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Suspended Animation - Suspension Basics

Robert Choo
Apr 9, 2007 SHARE
0102_turp_01_z+suspension_basics+tune_up Photo 1/1   |   Suspended Animation - Suspension Basics

Many enthusiasts think a nice-looking ride is a slammed vehicle with oversized wheels tucked under the fenderwell and an ungodly amount of negative camber. We agree that looks "tight" while parked, but you probably wouldn't want to be caught dead riding in it. Don't get us wrong: It is perfectly acceptable to lower a vehicle, as long as it is done properly with the right parts and tuning equipment. Since its inception in 1985, Turbo has been at the forefront, bringing you the best breaking news in import drag racing and high-performance gadgetry first. So why are we doing an article on suspension basics? Knowledge is power and our mission is to give you the power to make the right decisions when lowering your ride. Although a set of lowering springs might attain the "look," there is more to lowering than adding springs and calling it a day. Camber and toe both come into play when the stock suspension is altered. Read on to find out what steps you should take in creating your own tight ride safely.

Wheel AlignmentOne of the easiest ways to increase traction on the strip or the street is by performing a two- or four-wheel alignment on your vehicle. A severely misaligned suspension can cause the car to pull to one side of the road, which is hazardous to you and other drivers. By performing a wheel alignment, a technician can adjust the toe-in and toe-out and in some cases the camber and caster on your vehicle. The modification can save tire life and increase contact with the road. An alignment should be performed every year or two, depending on driving habits.

Negative And Positive CamberAdmit it, many of you drive (or once owned) a vehicle so low that a cigarette box probably can't fit under the rocker panels. Well, the car looks cool, but it probably puts a mighty nice dent in the wallet when you have to fork over hard-earned cash every couple of months for new tires. Besides bleeding your bank account dry, the car may not be the safest of vehicles to drive, due to the negative camber resulting from the lowered stance. The two terms commonly associated with lowered or raised vehicles is negative camber and positive camber; since many of us only lower our vehicles, we will concentrate on negative camber. As you lower the vehicle from the stock height, negative camber generally occurs, (the wheel and tire angle toward the inner fenderwell). Although it produces a cool tucked look, the problem with the negative camber is the resulting tire contact with the road. Fortunately, the suspensions on some vehicles can be corrected without purchasing any products. A proper wheel alignment will correct the negative camber situation. Most rear-wheel-drive Toyotas, Nissans and Mazdas have adjustments for negative and positive camber built into the factory suspension. A few adjustments with the proper tools by a qualified technician can remedy the situation. Unfortunately, not all vehicles are equipped with built-in camber adjustment. As usual, it's the aftermarket to the rescue. There are camber adjustment kits available for many popular imports. The two more commonly used camber kits are adjustable pillow-ball mounts for MacPherson-style suspension systems and adjustable upper A-arms for vehicles utilizing a double-wishbone set-up.

Toe-In And Toe-OutNo, we are not talking about the Hokee Pokee. Toe is the number of degrees the wheel and tire are angled on the steering axis. Toe-in is a result of the wheels being pointed toward each other; toe-out is a result of the wheels pointing away from each other. Although toe-in and toe-out are not usually affected by lowering your vehicle, the problem might occur as the result of hitting a pothole or bump in the road. Severe toe can destroy tires as well as affect traction. Most vehicles run a very slight toe-in for more precise turning, but too much can hurt handling.

Performance ShocksLike all car parts, suspension components wear over time and eventually go bad. The first parts of the suspension system to wear are the shocks. Most factory shocks can last 50,000 miles, if you drive like a grandma, but we all know few of us display such restraint. As a vehicle is lowered, the shock rod travel (stroke) is also decreased which can cause poor ride quality and dampening characteristics. The lowered stance also decreases the service life of the shocks, resulting in the untimely death of the shock. On the brighter side, some aftermarket performance shocks utilize a shorter case with a shorter rod to help retain the same pump stroke volume as the factory shock. The short-rod and short-case shock will ensure better ride quality and handling characteristics on lowered vehicles and is built to last.

Along with the short-rod and short-case technology, many aftermarket units offer adjustable dampening shocks. These units allow the owner to customize the ride quality and handling to his or her preference. At the drag strip, an adjustable unit allows the racer to dial-in the dampening forces needed for the best traction. Although adjustable units are generally more expensive than non-adjustable units, the advantages usually outweigh the costs.

ConclusionTimes have changed; racers and enthusiasts alike have acknowledged the importance of suspension tuning. Look at the big picture, weigh the consequences and make sure you take the correct steps when lowering your ride. Remember, not only can you have the look you are going after, but you can also reap the benefits that go along with it.

One of the easiest ways to correct suspension geometry and increase traction to the road is by performing a two- or four-wheel alignment. Here we see Project Boneyard Buick with the calibration equipment already mounted to the front and rear wheels. All it needs is the technician to adjust the rod ends to ensure perfect alignment.

Some vehicles are not equipped with camber adjustment, but there's no need to worry, as the aftermarket has some answers to the problem. Adjustable pillow-ball mounts and adjustable A-arms are available to correct negative and positive camber situations.

If you examine the two shocks closely, you can clearly tell the zinc-colored shock on the bottom utilizes a shorter case and rod for increased shock travel on lowered vehicles.

Some performance shocks offer adjustable dampening so the user can custom tailor their ride to his or her preference. Shocks like the Tokico Illuminas and Tanabe Sustec Pro offer adjustable dampening which can be done with a twist of a knob or screwdriver.

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By Robert Choo
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