Dropping the Suspension

A Lowered Audi A3

Anything this low is just for show!

When you find need to pimp your car there's one thing that you've got to do, and that is lower your suspension. I mean nothing compares to a car that is low on the ground, and then on top of it all, a lowered car generally has better road handling characteristics as we discussed in our section on the suspension tuning! However, there are a few catches when it comes to lowering your suspension. Car manufacturers give the car a ride height because they need to take speed bumps, uneven road surface, passenger comfort and road noise into consideration when they produce the car. So when you lower your suspension you also need to take these things into consideration because if you just lower the suspension by cutting your coil springs then you'll end up fouling your wheel arches against your tires, for example. You could flare your wheel arches to fit over your tires, which is the easy solution, or you could stiffen your suspension to reduce the suspension travel, which is the better solution. And if you're going to do it properly, then it means that simply cutting your existing coil springs is not an option. You should instead get your hands on a lowering kit with stronger, beefier coil springs, and uprated dampers, but before you rush out to get a lowering kit you need to take your car's weight into account as cars of different weights need different suspension characteristics. A heavier car requires a stiffer suspension than a light car. Hence, you need to make sure the lowering kit is designed for your car's weight.

As I've already said, we discuss coil springs, coilovers and lowering your suspension to improve the road holding characteristics of your car in our section on suspensions, here we're interested in pimping out your car so we'll discuss lowering your suspension from the perspective of car styling.

Leaf Springs

On a LDV, truck, SUV or older passenger cars the rear suspension may have leaf springs rather than coil springs, but the same basic principles that apply to coil springs also apply to leaf springs. The only difference is the techniques for acquiring the suspension drop. The easiest way to lower a leaf spring suspension is to place the shackles that attach the leaf springs to the car's chassis with shorter shackles. Another option is to fit a spacer between the rear differential and the leaf springs and using longer U-bolts to attach the leaf springs to the differential. This however, will reduce your loading capacity but this can be overcome by adding an additional leaf to increase rear suspension stiffness; though this my compromise ride comfort! However, if the leaf spring sits on top of the differential, you'll need to purchase and install an aftermarket flip kit that relocates the leaf springs to the bottom of the differential.

Coil Springs

When it comes to fitting lowered coil springs you have quite a number of options: buy a lowering kit, get hold of thicker coil springs from a similar but heavier vehicle and cut them to the desired height, or a cut your existing coil springs. Cutting your existing coil springs is a big NO NO; and cutting springs from another vehicle is very much trial and error as you need to cut the springs a bit at a time, fit them and check the ride height. Fitting a lowering kit is not the cheapest but is the best way to go.

Installing A Lowering Kit

Installing a lowering kit is quite straight forward and can generally be accomplished as follows:

  • Make sure that the hand bake is on, loosen the front wheel nuts, then jack the front end of your car up and place axle stands under the chassis.
  • Lower the car onto the axle stands and remove the front wheels.
  • Pop the hood, remove the cover from the top of the shock tower so that you can loosen the three nuts that hold the font strut in place. Don't remove the nut in the center of the strut. This nut holds the damper in the strut! Leave one of the nuts still loosely on the bolt so that the strut doesn't fall through when you loosen the lower end.
  • Now completely remove the two large bolts that hold the strut to the lower suspension arm and wheel hub.
  • Completely remove the nuts at the top of the strut and remove it from the car.
  • Fit the top end of the strut in a vice grip and use a spring compressor to compress the spring so that you can remove the large nut in the center of the strut top.
  • Remove the top of the strut and then remove the coil spring.
  • Carefully release the spring compressor and then compress the coil spring that came in the lowering kit.
  • Insert the new spring over the damper, fit the top of the strut and fasten the large nut to the damper rod.
  • With the damper nut securely tightened, release the spring compressors and refit the strut to the car.
  • Now all that's left is to refit you wheels, lower the car, and have your wheel alignment checked.

The same applies to the rear coil springs. These usually fit between the chassis and the rear axle. Lifting the rear end of the car and fitting jackstands under the chassis will allow you to drop the rear axel. The rear springs will no longer be under tension and can be unbolted, removed and replaced quite easily.

You may be tempted to remove a leaf if the leaf spring sits on top of the differential but never lower a leaf spring suspension by removing a leaf. You will get the desired lowering or the ride height, but you'll also get a softer rear suspension. This will greatly reduce your loading capacity and will result in the rear bottoming out quite quickly, which could become dangerous.

How Low Can You Go?

Reducing your car's ride height can cause problems on roads that are uneven or have speed bumps. In such cases your engine's sump and the front skirt on your body kit are in danger of being damaged. Thus, for most road cars I would say your should not go more than 1 3/8 inches or 35 mm lower, while on hot hatches that come with uprated suspensions as standard equipment, you shouldn't go more than 1 1/8 inches or 28,5 mm lower.