Tech / Tech Articles

Suspension 101: An Introduction to Harnessing Your Engine Power

Nearly a decade old, a Grassroots Motorsports magazine article titled “Soccer Moms’ Revenge,” recounts a day at Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds in Laurens, SC when the magazine’s staff took a 1960’s-era Porsche 356 and Jaguar XKE and pitted them against a modern-day Honda Odyssey minivan.

After a 400-mile air-conditioned road trip with no tire-pressure adjustments, the Odyssey ran the road course in a virtual dead heat with the Porsche. The Porsche clocked a 48.89-second time.

The Odyssey ran it in 49.09 seconds.

After switching the wheels and tires to something a little more road-course friendly, the Odyssey mopped the course with the vintage sports cars, shaving three seconds off its autocross time.

If you’re scoring at home:

Odyssey minivan – 1

Vintage Porsche and Jaguar – 0

Your suspension matters
The moral of this story is that you need to respect what your suspension means to your vehicle’s performance. We’re big fans of horsepower here at OnAllCylinders. But adding mountains of power without upgrading your chassis’ suspension to be able to handle it is a bit like buying a massive high-definition television for your media room then failing to pay for high-def TV service or a Blu-ray Disc player to achieve optimum results.

Having a powerful engine is virtually useless if your suspension system isn’t upgraded to properly handle that power. It is critical that you select proper components for your particular type of driving (street, strip, circle track) and those best-equipped to complement your engine’s power production.

If advanced engineering can make grocery getters smoke respectable sports cars, imagine what highly engineered aftermarket suspension parts can do to enhance the performance of your machine.

We will get into the specifics of upgrading your suspension later. For now, please note that these parts are for performance upgrades only. We’ll dive into lift kits, blocks, spindles, and much more another time.

For now, here are all the key terms you’ll need to make an educated buy:

Glossary
A-Arms: Also called a wishbone, performance A-arms are a type of control arm that creates a negative camber curve for improved steering geometry. This increases caster for high-speed stability and minimized ball joint angle during suspension travel.

Anti-Hop Bars: A rear suspension component designed to reduce wheel hop during hard launch. Anti-hop bars help decrease the rear-end pinion angle deflection rates. They are an alternative to lift bars on coil spring suspension vehicles. They are not as effective as traction bars but are great for street cars.

Ball Joints: A spherical bearing that connects your vehicle’s control arms to the steering knuckles.

Camber Caster Kits: Wheel alignment kits to achieve the camber and caster wheel-and-tire angles you need for optimum tire traction. Lowering your suspension will typically require a camber and caster adjustment.

Coil-Overs: A suspension device consisting of a shock absorber encircled by a coil spring in one integrated unit. A coil-over system is closely related to a MacPherson strut design, except the aftermarket kits are typically adjustable and lighter.

Control Arms: A common upgrade on vehicles that use rear coil springs, aftermarket control arms restrict real axle movement and can offer suspension-tuning adjustability.

Coil Spring Suspension: A suspension system incorporating coil springs. The setup is typically more desirable than a leaf spring suspension due to a coil spring moving with the natural arc of the component to which it’s attached. Coil springs are also lighter than leaf springs, allowing more independent side-to-side rear axle movement.

Four-Link: A type of adjustable rear suspension. Four-links offer more adjustment than ladder bars and can handle greater torque loads. Four-links allow you to adjust your suspension for varying track conditions.

Housing Floaters: A suspension component that eliminates binding caused by four-links or ladder bars using leaf springs.

Independent Front Suspension: Often called an IFS, an independent suspension allows wheels rolling over bumps or objects to move up and down independently of one another. An IFS allows you to drive over a speed bump with just the left side of your vehicle and leave your right-side wheels unaffected.

Ladder Bars: More complex than a standard traction bar, ladder bars are a more-rigid truss that locates the rear axle to the chassis, allowing torque transfer directly through the bars and creating instant traction and front-end lift.

Leaf Springs: The oldest type of automotive suspension system, they are most commonly found today on SUVs, trucks, vans, and buses.

Lift Bars: A type of traction bar, lift bars increase rear traction and eliminate wheel hop. These are typically bolt-on items that pre-load the rear suspension and are only beneficial in straight-line racing. Lift bars are commonly used on coil spring suspensions.

Panhard Bars: Designed to eliminate side-to-side movement of the rear-axle housing, panhard bars will prevent your tires from hitting your wheel wells and will help your car better run straight down the track.

Progressive Rate Springs: Springs that require less pressure to be compressed initially and more pressure the further it is compressed.

Shocks: Sometimes called shock absorbers, shocks improve ride quality by reducing suspension movement by dampening the movement of the springs. Spring-based shocks typically use coil springs or leaf springs.

Slide-a-Link™ Bars: A type of traction or lift bar that is adjustable and designed for leaf spring vehicles. Manufactured by Competition Engineering, Slide-a-Link systems make it possible to fine tune the suspension pre-load side to side.

Static Springs: Also called linear-rate springs, static springs require the same amount of pressure per inch of compression.

Struts: Used on the front end of front-wheel drive vehicles only, struts provide structural support for the vehicle and also act as a dampener to smooth out ride and performance. Struts are comprised of a shock absorber, a coil spring, a spring seat, a strut bearing, and a steering knuckle.

Sway Bars: Also called anti-sway or anti-roll bars, sway bars improve the handling of a vehicle by reducing roll and side-to-side movement by connecting opposite wheels together.

Tie-Rod Ends: A suspension component that is a small rod with a ball joint on each end that help facilitate steering and vehicle alignment.

Traction Bars: A quick and easy way to increase rear traction and eliminate wheel hop. Traction bars are typically bolt-on items that pre-load the rear suspension and are only beneficial in straight-line racing. These are commonly used on leaf spring suspensions.

Wheelie Bars: Rubber-wheeled aluminum struts that jut out from the back of race cars and help control wheel stands without unloading the rear tires, allowing power to launch the car forward.

If you’re ready to dive further into the ins and outs of upgrading your suspension, check out our Suspension 201 post where we show you what you need to do to get the most out of your ride’s chassis.

Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spider-Man: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

We don’t think he was talking about vehicle suspensions. But we may never know for sure.

Remember: With great engine power, comes great responsibility—to upgrade your suspension.

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2 Comments

  1. Good layman article

  2. Pingback: Suspension 101: 5 Benefits of Performance vs. Stock Suspension Components - OnAllCylinders

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