UTV Portal Lifts: Everything you need to know

UTV Portal Lifts: Everything you need to know

UTVs are designed to take you off the beaten path and help you get to some of the most remote locations that you can imagine. They have sophisticated 4wd systems, long travel suspension, skid plates, and plenty of power on tap to move you down the trail.

UTV manufacturers know that their customers push these machines to the limit and they continue to make them more and more capable with each passing year. Still, there are certain situations where UTV owners will need more capability. It could be tires, snorkels, or a lift kit for additional ground clearance. 

Lift kits are one of the most popular aftermarket upgrades for Side-by-Sides. Manufacturers have to make a well-rounded vehicle and that means making compromises. Ground clearance is sometimes sacrificed in order to improve handling characteristics and ride quality.

For many Side-by-Side owners, this leaves them looking for ways to increase their clearance. It might be to avoid getting high centered in a rutted-out mud hole or perhaps they need the extra height for rock crawling or to clear rock ledges in places like Moab.

Whatever the reasoning, a lift kit can be a beneficial upgrade for many people.

The most common lift kit is a standard suspension lift, but these tend to increase CV joint angles, which can result in increase wear and tear and eventual failure of the CV joint and other components. Portal lifts, on the other hand, do not have that problem and they are increasingly being adopted by UTV owners across the country.

What are Portal Lifts?

Portal lifts utilize three separate gears inside a sealed casing to relocate the axle and suspension components. The axle, instead of running directly to the wheel hub, enters the upper half of the portal casing. When the axle turns, it turns the gears in the casing, with the lower gear connected to the wheel hub.

This allows the UTV owner to increase the height of their machine, without increasing CV joint angles and thus reducing the chance of the CV joint binding and causing damage.

Most portal lifts are 4 or 6 inch lifts and the fact that you keep stock CV joint angles, makes them an appealing choice. SuperATV even offers an 8 inch portal lift now, providing three different options for those considering their products.

If you need more lift than that, you can still add a standard suspension lift in addition to the portals. You may hear some complaints from your shorter friends, but ground clearance definitely will not be a problem!

Portals also have another advantage over a suspension lift kit. Most people lift their UTVs with the intention of adding larger tires. Going up to a 34 or 35 inch tire usually requires some sort of gear reduction to ensure that the UTV is able to turn those larger, heavier tires in a variety of conditions.

In addition to providing extra height and ground clearance, portal lifts also act as a gear reduction. SuperATV, for example, offers kits that range from a 15% to 30% or more gear reduction built in.

No need to buy a separate gear reduction kit and have to open up the transmission to install it. With the portal lift, you’ll have all the gear reduction you need to turn those bigger, heavier tires.

Additionally, portals will also change your vehicle’s overall width. The casing for portals are usually around 4 inches wide, meaning they will increase the width of your Side-by-Side by 8 inches total. This will make the machine much more stable in off camber situations, but also make it challenging in tight quarters.

This is mostly a concern for those with 72 inch and wider Side-by-Side. If you ride trails that have width restrictions, this also be a concern or if your trails are simply narrow to begin with.

If you haul your Side-by-Side to different trails, you should check the width of your trailer to ensure that it’s wide enough. You should take that into consideration before making a purchase. For some this could be a deal breaker, but others will probably welcome the added stability. 

What are the Disadvantages of Portal Lifts?

There are a ton of modifications that can be made to your UTV and each one will have pros and cons that have to be considered. A high quality portal lift is a pretty sweet mod for your UTV, but it does have some drawbacks that you should be aware of.

The biggest and most obvious drawback would be the cost. It takes a great deal of precision to fabricate something like this and when you add the cost of quality materials, you know it’s not going to be cheap.

A good portal lift from a reputable company is probably going to run around $3,000 and some can even eclipse $4,000. They are much more expensive than a standard suspension lift kit that repositions the shocks to add lift, though they have their own issues with ride quality and bad CV joint angles.

Given the increasing popularity of portal lifts, however, it seems that many people believe the benefits over a suspension lift justify the cost.

Another area of concern is the additional strain that it places on certain components. Portal lifts, along with larger tires, create additional stress on bearings, tie rods, and ball joints. The added weight of the portals and the larger tires will wear out stock components and it’s recommended that these be upgraded to accommodate the changes that are being made to the vehicle.

You don’t want to bend or break a tie-rod while out on the trail. It’s an additional cost, to an already expensive modification, but the increased reliability and longevity of your UTV will be worth it, if you decide to go with portals.

SEE ALSO: How Safe are UTVs and Side-by-Sides?

The actual portals themselves are known to be very reliable. Many companies offer pretty good warranties for their portals, as they’re confident that they will hold up well to abuse. SuperATV even offers a limited lifetime warranty on their portal lift kits. While there are very few catastrophic failures of portals, many suffer from leaking seals.

This could be the result of improper installation or a damaged seal. It could also have something to do with the high pressure inside the portal casing. These are sealed with gear oil inside and when things start turning, heat begins to build up, which increases the pressure inside the case.

These cases are very strong and unlikely to break from pressure, but if pressure gets too high, the oil could be forced out around the seals. Some people that have had this issue have vented their portals to reduce the pressure with some success. This isn’t a common problem, but it’s worth noting.

Do You Need a Portal Lift?

You may be wondering if a portal lift is the right lift for you. The answer to that, of course, depends on the type of riding you do. There are some considerations for different types of riding and what will work best.

If you ride in deep mud or water and need the extra ground clearance and want to run bigger tires, portals would be a good choice. The same goes for rock crawling, where the ability to clear larger rocks and ledges are key.

Portals are great for this type of riding, especially considering the benefits of the built in gear reduction and the ability to add much larger tires. It also allows for the addition of a standard suspension lift, should you find yourself running out of clearance with just the portals.

If, however, you only ride trails or dirt roads and just want to add slightly larger tires, you may be better served with a suspension lift. Portals are expensive and if you don’t need a lot of lift or the gear reduction, it may not make sense to go that route.

You should also consider the width of the trails that you ride before making a decision. Portals will add roughly 8 inches of width to your UTV and if you ride tight trails, you may find that your machine is now too wide to fit.

On the other hand, if your trails are fairly wide, you may enjoy the stability provided by the additional width. This is particularly true if you have trails with tricky off camber sections.

For those that ride in mud, deep water, or rock crawl on a regular basis, it’s hard to argue with the benefits provided by a portal lift. Portals are designed to provide increased ground clearance and the ability to run larger tires, without changing your factory CV joint angles and the suspension geometry.

If you need more than just a couple of inches of lift and plan to run tires large enough to need a gear reduction, these are a great option and definitely worth considering. 

Where to Buy and What to Look for in a Portal Lift

There are several companies that manufacture portal lifts for UTVs.

Gear Driven Performance manufactures the SuperATV branded portal lifts that are very popular and easy to find across multiple websites.

Rockcrusher also makes portal lifts, as does High Lifter, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The cost for each lift kit is pretty close, regardless of which brand you choose.

Most of the portals available now are pretty similar to one another. The design concept is the same, so you have to look at materials to make sure they’re all equal. You want to make sure that they are gear driven and not chain driven.

Early portal lifts were chain driven and had a tendency to snap the chain and punch a hole in the casing. If you come across one that is chain driven, it’s probably a good idea to avoid that one. Practically all of the newer portals are using gears, so just make sure you’re getting a newer generation kit and it should be fine.

The manufacturers all show pictures of the internals, so you can make sure you’re getting what you want. There’s plenty of information out there about portal lifts and you can read some of the reviews for the lift that you’re considering. This is a great way to learn more about the product and whether or not there are any known issues. 

These portal lift kits are easy to come by online, though you can also purchase them through a UTV dealer if you prefer. Prices may vary at dealerships, but you may be able to negotiate a deal on the lift or install, since your buying the lift through them.

If you prefer to do things yourself and you’re mechanically inclined, you can always order the kit online and install it yourself. The kits come with everything you need to complete the lift and if you decide to make some other upgrades, such as tie-rods and ball joints, this would be the perfect way to get it all done at one time.

Riding High!

Trail riding a Side-by-Side doesn’t necessarily require a lift, but for those that like to hit the biggest mud holes or crawl through gnarly rock strewn trails, it’s a must have. Along with bigger tires, a lift kit can make your average Side-by-Side nearly unstoppable.

Portal lifts simply go a bit further. With gear reductions and no need to worry about CV joint angles, it’s difficult to find a better setup with all of the benefits afforded by a portal lift. Sure, you will probably need to upgrade your tie rods, ball joints, and bearings, but if you’re a serious off roader that’s going to subject their UTV to extreme terrain and abuse, you were probably going to have to do that anyway.

At the end of the day, every UTV owner has to weigh the cost and benefit of the modifications they are making to their machine. Portals provide a substantial lift, extra width, and a gear reduction in one reliable package. While the cost is higher, the benefits would seem to justify the price tag.

Many UTV owners agree, as this is an increasingly popular option for a lift. So, whether you need the extra clearance for your riding style or maybe you just like your UTV to ride sky-high, a portal lift is definitely worth a look.