A Guide to Buying Performance Suspension Parts

March 29, 2012

An overview of the main suspension parts, their functionality, and purchasing guidelines.

Suspension Parts

There are many suspension parts that can be easily and affordably upgraded. Just by upgrading a few parts, such as the sway bar and ball joints, it is possible to make a big difference in handling and performance.

Besides handling and driving, the front suspension is important for vehicle safety. In particular, part upgrades can be used to help improve cornering. The main components of the front suspension include the struts, shocks, ball joints, control arms, coil springs, sway bar, and leaf springs. There are much fewer components to the rear suspension.

Upper Stress Bar

To reduce any stress on the strut towers when turning, an upper stress bar can be installed. These bars reduce twisting and flexing when cornering and are very easy to install.

Sway Bars

When turning at high speeds and the vehicle is leaning a lot, feeling like it is falling over, then new sway bars are needed. Look for a sway bar that is part of an anti roll kit. The new upgraded sway bar should be stiffer and thicker than the stock sway bar. Because the bar is stiffer, it will keep the car flat when turning.

Springs

Springs can be used to lower or raise the height of the vehicle. Lower springs cause the car's center of gravity to lower. This can be a great improvement for handling. Additionally, the springs may also be much stiffer then stock springs. These can cost anywhere from $100 to $300. Installing them requires a spring compressor, so having a mechanic install them is a good option.

Shocks

When upgrading other suspension parts, such as the springs, it is a good idea to have new shocks installed. Normally, the cost does not change when having a mechanic install both springs and shocks. Changing the height of the springs will put more pressure on the shocks, so new ones that can handle the additional compression are recommended. If the stock shocks are left on they will wear out much faster.

Coilovers

If you are looking to upgrade both the springs and shocks, coilovers can be a great upgrade. Coilovers are a combination of springs and shocks that are flexible and can be adjusted. Therefore, you can lower and raise the vehicle depending on the driving environment. For instance, a truck may need to be lifted for off road driving. Then it is lowered when back on the road.

Kits

There are plenty of suspension upgrade kits that provide all of the upgraded parts and installation instructions. In particular, lift kits are quite common. Just be aware that when suspension parts are upgraded, the warranty on other car components may be void.

Buying Performance Suspension Parts

While aftermarket suspension parts can be easy to find, selecting the proper parts can be far more difficult. While there are plenty of high performance suspension components available, the bulk of them may be hidden behind the more common consumer fare. The majority of the enthusiast community buys parts based on appearance, meaning that many of the most popular components will leave your car's suspension both too low and too soft. To get the best performance from your vehicle, a few key pieces of information should be understood before purchasing.

Spring Selection

Many enthusiasts buy springs with the aim or reducing fender gap and lowering the vehicle for a sleeker appearance. The problem with this approach is that the spring rate of these shorter springs is kept as close to stock specifications as possible to allow compatibility with factory equipped shocks and struts. These shorter springs reduce suspension travel without the proper increases in stiffness required, which in turn increases the chances of the suspension bottoming out and destroying your shock absorbers. Because most spring manufacturers do not list individual spring rates, the best course of action for finding an off the shelf spring that will actually improve handling is to choose as tall a lowering spring as possible to reduce the chances of suspension damage. For the enthusiast who truly wants the most control over variables, consider looking into springs from the Eibach Race Springs line-up. These springs allow custom tailoring of both spring rates and heights in order to find the perfect fit for any vehicle.

Shock and Strut Selection

Shocks are perhaps the hardest auto parts to choose when it comes to an aftermarket suspension. The reason for this is that damping force is a very difficult to property explain to the consumer, and companies can often times have different ways of expressing a given shocks damping characteristics. For this reason, choosing shocks is largely a matter of trial and error. For best results, purchasing a shock with damping adjustment will allow you to fine tune things to fit your vehicle. Performance shocks such as those from Tokico are a good place to start. For those concerned with obtaining the ultimate in performance, consider purchasing shocks from companies such as Tein, which allow re-valving and various methods of damping adjustment.

Bump Stops

Bump stops are small polyurethane blocks that help to prevent damage to your shocks should your vehicle bottom out. The problem with most bump stops is that they are too hard, and upon hitting them, your suspension's effective spring rate can ramp up to unpredictable and dangerous levels. For aftermarket suspensions, a micro-cellular bump stop is essential, and can help to both protect the suspension, and make the suspension more predictable on rough roads.

Aftermarket suspensions tend to err on the side of fashion rather than performance, as this is what the bulk of customers demand. In order to find a suspension set-up that will truly perform to your needs, it may be necessary to do a lot of custom selection as an overly low, and overly soft suspension will only hurt handling and cause damage.