The Real Benefits of Suspension Tuning — What You Need To Know

For high-performance tuners, it’s all about customization.

Car tuning is the act of modifying either the appearance or performance of a vehicle to fit the driver’s unique preferences and personality. This tuning can include internal modifications to everything from the vehicle’s engine to exhaust system or even to its struts and springs so it drives and handles better on the road. Tuning can also include external modifications to change the vehicle’s overall look and aerodynamics.

When a vehicle leaves the factory floor, it's ready to meet the expectations of the average driver. Tuned cars and trucks, on the other hand, are vehicles that have been modified for greater performance. Suspension tuning is an important element in this performance enhancement, providing better tire grip and cornering capabilities.

So what are the real benefits of tuning struts and springs?

 

Shocks vs. Struts

Let’s start with defining what a “strut” is, exactly. Both shock absorbers and struts keep your vehicle from bouncing around. Though the two terms are often used interchangeably — and they basically do the same thing — shocks and struts are different parts.

A vehicle either has a shock or strut at each wheel — not both — and a shock cannot replace a strut, nor a strut replace a shock. Some vehicles have struts on the front axle and shocks in the back.

The main difference between the two is a strut is a structural part of the suspension system and affects steering and alignment. Like a shock, it also includes a coil spring. Sometimes, an alignment is also needed when a strut is replaced, making it more expensive than a simple shock replacement.

 

The Role of Suspension

The primary purpose of struts and shock absorbers is to hold the tire on the road and control the vehicle’s stability. The spring is what holds the car up in the air and absorbs the impact. Together, your vehicle’s suspension system is what ensures a smooth, comfortable ride.

When you push down on your vehicle, it should immediately return back to its level position. If it rocks, it could be an indication that your shocks are bad in the back (and maybe all around). Other indications that it might be time for a replacement is when you go over a bump in the road and your vehicle starts bouncing around and shaking, if it sways when you take a turn or “rocks” when you come to a stop.

A complete loaded strut replacement assembly comes fully assembled and ready for installation. When you replace both the struts and spring assemblies in the front and back — a service that generally starts at about $700 for a front or rear set — the biggest benefit is your vehicle will often drive like a brand new car.

The manufacturer’s recommendation is generally to replace strut assemblies between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. Depending on the vehicle, though, replacement is often warranted sooner.

 

Suspension Tuning

When a vehicle has been tuned to have more pick up and speed, it also needs a tuned suspension system to improve how it handles on the road. Suspension tuning can involve the modification of springs, struts and shock absorbers to affect how a vehicle accelerates, brakes and corners.

There are different stages within the cylinder of a strut for varying degrees of durability and performance. Shorter springs provide a lower center of gravity, whereas stiffer shock absorbers improve the way weight is shifted during cornering.

Off-road vehicles, for example, are typically tuned to have longer suspension travel and bigger tires to enable them to ride over obstacles more smoothly. Lowriders, on the other hand, are often tuned with hydraulic suspensions that allow the height of each wheel to be rapidly adjusted.

Other methods of tuning a vehicle’s suspension to achieve better balance include installing stiffer, anti-roll “sway bars,” which act like stiffer springs to improve cornering and handling. Strut bars can also be added to improve body stiffness and help maintain proper suspension during cornering. Making adjustments to the front and back axles independently can further customize suspension modifications.

If you have too much tire spin, for example, you can use the shock to tune the car to get a little more “bite” by softening the compression and tightening the extension. This allows the tire to compress more, giving more bite to the initial turn of the tire. It also slows the rate that the car bounces back up, which keeps the center of gravity lower.

Before tuning your suspension, consider your vehicle’s power to weight ratio, weight distribution, engine, handling balance and tire width. And remember — in general, small, incremental adjustments are better than extreme modifications.

To learn more about how a suspension replacement or upgrade can help improve your vehicle’s overall performance, contact one of our Cleveland auto repair shops today or stop in for a free estimate.

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