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Replacing Leaf Springs on a Tacoma

Sooner or later, every Tacoma will need to have its leaf springs replaced. Most commonly, replacement is considered only when one of the installed leafs breaks, or when the rear end of the truck seems to sag under light - or even non-existent - loads.

With a few tricks to make replacement easier, the job isn't a hard one, but the same can't be said for deciding on which leaf springs to use as replacement. This guide will walk through several of the best options for the driver who wants new springs, but doesn't want to change the overall length of the leaf pack (a much larger job that requires modifications to the frame and/or mounting locations of the springs).

Leaf Spring Options

Note: While the concepts here apply to all models of Tacoma - and any other leaf spring vehicle for that matter, the spring options in this guide apply only to '95.5-04 Tacoma's of the 6-lug (4x4 or Prerunner) variety.

Additionally, leaf springs for 95-97 Tacoma's are shorter than those for 98-04 models, which is why they are addressed separately below.

When it comes to installing new leaf springs, there are several different options, though as our trucks become older, the options are beginning to dwindle. Regardless, each option brings tradeoffs in terms of cost, ride, additional lift, and durability.

When purchasing leaf springs, it is important to remember that you need to consider not only the springs, but also the following components:

  • U-bolts - each time a new set of leaf springs are installed, new u-bolts should be used. Torquing the u-bolts to spec - in order to keep the leaf springs stationary on the rear axle - causes them to deform. As such, they should not be re-used. When purchasing leaf springs, it is best to buy new u-bolts from the same vendor, in order to verify fitment.
  • Rear shackles - leaf springs attach to a Tacoma at two locations. The front location - called the front hanger - is a metal bracket welded to the frame, where a bolt secures the leaf spring. The rear location - called the shackle - is a flexible bracket that is bolted to the frame and leaf pack, allowing the pack to move as the leaf spring flexes. Over time, the bushings in the shackle can wear out, making it difficult to move. If that's the case, the shackles should be replaced.
  • Extended rear brake line - any leaf spring that lifts the rear end of the Tacoma needs to be paired with an extended rear brake line. Otherwise, the (short) stock brake line could be broken as it is forced to stretch a longer distance between its two attachment points - one on the frame and the other on the rear axle.
  • Extended rear shocks - Any leaf spring that lifts the rear end of the Tacoma above stock should be paired with a new set of rear shocks so that the leaf spring travel is not limited by the stock shocks.

Option 1: Stock Replacement

This is a good option if all you want to do if you use your truck as it was originally intended from Toyota and are happy with the performance. Likely, you are replacing the leaf springs because - over the last couple of decades - you've simply worn out your existing springs and they are now sagging. Replacing them with a stock replacement will mean that you maintain the relatively soft ride of a stock Tacoma, can carry moderately heavy loads rarely, and are not looking for additional lift (beyond lifting the truck back to its original height - which may be 2-3" higher than where it sits with worn leaf springs).

Cost of this option will depend on vendor, and you really have two options when it comes to replacement:

  1. Purchase new leaf springs from Toyota. These are expensive, but are the "truest" direct replacement. Part numbers are as follows:
    • 95-97 - R: 48210-04053 | L: 48220-04060
    • 98-04 - R: 48210-04340 | L: 48210-04340
  2. Purchase a set of standard duty leaf springs from General Spring. These are significantly cheaper than purchasing from Toyota, have a good reputation for ride, and have weight/longevity ratings similar to Toyota.

Going with these options shouldn't require much in the way of additional parts that need to be replaced at the same time. Only the following will need to be replaced:

Option 2: 0-3" Lift with Small-to-Moderate Intermittent Load

This is a good option if you still want to use your Tacoma as a daily driver - sometimes with moderate loads in the bed; sometimes empty - while also adding a few inches of lift and the ability to carry heavier loads (up to 350+ lbs) on a relatively infrequent basis, for reasonably short periods of time.

The ride of these options will not be as soft as a stock Tacoma.

  1. Old Man Emu (OME) Dakar Leaf Springs. 98-04 only. These provide approximately 2.25" of lift over the original stock leaf springs, and provide additional support for approximately 200lbs of gear in the bed of the truck (without sagging).
    • (1) each of L: EL122RA | R: EL122RB. Note that these are sometimes sold as a pair, with a part number similar to EL122R-P.
    • (2) OMESB121 Bushing Kits.  Each kit contains bushings for one leaf spring.
    • Optional: (2) of OME D43XL, and additional leaf that can be inserted into the EL122R leaf packs to provide and additional 1" of lift and up to 220lbs constant load.
  2. General Springs Heavy Duty Leaf Springs
  3. Deaver Springs 8-Leaf Pack (J59). 98-04 only. This pack provides approximately 1.5" of lift over the original stock leaf springs, and provides additional support for approximately 200lbs of gear in the bed of the truck (without sagging).

All of these options require the following additional parts:

  • (4) Extended U-bolts. The exact shape and length will depend on whether a u-bolt flip kit has been installed or not.
    • Without u-bolt flip, bolts should meet the following specifications: (ToytecLifts) (General Spring)
      • Bend Type: Square
      • Diameter: 9/16"
      • Inside Length (width of leaf springs): 2.5"
      • Length of bolt leg: 8-9"
    • With u-bolt flip, bolts should meet the following specifications: (General Spring)
      • Bend Type: Round
      • Diameter: 9/16"
      • Inside Length (diameter of axle housing): 3"
      • Length of bolt leg: 8-9"
  • (1) OME FK21 - tailpipe relocation bracket
  • (1) Extended rear brake line, at least 20" in length.
  • (2) Extended rear shocks - as appropriate. Exact shock will depend on shock mounting location, total overall lift, etc.

Option 3: Custom Lift with Heavy Constant Load

This is a good option if you are constantly carrying heavy loads (600+ lbs) over all types of terrain, and rarely using your Tacoma as a daily driver. Generally, a 2-4" lift while carrying heavy loads will also be incorporated. The ride with an empty bed will be extremely rough, and the lift may increase beyond even 4". This is by far the most expensive option, but also allows for complete customization of the performance characteristics of the leaf pack.

In this situation, the only real option is to arrange for a custom leaf pack to be built. The #1 company to do this - as of this writing - is Alcan Spring, located in Grand Junction Colorado. Expect to pay $1000 or more including shipping. When calling Alcan to place an order, you will want to know the loaded weight of your Tacoma, ideally over both the front and rear axles. You'll also want to inform them how much lift you'd like the spring pack to provide when those weights are present.

This option will require the following additional parts:

  • (4) Heavy Duty Extended U-bolts. The exact shape and length will depend on whether a u-bolt flip kit has been installed or not. In most cases, a 9/16" u-bolt flip kit with custom bump stops should be installed with this option.
  • (1) OME FK21 - tailpipe relocation bracket
  • (1) Extended rear brake line, at least 20" in length; add an additional inch for every inch of lift that the leaf springs provide over 3".
  • (2) Extended rear shocks - as appropriate. Exact shock will depend on shock mounting location, total overall lift, etc. In most cases, a shock relocation should be performed with this option.

Tools to Replace Leaf Springs

There are not many tools required to replace the leaf springs, and no special tools are required. To do the job, you will need:

  • Various sockets (this is a good kit) and/or impact sockets (this is a good kit)
    • 19mm - to remove the bolts that secure the leaf spring to the front hanger and rear shackle
    • 21mm - to remove lug nuts
  • Various wrenches (this is a good kit)
    • 10mm, 12mm - to hold brake line fittings as brake lines are removed/replaced/installed
    • 19mm - to remove the bolts that secure the leaf spring to the front hanger and rear shackle
  • 10mm flare nut wrench - to remove/replace/install brake lines
  • Flat screwdriver or pry bar
  • Breaker bar
  • Torque Wrench
  • WD-40 or another similar penetrating oil - to make loosening nuts and bolts easier.
  • Floor jack
  • (2) of 6-ton Jack Stands
  • (1) 3-ton Jack Stand
  • (2) heavy duty ratchet straps

The job is also easier with:

Doing the Job

With the requisite parts and tools gathered, the job of replacing the leaf springs entails disconnection and removal of the old leaf springs, and installation of the new. Optionally, extended brake lines and rear shocks may be removed or swapped at the same time. This guide outlines - but does not focus on - those operations, to the extent possible.

When replacing leaf springs, it is easiest - and safest - to do one side at a time. After completing the process on one side of the truck repeat it for the other side.

Securing the Truck and Preparation

  1. Park the truck on a flat surface and chalk both sides of both front tires.
  2. Lower the spare tire from under the bed and set it aside.
  3. Use a floor jack under the rear differential to lift the truck high enough to raise the tire off the ground.
  4. Remove the wheel.

  5. With the floor jack still in position, raise the truck high enough to position a fully extended 6-ton jack stand under the frame rail, approximately 12" in front of the leaf hanger on the side of the truck that will have the leaf spring replaced.
  6. Lower the floor jack until the frame is resting on the jack stand.
  7. Place a 3-ton jack stand at its lowest height setting under the rear axle housing, 4" inboard of the leaf springs. Note: do not lower or remove the floor jack.
  8. Check the tension on the rear brake line. If it is already under tension, or will be under tension if the rear axle is lowered to the jack stand, proceed to Replacing the Rear Brake Line before lowering the rear axle to rest on the jack stand; otherwise, lower the rear axle to rest on the jack stand, and remove

Once it has been confirmed that the rear brake line is not under tension, lower the rear axle onto the jack stand. Two jack stands are now supporting one side of the truck.

Replacing the Rear Brake Line with an Extended Line

  1. Using a long flat screwdriver or a small pry bar, remove the brake line clip that secures the brake line at the driver side frame rail. Note: you may not be able to see this clip, as it is behind the frame bracket.
  2. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench on the hard line, and the appropriate sized wrench on the soft flexible brake line, disconnect the brake line at the driver side frame bracket. Note: work quickly at this point as brake fluid will be leaking.

  3. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, remove the flexible brake line from the rear axle housing.
  4. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, install the stainless steel extended rear brake line into the rear axle housing.
  5. Pass the stainless steel extended rear brake line through the bracket at the driver side frame rail, and thread the compression nut on the hard line into the stainless steel brake line by hand to prevent cross threading.
  6. Once the compression nut is threaded into the soft line, use a 10mm flare nut wrench to tighten the compression nut to the soft line.
  7. Secure the hard/soft line connection in the frame rail bracket using a brake line clip. Note: you can use the original clip if it is still in good shape; otherwise, use a new clip.
  8. Clean up any brake fluid that has spilled.

Disconnecting the Emergency Brake

This procedure is only necessary if your emergency brake cable passes above your leaf springs, rather than below.

  1. Remove the small clip that holds the pin that secures the emergency brake cable to the rear brake drum.
  2. Move the emergency brake cable out of the way.

Disconnecting the Old Leaf Pack from the Rear Axle

Disconnecting the leaf spring from the axle before disconnecting it from the frame makes the process easier.

  1. Thoroughly soak the four nuts that secure the u-bolts with penetrating oil.
  2. Use a 19mm socket or wrench to remove the bolt that secures the lower shock eye to the shock mount. Note: you can leave the upper shock mount attached.
  3. Pull the lower shock eye off of the lower shock mount and move it out of the way.
  4. Using a breaker bar, remove the four nuts that secure the u-bolts.
  5. Remove the u-bolts as well as any hardware (bump stop, u-bolt plate, etc.) that they secured.

Disconnecting the Old Leaf Pack from the Frame

Tip: Disconnecting the leaf pack from the frame is significantly easier when there is no pressure on the leaf pack itself - that is, it is not being compressed, nor is it holding up the rear axle.

  1. Use the floor jack under the rear diff, to raise the rear axle housing off of the 3-ton jack stand slightly; remove the 3-ton jack stand.
  2. Lower the floor jack until the leaf pack relaxes and is not under pressure. When this occurs, you will notice that the leaf pack separates slightly from the mounting perch on the rear axle. Once it does, raise the floor jack until the leaf pack is just touching the mounting perch. Note: If you are not able to lower the rear axle far enough for the leaf pack to relax, continue with step 3; otherwise, continue with step 6.
  3. Using the floor jack, raise the rear axle back to a position where the 3-ton jack stand can be inserted, and insert the jack stand.
  4. Remove the floor jack.
  5. Position the floor jack and a sturdy piece of wood under the trailer receiver and raise the jack until the leaf pack relaxes and is not under pressure. When this occurs, you will notice that the leaf pack separates slightly from the mounting perch on the rear axle. Once it does, raise the floor jack until the leaf pack is just touching the mounting perch. Note: be very careful when performing this operation. Ensure that the floor jack cannot move, that the 6-ton jack stand is aligned with the frame, in case the floor jack does move, and ideally place a second 6-ton jack stand under the frame in a location where it is contacting the frame.
  6. Using a 19mm socket, remove the two nuts on the rear shackle, then remove the inboard portion of the shackle. Note the orientation of the nuts and washers for reinstallation.

    Supporting the truck at a height where the leaf pack is relaxed.

    Removing the shackle.

  7. Use a 19mm socket and 19mm wrench to remove the nut, washer, and bolt that secure the forward eye of the leaf spring to the hanger attached to the frame. Note the orientation of the nuts and washers for reinstallation.

  8. Remove the leaf pack from the truck.

Connecting the New Leaf Pack to the Frame

With the old pack out of the way, installation is mostly the reverse of removal. As with removal, the only real trick is making sure that the leaf pack is totally relaxed when it is installed, so you aren't fighting to get it into place. Usually, a new leaf pack will have more arch than the leaf pack that was removed, which means moving the frame and rear axle further away from each other in order to install the new leaf pack.

  1. Create additional space between the frame and rear axle by either:
    1. If the floor jack is under the rear axle, lower it an additional 2" - if possible - to move the rear axle further from the truck frame.
    2. If the floor jack is under the frame (or the trailer receiver) of the truck, raise it a couple of inches. Note: This is a dangerous operation as it raises the frame off of the 6-ton jack stands. Place additional jack stands and safety devices to "catch" the truck if the floor jack moves or gives way.
  2. Place the new leaf pack into position, setting the center bolt into the corresponding hole on the leaf perch. Note: it is unlikely that the front or rear leaf eyes will align with their respective mounting points at this time.
  3. Align the front leaf eye with the corresponding mounting location and insert the bolt through the mount to hold the leaf pack in place. Note: it is likely that you'll need to remove the center pin from the hole on the leaf perch in order to do this; that is fine.
  4. Observe the vertical position of the rear leaf eyes in comparison to the rear shackle. If it is higher than the shackle, lower the rear axle or raise the frame slightly (as in step 1a or 1b) so that the rear leaf eye is aligned with the rear shackle.
  5. Slide the rear leaf eye onto the rear shackle and reassemble the rear shackle, threading on the washers and nuts until they are finger tight.

Connecting the New Leaf Pack to the Rear Axle

Once the leaf pack is secured to the frame, it is a matter of aligning the center pin with the hole in the leaf perch and securing everything. A ratchet strap and second person will come in handy here.

  1. Ensure that the leaf pack is relaxed, or just slightly hanging from the frame; ensure that there is no pressure between the leaf pack and the perch on the rear axle.
  2. Observe whether the center pin of the leaf pack is too far forward, or backward, to fit into the hole in the leaf perch.
  3. Using a ratchet strap between the rear axle and a point on the frame, slowly ratchet the rear axle the appropriate direction, until the center pin of the leaf pack and hole in the leaf perch are aligned.

    If there is more than one hole on the leaf perch, you want to align the center pin with the center hole.

    A ratchet strap makes small adjustments easy and allows you to inspect the relation between the center pin and center hole of the perch independently from holding the rear axle in place.

  4. Reduce the space between the frame and rear axle by either:
    1. If the floor jack is under the rear axle, raise it until the center pin seats into the leaf perch.
    2. If the floor jack is under the frame (or the trailer receiver) of the truck, lower it until the center pin seats into the leaf perch. Note: This is a dangerous operation. Place additional jack stands and safety devices to "catch" the truck if the floor jack moves or gives way.
  5. Loop the new u-bolts around the leaf pack, axle housing, and through the u-bolt plate.
  6. Hand tighten all four nuts on the u-bolts

  7. After all four nuts are hand tight, torque them gradually and evenly to 80 ft-lbs.
  8. Reattach the lower shock eye to the lower shock mount.

Finishing up and Torquing to Spec

  1. Reconnect the emergency brake cable.
  2. Reinstall the rear wheel ensuring that all six (6) lug nuts are tight, but not yet torqued.
  3. Remove any jack stands and floor jacks, so that the truck is resting on all four tires, under its own weight.
  4. Torque the u-bolts to:
    • Toyota OEM u-bolts: 90 ft-lbs.
    • 9/16" Heavy Duty u-bolts: 110 ft-lbs.
  5. Torque the front leaf spring mount to 116 ft-lbs.
  6. Torque the rear leaf spring shackle (both nuts) to 67 ft-lbs.
  7. Torque wheel lug nuts to 89 ft-lbs.
  8. Torque the lower shock mount to 53 ft-lbs. Note: torque spec may be different if using relocated shocks.

Bleeding the Brakes

If you replaced the rear brake line with an extended line as part of this procedure, you'll need to bleed the brakes.

Note 1: always bleed from furthest-to-closest bleeder to the master cylinder. In Tacoma's and 4Runner's, that is passenger rear, driver rear, passenger front, driver front. In this situation, since we've only messed with the rear lines - and assuming you didn't drain the reservoir under the hood in the process - we will only do the passenger rear and driver rear, in that order.

Note 2: This can make a bit of a mess. Have a catch basin or shop rags positioned below the bleeder to catch brake fluid that comes out of the bleeder, or fit a clear plastic tube over the bleeder that funnels the brake fluid into a container, in order to keep things clean.

  1. Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir under the hood. If it is below the full line, add fluid to the full line.
  2. Have a second person sit in the driver seat and pump the brake pedal until it is firm - usually a few pumps.
  3. Place an 8mm box-end wrench over the bleeder valve and get the valve to "barely tight."
  4. Have the second person pump and hold the brakes in the following pattern - Pump, Pump, Pump, Pump-and-Hold. Note: it is helpful if they say this as they are doing it.
  5. While the brakes are being held, loosen the bleeder valve to slowly let out air and brake fluid for a short period of time, then re-tighten the bleeder valve. Say "again," to your helper so they know they can stop holding the brakes.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until only brake fluid comes out of the bleeder valve (no air).
  7. Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir under the hood. If it is below the full line, add fluid to the full line.

Repeat this process for each corner of the vehicle.

You're done!

 

More Guides

Brakes(4 guides)
Bushings(3 guides)
Climate Control(4 guides)
Gear(2 guides)
Interior(4 guides)
Steering(4 guides)
Suspension(8 guides)

2 Comments

  1. Greg B
    Greg B July 19, 2022

    Nice writeup, thanks! Does your e-brake cable rub on the new leaf pack? It looks like it might from the final pic. Did you address that somehow?

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 19, 2022

      Thanks Greg, glad you found it useful. My e-brake cables do rub on the new leaf pack (they rubbed on the first Alcan pack as well), since they go up and over the pack (I think 03-04 e-brake cables go under the pack, one of the few differences over the 1st gen model years). Anyway, I've kept a pretty close eye on the cable since I use it all the time - dozens of times each day when I'm out on the trail, which is a lot of the time - and I've not noticed any wearing of the cable at all. That said, I'm in a relatively corrosion-free area of the country, so it could be different in the rust belt. Still, to raise up the cables and prevent them from rubbing is pretty easy. You can use a piece of 1" angle to do it, as shown here:

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