One of the first places many enthusiasts begin when modifying their car is the suspension. If you want to make a change to your car’s appearance, ride height, and handling performance, finding the right suspension for the job is how to do it. However, there are three types of suspension products, all with their own sub categories, that offer a range of benefits for each specific use. Which suspension type you choose will need to directly reflect your intended purpose for your car. Making the right decision should be a no-brainer, but there are an almost infinite number of brands and products that can be overwhelming and can easily cause you some confusion. In this article, we will help you decide which method for modifying your suspension is right for you and help you better understand the options so you can achieve the results you want.
Regardless of what you want to do with the car, the running theme here will be lowering your vehicle. Lowering the car offers benefits by changing the center of gravity, which improves handling, and lowering the ride height, which improves the overall appearance of your car. Outside of those two factors, how you lower your car will make all the difference. To look at those methods, let’s first break down the three main types of suspension modifications and what they offer:
Lowering Springs/Sport Springs
Lowering springs are exactly what they sound like: shorter springs with a higher spring rate that bring the car’s ride height down by a fixed amount and work with shocks/struts that are approved for the shortened stroke (travel) of the shorter spring. Lowering springs are generally not intended for any kind of performance use and predominantly just offer the benefit of better looks with a reduced wheel gap.
Sport springs, on the other hand, are often more aggressive in their spring rate (the rate at which they compress) and are intended for moderate performance use. They are usually the easiest way to lower your vehicle slightly, improve handling, and are cost effective when compared to other performance methods.
Springs, either strictly lowering or sport intended, are generally the least costly way to achieve a desired look and are perfect for anyone just starting out. This is a good option for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, and a specific ride height in mind that isn’t too aggressive.
Their downsides, however, are what generally push enthusiasts towards either coilovers or air ride suspension. Springs are fixed, meaning they cannot be adjusted for height. OEM shocks/struts and most inexpensive aftermarket performance shocks/struts are not adjustable for damping, so the ride quality and performance capabilities are fixed as well. Springs do not allow you to adjust any settings nor do they allow you to quickly interchange them for different lengths or rates. Once installed, that’s pretty much where they will stay unless you enjoy playing with spring compressors all afternoon on your weekend or off day.
Arguably, the most popular choice for lowering your car is with a set of coilovers. Like lowering springs or sport springs, coilovers have a range of intended uses but offer a much finer adjustability and spread. The range of uses for coilovers covers everything from the purely cosmetic to the most aggressive competitive suspension choices. Which set you decide upon will depend on how you want to use the car. If you just want the ride height adjustment and have no interest in performance, you can go with a basic set of coilovers that allow you to fine-tune the ride height to your liking and leave it alone. For more adjustable sets, you will need to shell out a bit more cash, but you can get damping, rebound, compression, camber, and sometimes caster settings exactly right for optimal use based on your style of driving.
Coilovers offer benefits over springs and air ride. They include both dampers and springs, so the issue with lowering the vehicle and blowing out your dampers is non-existent. Coilovers have a range of adjustments not achievable with springs and they require less maintenance than air setups. Generally, coilovers are much less expensive than air setups, even for highly competitive sets intended for track use. The performance to cost ratio is often what drives most people, regardless of their intended use, to purchase coilovers.
The downsides to coilovers are present, however. In most cases, they do still cost more than lowering/sport springs, even for strictly cosmetic coilovers. They are static, so you can’t adjust the height on the fly, which means you will probably never change them once installed. Lastly, they require a significant time investment to set them up correctly so the settings are precise on each corner.
Other than those few downsides, coilovers are generally the preferred method of changing the ride height and handling characteristics of a car with performance, functionality, and cost in mind.
Air suspension has been used in passenger vehicles since the 1950s to what could be called an extreme success. Their versatility, durability, and ‘cool factor’ are what steer some buyers toward an air setup. Air ride systems, like Air Lift Performance kits, give you the ability to drastically change your ride height on the fly at the touch of a button, while they have the same range of camber, caster, and damper adjustments seen in coilovers. Air systems are essentially coilovers with a variable spring that inflates or deflates to change the height.
Since air systems require a management system, compressor, tank, and lines, they are often the most expensive setups to choose. However, with that cost comes the added benefits of slamming your car at a show, raising it to drive around town, and then changing to a performance setting that can nearly match the capability of a mid-range performance coilover option. The all-in-one package makes air ride a tempting choice for anyone since they cover the range of needs for nearly any driver and do so with extreme convenience.
Some downsides do exist, however, in terms of owning and living with an air system. Older versions of air systems suffered from bag ruptures, leaks in the lines, compressor failures, and have been known to strain the car’s electrical system. Air ride, at this time, cannot match the most competitive track-oriented coilovers, but there are systems like the Air Lift S3 that allow you to have some level of competitiveness. Air systems also require maintenance, since there are more moving parts. Due to that parts list, they also tend to cost the most out of all the options covered. They are definitely the most versatile, but that makes them the most expensive.
So which is right for your car? Like we said, what you want to do with the car will determine the best choice for you. Below, we have made a helpful little graphic so you can see the range of performance offered by the different suspensions we discussed.
As you can see, lowering springs offer the ride height change, but little in terms of performance. Sport springs lower the car slightly and marginally improve performance, while coilovers and air ride cover most of the ‘looks’ to ‘performance’ scale provided, depending on how much you want to spend.
For anyone who just wants a lowered ride height and has no need for performance or adjustability, lowering springs are perfectly acceptable, but can be easily ‘outgrown’ as your needs change. This factor will require you to buy another product down the road. If you just want a lowered ride height and have no desire to change that goal in the future, lowering springs are for your.
If you are looking for a budget performance modification and do not want to drastically change the suspension geometry or appearance of your car, sport springs could be your best bet. Like lowering springs, though, you have a ceiling of both looks and performance that you cannot breach. If you want to further change the looks or drastically improve handling characteristics and suspension geometry, you might want something more comprehensive.
Coilovers are perfect for anyone who thinks they may need to slightly adjust their ride height or suspension geometry settings based on how the car is used. Whether that means just a functionally low daily driver on the street or a competitive racing vehicle, there are coilovers that will give you what you want. With that, you are still fairly fixed in that adjustment range since once they are on the car, you probably won’t mess with them again. If you just want to go low, a less expensive set of coilovers can be your best choice because you will change out the shocks, struts, and springs on your car with the coilover system which includes dampers designed to work with those springs. However, if you want the easiest solution for looks and are budget-minded, coilovers may be more than you need.
Lastly, air ride is perfect for anyone willing to dish out the extra cash for the widest range of use out of one set of parts. If you want to go the lowest, drive the same car to the track, and then run it for some spirited driving, bags are the only solution. Of course, you will have the cost factor to consider, but that depends on your budget. For the most competitive vehicles, air suspension is not ideal because of the added weight and cost. In that case, a set of coilovers would be ideal. If you want the best of all worlds, though, air ride is for you.
In conclusion, your suspension will need to be tailored to what you want out of your car. Everything from a slight change in looks to an extreme change in performance is achievable with suspension tuning, but what you get out of your suspension will depend on which method you choose. Lowering and Sport Springs are great for those just starting out or anyone who just wants a little drop on their daily driver. Coilovers are more expensive, but offer the range of adjustability and performance required by anyone with competition in mind. Bags offer the widest range of uses, from daily, to show car, all the way to weekend canyon carver, but are the most expensive solution and not ideal for a dedicated race car. Whichever you choose, you can be sure to find the highest quality suspension solutions at the best prices right here at ECS Tuning. If you have any further questions, be sure to leave them in the comments below or reach out to our knowledgeable sales staff to help you find the best product for your car.