Lowering Springs And Factory Shocks: A Doomed Romance

It goes without saying that lowering your car will transform the look and handling of the vehicle. There are a few methods of achieving that killer lowered stance and improved handling characteristics, but one of the most common and affordable ways to do so is by using a set of lowering springs. Lowering springs typically are not only shorter in overall height than the factory springs, but also built to be stiffer to help further decrease unwanted body motions. Although they are very effective at both of these duties, they do present some other issues.

Toyota Supra before and after lowering springs

More often than not we hear people say they want to preserve their factory ride while still lowering the vehicle, so they believe lowering springs alone are the best option. As long as the factory shocks are still there it should still ride the same right? In many cases, this could not be further from the truth. Your factory shocks’ overall ride quality is tuned to be most effective at the stock ride height. Lowering springs are shorter in length (most of the time) compared to factory springs, your shocks will be riding lower in their travel than they were designed to be at while sitting at normal ride height.

ride-height lowering springs

What could go wrong?

For example if your lowering springs drop the vehicle one inch, you will be sitting in the same point in the shocks travel that would normally be used when you drive over a bump that would compress the suspension by one inch. This range of travel is typically firmer than the initial portion of the shocks travel as a way to help slow down the motion of the suspension so that the ride is smoother over bumps and the vehicle is less likely to bottom out under normal conditions.

  • This zone of the shock’s stroke is built for coping with serious bumps in the road, it will not be compliant enough to dampen smaller bumps and rough surfaces, which accounts for a lot of your cars overall harshness.
  • Because the dampers will be sitting lower in their overall travel at ride height, you will be greatly limiting the compression travel of your shock making it more likely to bottom out. Let me tell you, there is no worse suspension than no suspension at all, so limiting compression travel is one of the worst things you can do for your ride quality.
  • With increased frequency of bottoming your shock out, you are likely to cause your shock to prematurely wear out and become completely ineffective.
  • The final issue with lowering springs and factory shocks is often the factory shocks are not valved to cope with the increased spring rate usually featured on lowering springs. Your shocks’ primary job is to dampen the motion of the spring, therefore your spring rate very much determines the ideal valving and tuning for your shocks. By increasing your spring rate without tuning your shocks, you run the risk of running more spring rate than your shocks can handle and making your ride incredibly bouncy.

A great example of this is driving a vehicle with worn shocks. Because the shocks are no longer functioning as they should be, the motion of the springs are not being effectively dampened, causing the vehicle to have a harsh and bouncy ride.

ride-height lowering springs

Sources of Poor Ride Quality

  • Harsh ride quality stems from a lack of rebound damping off bumps, since the recovery stroke of the shock (think expansion when the wheel drops back to the pavement) isn’t dampened.
  • Bouncy ride quality (like a boat) occurs when there is neither compression or rebound damping left in the shock.

Should I get lowering springs?

Sure! Just know, if retaining ride comfort is top on your list when lowering the vehicle, it is IMPERATIVE that you consider lowering springs paired with high quality aftermarket shocks and struts designed to be used with lowered vehicles. A solid set of coilovers also take the place of lowering springs and struts. Brands like Bilstein, Koni, Eibach, and even KYB produce extremely high quality monotube shock absorbers for a variety of vehicles that feature shorter overall shock bodies to better maximize suspension travel. In many cases these high quality dampers will actually improve ride over factory while being valved properly for the shorter stiffer springs.

Bilstein ride-height lowering springs kit with shocks

The Coilover Option

A good set of coilovers from brands like KW, Bilstein, Pedders, or Tanabe also often offer even higher quality dampers, in a system designed from the beginning around being low, typically including height adjustment as well. Furthermore, most coilover packages will offer even more usable suspension travel as compared to even a set of shocks and struts for lowering springs.