Most people never improve the stock suspension on their vehicles. This is not true for those of us who like a little adventure and go off-roading. The main idea behind an off road suspension is to add more ground clearance by lifting the vehicle up off the ground. This allows for larger tires to be installed and increases the amount of vertical movement in the wheels. Many companies manufacture lift kits to accomplish this.
The confusing part of choosing an off-road package is encountered when you realize how many there are to choose from. Packages made for rock-crawling are very different than the ones for desert running or trail driving. Not to mention, if you do not have a vehicle dedicated to your off-roading, you will need something that is able to take regular street driving as well. This article will give you some direction as to which modification is best for your application.
How Does Off Road Suspension Work?
The off road suspension in your vehicle has three specific duties: to even out your ride, keep the tires in contact with the road, and to keep your vehicle stable. Suspensions have a spring (either a coil or leaf) that absorbs the forces of energy that act upon your tires. The springs are accompanied by shock absorbers which then dampen the vibration of any bumps in the road that hit your springs.
In addition to the basic duties, front off road suspensions have to also deal with turning wheels and need to absorb braking torque. Thus a front suspension is more complex than a rear.
Off road suspension systems are even more complex than stock because of its need to deal with a harsher terrain and larger wheels. Stock suspensions just won’t cut it anymore. Front end suspensions for off road vehicles tend to include a solid axel with leaf springs. This is also known as a dependent system. This is because the wheels are joined horizontally so they move together as a unit. Leaf springs connect to the vehicle frame and axel housing using U-bolts. Finally a sway bar will be used to help control any body roll.
On most vehicles being equipped for off-roading you will find a solid axel with either type of springs. When modding occurs, typically, a shock absorber will be fitted to each side of the axel- one in front and one behind. This is done in order to reduce a rapid up and down motion that occurs in the rear when you suddenly accelerate.
- Solid axel with Leaf springs: A dependent system which creates more stability and absorbs shock.
- Solid axel with coil springs: Similar to solid axel with leaf springs, this combination is also dependent and has the same effect. Many prefer coil springs over leaf springs because of the more compact design and they tend to make less noise.
- Independent front suspension (IFS): Allows each wheel to move independently. Control arm sets are applied to the wheel and then to the frame. The spring’s job is given to either a torsion bar, similar to a flattened coil spring, or coil struts which essentially are a combination of a shock absorber and coil spring.
- Twin traction beam (TTB): Combines both dependent and independent systems. A TTB, or twin I beam, system uses two beams in the front end. Each beam attaches on a pivot and then to the wheel. The beams overlap a lot and act sort of like two very long control arms. A U-joint in the middle lets each beam act independently.
PROs and CONs of Off Road Suspension Tuning
- Great for open desert applications such as desert speed runner vehicles.
- Smoother ride: Independent suspension allows each tire to handle bumps in the road independently. Thus, the shock does not travel across the entire axel.
- Better speed and drivability: This is the big reason you will see independent suspensions on desert racers.
- Better handling and cornering: Independent systems reduce the centrifugal force when cornering which minimizes body roll.
- Lower weight.
- Only flexes the suspension on one side. This leaves one tire hanging and pretty much useless in a very rocky terrain.
- More complex making repairs morel likely and installs on the vehicle more complicated and expensive.
- More wear and tear: The autonomous motion of each wheel on a rough surface results in a minor variation in the wheel track. This results in an increase in tire scrub when your wheels go over a bump.
- Less strength: Does not have a large single beam that gives overall support.
- Great for rocky terrain.
- Simple and reliable.
- Costs less: Easier to install with fewer components. The fewer parts you have, the fewer parts there are to break and replace.
- More steering angle.
- Allows one tire to lift the entire front end. The solid axel lets one tire force the other to the ground.
- High Strength: The single beam gives tremendous support across the vehicle.
- Less comfortable ride.
- Does not handle as well: Since wheels work as one, if one side is forced in a direction, the other is as well. This makes it harder to maintain a straight direction.
- Not as good with speed.
- Heavy: The single beam is massive and adds to overall weight.
Examples of Off Road Suspension Parts
Since a suspension is composed of many parts, we will look at manufacturers that are known for their aftermarket suspension parts.
This company was established in 1975 and still remains a respected pioneer in the industry. The company itself is run by truck enthusiasts making their knowledge base huge and opinions sought after. Much of their fabrication is done in house which allows them to really fine tune and hone every step of their manufacturing process.
Reviewers go to SuperLift because they trust the products and respect the experience of their staff. Customer service is top notch. The money back guarantee and American made products are a plus as well.
Pro Comp has been in the market since 1992. Their products are known to be high quality and durable. Their off-road lines include: tires and wheels, shocks, suspensions, and everything in between. They originally came on the market with suspension systems and they remain the cornerstone of their company. They strive to continually develop and improve their suspension systems.
Reviewers appreciate the lower cost parts and one stop shop for their rigs. Their customer service and fast shipping is also applauded.
Rancho is popular brand worldwide. Originally established in California, they quickly took the market by storm with their popular brand of suspension, shocks, and other off road products. They are particularly known for their adjustable shock absorbers which give drivers the ability to adjust the compression of their shocks to suit their needs.
Reviewers give the look of their products two thumbs up. They also love the affordability and ease of installation. And reading the reviews out there shows that those talked about shock absorbers really are a popular product.
Many find adventure off the beaten path. Whether rock crawling is your thing, or racing across sand is what gives you a thrill, stock suspensions will have to be beefed up to handle the rougher terrain.
Which suspension do you prefer and what terrains do you use them on? Let us know in the comments section. And if you want to see more in-depth articles related to other off-road aspects we would love to know.