Car makers often give their cars the most optimum suspension setting. But this doesn’t really go down well with all buyers. There are some buyers who want sporty handling or want to haul heavy loads and would require a stiffer suspension. And there are buyers who buy pickup-truck based SUVs and hate the hard ride. They would be looking for a softer set up.
Car makers usually find a middle ground in the suspension set up in a car to allow it to cater to a variety of buyers and not restrict it. However, if you really wanted to change the way your car rides and handles you can opt for a suspension modification to either make it stiffer or softer. There are some occasions where you may want a stiffer suspension, especially on cars that have a soft suspension and tend to wallow or bottom out easily. (Be careful, as modifying your suspension can void the car’s warranty and drastically alter handling.) Also read: Suspension trouble, what to fix and how
CarToq looks at some ways in which you can tweak a car’s ride quality or handling depending on your needs.
One easy way to stiffen or soften the suspension set up in your car is to alter the spring rating (load rating and stiffness). This is not something that can be done easily in India, as not many cars have aftermarket stiffer spring ratings to offer. However, some international models that are used for rallying have sport suspension springs that can be bought and installed (such as for the Swift, Laura and Lancer). The same can also be done for a slightly softer suspension, by getting springs which flex more.
In vehicles with leaf-spring systems, the leaf-spring pack can be stiffened by adding an extra leaf to the pack. Or you can soften the ride by removing a leaf or inverting one of the leaves in the spring pack. This is something buyers of Maruti Omnis and Mahindra Boleros can easily do.
In cases where you particularly want to stiffen a suspension system, but cannot find stiffer springs that match the car, one method is to add pads under the spring, where it meets the base plate. This will also increase the ground clearance of the car slightly and stiffen the ride. This is a popular practice for cars with soft suspensions that have CNG kits etc installed in the boot, making them sag at the rear. Suspension pads are made of rubber and are about an inch thick. Also see: Cars that offer the best ride quality
A third way to stiffen or soften the ride quality in your car is to alter the shock absorbers. In vehicles that have too much body roll, an easy way to dampen this behavior a little is to install stiffer shock absorbers. One can get oil-based shock absorbers filled with higher viscosity oil (thick oil) that make the ride quite stiff. Or you could get new gas filled shock absorbers that also provide a slightly stiffer ride. There are race / rally based shock absorbing systems that will make the ride stiffer as well. Brands such as Bilstein, Koni, Monroe and Armstrong offer such shock absorbers in the aftermarket for most vehicles. Similarly, if you want a softer ride quality, you could opt for shock absorbers that have more travel.
Anti-roll bars or stabilizer bars help in controlling side-to-side movement of a car and help in stiffening and controlling this behavior in a car. Most cars these days have anti-roll bars or sway bars already to control body roll and stiffen the ride a little. On cars that don’t have sway bars, you can install a sway bar which will stiffen the ride. Or if you want more flexibility and a softer ride, you can remove the sway bar (like with the Ford Endeavour), and this leads to a softer ride, but will affect handling drastically.
Another method of stiffening the suspension movement a little is to add a strut brace. This is a bar that runs over the top of the suspension struts (especially for McPherson strut assemblies), connecting both the strut mounts together. Normally a monocoque car body will tend to flex a little through corners, but this strut brace prevents this, giving a stiffer ride and much better and more precise handling. Also read: Best used cars for enthusiasts
Share any more ideas you have on suspension stiffening or softening with the CarToq community.