How To: Installing Bilstein’s 5100 Series Adjustable Front Struts, Rear Shocks for 2013 to 2020 Chevy Colorado
Leveling a 2016 Chevy Colorado without using spacers.
One of the most consistent things throughout the truck hobby is the fact that most hardcore enthusiasts—especially those who actually own pickups—typically are open to "modifying" their rigs at some point during the time they own them.
Of course, changes people make can vary from being super simple and requiring very little time to execute, to ridiculously elaborate, needing months or sometimes years to complete. Although modifications can be based on/inspired by updates made by other pickup owners, we believe personalizing ultimately is a subjective effort.
Since 2017, our four-wheel-drive 2016 Chevrolet Colorado LT crew cab has been the subject of several upgrade/personalization projects. All of the changes were made only after a lot of research about the parts being added (their installation, function, etc.) was done, and that is something we highly recommend before any upgrade is made.
The modification detailed in this report involves raising the Colorado's front end by two inches in an effort to level the truck's stance. For us, the primary end goal is appearance (eliminate the nose-down/rear-up "rake" that is inherent in most late-model pickup trucks, but very prominent in Colorados and GMC Canyon pickups. That ensures there's sufficient clearance for slightly taller, wider Toyo Tires Open Country A/T III all-terrain tires, and hopefully it will make the ride a little firmer. However, while doing our research on leveling the truck, we learned that satisfying our desire for a leveled "look" could come at a pretty steep price. Not immediately, but we could see issues miles down the road.
The components that make up a truck's suspension (front and rear) are positioned at various angles that must be maintained or compensated for when changes are made. The technical automotive jargon associated with these angles are "suspension geometry" and "center of gravity," and they are critical to a vehicle's handling performance, ride quality, drivetrain operation, and efficiency.
When two- and four-wheel-drive Chevy Colorados are lifted using 2-inch spacers (installed on top of the front struts), the leveled stance is achieved, but, front-suspension geometry can suffer greatly. The stock angles for the sway bar, CV joints and ball joints are altered, which increases the potential for them to wear prematurely. And, when wheel spacers are added, alignment may also be affected.
Bilstein's popular 5100 Series of high-quality dampers includes adjustable struts that feature five settings for raising a 2013-to-present Colorado's front end from stock height to as much as 2.6 inches taller (four-wheel-drive, 3.6L V-6 gas models). Adjustment is accomplished by securing "circlips" into one of five grooves machined into the struts' body. The thing that we like about this option is that the maximum adjustment for 2.8L Duramax I-4-powered rigs (the fourth-highest setting) brings body height up an exact two inches, without altering the front suspension's all-critical geometry.
While installing the adjustable-ride-height struts (PN 24-292702) and rear shocks (PN 24-265874) can be accomplished by mechanically inclined DIY enthusiasts, there are procedures that require special tools (spring compressor) for the struts, and rear-shock replacement cannot be done without removing the spare tire and briefly relocating the Diesel Exhaust Fluid reservoir on diesel models. The upper bolt on the driver's side shock cannot be removed with the tank in place.
Saul "The Surgeon" Gutierrez and Joel Flores of Gear Driven Automotive in Northridge, California, are well versed in Bilstein dampers and their installation. The following photos detail the process.
After starting with stock ride heights of 34.5 inches (front) and 36 inches (rear), using the fourth groove on Bilstein's 5100 Series adjustable-right-height front struts raised our 2016 Chevy Colorado LT's body to its forecasted new height of 36.5 inches (as measured from the floor to the edge of the fender, directly through the middle of the wheel). In the rear, the stock 36-inch ride height remains the same. Visually, the .5-inch difference is not immediately discernable, and it actually comes down a bit after the truck is driven a few miles and the struts/springs settle. In a nutshell, the struts give our rig the exact stance we're looking for, without requiring spacer pucks.
Ride Quality, Handling, Etc.
Of course, ride quality is one of the most important characteristics for a project like this. With 32,000 miles, the stock struts and shocks on our Colorado were still adequate. But, Bilstein 5100s make a big difference in the truck's look, and more specifically, in the way the ride actually feels. The high-pressure, Nitrogen-gas, monotube dampers are built and valved specifically for Colorado/Canyon, and unlike the factory pieces, provide a very good, firm but comfortably compliant ride and solid handling performance without the aeration. Oil and nitrogen gas inside a damper mix and foam, basically rendering it totally ineffective, as the stockers are prone to experiencing, especially as mileage/service time increases.
Overall, we're very satisfied with the outcome of this effort, as it only took Saul and Joel a few hours to complete the suspension upgrade, and the results (despite positive reviews of other Colorado owners who have done this to their trucks) are actually better than we anticipated they would be. It's important to note that tires also contribute quite a bit to a truck's ride quality. We plan to complete the modification with wider, slightly taller Toyo Tires Open Country A/T III all-terrain tires and will detail those in a future report.