The Lowdown on Lowering Your Car

By July 30, 2014Suspension
How to Lower Your Car the Right Way

Performance cars are meant to hug the road and carve corners with precision. Lowering your car not only gives it that commanding stance everyone craves but also lowers the center of gravity for improved handling and less body roll. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to achieve that balance between function and stance. Just one ride in an improperly lowered car and you’ll be parking it for good – even worse is how unpredictably bouncy it becomes over rough pavement.

One of my friends from school once decided to lower the front end on his 1967 Mustang. I told him we should just buy new coil springs for it. But like most of of us try to do, he decided he was going to save money by cutting the ones already on the car. Not a good idea. He removed the coil springs and used the auto shop’s acetylene torch to cut the coils down, a quarter coil at a time. He took that advice at least. But, he damaged the coils by applying too much heat and ended up having to buy new coils anyway.

If you’re looking to get rid of that unsightly wheel gap and still enjoy a good ride quality, here are some options depending on your existing suspension.

Torsion Bar Front Suspension

Older Mopars like the Charger have torsion bar suspensions instead of the coil or leaf springs most of you are used to. These have some adjustment for ride height which can be raised or lowered a few inches. Near the front of the torsion bar is a nut and bolt. Turn it clockwise to raise the car and counter-clockwise to lower it.

Make sure your car or truck is on a level surface and that the tires are equally inflated. Measure from the ground to the bottom of the fender to get a starting measurement. Jack up the front of the car and support it with jack stands under the frame. Loosen the nut and turn the bolt by small increments (same number of increments per side), checking the change on the ride height after each adjustment.

If there isn’t enough adjustment to lower your front end enough, you’re going to have to pull the torsion bar, carefully, and relieve it of some of its twist, even more carefully.

Leaf Spring Front Suspension

Most of the vehicles with leaf sprung front ends are older trucks. If you wish to retain the stock ride quality and only adjust the ride height, you’re going to have to pull the leaf spring assembly and have it decurved. If you feel you can adjust for the softer ride by installing upgraded shocks, you can also remove one of the leaves. This should lower the front about 1″ to 1 1/2″.

Leaf Spring Rear Suspension

If you’re only looking for a small change in ride height, you can either decurve the leaf springs or remove one leaf. But, if you’re looking for a big adjustment towards the ground, you can either reverse the shackles on the leaf springs, or reverse the placement in relation to the axle of the leaf springs. Top mounted springs can be placed under the axle tubes for approximately 3-4″ inches worth of lowering.

Coil Spring Suspension

Coil springs can be found on a car’s front and/or rear suspension and give you a variety of options when it comes to lowering your car. Here are the most common:

Drop Springs

This is the most popular method because it’s easy to install yourself and there are variety of drop springs to choose from to fit your car. Manufacturers like Moog, Eaton, Eibach, Hotchkis and others have already done all the homework for you to develop springs that give you good ride quality with the stance you want.

Coilover Shocks

Although a bit more pricy than drop springs, coilovers give your car that edgy motorsports look. Koni, Gabriel, Bilstein, and a whole slew of others make coilover conversion kits. These simply replace the existing coils and shocks. You can further adjust your ride height depending on how much you thread the lower and upper shock bodies together and make dampening adjustments via a knob on top of the coilover unit.

Air Bags

Replacing your tired and worn out coil springs with air bags is going to give you more control over your ride height. If you go with any of the other methods, once you buy and install, you’re stuck with where you’re at. With air bags, you can raise and lower as you need or see fit. This takes quite a bit of work because you’re got to install air lines, compressors, limiters, and bunch of other stuff, but the end result is pretty cool.

Cutting Coil Springs (when you absolutely have to lower on a budget)

Of all of the methods available to lower a coil sprung suspension, this is the one I recommend the least. It’s just way too easy to do it the wrong way. However, if you can’t afford new parts and you insist on doing it today, this is doable. Make sure to use a chop saw with an abrasive cut-off wheel that can cut through the coil relatively quickly. Many people routinely use torches or plasma cutters but you run a greater risk of overheating your coil and weakening the steel which causes the spring to sag.

Pull the coils, carefully. Cut no more than 1/4 of a coil at a time. Do the other coil. Test fit. Repeat if necessary. Yes, this method will probably wipe out a good portion of your day but if you rush and cut too much then you’ll have to buy new springs.

Safety Notes
  • Whenever working with coil springs, use the proper tools like coil spring clamps. If you don’t, you could end up destroying not only your ride, but yourself and your helper. I’ve seen them go through shop ceilings before. It wasn’t pretty. Get the right tools and the shop manual for your car.
  • Be sure to check your alignment any time you change the ride height or work on your suspension. In some cases it can also increase negative camber which causes excessive wear on both the tire and suspension components.
  • Since you’re going to take apart the suspension, it’s also a good time to replace ball joints and any worn bushings.

Photo credit: daveparker

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