When it comes to upgrading suspension components, do you think purchasing a complete kit is the way to go or do you upgrade individual parts as time and money allow? Regardless of how you upgrade, the secret to success is to, in the long run, create a total package that optimizes the chassis, springs, and ride-control components.
Many times, an enterprising enthusiast will build a hot rod that is pieced together from different parts that might be the best on the market, but not necessarily the best for the other modifications. Balance is the key to success. In other words, buying parts individually is okay, as long as they are designed to work as a complete unit when put into service.
During a conversation with QA1’s Marketing Manager, David Kass, we learned that, while the folks at QA1 see many people take advantage of full-vehicle kits, many opt to build their vehicle in stages, one component at a time. That got us to wondering how buying over time might affect the vehicle handing until all the components have been upgraded.
While our full-vehicle suspension systems are a one-stop solution, many people opt to upgrade their vehicles one piece at a time. – Dave Kass, QA1
According to David, “This list of upgrades, and the order for which they’re presented, is a result of real-world upgrades performed both by QA1 and many of our customers. While our full-vehicle suspension systems are a one-stop solution, many people opt to upgrade their vehicles one piece at a time. The all-too-common question has been, ‘I can’t do it all, so where should I start?’ We tend to focus on what makes the biggest impact first, and what parts will continue to complement the previous upgrade second, third, fourth, etc.”
Following a plan of attack in stages like this, can be beneficial in many ways. First, many people have a tight budget, and it’s easier to buy individual parts over time rather than a complete kit. “When people think of upgrading their vehicle in stages like this, we hope they are thinking about taking their vehicle down for minimal time between upgrades,” adds David. “If they’re taking on bite-size projects, there is a good chance they can have their vehicle back on the road in a matter of hours instead of days, weeks, or even years.”
What’s Shot, And What Not
Before you start buying a lot “stuff,” are you sure your suspension is in good shape? Worn parts are the leading cause of an ill-working suspension. If you have worn bushings, weak springs, or shocks that no longer do their job, you will never have a great handling or riding car unless you replace them.
When suspension bushings are shot, they allow an exorbitant amount of movement. You can feel this when the car shimmies when driving down the road, or you might hear a clunking noise when turning the wheel or during hard braking. You might even notice poor handling or the steering could feel “loose.” At this time, you have a couple of options available.
If they’re taking on bite-size projects, there is a good chance they can have their vehicle back on the road in a matter of hours instead of days, weeks, or even years. – Dave Kass, QA1
One option is to rebuild the stock components. If buying bushings and ball joints, this could cost you close to $300 or more. That’s not bad. But you still have the old control arms that were okay at best. Since you will need to put time and labor into R&R the old components anyway, why not upgrade? If you decide to upgrade to QA1 control arms at this time, it will cost around $1,000. While that is a substantial cost, it affords you a lot of benefits over the stock parts. More on control arms a little later. However, if your stock components are in good working order, shocks and coilovers are the best bang-for-your-buck upgrade you should consider.
You do know your car’s shock absorbers do more than contribute to a smooth ride, don’t you? In reality, the primary purpose is to help you maintain control of the vehicle. Some performance shocks even offer compression and rebound adjustability for fine-tuning that control. Increasing the compression setting of a shock increases the amount of force needed to compress the unit. Increasing the rebound setting increases the amount of force needed to extend the unit. In case you were wondering, most non-adjustable performance shocks will have more rebound when compared to the stock unit. This is done to control the spring and prevent unwanted weight transfer.
If you find your car veering sideways when confronted with a side wind, this could mean you have worn shock absorbers. Worn or leaking shocks can lead to an unsteady feeling of lost control when on the road.
Did you know that not all uneven tire wear is caused by a bad alignment? Shocks are designed to help smooth bumps in the road and keep your tires firmly planted. When your shocks are worn, they can’t keep your tires firmly on the road. A worn shock will allow the tire to bounce, resulting in patchy areas of tire wear.
If you can push on a corner of your car and it bounces repeatedly, that could point to worn shocks. Since shocks are responsible for controlling the impact and vibration of a vehicle’s springs and suspension as it articulates, if the shocks are worn, they won’t be able to soften the bumps in the road.
Did you know shocks even aid with braking performance? Worn shocks can increase your braking distance by as much as 20-percent. This could be the difference between a safe stop and an accident. Decent gas shocks can be had for around $50.00. However, if your springs are original, they are probably shot as well. Add another $100. Again, you now have classic technology and you do want to make your car better, correct?
If you’re going to replace the shocks and springs, why not consider a coilover set? This bolt-in upgrade offers not only a performance improvement, but they are also a simple bolt-on installation. What’s more, you can adjust the vehicle ride height and the adjustable valving of the shock allows you to tailor the ride to your comfort level, not the way an engineer decided it should be way back in the ‘60s or ‘70s.
This upgrade can be a two-part improvement, as the front and rear can be tackled individually. To complete the install with single-adjustable shocks, you’re looking at roughly $300 for a pair and $550 for a coilover conversion including new shocks and springs. The next component to consider after updating your shocks and springs is sway bars.
When our classic hot rods were built, sway bars were an upgrade added to a package or RPO. Even if a car was delivered with one, it’s probably worn out, or a previous owner removed it. Common thinking proposes the sway bar’s sole purpose is to keep the body of the vehicle from rolling side-to-side while turning at a high speed. While that is true, sway bars do more for your car’s handling than you might think.
A sway bar is nothing more than a torsional spring that connects the left and right side of a car’s suspension. This is done to reduce body roll when cornering. When both wheels encounter a bump at the same time, the wheels move the same amount without twisting the sway bar. When each wheel encounters a bump independently from the other — or when the body wants to lean when cornering — this will force the bar to twist as the control arms move.
Although a sway bar’s main function is to reduce body roll when cornering, it also influences overall handling. You can fine-tune over- or understeering with them. Adding a sway bar is a great upgrade, and relatively easy to do. At a cost starting around $250, you can add a sway bar to the front and rear of your car and experience handling like never before. Now that you have addressed the items that control suspension movement, it’s time to consider geometry.
Aftermarket control arms are a great way to upgrade your car’s front suspension. How’s that you ask? For starters, these tubular control arms will improve your outdated frontend geometry. They will also improve straight-line and cornering ability with increased caster and camber adjustability (approximately 2- to 3-degrees of caster and 0.5 to 1-degree of negative camber), which are better suited for today’s wider wheels and tires. To clarify, caster improves the car’s stability, and camber makes the car much more responsive to steering input, and overall, handle better.
Your car will benefit from the increased caster availability for improved ride and handling. As a set, upper and lower arms will run you roughly $1,000. It sounds like a lot, but the benefits are just as “grand.”
The previous upgrades probably have you pushing the vehicle harder than you ever did before. This is adding excessive strain on more OE components that need to be strengthened.
If your classic uses a trailing arm (triangulated four-link suspension), there are even upgrades for you. From the factory, your car’s trailing arms were made of a stamped piece of steel. When this arm encounters a lot of torque — like during a launch from a red light — they will flex.
By adding performance-oriented trailing arms you will eliminate that flex and get more predictable handling. Upper trailing arms are available in either tubular or adjustable styles. The adjustable arms allow easy pinion angle adjustments without having to remove the arms from the vehicle. The lower trailing arms are available in a sturdy boxed style for maximum strength and include mounting points for an OE-style sway bar. If you need a set of arms for your Chevy, adjustable uppers will require you to spend in the area of $300. The lowers will require another $300.
Whether you are planning to upgrade your car’s suspension by doing it all at once or by upgrading parts as money allows, QA1 has the people in the office you can call to be sure you get exactly what you need to make your upgrade the best it can be. “We’re all faced with circumstances that impact how we upgrade and enjoy our car,” says David. “While our lives continue to change, QA1 is hopeful one thing remains, and that’s our love to #goDRIVEit.”