If there was ever one thing that was readily apparent at 2003's SEMA Show, it was the fact that lifted trucks are in - again. For some of us "oldsters" in the business, this marks the second go-round for lifted pickups. Only this time, the trucks are bigger, better, and badder than ever. And they're built right, using state-of-the-art components.

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the prerunner phenomena was born somewhere near San Diego, where people actually used their trucks to go to the desert. Lifted 4x4s were common at the time, since there wasn't such a thing as an IFS 4x4 system. Nearly all 4x4 pickups were straight-axle, and lifting them was a snap with four new leaf springs and four longer shocks.

Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of parts available at the time for lifting two-wheel-drive trucks, so folks had to be a little more resourceful. One of the common setups involved the use of 1-ton coil springs in the front of 1/2-ton pickups for added lift and bolt-in blocks at the rear to level things out. Shocks were off-the-shelf truck shocks with the correct eye-to-eye length. As is often the case, safety and driveability were sacrificed in the name of looks and the cool factor.

Today, it's a different story. Years of desert racing technology has finally made its way into the aftermarket, so today's lifted trucks are stronger and better engineered than ever. Enthusiasts have a wide variety of manufacturers to choose from when it comes to lifting their trucks. The components are well engineered and offer much better safety and ride quality than the cobbled together stuff from the early days.

Desert racing shock and suspension technology fuels much of the growth in the two-wheel-drive lift industry. Today's lift kit shocks come in the correct length and are valved to match spring rates. There are also several different types of shocks available: single-tube, twin-tube, adjustable, remote reservoir, and more. Coilover shocks are now all the rage and offer builders an infinite number of combinations for improved suspension travel and ride quality.

Tire technology has also come a long way. It wasn't long ago that 33-inch tires were considered big and 16-inch wheels were only used on the street customs that rolled out of Boyd Coddington's shop in the late '80s. Today, bigger is better. No self-respecting off-roader runs anything smaller than 35s on a fullsize truck (two- or four-wheel), and 36- and 38-inch tires are becoming commonplace on big-inch lifted trucks. At the extreme end of the tire scale are 40- and 44-inch off-road rubber with 20- and 22-inch wheel diameters.

So the dilemma for today's sport truck enthusiast is twofold: up or down?; lifted or lowered? On one side of the extreme is the airbagged, big-wheel crowd with ground-scraping customs that tuck rim and look phat. On the other side of the spectrum is the sky-high pickup sporting 10-14 inches of lift and rolling 44s with 20-inch-plus rims.

Both styles have their own advantages and disadvantages. It's common for airbagged trucks to spring leaks in the system and drop the truck to the pavement at inappropriate times. Big lifts mean extra work, such as extending brake lines and ABS wiring, and added effort to just get into the truck. But ask any modified truck owner, and for the most part, they'll tell you it's all worth it.

As loyal Sport Truck readers, we pose the question to you: lifted or lowered? Let us know what you think. Drop us a line at www.sporttruck.com and give us your nickel's worth. We're always happy to hear from you.