There are many reasons and routes people take on the path to MOAR low. There are many ways to get low, each with their own pros and cons. Some of the more popular techniques will be discussed below, not all of them recommended but it’s best if both spectrums are covered.
1: Cutting Your Springs
This has to be listed because people do it even though they shouldn’t. Cutting your springs is definitely a way to get lower although not recommended for many reasons. There are red flags every step of the way in this process that would make most sensible people think twice before even attempting this but yet people do it with some success. The process is pretty straight forward, do some basic math to determine how many coils you need to cut to achieve your desired height, find whatever tools you can use to get the job done and pray. Don’t forget to wear eye protection too.
Cutting your springs will lower your ride but you risk the quality of your ride overall. Cutting your springs will affect ride comfort and stability, you will bounce a lot more on cut springs and the characteristic jittery bounce is pretty obvious on a hack job. This is because your shock has a reduced distance to travel and most of the time and your spring rate has not been stiffened to account for that, so you end up riding on your bump stops if you cut them too far and this where the horror stories start. The practice of cutting springs has been around long enough to where if you do it right, the results aren’t too bad but you should always opt for a proper set of replacement components when looking to upgrade your springs instead of cutting them. Better have some replacement springs/dampeners just in case.
Score: 2/10 Risky
The final verdict on cut springs is that if done right, your ride will sit lower but the quality of the ride has potential to take a turn for the worse if done improperly. The biggest issue is damage to your other suspension components from the literal hack job that was performed which then leads to those extreme examples of cars on cut springs incessantly bouncing and uneven ride heights. If you’ve got no money and nothing to lose, go for it but be aware there are better options out there for you.
2: Torching Your Springs
Coming in at slightly easier and just as dangerous is torching your springs. This process doesn’t involve snipping pieces of your springs off, just heating them up enough to compress the coils tighter than they already were to lower your ride height. To accomplish this, you’ll need a high heat torch of some kind.
Even though it’s not recommended, if you do this you can either choose propane or acetylene as fuel to go with a proper torch setup. Here is a video on YouTube giving a quick example of what the process looks like. You just need to remove the wheel, heat up a portion of the spring to make it malleable and compress it, heat and repeat. Just like with cutting springs the process can prove to be very imprecise. You might accidentally compress one spring more than the others and then you would have to go back and compress the three longer springs until it’s all even. This process, like cutting your springs is an art and doesn’t provide the best results. As with all backyard jobs, there are some success stories. You could probably pull this off with the right tools but I don’t recommend it nor is it worth the risk if the vehicle is your DD.
Score: 3/10 Risky and Hot
The verdict on this one is going to be the same as #1. Don’t do it. As simple as it sounds this process is still dangerous and isn’t guaranteed to give consistent results.
3: Lowering Springs
This is the “first step” most people take on the journey in lowering their car. Most lowering spring sets are between $200-$600 depending on the manufacturer and drop height you decide to go with. Lowering your car with lowering springs is pretty straight forward but a little more time consuming than just chopping off a section like with cutting your springs. Removing your strut only requires some simple tools and curse words to complete. The trickiest part would be compressing your OEM spring SAFELY and replacing it with the aftermarket component and bolting it all back into place. Do this four times and you’ve just lowered your car! Take advantage of your local AutoZone before you get started and rent the tools you’re missing and a spring compressor if possible!
Lowering springs, as with all things suspension related mods come with some trade-offs. Lowering your car means your springs will need to be stiffer than stock to properly handle imperfections in the road at your lower ride height to prevent bottoming out. Stiffer springs means less energy absorption which means more energy gets transferred into the chassis and your body. A stiffer ride is a welcome trade-off for lowered ride height in the pursuit of MOAR low. As an added bonus, lowering springs settle! This means they will adjust to constantly carrying the weight of your vehicle and drop a little bit lower after a couple of weeks.
The verdict on lowering springs is that they’re a great and affordable way to get yourself into the land of low. There is always lower but it’s a good start. Lower ride height and stiffer springs are more performance oriented suspension changes which means the trade-off for this would be a less comfortable ride. Not a bad sacrifice considering the benefits you will experience from this straight forward suspension upgrade.
A coilover install is even more simple than installing just springs in most cases and offers a lot more benefits than just lowering springs. If you’ve got more money than you need for springs but not enough money for a full blown race suspension this is the way to go. Most coilover systems cost between $800 for lower end models to over $3k for full adjustable coils with all of the bells and whistles. The average enthusiast doesn’t spend over $2k on a set and can knock out the install in a day with minimal blood loss. Coilovers would be a serious step towards an adjustable suspension setup which is a must in not only the race, but also the show car world.
A good set of coilovers gives you plenty of options for adjustability on a couple of levels. Most coilovers come threaded to allow spring height and pre load to be adjusted. As you get into higher end coilovers you get adjustability at high and low speeds, camber adjustments, external reservoirs and more. Your goals for your setup will determine what type of bells and whistles you will need and what type of coilovers you will buy. You can find out more about coilovers here.
Coilovers are a serious step towards a niche oriented suspension setup and give you freedom to adjust a lot. You can get a serious track setup dialed in, you can go as low as they will let you and get a nice static tuck, or even just a slight drop and preload adjustment to make your ride look and feel better on your commute. You’ve got options with a set of coilovers.
4: Custom Shock and Spring Combo
If you’ve done the math and you’ve got the money, a custom dampener and spring combo is the choice for you when working towards a more performance oriented setup. You can order custom dampeners from places like Fortune Auto and Tien to give some examples. The benefits of a custom setup come mainly from choosing the construction of your dampener system down to the inner tube design and even the mounting hardware and orientation and construction materials used. You can mix and match features to construct the perfect dampener for your needs.
In addition, you would be having custom springs made or using a spring setup from another manufacturer if anything fits. Keep in mind spring rates cannot be adjusted so your springs should be tailored for race weight. Anything more or less than that and your setup would not have the proper spring rates to perform at its peak. Custom assemblies like this are usually reserved for track applications and as a result go through a lot of abuse. These types of setups require maintenance or rebuilds depending on your setup. Don’t forget to corner balance either!
At this point you’re past needing the adjustability of coilovers and are in the process of crafting a suspension setup specifically for your race vehicle. From a purely technical standpoint a custom setup is superior. The downside is that not all custom setups come with ride height adjustability depending on how you construct them and where you get them from in some cases but when doing so you’ve already crunched the numbers and are getting exactly what you need.
The end all in terms of suspension function and adjustability would be airbags and there are a few reasons for this. In terms of adjustability alone, airbags are the solution for a lot of show cars. This is because you can adjust ride height from street sweeper to 4×4 in a couple of minutes and go from 4×4 to low even faster. Having a cushion of air between your chassis and the road makes for a much smoother ride than a stock suspension and any kind of aftermarket lowering mods outside of this would just make for a much stiffer ride. From a creature comfort standpoint, the adjustability and overall ride quality make airbags an obvious upgrade for show and VIP style cars.
Airbags also have an overlooked benefit on the performance side of things, they can simulate different spring rates! Adjustable spring rates would allow you to fine tune your suspension settings more than you would with even a coilover of custom dampener system because spring rates on coils are not adjustable without replacing the actual spring. Having the ability to adjust your ride height and how your car handles on the fly is something that was unheard of in the performance world until recently. The biggest chunk of performance is decided by your dampener setup and choice so be sure not to overlook what your airbags will be working in conjunction with.
Airbags have a lot of potential for track applications as technology gets better and more widely available. The days of popped airbag sleeves and failing components are pretty much over as technology and manufacturing has evolved to eliminate these issues to make airbag systems just as reliable as traditional systems if not better. With proven adjustability and reliability plus more advanced performance options coming soon airbags are hard to beat. The setup can get pretty expensive when factoring in advanced computing and upgraded components for performance applications and the tank swag for show cars can also prove pricey. Airbags are currently the end all when it comes to having your cake and eating it too in the suspension world from both a comfort and performance standpoint.