Off Road Suspension 101: A Technical Inside Look
When you think of suspension, you’re definitely thinking about raise kits and making your off road vehicle more competent when you take it off road, which is understandable given that ground clearance is the single most crucial factor in how well a vehicle performs in those conditions.
But suspension is much more than that; it is a make-or-break component in how well your 4×4 performs on and off the road. And, although you might believe your suspension works harder off-road than on-road, the opposite is most likely true, depending on your specific on- and off-road driving habits.
So just what is off road suspension? Let’s look more deeply into it.
What Is Off Roading Suspension?
The idea and actual execution of any suspension system will be both simple and complicated. A suspension system is simply a spring attached to the chassis and linked to an axle. The spring, whether a coil spring, a torsion bar, a leaf spring, or an air spring, has two independent functions: it absorbs and distributes energy (road shock) while supporting (suspending, hence the name) the vehicle’s chassis and body.
A complete suspension system consists of springs, shocks, and, in certain cases, control arms or locating links, all of which are designed to isolate the truck’s structure and passenger compartment from road surface disturbances. In reality, the first stage of suspension is the vehicle’s tire, which absorbs the impact when it hits a bump in the road. The impact force is then transferred to the wheel and suspension, where it is deflected and divided.
The springs in a suspension system are meant to absorb road surface bumps and irregularities communicated by the wheels, tires, and axle. Furthermore, the springs enable the suspension’s arms, links, and axles to move vertically, a function known as wheel travel. Spring oscillation refers to the movement of a spring, while spring rate refers to the stiffness of a spring. In general, the greater the spring rate, the stiffer the ride. The leaf spring, coil spring, and torsion spring are the three primary kinds of springs. This is why it’s always best to seek expert advice before making any changes; you need to know you’re picking the correct springs.
What Is A 4×4 Shock Absorber?
Now you know what the suspension does for an off road vehicle, you might be wondering what a shock absorber is for. Doesn’t this do the same job as the suspension?
The role of the shock absorber is to control or lessen the motion of the spring, which is why shock absorbers are also known as dampers.
A damper is essentially an oil-filled tubular cartridge. Within the damper’s body, a circular piston is immersed in fluid and connected to a long metal rod. The long metal rod, which is normally smooth and covered by a rubber boot, transmits suspension movement to the damper’s internal piston. Heat is generated by the resistance of the piston’s action through the damper’s fluid, which is absorbed by the liquid. In other words, a damper controls spring vibrations by converting spring energy into thermal energy, which is then disseminated into the fluid, conveyed to the damper’s metal or alloy body, and eventually discharged into the atmosphere.
So, when you’re maintaining or even building a truck, both suspension and shock absorbers are important.
How To Enhance Your Off Road Suspension
Not only do the bumps and dips make suspension work hard, but so does the speed at which the vehicle is traveling when it meets these bumps and dips. At crawling speed – first gear, low range – your suspension doesn’t work all that hard, no matter how large the bumps or deep the dips, even if it’s traveling through its maximum travel. And, since the dampers have less work to perform, you don’t even need extremely complex suspension under these circumstances. At absolute snail-pace driving, even in severe full-travel situations, you could even do without the dampers, particularly with leaf springs’ natural self-damping properties.
On-road driving, obviously, introduces the factor of greater vehicle speeds, and speed paired with bumps is where the suspension really needs to work hard. Not only that, but dampers, which are basically insignificant at off-road crawling rates, become a critical component even at modest road speeds, much alone at high road speeds. Furthermore, getting the damper tuning correct is critical to getting the suspension to perform properly and is a more complex skill than getting the spring rates right, which is a more basic technical exercise.
For more information about suspension and how it can make all the difference in your off road vehicle, it’s best to find experts who can go through everything with you, answer your questions, and ensure you’re making the right choice.