Friends don’t let friends buy bad parts. Throw away that eBay link for that $200 coilover set, and don’t even think about cutting those springs! The truth is that if we’re talking about common upgrades on our cars/trucks, I would imagine that the suspension is one of the most often misunderstood systems on our cars. I can’t fault people for that, though!
All the parts involved are relatively simple in operation, at least on the face of things. The springs keep all your wheels on the ground while allowing flex over terrain, the shocks dampen impacts and vibrations to keep everything planted (and your spine intact), and the control arms attach the whole setup to the vehicle. Simple enough, right?
Well, it’s once we get into the fine-tuning and details of the design, we can see that there is a lot of thought, math, and decades of R&D that goes into making our modern cars handle and perform as well as they do. Let’s get into a few of those details below:
Upgrading Your Suspension Parts & Systems – Where to Start?
Of course, this will all depend on what exactly you’re looking to do with your vehicle, but let’s assume you’re relatively new to this sort of thing and want to make some mild upgrades. Maybe you want some sportier handling, or want to be able to tackle some mild to intermediate trails.
One phrase I want you to keep in mind before we continue: Good performing suspension does not necessarily mean a stiff ride! In fact, oftentimes it’s quite the opposite. This is equally true whether you’re looking to do some off-roading or hitting the track. Unfortunately, this has become something of a myth, and now some manufacturers purposely make their suspension overly stiff just to give the feeling of performance, when it really isn’t adding anything but discomfort.
With that in mind, the first place you’re likely going to want to start is with a new set of shocks/struts, springs, or coilovers. Maybe yours are a little worse for wear, or just aren’t giving you what you want from them, but this is the place to start.
Top 10 Suspension Parts for Your Ride
For Off-Road Performance:
Fox 2.0 Performance IFP Shocks and/or Coil-Overs:
Anyone even adjacent to the off-road world will know Fox Shox — or at least seen the sticker on someone’s truck or helmet. While they can usually be found outfitting championship-winning trophy trucks, it turns out their entry-level stuff is equally as sought after. The 2.0 series is are designed with compliance at speed in mind, taming washboard trails and soaking up bumps and small rocks like they’re nothing. I’ve installed a few sets of these over the years, and they have smoothed out what was previously a pretty bumpy and stiff ride every time.
Bilstein B8 5100 Series Shocks & Struts:
With their US head of operations just up the street from us here in San Diego, Bilstein is one of the biggest names in performance suspension. Their 5100 series of shocks is the gold standard for a mild upgrade, especially when paired with a small lift or leveling kit. These will handle mild to intermediate trails beautifully, and come with a lifetime warranty to back that up.
ReadyLift SST Lift Kits:
Outfitting everything from Subarus to huge Super Duty pickups, ReadyLift lives up to their name, and probably offers a kit for the vehicle you’re looking to lift. Depending on your vehicle, you might have a range of options from gaining an inch or two by way of spacer lift, or 4-5”+ kits with replacement control arms and shocks. All with a lifetime warranty!
TeraFlex Lift Kits:
Alright Jeep people (Jeeple?) I’m talking to you now. Not only is TeraFlex one of the best names in off road suspension today, but they’re also early adopters of the LCG (Low Center of Gravity) approach to lifts. Their strategy is all about maintaining as much clearance as possible under your Jeep without jacking you up so high that you’ll be at risk of rolling over comparatively mild obstacles. Great idea!
Rough Country Leveling Kits:
Not everyone needs (or wants) to jack their trucks up on stilts and tower over traffic. That’s where leveling kits come in, giving you a mild lift for your front suspension only in order to eliminate that forward rake that your truck came with from the factory. They do that to offset heavy payloads in the back, but if you’re not regularly hauling big, heavy loads, then it’s just not needed. These will give you a little more clearance for bigger tires as well.
For Street Performance:
H&R Sport Lowering Coil Springs:
Born in late 1970’s Germany (home of the Nurburgring!), H&R Springs was created to meet growing demand for improved street performance, and racing. Today they are one of the best names in the business, and all their products are still made in Germany. Their sport lowering springs not only give you the more aggressive stance you’re looking for, but actually ride surprisingly nice as well.
Belltech Lowering Kits:
Some consider lowering a truck blasphemy, but I don’t count myself among them. I love me a tastefully lowered truck with a nice exhaust and maybe a paint-matched tonneau cover — it’s just a timeless look. Well if that’s what you’re after, then Belltech is at the top of the game. Each kit comes with everything you need to drop a couple inches of ride height — including your choice of two levels of performance shocks, all backed by a lifetime warranty.
Hellwig Sway Bars:
Shocks and springs are just a part of the equation. If you’re looking to fine-tune your car’s performance for track or autocross work, a good swaybar from Hellwig isn’t a bad way to go. With front and rear kits (for most common performance applications), each swaybar is tuned to your specific vehicle to boost cornering performance without sacrificing ride comfort.
TEIN S.TECH Lowering Springs
Originally focused on the performance import scene, Tein now offers their entry level lowering springs for just about any commonly modified platform. Don’t let the low prices fool you, Tein are masters of their craft and custom tune each kit to your make/model specifically. Each set of four will give you about 1.5” of drop, and come with silencer rubber to eliminate that creaking sound you can sometimes get with aftermarket coil springs.
Monroe Quick-Strut Strut Assembly:
Sometimes the best upgrade is just… maintenance. Sometimes the best way to get started in performance driving is to learn in a completely stock car, and then modify from there as your skill and familiarity with your car grows. Step one of that is making sure your stock equipment is in tip-top shape, and these Quick-Struts are an easy way to replace worn out struts without having to rent a spring compressor (those things scare me!).
How To Choose The Best Suspension Parts For Your Car or Truck
When checking out any kind of upgrade for your ride, I always recommend for people to check reviews and also to seek out enthusiast communities for your model to see what other people are running. The products you see above pretty much all have hundreds, if not thousands of reviews attached to them. If you have your year/make/model set on the site, we’ll even filter the reviews to feature those from owners of your same car first.
As for the enthusiast groups, I recommend checking out a few enthusiast forums or Facebook groups for your brand/model. The forums will usually have a commonly asked questions thread or some other way of compiling helpful information for anyone looking to do some work on their rides. For any problem you might come across, just remember that you are most likely not the first to come across it, and there will almost always be a thread about your exact issue and how those people went about fixing them!
So what do you think? Anything I missed? Any questions you have about your specific make/model? Drop a comment below!