When to Upgrade Your 4Runner or Tacoma Upper Control Arms

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2023 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

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Upgrading your 4Runner or Tacoma’s upper control arms is only required if you’ve lifted it to the point where you can no longer get the alignment in spec. This typically happens at more than 2″ of suspension lift.

I’m still running factory upper control arms on my 4Runner because even though the alignment isn’t perfect, the castor was able to be adjusted close enough so it still drives great. Once my factory ball joints wear out, I’ll consider upgrading them then.

Fox 2.0 coilovers on Toyota 4runner

When You Should Upgrade to Aftermarket Upper Control Arms

Upgrading to aftermarket upper control arms (or UCAs for short) is a decision that depends on your specific vehicle. Technically, my 4Runner is right on the limit of needing them at 2.25″ of lift up front.

With Toyota’s independent front suspension, raising the ride height will change the castor setting. Once you lift your truck high enough, it’ll no longer be possible to get it aligned properly.

The way to fix that is by upgrading to aftermarket control arms that have different geometry than the factory ones.

So if you’ve lifted your truck 2″ or less, or you’re able to get it aligned so that it doesn’t wander on the highway, you don’t need to upgrade your UCAs. If you have (or are planning to) lift your 4Runner or Tacoma 3″ or so, aftermarket ones are required.

There are some good discussions on Tacoma World about whether or not you should upgrade your upper control arms.

Pros and Cons of Aftermarket Upper Control Arms

gray 4runner in front of snow bank

This is one of those modifications that only helps you if you truly need it. There’s no point in running aftermarket UCAs if you have otherwise stock suspension, or have less than 2″ of lift.

Think of aftermarket UCAs and a 3″ lift as 2 things that need each other to function. Doing either one on their own will just cause trouble.

Pros

  • Allows for proper alignment
  • Better performance
  • Stronger design

Cons

  • Additional cost
  • More maintenance
  • Potential reliability issues

Pros of aftermarket upper control arms

  • Allows for proper alignment: Aftermarket control arms offer better geometry for lifted vehicles, allowing you to get a proper wheel alignment. This isn’t possible with factory arms.
  • Better Performance: Upgraded UCAs provide improved articulation and wheel travel. They are typically stronger than stock, which is especially beneficial when dealing with rough terrain or when carrying heavier loads.
  • Stronger Design: UCAs come with upgraded ball joints and bushings that are designed to last longer and perform better, complementing the rest of your suspension system.

Cons of aftermarket upper control arms

  • Additional Cost: Let’s be honest – upgrading your Toyota’s suspension isn’t exactly cheap to start with. Adding the price of aftermarket UCAs means an extra $600+.
  • More Maintenance Required: While typically sturdier, aftermarket control arms with greaseable joints or heim joints may require more maintenance than your original equipment.
  • Potential Reliability Issues: Some aftermarket UCAs have developed a reputation for wearing out prematurely. This is a potential safety risk so it’s not something to take lightly. Dillon from the Loose Axles YouTube channel shared his experience with SPC upper control arms in this video:

Aftermarket UCA Options: Ball Joint Vs Uniball

When upgrading the upper control arms on your 4Runner or Tacoma, you have two primary options: ball joints and uniballs. Each has its own set of advantages.

Ball Joint UCAs:

  • Durability: Encased in rubber or polyurethane, ball joints are protected from dirt and debris.
  • Maintenance: Typically lower maintenance due to their protected design.
  • Noise: Known to be quieter than uniballs over time.

Uniball UCAs:

  • Performance: Offer greater wheel travel, allowing for more articulation.
  • Strength: Constructed from a spherical bearing, making them stronger under certain conditions.
  • Exposure: More exposed to dirt and dust, which could lead to increased maintenance.
Ball Joint UCAUniball UCA
DurabilityHigh (protected)Moderate (exposed)
MaintenanceLowHigher
NoiseLowerHigher
ArticulationGoodBetter

How Much Do Aftermarket Upper Control Arms Cost?

Most aftermarket UCAs cost between $600 and $1,000. There are many options from companies like Total Chaos, SPC, JBA, Dirt King, and Camburg.

I plan on upgrading to the JBA arms when the time comes because they have easily replaceable ball joints and are pretty cost effective.

Aftermarket UCAs – Final Thoughts

Upgrading your upper control arms if you don’t need them won’t give you any benefits. But if you’ve lifted your front end more than 2″, they’re required in order to get your truck tracking straight rather than wandering on the highway.

Yes, they’re an added cost but if you’ve lifted your Toyota, you’ll need them to be able to keep your handling in check.

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