How to Find the Ultimate Aftermarket Suspension
For many 4x4 owners, the notion of upgrading the suspension seems like something that’s a good idea… but in truth, most people aren’t exactly sure what’s involved and what should be done.
Suspension components are not just there to keep you from feeling the bumps in the road; they are a crucial part of a car’s safety set-up, as well. For that reason, we highly recommend that you seek the services of suspension professionals if you do decide that tweaking your ride’s ride is something you want to do.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself about upgrading your suspension.
What is involved?
Though there are many kinds of vehicles on the road, they all have one thing in common; they all have some sort of spring front and back, and they all have some sort of device to control that spring.
Springs can be steel leaf, steel coil or air bags, while the device that controls them is called a shock, or sometimes a damper. Pro tip; it’s not a dampener. That’s what a spray bottle does to your indoor plants.
On top of the basics, there are other essentials that are shared by most suspension types, including bushings (which stop metal-to-metal contact and helps with ride quality) and anti-roll bars, which control a vehicle’s side-to-side motion.
The most important part of an aftermarket suspension update is ensuring that all of the parts you use are in balance. This is why it’s a great idea to save up a bit longer and get everything done in one go.
Quality and material use
As with anything in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to aftermarket suspension. Let’s look at a typical 4x4 dual-cab with struts up front and leaf springs out back as an example; to perform a complete overhaul with reasonable quality parts, you really shouldn’t be spending less than $500 a corner – and you can spend far, far more if your account can stand it.
The majority of decent quality entry-level suspension parts, including dampers and springs, are now sourced from Taiwan, and are often rebadged with a familiar moniker. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, as long as you follow the rule about balance of performance. What do we mean by that? Well, a spring has its own ability to compress and expand, known as its spring rate. Getting technical for a sec, spring rate is determined by how much force it takes to compress or extend a spring over a given distance. Most 4x4 applications are measured in pounds per square inch.
Now, the spring you choose depends on what you want to do with it. Want more ability to climb steep, rocky stuff? Your spring will be longer and probably softer than stock. Want to improve road manners? Your spring will be shorter and stiffer, to bring the car’s center of gravity down.
Whatever you choose, it’s absolutely critical that you have a damper that matches that spring rate. This really is the central tenant of good suspension tuning; the shock must be able to control the spring at full droop and full compression. Too little damping and your car will ‘pogo’, too much and it will ‘pack down’ and not extend in time to handle repeated bumps.
In most instances, it’s not advisable to skip upgrading your shocks if you upgrade springs; it’s false economy in the worst possible place.
The same premise goes for suspension bushings, which are generally made of polyurethane or rubber. Original equipment bushes are soft and compliant to give a more comfortable ride over a wide variety of use, but stiffer bushings can add control and feel to your car that’s evident through the steering wheel and the way it corners.
Again, if you’re doing springs and dampers, budget to do your bushings. It’s false economy to skimp on this vital step.
The pros of upgraded suspension are actually very tangible – if it’s done right, you will net more road- or track-holding ability, (usually) a more comfortable, controllable ride and the ability to push your vehicle further than its designers allowed.
When a car manufacturer designs and builds a car, it has to build it to deal with a wide variety of terrain and potential uses. If you use your dual-cab ute to climb over rocks and steep terrain, you’ll find that the stock set-up will work up to a point.
The same applies if you’re doing long-distance touring with a small van or boat trailer on the back.
It’s a great idea to talk with a suspension expert to give you great performance for the majority of the driving you do – there’s no point adding a four-inch body lift to a truck that’s spending its time at 110km/h with a two-tone trailer behind it. On the other side, car mods are all about balance… and if you give your 4x4 more ability to get yourself into sticky situations, you might find that other elements of your vehicle – brakes, for example, or transmissions – aren’t up to the job of saving you from yourself.
Your factory warranty, too, may be rendered null and void; most car makers will point to the fine print around ‘modifications from standard’ before charging you for that damaged gearbox or fried rear diff.
As well, don’t expect to get a single dollar more for your hot-rodded, high-lift, trick damper-equipped rig when it comes time to sell; people actually shy away from modified vehicles, even if it was legitimately driven by your grandmother to church on Sundays.
We’re big fans of modifying your adventure vehicle properly for the terrain you plan to tackle. Dollar for dollar, well-executed suspension modifications make your ute, 4x4 or SUV a safer, more comfortable and more practical device to use both out in the bush or in town.
Be prepared to increase your budget to do the job properly, though, and seek advice from experts with experience in your vehicle before committing. Mail order is not the way to buy suspension parts!
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