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What should you buy when upgrading your suspension?

Vehicle with lift kit.

One of the first modifications that most people do to their 4WD or SUV is tyres, wheels and suspension upgrades. You can read about tyre upgrades over on our sister site. Today, let's discuss suspension upgrades, and the types of aftermarket upgrades available to help figure out what the best upgrade is for you.

What’s available for your vehicle, and what’s common to upgrade will depend heavily on the particular vehicle you drive. Some vehicles may have common weaknesses that are addressed by the aftermarket that aren’t required for other makes and models.

To find out what suspension upgrades you can make to your vehicle, it’s important to know what your vehicle currently has and what any potential problems and limitations could be.

Solid Axle or independent?

The type of suspension your vehicle has will heavily influence what types of upgrades are available, their cost and their benefits.

Oftentimes, the largest difference is whether your vehicle is equipped with a solid axle, or is fitted with independent suspension

Solid Axle suspension is traditionally the variety that is fitted to most 4WDs, SUVs and vehicles designed for off-road use. With solid axle-equipped vehicles, you can find either leaf springs or coil springs and sometimes a combination of both, at either end of the vehicle.

Generally, the most popular models of 4WDs and SUVs that are modified for off-road use come factory equipped with solid axles front and rear, however, some models come with independent front suspension (IFS) while some models could have either, depending on the year and trim level.

Coil springs are often used in independent suspension vehicles due to them taking up less space, and being easier to fine-tune.

Solid Axle Pros

Generally in stock configurations, a solid (or live axle) setup will be more durable, featuring heavier-duty components, you’re less likely to snap an axle, in most situations.

Solid axle setups are great because they can be modified for relatively cheap for incredible results. Ever seen an impressive photo of a 4x4 flexed out on a gnarly trail? That sort of action can be achieved relatively easily with live axle vehicles with some cost-effective upgrades.

Fewer moving parts means a more reliable and simple system to service and repair in the field.

Car suspension parts.

Solid Axle Cons

Traditionally, solid axle suspension and driveline systems typically transmit more noise, vibration and harshness into the cabin, though they do a worse job controlling body roll;

Because all wheels on an axle are connected via a solid axle, when one wheel moves, the other wheel will move also. This results in a less stable vehicle, however, modern suspension designs have mostly solved this problem and in day-to-day driving, you’re unlikely to notice much difference. Simply put, if something happens on one side of the axle, the rest of the axle, including the other wheel is affected.

A suspension or body lift on a vehicle with solid axles won’t provide more ground clearance, as the differential is still the same height, relative to the ground. Getting more ground clearance under your axles means fitting larger diameter tyres, or horrendously expensive portal hub kits.

Another lesser-discussed negative to solid axle designs is the massive amount of unsprung weight (that is, mass not held up or controlled by the springs). Unsprung weight is the enemy of performance, and will actually reduce traction in many situations such as driving over medium to high speed bumps, thanks to your suspension being needed to both support the vehicle’s weight, as well as control and push the tyres back down into the ground.

Independent Axle Pros

Independent suspension gets a bad rap because of the costs associated with modifying it. If time and money were not objects, independent suspension is more capable, provides better handling, and more even tyre wear.

Since the differential is not in a fixed position relative to the wheels, even a minor suspension lift will result in increased ground clearance.

Since each wheel operates independently, they’re much more stable on the road and over bumps. While independent suspension systems are made of more components, they’re also much lighter. Lower unsprung mass contributes to better handling and fuel efficiency.

Independent Axle Cons

The cost. In many cases, modifying independent suspension, particularly in terms of lift kits and long travel kits is expensive, necessitating the replacement or modification of many unique components.

For example, when fitting larger suspension lists to vehicles with IFS, it’s possible to cause issues with CV axles that require lowering the differential, negating some of that hard-fought ground clearance you spend so much to get.

Independent suspension systems are more complex, requiring more individual components. This means they can be trickier and more expensive to set up, repair and maintain.

Many independent suspension systems have restrictions on suspension travel, thanks to driveshaft and tie rod angles that can be expensive to overcome.

Touring or Trails?

Before spending any money, have an idea of what your goals are with your vehicle. Whether you’re looking at a more stable vehicle while towing, or you’re looking for more ground clearance and flex, what you plan to do with your vehicle heavily influences what upgrades you’ll want to make.

The sorts of upgrades you might perform on a vehicle that is to be set up as a tourer towing a large caravan might include uprated springs and dampers, upgrades that improve the stability of your vehicle while towing on sealed roads.

If you’re more interested in off-road performance, taking your vehicle through rock gardens, tough obstacles, you’d be aiming at upgrades and modifications that give you more clearance, more flex, more strength and more durability.

Common Suspension Upgrades

Now you know the pros and cons of each common type of suspension found on 4WDs and SUVs, what sort of upgrades are available?

Lift Kits

The first upgrade you might think of is the lift kit. This type of suspension upgrade is aimed at improving ground clearance and off-road capability. The change in ride height from a lift kit varies from kit to kit, with each vehicle having different options available. Depending on your vehicle, a lift kit can be as simple as just a set of new springs or may include a whole pallet load of parts.

Spring Upgrades

You can upgrade your springs without it being a ‘lift kit’ style of upgrade, with spring upgrades often involving changing out to a stiffer or softer spring, depending on your needs.

Spring rates contribute greatly to general comfort and stability, and depending on whether you have a heavily loaded vehicle most of the time, or typically have an empty flat-tray and spare tyre, your ideal spring rates might be drastically different to someone else.

Shock Absorbers

Replacing your factory shocks with some performance upgrades means that you have the opportunity to fine-tune your suspension to suit your specific driving conditions, whether that’s on or off-road

Higher-end replacement shock absorbers allow for on-the-fly adjustment of damping rates and rebound controls, allowing you to tweak your suspension slightly without any specialist tools.

Airbag kits

Commonly used for towing, think of airbag kits like adding a helper spring for instances where there are extremely heavy loads on the rear of your vehicle, such as when towing or carrying heavy loads in the back of your vehicle.

The best airbag kits are engineered to avoid chassis damage, while haphazardly thought out and poorly designed kits can focus chassis forces into areas they’re not meant to be handled, and we’ve all seen photos of utes with snapped chassis online.

It’s important to remember that even though you have suspension upgrades to handle more weight, your stock axle housing or vehicle chassis could now become the weakest point.

Sway Bars

Even though they’re typically disconnected for hardcore off-road use, upgrading your sway bars can have benefits in some situations.

If your vehicle has a roof rack with a roof-top tent or otherwise has a lot of weight up high, installing uprated sway bars will keep body roll to a minimum and make for a more stable and confident handling vehicle.

The suspension of a lifted car at an auto repair shop.

Control Arms & Bushings

The factory arms and bushings are designed to be quiet, comfortable and have a long service life, but if you’re out there, pushing the limits of what your vehicle was meant to do, it could be worth swapping out for uprated components.

Often, factory rubber bushings can be changed out for polyurethane or even Heim joints, depending on what level you’re building your vehicle to.

Steering Dampers

Steering system dampers help avoid the steering wheel from jumping around, jerking and kicking back when driving over obstacles and tackling trails.

When you upgrade your wheels and tyres, the larger mass and diameter can cause the factory steering damper to become overwhelmed

Your Suspension Upgrade Experts in Wangara

Tyrepower isn’t just Australia’s largest independent tyre retailer, our stores are locally owned and operated by enthusiasts who will take care of your vehicle just like it was their own.

If you have any questions or need assistance in choosing a suspension upgrade, our team at {title} Tyrepower is here to help.

When considering suspension upgrades, make sure you consider your specific needs, driving conditions, and budget, come chat with the qualified technicians at Tyrepower Wangara.

We are your one-stop shop for tyres, wheels, servicing, and more! Call today on (08) 9409 7858 or visit our store located at 18 Prindiville Drive, Wangara.

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