucks are used as trucks first and show queens last, so we are after something that maintains a bit of rake.
The BDS Suspension 2-inch leveling system for the Ram 2500 with factory air-ride comes with a rear ride-height sensor relocating bracket. The bracket bolts to the rear axle block where the ride-height sensor linkage connects, and raises the linkage bracket. It’s telling the air-ride system to lift the rear end just a little higher. The downside? The added air pressure is minimal, but a higher pressure does make the rear end a tad stiffer. The upside? Super-simple and easy. We love the whole system.
No. 2 AEV Conversions Ram HD Premium Front Bumper
We wanted the AEV Conversions Ram HD Premium Front Bumper specifically for the reason that it almost looks like it could be a factory piece of equipment… like a few steps up from a Power Wagon.
The American-made AEV Conversions front bumper has clean lines, smooth curves, a beefy push bar and tough ductile iron tow loops. It’s a unique look, for sure. The bumper itself is made of 4mm-thick stamped steel with 3/16-inch steel reinforcements, and it’s e-coated and powder coated from AEV for long-term durability. We actually painted our bumper to match the Granite Crystal factory paint on the truck.
When you order a Ram HD Premium front bumper from AEV, you have several options to choose from, which makes it cool. You can opt for fog light bezels that fit the OEM Ram fog lights, or bezels for just about any high-end aftermarket fog light, including 6.7-inch AEV/Vision X fog lights straight from AEV Conversions. We stuck with the stock Ram fog lights for practical reasons.
You can also select winch mount options for three different Warn winch models or even the OEM Power Wagon winch. Or you can choose a block out plate that covers the winch mount for a clean look that leaves the option open later for a winch plate mount.
Installation will take the better part of a day. The shop techs at Powertech Diesel in Idaho Falls, Idaho, installed ours in about six hours. The bumper is modular, and ships in seven boxes cleanly packaged on a pallet. Installation begins with outer frame brackets and the bumper center section along with the winch if you run one. The tow loops go on next with the bumper corners.
You align the bumper corners and torque the hardware. Then you install the outer bumper brackets (drilling required) and route the winch harness. Next on goes the AEV cooling shroud and air dam bracket. Then you just install the tow loop bezels and torque the push bar tube, then install the fog lamps and bezels and the fender liner retainer plates and intercooler shroud. Easy as that (almost).
No. 3 Cooper Discoverer STT Pro Tires
Tires are a big deal on a truck. They make or break the look you’re after, quicker than any other add-on component.
Plus, they’re the only part of the truck touching Earth. It’s important that they’re functional, rated correctly for your driving needs, durable and worth buying (they’re also the only part of the truck you replace regularly).
For those reasons, we specifically chose the Discoverer STT Pro extreme all-season off-road tire from Cooper Tires. It’s the type of tread design we prefer, with our trucks covering highways, gravel roads, snow, ice and mud over the course of a year doing magazine work. The tread pattern looks badass, but it’s functional and relatively quiet for an aggressive tire.
The tread pattern runs a 3-2 formation of center tread blocks. That sounds more like a football defensive set than a truck tire, but it’s the basis for a great aggressive tread. That allows the outer shoulder lugs to alternate between narrow and wide for taking different-sized bites out of the terrain. The shoulder lugs are also cupped on the lug walls to help keep mud from sticking between the tread blocks. There are also anti-stone retention ridges in the valleys between lugs to help keep rocks from getting lodged in the tread openings.
But what we love most about the Cooper Discoverer STT Pro is the look. More than just your typical mud-terrain tire, the STT Pro looks like it belongs on a desert trophy truck. It suits the finished look we were after with this truck build perfectly. With it’s awesome sidewall design and aggressive tread pattern, it’s one of the best-looking tires we’ve seen.
No. 4 BDS Suspension Dual Steering Stabilizer
Even your stock truck could benefit from a BDS Suspension steering stabilizer, but most definitely your lifted or leveled truck should have one.
BDS offers six different options for steering stabilizers, ranging from single NX2-shock-equipped setups to this Dual Fox 2.0 shock kit. The dual Fox 2.0 steering stabilizer was very easy to install. So easy, in fact, we hardly broke a sweat watching Powertech’s EJ Wyatt install the whole thing by himself (somebody has to take the pictures, right?).
Installation begins with removing the stock steering stabilizer and the mounting bracket from the axle housing. Then you install the new steering stabilizer bracket on the passenger side of the truck. Then you install the center steering stabilizer axle housing bracket and the axle housing rear support. Next, measure the distance between the two brackets to determine where the driver’s side bracket needs to be mounted, and install that bracket with the supplied U-bolt. Make sure the distance from center to outer brackets are even on both sides. You’ll need to rotate the tie rod clamp 180 degrees so it clears the steering stabilizer shock.
Install the bushings and sleeves in the stabilizer shock absorber ends and install the shocks onto the axle brackets. Install the center coupler bracket as well. Check your measurements and alignment, and torque all the hardware to spec.
You’ll notice a big difference in how well the front of the truck tracks down the road at everything from slow city speeds to fast freeway speeds.
The BDS Suspension Dual Fox 2.0 Steering Stabilizer is a perfect match for our leveled front end, offset wheels and larger tires. We definitely recommend this addition, along with…
No. 5 BDS Suspension HD Adjustable Track Bar
Pull out your phone, hop on Google and find a site that says lifting your Ram truck without adding an adjustable front track bar is a good idea. We’ll wait.
Nothing? That’s because everyone who shops lifts or leveling kits for Ram trucks is steered toward upgrading the stock track bar. The BDS Suspension HD Adjustable front track bar is the ticket for solving front axle centering issues and actually improve steering on these heavy duty Rams.
The track bar is another component that you could upgrade even on a stock truck and see instant improvement. The track bar’s job is to hold the axle from moving left or right under steering loads. Turning the steering one way puts extension tension on the track bar, while turning the other way puts compression tension on the track bar. The OEM track bar can handle the basic needs of the front suspension’s design. That is, until you increase those load forces with larger tires, positive wheel offset or increased angles from suspension lifts. The OEM track bar is a poor component when used in those scenarios.
The BDS HD adjustable track bar is both adjustable (for axle centering) and heavy-duty (to eliminate flex under load).
It’s a must-have on any lifted Ram, and it was a must-have for our build.
No. 6 RetraxPro MX Tonneau Cover
We live and drive in kind of an extreme climate. Our summer highs are in the upper 90s. Our winter lows see colder than minus-30 degrees F. We travel half the year on snow-covered roads to places with 100-plus inches of snowpack. In the other half, we rally down washboard-covered dirt roads with trailers hooked on or bikes in the bed. Clean, weather-resistant, secure bed storage is pretty high up on our list of important stuff on a function-before-fashion truck build.
We’re no strangers to the RetraxPro line of tonneau covers. We’ve used them for years on half a dozen trucks. Our favorite is the RetraxPro MX retracting tonneau cover. We love its low-profile design, durable aluminum construction and its ability to close easily, summer or winter, rain or shine.
We also chose the RetraxPro MX cover for the way it works with our gooseneck trailers. We can have an enclosed bed perfect for carrying truck parts from shop to shop one minute, and slide the cover open and have our gooseneck trailer connected and on the road literally the next minute. There’s just one latch to control the locking mechanism, and it’s on the driver’s side. The RetraxPro MX cover retracts or closes with just one hand.
It’s also very simple and easy to install. The kit comes in two boxes—the two side rails in one box, and the cover and rolling housing in the other. You attach the side rails to the center box, add some weather striping to the front of the truck bed rail, set the RetraxPro MX tonneau cover in place and clamp it to the truck’s bed rails with four clamps.
Once the tonneau cover is closed, a keyed lock on the latch prevents the tonneau cover from opening or being retracted. With the security of a locking tailgate, your cargo is safe and sound and protected from the weather.
We’ve tested the RetraxPro MX cover in heavy dust, pouring rain, ice, snow and baking sun. It keeps all of the above out of your bed and safely secures your stuff. Two thumbs up from the Diesel Tech guys.
No. 7 BedTred Impact Bed Mat
Which brings us to the ideal complementary product—a BedTred Impact Bed Mat.
We know what you’re thinking. Why not just do a spray-in liner? What advantage would an Impact Bed Mat have over that?
We’ve used everything you can stick in a truck bed, from the old plastic drop-in bed liners that deformed in the sun and flew out of the bed on occasion, to the horse trailer-inspired rubber bed mat, to spray in liners of all materials to the tried and true BedRug.
Honestly, we don’t have anything against spray-in liners aside from the fact that they’re expensive and that we really just need protection on the flat bottom surface of the bed. And the added bonus of a BedTred Impact Bed Mat is this (and it’s huge)—like the original BedRug, the Impact Bed Mat turns the bed into a flat, padded, non-skid surface. You can kneel in the truck bed without any knee pain. You can put items in the bed and trust that they won’t move when you stop at the next red octagon. You can drop boxes and parts onto the Impact Bed Mat without worrying about denting the bed surface. And you can remove the Bed Mat when you put the truck up for sale and have a very clean paint surface in the bed.
The Impact Bed Mat covers the entire flat bottom of the truck bed and the tailgate, with a mesh material covering the gap between bed and tailgate when open. That’s a nice touch that keeps the dirt, rocks and leaves from getting beneath the Bed Mat. We even trimmed out a hole for our gooseneck ball to fit perfectly in the Impact Bed Mat. The Bed Mat stays neatly in place regardless of whether we’re doing 80 with a gooseneck trailer attached or have the bed wide open with nothing in it but a payload of fresh air.
And if we were concerned about dinging up the sides of our truck’s load bed, we’d have gone with the BedRug Classic bed liner or the BedRug Classic bed mat, both of which offer the same floor benefits but line the head wall and sides as well.