Higher Heights Off Road's Z-Bar Eliminator
Higher Heights Off Road has quickly made a name for itself in the Suzuki 4x4 community. Their suspension and steering components are among the most extreme in terms of performance, and their "small" Samurai was already a contender for Four Wheeler Magazine's Top Truck Challenge. There are big plans for their new "big" Samurai, so keep your eyes open for that.
Higher Heights' new Z-Bar Eliminator Steering System has caused quite a stir among Suzuki off-roaders because it takes an entirely new approach to correcting the steering geometry problems caused by suspension lifts. As its name implies, this kit eliminates the need for the common Z-Bar, which is nothing more than a bent and gusseted drag link. While many Suzuki owners have found success with their Z-Bars, there are many reasons why Higher Heights' system is superior.
First and foremost, many states and provinces have made bent or welded steering components illegal because poor modifications to the steering can cause serious safety hazards. Until now, this has left very few options for the Suzuki owner who wants more than a small amount of lift but still wants to drive on public roads. A dropped pitman arm allows a bit of lift, but can place undue stress on the steering box. Other linkage systems are overly complicated and incomparable in strength and durability to this setup. The Higher Heights steering system is designed to completely eliminate bump steer and to return steering effort and feel back to stock, all while remaining street legal and adding a margin of safety and durability through the use of much stronger components.
Whereas the stock tie-rod turnbuckle is simply a left-hand threaded bolt stuffed into a thin-wall tube and poorly welded, the Higher Heights system uses an ultra heavy duty thick-wall tube that is tapped left and right on the ends with new ball joint ends. The drag link is constructed of the same material and is also tapped left and right for new ball joint ends. This setup allows precise steering adjustment and ensures strength. One look at the old components next to the new ones leaves no question about which is stronger.
After my SPOA conversion, I ran a Z-bar for over two years. However, with my later addition of 2-inch lifted springs, my truck's steering geometry was thrown askew. Having to compensate for the bump steer in my driving style became a daily ritual. For example, driving over a set of railroad tracks necessitated either letting go of the steering wheel for a second to allow it to turn left-right-left, or hanging onto it and unwillingly changing lanes. Neither was a very safe solution and, as such, the steering had caused me to no longer feel comfortable letting anybody else drive my truck. Additionally, I noticed a definite bow in my tie rod, a result of having bumped it against rocks on the trails. I definitely needed to fix the steering, so I picked the Higher Heights system for obvious reasons.
The first thing I noticed when I took delivery of the new components was how heavy they are. Although the overall diameter of the new tie rod and drag link are the same as stock, the gauge of the tubing is obviously much thicker. The new ball joint ends have zerk fittings, allowing for periodic re-greasing. All hardware needed for installation is included in the kit, along with the best instructions I have ever seen. Installation requires nothing but a few common tools.
Although not included in this steering kit, Higher Heights recommends the installation of a tie rod-mounted steering damper, such as the commonly used Rancho kit. The stock steering damper mounts to the pitman arm, which treats the symptom rather than the cause of steering shocks. This allows much more stress to travel through the ball joints, especially on vehicles with larger tires. A tie rod-mounted damper is much better for the steering components, and can be used in conjunction with the stock damper. Since I already had the Rancho kit, I was able to re-use it with this new steering.
Removal of stock steering linkage
- Jack up front axle and support the axle with jack stands. Remove both front wheels.
- Remove tie rod and drag link.
- Remove passenger-side front brake caliper with 17mm wrench.
- Remove the 4 bolts of the top kingpin with 12mm wrench.
Installation of Higher Heights' steering linkage
- Place new steering arm between caliper mount and kingpin.
- Place safety bracket on top of kingpin cap.
- Insert the two included large bolts through safety bracket and steering arm until the ends are flush with the brake disc side of the caliper mount.
- Install the four included small bolts into the kingpin cap finger-tight.
- Install brake caliper, torque large bolts to 43 ft-lbs. With 17mm wrench.
- Torque small bolts on kingpin cap to 15-22 ft-lbs. with 12mm wrench.
- Center steering box by counting the number of turns lock-to-lock and centering it exactly halfway.
- Align steering wheel vertically by either removing the wheel with a puller and re-centering, or at the telescopic link between firewall and steering box.
- With steering box now centered, align right front brake rotor with rear wheel.
- Install drag link from pitman arm to new steering arm, adjusting it so that the same number of threads is exposed on both ball joint ends.
- Torque ball joint nuts to 25-30 ft-lbs. then align nut with cotter pin hole.
- Install cotter pins, opening both legs of it to lock.
- Adjust new tie rod to same length as original, keeping the same number of threads are exposed on both ball joint ends.
- Install new tie rod in original location, repeating steps 11 and 12.
- Check tighten turnbuckle lock nuts on drag link and tie rod using crescent wrench and pipe wrench.
- Install aftermarket steering damper, if desired.
- Reinstall wheels.
- Have a wheel alignment shop check installation and alignment.
My installation procedure was complicated by the addition of a drop pitman arm to compensate for my additional lift beyond just a simple SPOA.
Note: This is not required for the majority of SPOA installations.
Pitman arms are known for being extremely difficult to remove, and mine was no exception. Had it not been for that, my installation of the Higher Heights Z-Bar Eliminator would have taken only about an hour and a half. The pitman arm itself took about 3 hours to remove! Other than that, installation went smoothly thanks the large color photos and concise steps in the installation sheets.
Since I had not yet taken my Samurai to an alignment shop, I was expecting the worst from my steering. Apparently, I had "eyeballed" the length of the tie rods fairly accurately, because there is only a little wander from slightly too little toe-in. Steering effort is about the same as before, but there is a bit more tactile response coming through the wheel; it feels less numb than before.
The real difference with the steering, though, is the total elimination of bump steer. I find that on streets where I always had to avoid the potholes, I can now aim right for them and not worry about needing to compensate. The railroad tracks that used to send my Samurai a few feet to the left no longer have any affect on the steering. I was so amazed at this night-and-day difference that I went back over the tracks several times just to experiment. With my old Z-link, if I let go of the wheel while driving over the tracks, the steering wheel would travel a full 180 degrees left then back to center. With Higher Heights' steering, letting go of the wheel over the tracks allows the wheel to turn only one inch ? keep in mind that this is before having corrected the excessive toe-out that encourages wander! And off-road, I no longer get the steering wheel yanked out of my hands.
Although this is not an absolutely necessary modification, the Higher Heights Z-Link Eliminator steering system is an upgrade that I can very highly recommend. It is compatible with every power steering system that uses a stock pitman arm end, and makes steering without power assist as smooth as possible. Whereas before this conversion I would not let any non-Suzuki owner drive my truck, I now feel comfortable letting even my own mother drive it. Not counting the lack of power steering, my Samurai is now as easy to drive on the street as a car, and I can thank Higher Heights for that.
Thanks to Miles Oliver, here's a couple of bits of additional info regarding the Z-Bar Eliminator:
- Jake offers a direct replacement pitman arm for Toyota Celica Steering boxes, modified to accept a standard greasable rod end. The 'ball joint' is removed, a machined 'puck' is pressed in, welded, and then heat treated. I have this on my truck.
- Jake will also machine one of his arms for the Spring
Under crowd, using either the 4" Rocky Road or the 5" Calmini
lift. (I would suspect that Petroworks could do the same to keep the costs
of crossing the border down.)
He takes his 'arm' and machines it so that the ball joint falls/attaches 'under' instead of 'over' the arm and reduces the amount of height. With a 4-5" lift you don't have to use a dropped pitman arm to retain near parallel steering geometry, Angles would be way off with the stock Toyota pitman arm.