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Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

The car suspension bible - how car suspension works including shocks, struts, springs, raising and lowering your suspension, different types of suspension, all the technologies involved, DIY car maintenance and much more.

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information is the result of information-gathering, research and hands-on experience. By reading these pages, you agree to indemnify, defend and
hold harmless Christopher J Longhurst, any sponsors and/or site providers against any and all claims, damages, costs or other expenses that arise
directly or indirectly from you fiddling with your car or motorbike as a result of what you read here. In short: the advice here is worth as much as you
are paying for it.

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What does it do?

Apart from your car's tyres and seats, the suspension is the prime mechanism that separates your
bum (arse for the American) from the road. It also prevents your car from shaking itself to pieces.
Latest blog entry
No matter how smooth you think the road is, it's a bad, bad place to propel over a ton of metal at
high speed. So we rely upon suspension. People who travel on underground trains wish that those 07/17/2009 06:28 AM
vehicles relied on suspension too, but they don't and that's why the ride is so harsh. Actually it's Why can't Utahns park
harsh because underground trains have no lateral suspension to speak of. So as the rails deviate side- properly?
to-side slightly, so does the entire train, and it's passengers. In a car, the rubber in your tyre helps
with this little problem. There's a sad joke here in Utah -
it's called "Utah Drivers". The
In it's most basic form, suspension consists of two basic components: irony is that they don't realise
they're the joke. Of the many
Springs peculiar, dangerous and lazy
These come in three types. They are coil springs, torsion bars and leaf springs. Coil springs are what driving practices the people in
this state adopt, the inability to
most people are familiar with, and are actually coiled torsion bars. Leaf springs are what you would find park is a pet favourite of mine.
on most American cars up to about 1985 and almost all heavy duty vehicles. They look like layers of Generally speaking, if there's any
metal connected to the axle. The layers are called leaves, hence leaf-spring. The torsion bar on its own is possible way to completely mess
a bizarre little contraption which gives coiled-spring-like performance based on the twisting properties of up the parking process, Utahns
a steel bar. It's used in the suspension of VW Beetles and Karmann Ghias, air-cooled Porsches (356 will be right there. Can't reverse
park? Check. Can't park
and 911 until 1989 when they went to springs), and the rear suspension of Peugeot 205s amongst
forwards? Check. Can't judge the
other cars. Instead of having a coiled spring, the axle is attached to one end of a steel shaft. The other length or width of their own car?
end is slotted into a tube and held there by splines. As the suspension moves, it twists the shaft along Check. Don't understand which (1 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]
Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

it's length, which in turn resist. Now image that same shaft but instead of being straight, it's coiled up. way to leave the front wheels
As you press on the top of the coil, you're actually inducing a twisting in the shaft, all the way down when parked on a hill? Check.
The picture here was taken
the coil. I know it's hard to visualise, but believe me, that's what is happening. There's a whole
yesterday in a local parking lot,
section further down the page specifically on torsion bars and progressive springs. and is typical of the problem. This
rocket scientist isn't straight, has
Shock absorbers no idea of the length or width of
These dampen the vertical motion induced by driving your car along a rough surface and so their car and doesn't understand
should technically be referred to by their 'proper' name - dampers. If your car only had springs, it what the markings in the parking
lot are for. As a result they've
would boat and wallow along the road until you got physically sick and had to get out. It would be
inconvenienced everyone else
a travelling deathtrap. Or at least it would be a travelling deathtrap until the incessant vibration caused most likely because they just
it to fall apart. couldn't be bothered to do it
Shock absorbers (dampers) perform two functions. As mentioned above, they absorb any larger- properly. So here's to you
than-average bumps in the road so that the upward velocity of the wheel over the bump isn't 281PEB. You're now famous for
transmitted to the car chassis. But secondly, they keep the suspension at as full a travel as possible for being a complete tool.
the given road conditions - they keep your wheels planted on the road.
You want more technical terms? Technically they are velocity-sensitive hydraulic damping devices - in
other words, the faster they move, the more resistance there is to that movement. They work
in conjunction with the springs. The spring allows movement of the wheel to allow the energy in the
road shock to be transformed into kinetic energy of the unsprung mass, whereupon it is dissipated by
the damper. The damper does this by forcing gas or oil through a constriction valve (a small Chris -
hole). Adjustable shock absorbers allow you to change the size of this constriction, and thus control
the rate of damping. The smaller the constriction, the stiffer the suspension. Phew!....and you thought
they just leaked oil didn't you?

A modern coil-over-oil unit (2 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

The image above shows a typical modern coil-over-oil unit. This is an all-in-one system that carries
both the spring and the shock absorber. The type illustrated here is more likely to be an aftermarket item
- it's unlikely you'd get this level of adjustment on your regular passenger car. The adjustable spring
plate can be used to make the springs stiffer and looser, whilst the adjustable damping valve can be
used to adjust the rebound damping of the shock absorber. More sophisticated units have
adjustable compression damping as well as a remote reservoir. Whilst you don't typically get this level
of engineering on car suspension, most motorbikes do have preload, rebound and spring
tension adjustment. See the section later on in this page about the ins and outs of complex
suspension units.

Suspension Types

In their infinite wisdom, car manufacturers have set out to baffle use with the sheer number of
different types of suspension available for both front and rear axles. The main groupings are dependent
and independent suspension types. If you know of any not listed here, e-mail me and let me know -
I would like this page to be as complete as possible.

Front suspension - dependent systems

So-called because the front wheel's suspension systems are physically linked. For everyday use, they
are, in a word, shite. I hate to be offensive, but they are. There is only one type of dependent system
you need to know about. It is basically a solid bar under the front of the car, kept in place by leaf
springs and shock absorbers. It's still common to find these on trucks, but if you find a car with one
of these you should sell it to a museum. They haven't been used on mainstream cars for years for
three main reasons:

● Shimmy - because the wheels are physically linked, the beam can be set into oscillation if one wheel hits
a bump and the other doesn't. It sets up a gyroscopic torque about the steering axis which starts to
turn the axle left-to-right. Because of the axle's inertia, this in turn feeds back to amplify the
original motion.
● Weight - or more specifically unsprung weight. Solid front axles weigh a lot and either need sturdy,
heavy leaf springs or heavy suspension linkages to keep their wheels on the road.
● Alignment - simply put, you can't adjust the alignment of wheels on a rigid axis. From the factory,
they're perfectly set, but if the beam gets even slightly distorted, you can't adjust the wheels
to compensate.

I frequently get pulled-up on the above statements from people jumping

to defend solid-axle suspension. They usually send me pictures like this
and claim it's the best suspension system for off-road use. I have to
admit, for off-road stuff, it probably is pretty good. But let's face it;
how many people with these vehicles ever go off-road? The closest
they come to having maximum wheel deflection is when the mother
double-parks the thing with one wheel on the kerb during the

Picture credit: Landrover Owner's Group (3 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

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Front suspension - independent systems

So-named because the front wheel's suspension systems are independent of each other (except
where joined by an antiroll bar) These came into existence around 1930 and have been in use in one
form or another pretty much ever since then.

MacPherson Strut or McPherson strut

This is currently, without doubt, the most widely used front suspension system in cars of European
origin. It is simplicity itself. The system basically comprises of a strut-type spring and shock
absorber combo, which pivots on a ball joint on the single, lower arm. At the top end there is a
needle roller bearing on some more sophisticated systems. The strut itself is the load-bearing member
in this assembly, with the spring and shock absorber merely performing their duty as oppose to
actually holding the car up. In the picture here, you can't see the shock absorber because it is encased
in the black gaiter inside the spring.
The steering gear is either connected directly to the lower shock absorber housing, or to an arm from
the front or back of the spindle (in this case). When you steer, it physically twists the strut and
shock absorber housing (and consequently the spring) to turn the wheel. Simple. The spring is seated in
a special plate at the top of the assembly which allows this twisting to take place. If the spring or this
plate are worn, you'll get a loud 'clonk' on full lock as the spring frees up and jumps into place. This
is sometimes confused for CV joint knock.

Rover 2000 MacPherson derivative During WWII, the British

car maker Rover worked on experimental gas-turbine engines,
and after the war, retained a lot of knowledge about them. The
gas-turbine Rover T4, which looked a lot like the Rover P6,
Rover 2000 and Rover 3500, was one of the prototypes. The
chassis was fundamentally the same as the other Rovers and the
net result was the the 2000 and 3500 ended up with a very odd
front suspension layout. The gas turbine wasn't exactly small,
and Rover needed as much room as possible in the engine bay to
fit it. The suspension was derived from a normal MacPherson strut
but with an added bellcrank. This allowed the suspension unit to
sit horizontally along the outside of the engine bay rather
than protruding into it and taking up space. The bellcrank
transferred the upward forces from the suspension into
rearward forces for the spring / shock combo to deal with. In the
end, the gas turbine never made it into production and the
Rover 2000 was fitted with a 2-litre 4-cylinder engine, whilst
the Rover 3500 was fitted with an 'evergreen' 3.5litre V8. Open
the hood of either of these classics and the engine looks a bit lost
in there because there's so much room around it that was (4 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

never utilised. The image on the left shows the Rover-derivative MacPherson strut.

Potted history of MacPherson: Earle S. MacPherson of General Motors developed the MacPherson
strut in 1947. GM cars were originally design-bound by accountants. If it cost too much or wasn't tried
and tested, then it didn't get built/used. Major GM innovations including the MacPherson Strut
suspension system sat stifled on the shelf for years because innovation cannot be proven on a
spreadsheet until after the product has been produced or manufactured. Consequently, Earle
MacPherson went to work for Ford UK in 1950, where Ford started using his design on the 1950
'English' Ford models straight away. Today the strut type is referred to both with and without the "a" in
the name, so both McPherson Strut and MacPherson Strut can be used to describe it.

Further note: Earle MacPherson should never be confused with Elle McPherson - the Australian über-
babe. In her case, the McPherson Strut is something she does on a catwalk, or in your dreams if you
like that sort of thing. And if you're a bloke, then you ought to....

Double wishbone suspension systems.

The following three examples are all variations on the same theme.

Coil Spring type 1

This is a type of double-A or double wishbone suspension. The wheel spindles are
supported by an upper and lower 'A' shaped arm. In this type, the lower arm carries
most of the load. If you look head-on at this type of system, what you'll find is that it's
a very parallelogram system that allows the spindles to travel vertically up and down.
When they do this, they also have a slight side-to-side motion caused by the arc that
the wishbones describe around their pivot points. This side-to-side motion is known as
scrub. Unless the links are infinitely long the scrub motion is always present. There are
two other types of motion of the wheel relative to the body when the suspension
articulates. The first and most important is a toe angle (steer angle). The second and
least important, but the one which produces most pub talk is the camber angle, or lean
angle. Steer and camber are the ones which wear tyres. (5 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Coil Spring type 2

This is also a type of double-A arm suspension although the lower arm in these systems can
sometimes be replaced with a single solid arm (as in my picture). The only real difference
between this and the previous system mentioned above is that the spring/shock combo is
moved from between the arms to above the upper arm. This transfers the load-bearing
capability of the suspension almost entirely to the upper arm and the spring mounts. The lower
arm in this instance becomes a control arm. This particular type of system isn't so popular in
cars as it takes up a lot room.

Multi-link suspension

This is the latest incarnation of the double wishbone system described above. It's currently
being used in the Audi A8 and A4 amongst other cars. The basic principle of it is the same,
but instead of solid upper and lower wishbones, each 'arm' of the wishbone is a separate
item. These are joined at the top and bottom of the spindle thus forming the wishbone
shape. The super-weird thing about this is that as the spindle turns for steering, it alters the
geometry of the suspension by torquing all four suspension arms. They have complex pivot
systems designed to allow this to happen.
Car manufacturers claim that this system gives even better road-holding properties, because
all the various joints make the suspension almost infinitely adjustable. There are a lot of
variations on this theme appearing at the moment, with huge differences in the numbers and
complexities of joints, numbers of arms, positioning of the parts etc. but they are all
fundamentally the same. Note that in this system the spring (red) is separate from the shock
absorber (yellow). Click on the image for a reverse view of the same system (this will popup
a separate window). (6 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 1 of 2

Trailing-arm suspension

The trailing arm system is literally that - a shaped suspension arm

is joined at the front to the chassis, allowing the rear to swing up
and down. Pairs of these become twin-trailing-arm systems and
work on exactly the same principle as the double wishbones in the
systems described above. The difference is that instead of the arms
sticking out from the side of the chassis, they travel back parallel
to it. This is an older system not used so much any more because
of the space it takes up, but it doesn't suffer from the side-to-side
scrubbing problem of double wishbone systems. If you want to
know what I mean, find a VW beetle and stick your head in the
front wheel arch - that's a double-trailing-arm suspension setup.

Twin I-Beam suspension

Used almost exclusively by Ford F-series trucks, twin I-beam

suspension was introduced in 1965. This little oddity is a combination
of trailing arm suspension and solid beam axle suspension. Only in this
case the beam is split in two and mounted offset from the centre of the
chassis, one section for each side of the suspension. The trailing arms
are actually (technically) leading arms and the steering gear is
mounted in front of the suspension setup. Ford claim this makes for a
heavy-duty independent front suspension setup capable of handling the
loads associated with their trucks. In an empty truck, however, going
over a bump with twin I-beam suspension is like falling down stairs in
leg irons. (7 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Moulton rubber suspension

This suspension system is based on the compression of a solid mass of rubber - red in both these
images. The two types are essentially derivatives of the same design. It is named after Dr. Alex Moulton
- one of the original design team on the Mini, and the engineer who designed its suspension system in
1959. This system is known by a few different names including cone and trumpet suspension (due to
the shape of the rubber bung shown in the right hand picture). The rear suspension system on the
original Mini also used Moulton's rubber suspension system, but laid out horizontally rather than
vertically, to save space again. The Mini was originally intended to have Moulton's fluid-filled Hydrolastic
suspension, but that remained on the drawing board for a few more years. Eventually, Hydrolastic was
developed into Hydragas (see later on this page), and revised versions were adopted on the Mini Metro
and the current MGF-sportscar.
Ultimately, Moulton rubber suspension is now used in a lot of bicycles - racing and mountain bikes. Due
to the compact design and the simplicity of its operation and maintenance, it's an ideal solution. (8 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Transverse leaf-spring

This system is a bit odd in that it combines independent

double wishbone suspension with a leaf spring like you'd
normally find on the rear suspension. Famously used on
the Corvette, it involves one leaf spring mounted across
the vehicle, connected at each end to the lower
wishbone. The centre of the spring is connected to the
front subframe in the middle of the car. There are still
two shock absorbers, mounted one to each side on the
lower wishbones. Chevy insist that this is the best thing
since sliced bread for a suspension system but there are
plenty of other experts, manufacturers and race drivers
who think it's junk. It's never been clear if this was a
performance and design decision or a cost issue, but
this type of system is very rare.

Historically, Triumph used transverse leaf spring suspension on their small chassis cars (Herald,
Vitesse, Spitfire & GT6). In the good old British school of thought, they did this because it was cheap.
The spring was bolted to the differential, rather than the chassis, and under (very) hard cornering you
got jacking and tuck-under. If you got this whilst driving and panicked enough to let off the gas, or
worse, step on the brake, you got massive over-steer, and pirouetted off into the nearest tree. There
were plenty of complaints about this suspension system in the late 60's, so Triumph changed to a
'swing spring' system on some cars (no longer bolted to the diff), and what they called 'rotoflex' on
the GT6. Again from the good old British school of thought, the replacement system was
unnecessarily complicated and allegedly very fragile.

Photo credit : Triumph Herald Tricks & Tips

Speaking specifically about Corvette leaf-spring suspension.

The Corvette was not the first car to combine leaf springs with independent suspension. As well as
the Triumph Herald, Fiat did something similar in the 50s with steel springs. The recent Volvo 960
Wagon (not sedan) also used fibreglass leaf springs in the rear with independent suspension. The
Corvette is, as far as I know, the only vehicle that uses this setup both front and rear.

The system is definitely independent, not like a live axle or a twist beam rear end. With
dependent systems, when one wheel moves, the other is forced to move too. The design of the
Corvette suspension is such that even though both sides are linked one side can move without affecting
the other, hence its classification as independent. But how - what about that leaf spring? Surely if (9 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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it's attached to both sides, that makes this a dependent suspension system?
On the older Corvettes (C2, C3, C4 rear end) the leaf spring was rigidly clamped to the subframe in
the centre. That made it act like two separate leaf springs, one for each side. As two separate leaf
springs it, like a torsion bar, was simply an alternative to coil springs.
When considering coil-spring type suspension, the 'third spring' is essentially forgotten - the two
visible coils are considered to be the springing part of the suspension. Not so - there's the anti-roll bar
too. Whilst not technically a spring, it does act as a transverse torsion bar linking both sides of
the suspension together.
So the way GM started using the tranverse leaf spring is actually very clever; it lets one spring act as
both a traditional spring and an anti-roll. Yes - if one wheel moves, spring forces (not
geometric displacements like we see with a live axle) are applied to the other wheel - however, in a
car with an anti-roll bar the same thing happens (see the section on anti roll bars). The problem was that
it worked well as a spring, but not so well as an anti-roll bar, so in the end GM had to add anti-roll bars too.

Typically, aftermarket tuners will tear the leaf springs out and replace them with coil spring systems
simply to make life easier. GM left many things on the Corvette with room for improvement. Leaf
springs are not really a fundamental problem - typically the view is that Corvettes would be no better
from the factory with coil springs. A traditional leaf spring live axle saves money because the cost of
leaf springs is less than coils, trailing arms, pan hard rod etc. The Corvette has all the same
suspension arms as a system with coil springs, so the only difference is the cost of the fibreglass leaf
vs. the cost of the coil spring; leaf springs cost more than a coil so GM didn't do it to save money. It's
not immediately clear then why they did it other than perhaps 'because they could'.

To round off this section then, here is an excellent link talking about how this suspension works - it does
a far better job than I can: Fibreglass springs

Rear suspension - dependent (linked) systems

Solid-axle, leaf-spring

This system was favoured by the Americans for years

because it was dead simple and cheap to build. The ride
quality is decidedly questionable though. The drive axle is
clamped to the leaf springs and the shock absorbers normally
bolt directly to the axle. The ends of the leaf springs are
attached directly to the chassis, as are the tops of the shock
absorbers. Simple, not particularly elegant, but cheap. The
main drawback with this arrangement is the lack of lateral
location for the axle, meaning it has a lot of side-to-side slop
in it. (10 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Solid-axle, coil-spring

This is a variation and update on the system described above. The

basic idea is the same, but the leaf springs have been removed in
favour of either 'coil-over-oil' spring and shock combos, or as shown
here, separate coil springs and shock absorbers. Because the leaf
springs have been removed, the axle now needs to have lateral
support from a pair control arms. The front ends of these are
attached to the chassis, the rear ends to the axle. The variation
shown here is more compact than the coil-over-oil type, and it
means you can have smaller or shorter springs. This in turn allows
the system to fit in a smaller area under the car.

Beam Axle

This system is used in front wheel drive cars, where the rear axle isn't driven.
(hence it's full description as a "dead beam"). Again, it is a relatively simple
system. The beam runs across under the car with the wheels attached to either
end of it. Spring / shock units or struts are bolted to either end and seat up into
suspension wells in the car body or chassis. The beam has two integral trailing
arms built in instead of the separate control arms required by the solid-axle coil-
spring system. Variations on this system can have either separate springs and
shocks, or the combined 'coil-over-oil' variety as shown here. One notable
feature of this system is the track bar (or panhard rod). This is a diagonal bar
which runs from one end the beam to a point either just in front of the opposite
control arm (as here) or sometimes diagonally up to the top of the opposite
spring mount (which takes up more room). This is to prevent side-to-side
movement in the beam which would cause all manner of nasty handling
problems. A variation on this them is the twist axle which is identical with the
exception of the panhard rod. In a twist axle, the axle is designed to twist
slightly. This gives, in effect, a semi-independent system whereby a bump on
one wheel is partially soaked up by the twisting action of the beam. Yet another
variation on this system does away with the springs and replaces them with
torsion bars running across the chassis, and attached to the leading edge of the
control arms. These beam types are currently very popular because of their
simplicity and low cost. (11 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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4-bar suspension can be used on the front and rear of vehicles - I've chosen to show it in the "rear"
section of this page because that's where it's normally found. 4-bar suspension comes in two
varieties. Triangulated, shown on the right here, and parallel, shown on the left.
The parallel design operates on the principal of a "constant motion parallelogram". The design of the 4-
bar is such that the rear end housing is always perpendicular to the ground, and the pinion angle
never changes. This, combined with the lateral stability of the Panhard Bar, does an excellent job
of locating the rear end and keeping it in proper alignment. If you were to compare this suspension
system on a truck with a 4-link or ladder-bar setup, you'd notice that the rear frame "kick up" of the 4-
bar setup is far less severe. This, combined with the relatively compact installation design means that
it's ideal for cars and trucks where space is at a premium. You'll find this setup on a lot of street rods
and American style classic hot rods.
The triangulated design operates on the same principle, but the top two bars are skewed inwards
and joined to the rear end housing much closer to the centre. This eliminates the need for the
separate panhard bar, which in turn means the whole setup is even more compact.

Derivatives of the 4-Bar system

There are many variations on the 4-bar systems I've illustrated above. For example, if the four angled
bars go from the axle outboard to the chassis near the centreline, this is called a "Satchell link". (Satchell
is a US designer, who used the above linkage on some of Paul Newmans Datsun road racers some
years back.) It has certain advantages over the above examples. Both of the these angled linkages can (12 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]
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be reversed to have the angled links below the axle and the parallel links above. The roll centre will
be lowered with the angled bars under the axle, a function which is difficult to accomplish without
this design. The other variation on the "four bars" not shown are the Watts and Jacobs bar linkages
to replace the Panhard rod for lateral positioning. Another linkage is the two parallel bars above the
axle and a triangulated link underneath - a design you will find on the Lotus 7 - where the lower link has
its base on the chassis and the apex under the differential. Then there is the Mallock Woblink, which
could be described as half way between a Jacobs ladder and a Watts link, and makes it possible to
place the rear roll centre quite low without sacrificing ground clearance.
Watts links are pretty popular with the hydraulic lowrider/truck bed dancer types. The Jacobs ladder is
used almost exclusively on US midget and sprintcar dirt track rear ends. The Mallock Woblink is
used mostly on the Mallock U2 Clubman cars in Great Britain.

de Dion suspension, or the de Dion tube

The de Dion tube - not part of the London underground, but rather a semi-
independent rear suspension system designed to combat the twin evils of
unsprung weight and poor ride quality in live axle systems. de Dion suspension
is a weird bastardisation of live-axle solid-beam suspension and fully
independent trailing-arm suspension. It's neither one, but at the same time it's
both. Weird! With this system, the wheels are interconnected by a de Dion
Tube, which is essentially a laterally-telescoping part of the suspension
designed to allow the wheel track to vary during suspension movement. This is
necessary because the wheels are always kept parallel to each other, and thus
perpendicular to the road surface regardless of what the car body is doing. This
setup means that when the wheels rebound, there is also no camber change
which is great for traction, and that's the first advantage of a de Dion Tube.
The second advantage is that it contributes to reduced unsprung weight in the
vehicle because the transfer case / differential is attached to the chassis of the
car rather than the suspension itself.
Naturally, the advantages are equalled by disadvantages, and in the case of de
Dion systems, the disadvantages would seem to win out. First off, it needs two
CV joints per axle instead of only one. That adds complexity and weight. Well
one of the advantages of not having the differential as part of the suspension is
a reduction in weight, so adding more weight back into the system to
compensate for the design is a definite distadvantage. Second, the brakes are mounted inboard with
the calipers attached to the transfer case, which means to change a brake disc, you need to dismantle
the entire suspension system to get the driveshaft out. (Working on the brake calipers is no walk in
the park either.) Finally, de Dion units can be used with a leaf-spring or coil-spring arrangement. With
coil spring (as shown here) it needs extra lateral location links, such as a panhard rod, wishbones or
trailing links. Again - more weight and complexity.
de Dion suspension was used mostly used from the mid 60's to the late 70's and could be found on
some Rovers, the Alfa Romeo Alfettas (including the sedans and the GTV) and the GTV6, one or
two Lancias a smattering of exotic racing cars and budget sports cars or coupes.
More recently deDion suspension has had somewhat of a renaissance in the specialist sports car and kit
car market such as those from Caterham, Westfield and Dax. These all uniformly now use outboard
brake setups for ease-of-use, and a non-telescoping tube, usually with trailing links and an A-bar for
lateral location (rather than a Watts linkage or Panhard rod.) Whilst a properly setup
independent suspension system will always win hands-down on poorly maintained roads, when you get
on to the track, the advantage is not so clear cut and a well set up deDion system can often match it (13 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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turn-for-turn now, espeically for flyweight cars.

Rear suspension - independent systems

It follows, that what can be fitted to the front of a car, can be fitted to the rear to without the
complexities of the steering gear. Simplified versions of all the independent systems described above
can be found on the rear axles of cars. The multi-link system is currently becoming more and
more popular. In advertising, it's put across as '4-wheel independent suspension'. This means all
the wheels are independently mounted and sprung. There are two schools of thought as to whether
this system is better or worse for handling than, for example, Macpherson struts and a twist axle. The
drive towards 4-wheel independent suspension is primarily to improve ride quality without
degrading handling.

The eBay problem

This paragraph may seem a little out of place but I have had a lot of problems with a couple of
eBay members (megamanuals and lowhondaprelude) stealing my work, turning it into PDF files and
selling it on eBay. Generally, idiots like this do a copy/paste job so they won't notice this paragraph here.
If you're reading this and you bought this page anywhere other than from my website at www., then you have a pirated, copyright-infringing copy. Please send me an email as I
am building a case file against the people doing this. Go to to see the full site and
find my contact details. And now, back to the meat of the subject....

Ford Control Blade™ Suspension

A lot of attention and marketing has been coming out of Ford recently about their new Control Blade™
rear suspension. Details and engineering facts are predictably sketchy but the glossy marketing
brochures will tell you this revolution in rear suspension will make your Ford Focus handle better, grip
the road better, and brake better than everything else on the road. It warrants some investigation
when they make claims like that, but it turns out what they mean is "we've got a new suspension
system", and not much else. It actually started out its life sometime around 1998 in Ford of Australia and
I believe Holden had something to do with it too. Since then its become far more mainstream.
So "Control Blade™" is the snappy marketing name that Ford use to describe their new system. It
sounds good, looks good on paper, and has an aura of 21st century-ness about it. "Blade". Ooh. Cool.
The reality isn't quite so cool though - control blade is basically an evolution of trailing-arm
suspension. However its still an interesting development and it does serve the purpose for which
Ford designed it. The primary purpose of Control Blade suspension is to increase the interior
space available in the vehicle. Most suspension systems used in daily drivers have strut towers front
and rear. In the front it's not really a problem, but in the rear it impedes on boot (or trunk) space.
Ford wanted to give more space in the back and needed to find a good way to remove or reduce the size
of the strut towers. The result is their Control Blade™ system which in essence separates the
shock absorber from the springs. To do this, Ford needed to use a trailing-arm type suspension so
that they didn't have swingarms up under the wheel arches. The springs were shortened and
moved inboard and underneath. In one variation, the shock absorbers still sit vertically but the space
they take up now is hugely reduced because they no longer have the coil springs around the outside. In
the second variation the shock absorber is a subminiature unit mounted inboard of the springs
underneath the vehicle. I'm not sure of the merits of the super-short shock absorber but Ford seem
to think it works. The control blades themselves are basically the trailing arms which give lateral (14 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]
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support and provide the vertical pivot point for the entire unit.
The Ford spiel says this about Control Blade™: "It has the key function of promoting ride and reducing
road noise transmission, while providing the freedom to let the lateral links define toe and camber
by absorbing any rearward forces and allowing the rest of the suspension to do it's job
uninterrupted. Effectively isolating the handling components of the new IRS from the road noise and
impact harshness components of the suspension.". In English? It means better handling and less
road noise. Looking at the basic design it's not difficult to see that this system has a much lower centre
of gravity than a Macpherson strut (for example). Lower C-of-G in a vehicle is always a good thing.
The geometry of the Control Blade™ system also provides significant 'anti-dive' under braking force,
which means a the car body will dive less when you jump on the brakes which in turn translates into
more well-behaved braking response. Lower C-of-G, less roll and less pitch during braking all add up
to better handling, althouth whether the average driver would notice or not is a different matter.
Another function of this system is that they've separated the two basic functions of suspension. With
the springs and shock absorbers being mounted in different places, Ford have managed to optimise
the function of these components. It's similar in concept to what BMW did with the telelever
front suspension on motorbikes - separating braking from suspension forces, only in the control
blade system, it separates the springing support of the suspension from the shock reducing functions of
the shock absorbers.
The images below are currently from other sources as I've not had the time to render up my own just
yet, but they show the basic layout of each variation of control blade suspension and I've annotated
them accordingly. (15 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Picture credits: Ford press kit

Aftermarket work on Control Blade™ vehicles.

There's one thing worth noting about this suspension system. Because the spring and shock are in
different locations, and because of the reduced or removed strut towers, it makes it very difficult to bolt-
on aftermarket suspension kits to these vehicles. For the daily driver, that's probably not an issue but
if you're looking at spiffing up the suspension on a Ford Focus for track days or racing, it's not going to
be quite so straightforward as it is on other cars. Just so you know.

Like the site? Help Chris buy a bike. The page you're reading is free, but if you like what you see
and feel you've learned something, throw me a $5 bone as a token of your appreciation. Help me buy
the object of my desire.

Hydrolastic Suspension

If you've got this far, you'll remember that Dr. Alex Moulton originally wanted the Mini to have
Hydrolastic suspension - a system where the front and rear suspension systems were connected together
in order to better level the car when driving.
The principle is simple. The front and rear suspension units have Hydrolastic displacers, one per side.
These are interconnected by a small bore pipe. Each displacer incorporates a rubber spring (as in
the Moulton rubber suspension system), and damping of the system is achieved by rubber valves. So
when a front wheel is deflected, fluid is displaced to the corresponding suspension unit. That
pressurises the interconnecting pipe which in turn stiffens the rear wheel damping and lowers it. The
rubber springs are only slightly brought into play and the car is effectively kept level and freed from (16 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]
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any tendency to pitch. That's clever enough, but the fact that it can do this without hindering the full
range of motion of either suspension unit is even more clever, because it has the effect of producing a
soft ride. Pictures and images of anything to do with hydrolastic suspension are few and far between
now, so you'll have to excuse the plagiarism of the following image. The animation below shows the
self-leveling effect - notice the body stays level and doesn't pitch.

But what happens when the front and rear wheels encounter bumps or dips together? One cannot
take precedent over the other, so the fluid suspension stiffens in response to the combined upward
motion and, while acting as a damper, transfers the load to the rubber springs instead, giving a
controlled, vertical, but level motion to the car.
Remember I said the units were connected with a small bore pipe? The restriction of the fluid flow,
imposed by this pipe, rises with the speed of the car. This means a steadier ride at high speed, and a
softer more comfortable ride at low speed.

Hydrolastic suspension is hermetically sealed and thus shouldn't require much, if any, attention
or maintenance during its normal working life. Bear in mind that hydrolastic suspension was introduced
in 1964 (on the prototype BMC ADO16) and you'd be lucky to find a unit today that has had any work
done to it.

The image below shows a typical lateral installation for hydrolastic rear suspension. The
suspension swingarms are attached to the main subframe. The red cylinders are the displacer
units containing the fluid and the rubber spring. The pipes leading from the units can be seen and
they would connect to the corresponding units at the front of the vehicle. (17 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Hydrolastic suspension shouldn't be confused with Citroën's hydropneumatic suspension (see below).
That system uses a hydraulic pump that raises and lowers the car to different heights. Sure it's a
superior system but it's also a lot more costly to manufacture and maintain. That's due in part to the
fact that they don't use o-rings as seals; the pistons and bores are machined to incredible
tolerances (microns), that it makes seals unnecessary. Downside : if something leaks, you need a
whole new cylinder assembly.

Hydrolastic was eventually refined into Hydragas suspension.......

Hydragas Suspension

Hydragas is an evolution of Hydrolastic, and essentially, the design and installation of the system is
the same. The difference is in the displacer unit itself. In the older systems, fluid was used in the
displacer units with a rubber spring cushion built-in. With Hydragas, the rubber spring is
removed completely. The fluid still exists but above the fluid there is now a separating membrane
or diaphragm, and above that is a cylinder or sphere which is charged with nitrogen gas. The
nitrogen section is what has become the spring and damping unit whilst the fluid is still free to run from
the front to the rear units and back. (18 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

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Hydragas suspension was famously used in the 1986 Porsche 959 Rally car that entered the Paris-
Dakar Rally, and today you can find it on the MGF Roadster.
There are a lot of resources on Hydragas available at one of the MGF club sites on the internet: http://

Page 1 ------ Page 2

These pages were last updated on 15th July 2009.

Copyright © Chris Longhurst 1994 - 2009 unless otherwise noted.
The author will respond expeditiously to any intellectual property
infringement. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or
medium without express written permission of Chris Longhurst
is prohibited. Important Copyright info. (19 of 19) [7/19/2009 12:17:48 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 2 of 2

The car suspension bible - how car suspension works including shocks, struts, springs, raising and lowering your suspension, different types of suspension, all the technologies involved, DIY car maintenance and much more.

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Translated versions of this site: Русский (Russian)

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Hydropneumatic Suspension

{Thanks to Julian Marsh, Jonathan Bruce, Simon Byrnand and Pieter

Melissen for some updates to this information.}
Since the early fifties, Citroën have been running a fundamentally
different system to the rest of the auto industry. Its called
hydropneumatic suspension, and it is a whole-car solution which can
include the brakes and steering as well as the suspension itself. The
core technology of hydropneumatic suspension is as you might guess
from the name, hydraulics. Ultra-smooth suspension is provided by
the fluid's interaction with a pressurised gas, and in this respect, its
very similar to the hydragas system described above. Citroën
pioneered the system in the rear suspension of the 15 (Traction
Avant) model, and it has been fitted to many of their cars since.
Because of the complexity of the system, the rest of this section gets
a bit wordy but hopefully not so much that I'll lose you half way
through. Because this page is about all types of suspension, for clarity I decided to concentrate on
the simplified version of this as installed in the "BX" model. If you're desperate to know every last nut
and bolt of hydropneumatics, just do a google search for it. On we go....

The system is powered by a large hydraulic pump, typically belt-driven by the engine like an alternator
or an air conditioner. the pump provides fluid to an accumulator at pressure, where it is stored ready to (1 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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be delivered to servo a system. This pump may also be used for the power steering and the brakes, and
in the DS for the semi-automatic gearbox. Note - the C5 and C6 only use the high pressure hydraulics
for the suspension - brakes and steering are conventnional.
Under the company's new Peugot management, Citroën produced the LN, followed by the Visa and then
the LNA and then the BX. The BX was a major turning point in Citroën's history. As a direct consequence
of the Peugeot influence, the car was somewhat more conventional than its bulkier predecessors like
the CX. This Peugeot-enforced "normalisation" of the design makes it fairly easy to examine as
an illustration of how hydropneumatic suspension works. The BX employed pseudo-McPherson struts at
the front with a hydropneumatic unit replacing the coil spring and damper. At the rear a
'conventional' trailing arm was used with the hydropneumatic unit mounted horizontally.
Apart from the pump, the two most obvious components in the system are the spheres on top of
each suspension strut, and the struts themselves. The spheres are like the springs in regular
suspension, and the struts are the hydraulic components that make the fluid act like a spring.
The spring in this suspension system is provided by a hydraulic component called a suspension sphere.
The accumulator is an additional sphere (which holds a reserve of hydraulic fluid under pressure to
even out the load on the pump caused by varying demand) acting rather like a battery. The accumulator
is gas (typically nitrogen) under pressure in a bottle contained within a diaphragm. This is effectively
a balloon which allows pressurised fluid to compress the gas, and then as pressure drops the gas
pushes the fluid back to keep the system's pressure up. In the image here, the nitrogen gas is
represented in red and the LHM fluid is represented in green. As the pressure in the fluid overcomes
the gas pressure, the nitrogen is compressed by the diaphragm being pushed back. Then as the pressure
in the fluid reduces, the gas pushes back the diaphragm which expels the fluid from the sphere,
returning gas and fluid to equilibrium. This is the hydropneumatic equivalent to the spring
being compressed and then rebounding.
Still with me? We can keep going...
So how can the interaction of compressing gas, hydraulic fluid and a diaphragm form a spring? Simple
(ish): The pressure of the gas is the equivalent to the spring weight. The inlet hole at the bottom of
the sphere restricts the flow of the fluid and provides an element of damping. By replacing the spheres
for ones of different specifications, it's possible to adjust the ride characteristics of these cars. (2 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Before we go any further it is pretty important that you understand where the fluid acting on
the diaphragm in the sphere gets its force from, and to do that we are going to have to look at
the operation of the other key component in the Citroën system - the strut.
The sphere in these systems is actually mounted at the end of the strut. The strut itself acts like a
syringe to inject fluid into the sphere. When the wheel hits a bump it rises, pushes the piston back and
this squeezes fluid through the tiny hole in the sphere to let the gas spring absorb the energy of the
bump. Then when the car is over the bump, the gas pushes the diaphragm back out, pushing the
fluid down to the strut, pushing the wheel down to the ground.
Some interesting possibilities were opened up when Citroën decided to use this system to spring their
cars. One or two of the more obvious ones are that since the system is hydraulic, the ride height can
easily be altered; Citroën put fancy valves called height correctors in the system. They are designed
to correct for long-term/static errors in height. To do this there is a clamp on the middle of each roll
bar connected by a linkage to the height corrector. This linkage varies by model - on DS, CX, GS, BX it is
a simple torsion bar about 8mm diameter and about 400mm long, on the XM and Xantia it is a coil
spring assembly with a double acting override linkage, but the functionality is the same. By measuring
the height at the middle of the rollbar, it automatically takes the average of the left and right wheel
height on that axle, and therefore cannot detect body roll. This prevents it from spuriously trying to
react to body roll, as it can't do anything to counter it anyway - it can only make both sides go up or
down together.
Additionally the height correctors have a hydraulic damping chamber in them which restricts and
delays their movement - typically it takes a suspension movement of at least 20mm in one direction for
at least 5 seconds before the height corrector will respond. Even fully bottoming the suspension still
takes at least 5 seconds for a response.
This works as a simple averaging system and prevents the height correctors from responding to bumps
or road undulations, (which would be undesirable). The slight exception here is the rear suspension (3 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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which is subject to squat due to acceleration because of the front wheel drive. Prolonged heavy
accleration of more than 5 seconds (particularly noticable on an automatic) will cause a height
correction response - an undesirable side effect. (Hydractive 2 models take steps to try and avoid
this response by stiffening the suspension during heavy acceleration).

Another noteworthy feature of Citroën system is its ability to "pre-set" a car for bumps in the road,
keeping the car on an even keel. This is a result of the cross-piping between left and right struts on
the same axle. They are connected permanently via a 3.5mm pipe, (except in Hydractive and
Activa systems). The height corrector connects to a T-junction of this cross piping, but when the
height corrector is "closed" (which is nearly all the time while driving) it represents a dead end, so only
the piping from left to right comes into play. When the wheel on one side hits a bump some oil will flow
into the sphere on that side via the damping valve, and some will flow across to the other side and
extend the wheel on that side, which gives a slight roll stabalizing response. This tends to make the
car more steady in the roll axis, and reduces the side to side rocking motion on transverse undulations.
A side effect of this cross piping is that it gives the suspension very soft compliance for "warp
mode" movements, as the suspension spheres (springing) don't resist slow roll movements
like conventional springs do - only the rollbar does. (This improves traction a lot at very slow speeds
over very uneven ground) In fact without the rollbars the suspension would be completely unstable on
the roll axis - you could sit on the left and it would go right down and the other side would go right up...
The downside of the cross connection is the same - the long term roll stiffness is provided only by
the rollbar - and there is no damping control of the flow of oil from one side to the other, other than
some restriction caused by the small pipe diameter - hence the tendency of older Citroëns to have a lot
of very slow body roll.
Hydractive 2 overcomes these shortcomings by modifying the side to side connection - it is increased
from 3.5mm to 10mm, but at the mid point there is a unit with an additional sphere, an on/off valve,
and two damper valves. In the "soft mode" (selected dynamically by computer) this additional
middle sphere is connected in circuit and provides additional springing, via the two damping valves in
the unit. The system effectively has two parallel paths for the oil to flow for each bump, with
different damping rates. The damper valves in the struts spheres on Hydractive 2 are very stiff, while
the ones in the middle unit are softer, giving a net result of 3 stage damping in the soft mode, and 2
stage damping in the hard mode. Any body roll requires oil to either flow into and out of the very
stiff damping valves in the strut spheres - where the opening thresholds are above that produced by
roll movement - or to flow from side to side - where it must pass through two damping valves in series
in the centre unit.
This means roll movements are hydraulically damped in Hydractive systems, unlike Hydropneumatic.
This contributes towards the reduced roll on later models like XM and Xantia. Because of the large gauge
of pipe there is the potential for greater instantaneous flow when hitting large bumps, so the roll
axis stability of the car is actually improved over older models.
In the "hard mode", again selected dynamically by the computer based on inputs such as steering
wheel angle and road speed, the central unit is isolated, completely blocking the cross-flow of oil
and isolating the middle sphere, giving stiffer springing, much stiffer damping, and much reduced body roll.
The Activa refinements and developments were quite effective. The main setback was that ride comfort
was even worse than a BMW (although cornering speeds were fantastic) which did not go too well with
the traditional Citroën clientele. The current adjustable systems (computer controlled) lack this anti
roll characteristic, and there are owners who always prefer the "comfort" setting rather than the
"sporty" one, because again, that is not what Citroën is about.
The following cars were fitted with hydropneumatic suspension: Traction Avant 15 Six H, D series, GS/
GSA, SM, BX, some XMs and most Xantias. The following were fitted with Hydractive 1 or Hydractive
2 suspension (the difference between H1 and H2 are mainly concerned with computer parameters):
most XMs and some Xantias. The Xantia Activa was fitted with Hydractive suspension. The C5 is fitted (4 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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with Hydractive 2 suspension and the C6 with Hydractive 3.

A further mechanical advantage of hydraulic suspension is that the car is able to link its braking effort
to the weight on the wheels. In the Citroën BX, the rear braking effort comes from the pressure exerted
on the LHM fluid by the weight on those struts. This means that as the weight travels forward
under braking, there is less pressure on the back suspension. The suspension then exerts less pressure
on its fluid, and as weight and grip diminish on the wheels, so does the braking effort, thus
the hydropneumatic system prevents rear wheel lock ups. Since the rear brakes use the rear
suspension fluid, the tail is pulled down allowing for level braking.
In addition to these benefits, Citroën pioneered computer controlled suspension in the early nineties
by inserting a computer to take readings from the cars' chassis and control systems and let the
computer make informed decisions about how to handle the cars suspension. The computer could
then effect these decisions by things like servo valves, and offered benefits like soft suspension for
cruising, but stiffer, sportier suspension for faster harder driving, allowing the driver to cruise in
comfort and still enjoy a responsive car. It also moves substantially towards eliminating body roll and
if used for a sportier driver will save tyre wear as well (they claim).

Its worth noting that when Mercedes launched their latest 600 SLC version with a computer controlled
anti roll system, Auto Motor und Sport then proudly claimed that to be the first such anti roll system
in world, only having to correct that one issue later by having to mention a French invention.
Rolls Royce was the only company ever to buy the patent and they used it in the rear suspension of
the Silver Shadow. When Citroën was the owner of Maserati some of their cars were
also hydropneumatised.

More in-depth information can be found here:
Meanwhile, the rest of us can hopefully feel satisfied with our newly enriched understandings
of hydropneumatic suspension. If you're still awake.

Hydraulic Suspension (5 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Hydraulic suspension is an innovation making its way into motor sports, no doubt to trickle down
to consumer vehicles eventually. It has been designed by a Spanish company called Creuat and
pioneered by the Racing For Holland Dome S101 sports car team. In the image below you can see both
the traditional coilover system (the yellow/blue/red units) at the front of the car. This photo was
taken before scrutineering for the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The team had both systems online
and when scrutineering passed the car, the coilover units were removed, to race for the first
time completely with hydraulic suspension.
Central to their system is a control unit mounted next to the cockpit. They tell me the system can't
be compared to the hydropneumatic suspension Citroën uses because this system doesn't use a pump
and has less than a litre of hydraulic fluid in the entire system.
Instead of springs and dampers, this central Hydropneumatic unit takes care of each suspension mode
in an independent manner. This allows the car to be tuned to avoid most of the compromises which
arise out of the use of conventional suspension made of springs and dampers.
This system is so new that the best source of information on it is Creuat's own website. You can find it
at this link and you need to look for the Le Mans Project in their menu on the left side of their page.
The hydraulic suspension page is a work-in-progress project and its content changes almost weekly at
the moment.
Racecar Engineering magazine have a feature article about this suspension system at this link but
you might need a subscription to read the whole thing. Fortunately Creuat have scanned the article
and made it available as a 6.2Mb PDF file which you can read here.
Thanks to Sander van Dijk for sending me this photo, plus a ton of others of their racing car. (6 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Ferrofluid or magneto-rheological fluid dampers - Audi Magnetic Ride.

In 2006, Audi launched the new TT model and one of the innovations that it came with
is their magnetic semi-active suspension. It is a totally new form of damping
technology refined from Delphi's MagneRide system. Delphi used to be a division of
GM when they developed the first version of Magneride in conjunction with LORD
Corp. (The initial version was used in the 2002 Cadillac Seville STS). It is designed
once again to attempt to resolve the long-standing conflict between cabin comfort
and driving dynamics. The Audi system is a coninuously adaptive system - ie it's a
closed feedback loop that can react to changes both in the road surface and the
gear-changes (front-to-back weight shift) within milliseconds.
So how does this work? Well, the dampers in the Audi system are
not filled with your regular old shock absorber oil. Nope. They're
filled with (wait for it) magneto-rheological fluid. This is a synthetic
hydrocarbon oil containing subminiature magnetic particles. When a
voltage is applied to a coil inside the damper piston, it creates a (7 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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magnetic field (physics 101 - get that old textbook out and check the left- and right-
handed electro-magnetic rules that make electric motors work). Inside the magnetic
field, all the magnetic particles in the oil change alignment in microseconds to lie
predominantly across the damper. Because the damper is trying to squeeze oil up and
down through the flow channels, having the particles lined up transverse to this
motion makes the oil 'stiffer'. Stiffer oil flows less, which stiffens up the suspension.
You might have seen a demo of a similar system on TV in 2005 when an artist in New
York started making living art using a ferromagnetic liquid (ferrofluid) and
electromagnets. The principle is exactly the same - apply a magnetic field and the
fluid lines up along the lines of magnetism. The image on the left shows a ferrofluid
The Audi system has a centralised control unit which sends signals to the coils on each damper. Hooked
up to complex force and acceleration sensing gauges, the control unit constantly analyses what's going
on with the car and adjusts the damping settings accordingly. Because there are no moving parts -
no valves to open or close - the system reacts within microseconds; far quicker than any other
active suspension technology on the market today. And because the amount of voltage applied to the
coils can be varied nearly infinitely, the dampers have a similarly near-infinite number of settings.
The power usage for each strut is around 5Watts, and the entire thing takes up no more room than
a regular coil-over-oil unit. Vorsprung durch Technik indeed.
The diagram below shows the basic principle of magnetised vs. unmagnetised ferrofluid, as well as
a cutaway of the piston assembly in a Magneride-type damper. The little blue balls represent the
particles of fluid, and yes I know they're huge - that's artistic licence so you can see them. (8 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Linear Electromagnetic Suspension

Picture credits: Bose Learning Center & Bose press kit.

This is the latest innovation in suspension systems, invented by Bose®. The idea is that instead of
springs and shock absorbers on each corner of the car, a single linear electromagnetic motor and
power amplifier can be used instead.
Inside the linear electromagnetic motor are magnets and coils of wire. When electrical power is applied
to the coils, the motor retracts and extends, creating motion between the wheel and car body. It's like
the electromagnetic effect used to propel some newer rollercoaster cars on launch, or if you're
into videogames and sci-fi, it's like a railgun.
One of the big advantages of an electromagnetic approach is speed. The linear electromagnetic
motor responds quickly enough to counter the effects of bumps and potholes, thus allowing it to
perform the actions previously reserved for shock absorbers.
In it's second mode of operation, the system can be used to counter body roll by stiffening the
suspension in corners. As well as these functions, it can also be used to raise and lower ride
height dynamically. So you could drop the car down low for motorway cruising, but raise it up for the (9 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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pot-hole ridden city streets. It's all very clever.

The power amplifier delivers electrical power to the motor in response to signals from the
control algorithms. These mathematical algorithms have been developed over 24 years of research.
They operate by observing sensor measurements taken from around the car and sending commands to
the power amps installed with each linear motor. The goal of the control algorithms is to allow the car
to glide smoothly over roads and to eliminate roll and pitch during driving.
The amplifiers themselves are based on switching amplification technologies pioneered by Dr. Bose at
MIT in the early 1960s. The really smart thing about the power amps is that they are regenerative. So
for example, when the suspension encounters a pothole, power is used to extend the motor and isolate
the vehicle's occupants from the disturbance. On the far side of the pothole, the motor operates as
a generator and returns power back through the amplifier. By doing this, the Bose® system requires
less than a third of the power of a typical vehicle's air conditioner system. Clever, eh?

Bose have also managed to package this little wonder of technology into a two-point harness - ie
it basically needs two bolts to attach it to your vehicle and that's it. It's a pretty compact design, not
much bigger than a normal shock absorber.

The official Bose suspension page can be found here if you want more info.

It's worth noting that a company called Aura Systems devised (or at least tried
to market) a similar linear electromagnetic suspension system around 1991.
They published an article in the Automotive Engineering Journal claiming
that electromagnetic actuators could be used for vehicle suspensions and it
said that small devices could be designed with a typical thrust capability of about 2500 Newtons and for a
reasonable power demand. This happened at the same time that linear electromagnetic rams were
being developed for entertainment simulators and full flight simulators to replace hydraulic systems.
In fact, it could be argued that the Aura Systems ram was a direct descendant of the rams found on (10 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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Super-X entertainment simulators.

The units looked very similar to the Bose devices and had the same limitation - they couldn't carry the dead
weight of the vehicle. Aura Systems ran into financial troubles in 2000, and filed for Chapter 11 in
2005. The time scales fit quite nicely into the declared Bose time frame (start of development versus
going public). Of course they could have been parallel developments, but the bigger question is why
was Aura not able to sell their system to an OEM at some time during the previous 15 years? Could it be
to do with mechanical limitations - that the sway bars carrying vertical loads are very good at
transmitting road inputs into the vehicle structure even if the bar rate is low? Time will tell if Bose
manage to succeed where Aura Systems failed.

Air suspension

In days gone by, air suspension was limited to expensive logistics trucks - heavy goods vehicles
that needed to be able to maintain a level ride no matter what the road condition. Nowadays, you
can retrofit air suspension to just about any vehicle you like from a Range Rover to a Ferrari.
Air suspension replaces the springs in your car with either an air bag or an air strut made of high-
tensile super flexible polyurethane rubber. Each air bag or strut is connected to a valve to control
the amount of air allowed into it. The valves are in turn connected to an air compressor and a
small compressed air reservoir. By opening and closing the four valves, the amount of air sent to each
unit can be varied. By letting the same amount of air out of all the units, reducing the pressure in the
bags, your car gets lowered, whilst increasing the air pressure by the same amount in each unit results
in your car lifting higher off the ground. The rubber bags filled with air provide the springing action
that used to be the realm of metal springs, and you have the option to maintain the factory
(or aftermarket) shock absorbers for - well - absorbing shocks. That's it in a nutshell.

Why air suspension?

Simple : ride quality. A well set up air suspension system can surpass metal spring suspension in just
about any situation. If you want a luxurious, smooth, supple ride that will iron out the deepest of ruts
and crevasses in the road, air suspension is what you're looking for. It's why logistics firms have used it
in their trucks since the year dot - air suspension transmits much less road vibration into the
vehicle chassis. There are literally hundreds of combinations and permutations of air bags and struts
that can be adapted to fit just about any vehicle and the big hitter in the aftermarket segment at
the moment is Air Ride Technologies if you're in America. In England, Rayvern Hydraulics have a
similarly complete range of aftermarket solutions. One point to note: for some reason the imperial
fittings used on some American systems are all but impossible to get hold of in the UK, so if you're
in England and looking for air suspension, Rayvern would be a good choice, or BSS or GAS in Germany.
In factory fit systems, almost any sports sedan that has variable ride height (like a lot of the current
crop of Audis) is using air suspension to accomplish this.

Bags and struts

Air bag systems come in two different flavours - air bags and air struts. The bags are typically used for
leaf-spring suspension vehicles, but can easily be adapted (through the use of bolt-on brackets) to
almost any swinging-arm type suspension system. Air bags are the most reliable systems because of
their simplicity. Air struts are a little more complex and come in two flavours - simple struts and (11 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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pivoting struts. It used to be that you could only have a simple strut because none of the
manufacturers had figured out how to keep the air strut sealed when it twisted - a function that is
required if you're going to replace a MacPherson strut. Now though, there are a couple of different
options for MacPherson strut replacement, the most complex being the twisting double-doughnut style
strut that still allows the shock absorber to pass through the middle of it.
The two images below show an air bag system as applied to the rear leaf spring suspension on a truck,
and a simple non-twisting air strut system as applied to a double swingarm unit.

Ride height sensors

Simple air suspension is pretty much what I've outlined above, but most systems are far
more sophisticated. For example each unit will normally work in conjunction with a ride-height sensor.
This is a mechanical lever linked to the suspension arm at one end, and to an electronic resistance pot
at the other. The pot is connected to the chassis or frame so that the lever spins the pot as the
suspension moves up and down. A computer can use this to read the height of the vehicle in that
corner, and with that data, all sorts of wonderful things can happen. For example, if you mash
the accelerator pedal, a car will typically squat under acceleration. When this happens, the ride height
at the rear of the car gets less. An air suspension system can register this and either send more air to
the rear, or reduce the pressure at the front to level off the car again. Same goes for side-to-side roll
in corners - air suspension can compensate somewhat for body roll when connected to ride-height
sensors. New generation systems also incorporate air pressure sensors to add another level of feedback
to the system.

Control panels

In a factory-fit air suspension system, the control panel will either be integrated into the onboard
computer (like BMW's i-Drive), or be accessible via a ride-height adjustment control. For
aftermarket systems, the control panel is normally a hand-held device with a series of control buttons (12 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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and LED readouts on it. Either way, the control panel is how you determine what you want the
suspension to do, be it hunkered down for sporty driving, or high off the ground for extra clearance.


Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no getting around the fact that some
petrolheads just love to slam their rides down to the floor but put air
suspension systems in capable of making the cars hop, jump and dance. The
only real difference with these systems is that they have a much larger high-
pressure reservoir normally in the boot or trunk, connected to valves that
can open very rapidly. Instead of the smooth, gentle ride-height adjustment
of a factory-fit system, these valves can bang open and discharge huge
quantities of air from the reservoir into the air bags extremely quickly. The
result is the suspension elongating extremely quickly and with enough force
to propel the car into the air.
In truth, the extreme low riders like this tend to go more for hydraulic
actuators than air suspension. Hydraulics give far more power, far more
quickly and are a lot more robust when it comes to the constant hammering
they get from competitions and shows. The principle is exactly the same
though - a reservoir, a compressor, a set of valves and a set of hydraulic lifters connected to
the suspension components. The downside? No suspension to speak of because the hydraulic
actuators have no give in them like the rubber air bags do.

Picture credit: Wikipedia / Public Domain

Variable-camber suspension for steering

If you've read the wheel and tyre bible, you'll know that camber is the lateral tilt of
the suspension (and hence the wheel and the tyre) to the road surface. Proper
camber (along with toe and caster) make sure that the tyre tread surface is as flat
as possible on the road surface. The problem with regular fixed-geometry
suspension is that the camber is set up to be ideal when driving straight. This
means that however much you dislike the idea, when you corner, less of the
tyre's tread is in contact with the road surface because the tyre has to tilt slightly when the steering
is turned. In 2006, OnCamber LLC patented their variable camber steering system which they launched
at SEMA in Las Vegas. Matthew Kim, OnCamber's founder and president was kind enough to send
some pictures of their development system which you can see here. The idea is simple - as the
steering wheel is turned, the steering input shifts the top mounts of a McPherson strut type
suspension system laterally. In other words, the top of the strut is no longer solidly bolted to the
strut tower. When the top mount point is moved, the camber of the suspension system changes. Turn
to the left, and the mounting points shift to the left tilting the wheels over to the left giving a larger
contact patch whilst cornering. ie. the inside wheel tilts and goes into positive camber(almost parallel to
the outside wheel), which in turn contributes to the overall grip of the car. The variable camber action
also gives even tyre wear. Pyrometer readings during testing have shown that the inside, mid, and
outside tyre tread temperatures are all within 2° of each other. With regular fixed-camber steering,
the inside of the tyre was 20° higher. OnCamber's development car is an RSX although they have
designs on the table for double-wishbone variants of their system too. On the RSX testbed the
camber plates are attached together by linear guides which permits them to move freely. The (13 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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top connecting rods are mechanically connected to the steering rack. The degree of camber applied
with steering is adjustable by varying the distance of the rods from the pivot point. ie: when the rods
are mounted closer to pivot point you get more camber with less steering input. On track, this system
has shaved 3 seconds off the development vehicle's lap times in race conditions. Whether this sytem
will trickle down into consumer level cars is debatable. It's doubtful that a manufacturer would add this
as standard but the racing and aftermarket scenes will undoubtedly welcome this development with
open arms. 3 seconds off your lap time for a change of suspension components? Why wouldn't you?
The images below show a camber plate at the top of one of the strut towers, and the mechanical
steering linkage.

Picture credits: Matthew Kim, OnCamber LLC

Like the site? Help Chris buy a bike. The page you're reading is free, but if you like what you see
and feel you've learned something, throw me a $5 bone as a token of your appreciation. Help me buy
the object of my desire.

Anti-roll Bars & Strut Braces

Strut Braces

If you're serious about your car's handling performance, you will first be looking at lowering
the suspension. In most cases, unless you're a complete petrolhead, this will be more than
adequate. However, if you are a keen driver, you will be able to get far better handling out of your car
by fitting a couple of other accessories to it. The first thing you should look at is a strut brace. When
you corner, the whole car's chassis is twisting slightly. In the front (and perhaps at the back, but not
so often) the suspension pillars will be moving relative to each other because there's no direct physical
link between them. They are connected via the car body, which can flex depending on its stiffness. A
strut brace bolts across the top of the engine to the tops of the two suspension posts and makes that (14 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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direct physical contact. The result is that the whole front suspension setup becomes a lot more rigid
and there will be virtually no movement relative to each side. In effect, you're adding the fourth side to
the open box created by the subframe and the two suspension pillars.

Simple straight brace(highlighted). Complex brace (highlighted).

Anti-roll Bars (Sway Bars/Stabilizers)

No, these aren't the things that are bolted inside the car in case you turn it over - those are rollover
cages. Anti-roll bars do precisely what their name implies - they combat the roll of a car on it's
suspension as it corners. They're also known as sway-bars or anti-sway-bars. Almost all cars have
them fitted as standard, and if you're a boy-racer, all have scope for improvement. From the factory
they are biased towards ride comfort. Stiffer aftermarket items will increase the road-holding but you'll
get reduced comfort because of it. It's a catch-22 situation. Fiddling with your roll stiffness distribution
can make a car uncomfortable to ride in and extremely hard to handle if you get it wrong. The anti-roll
bar is usually connected to the front, lower edge of the bottom suspension joint. It passes through
two pivot points under the chassis, usually on the subframe and is attached to the same point on
the opposite suspension setup. Effectively, it joins the bottom of the suspension parts together. When
you head into a corner, the car begins to roll out of the corner. For example, if you're cornering to the
left, the car body rolls to the right. In doing this, it's compressing the suspension on the right hand
side. With a good anti-roll bar, as the lower part of the suspension moves upward relative to the
car chassis, it transfers some of that movement to the same component on the other side. In effect, it
tries to lift the left suspension component by the same amount. Because this isn't physically possible,
the left suspension effectively becomes a fixed point and the anti-roll bar twists along its length
because the other end is effectively anchored in place. It's this twisting that provides the resistance to
the suspension movement. (15 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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If you're loaded, you can buy cars with active anti-roll technology now. These sense
the roll of the car into a corner and deflate the relevant suspension leg accordingly by
pumping fluid in and out of the shock absorber. It's a high-tech, super expensive
version of the good old mechanical anti-roll bar. You can buy anti-roll bars as an
aftermarket add-on. They're relatively easy to fit because most cars have anti-roll
bars already. Take the old one off and fit the new one. In the case of rear suspension,
the fittings will probably already be there even if the anti-roll bar isn't.

Typical anti-roll bar (swaybar) kits include the uprated bar, a set of new mounting
clamps with polyurethane bushes, rose joints for the ends which connect to the
suspension components, and all the bolts etc that will be needed.

Suspension bushes (16 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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These are the rubber grommets which separate most of the parts
of your suspension from each other. They're used at the link of
an A-Arm with the subframe. They're used on anti-roll bar links
and mountings. They're used all over the place, and from
the factory, I can almost guarantee they're made of rubber.
Rubber doesn't last. It perishes in the cold and splits in the
heat. Perished, split rubber was what brought the Challenger
space shuttle down. This is one of those little parts which
hardly anyone pays any attention to, but it's vitally important
for your car's handling, as well as your own safety, that these little things are in good condition. My
advice? Replace them with polyurethane or polygraphite bushes - they are hard-wearing and last a heck
of a lot longer. And, if you're into presenting your car at shows, they look better than the naff little
black rubber jobs. Like all suspension-related items though, bushes are a tradeoff between
performance and comfort. The harder the bush compound, the less comfort in the cabin. You pays
your money and makes your choice.

Variable stiffness anti-roll bars

Some sportier vehicles have the capability to stiffen up the suspension for more aggressive handling
by altering how the anti-roll bar behaves. The system itself isn't especially complex. Instead of
simple rubber or urethane bushes to clamp the anti-roll bar to the frame of the car, these systems use
a motor-driven or electromagnetically clamped bush instead. When the driver decides they want
'sport' mode, the car can increase the friction in the mounting bushes by clamping them more
tightly around the anti-roll bar. This better resists the anti-roll bar's ability to twist across the width of
the vehicle, which in turn provides more resistance at the ends where it joins the suspension
components. The end result is that the suspension components have to take on a lot more load to
deflect by the same amount. Or conversely, under the same load, they move less, thus stiffening up
the suspension.

The Ins and Outs of complex suspension units.

Generally speaking, this section will be more relevant to you if you ride a motorbike, but you can get
high-end spring / shock combos for cars that have all these features on them. The thing to realise is that
if you're going to start messing with all these adjustments, for God's sake take a digital photo of the
unit first, or somehow mark where it all started out. It's a slippery slope and you can very quickly
bugger up the ride quality of your vehicle. If you don't know what the "stock" setting was, you'll never
get it back.

Compression damping.

This is the damping that a shock absorber provides as it's being compressed, ie. as you hit a bump in
the road. It's the resistance of the unit to alter from its steady state to its compressed state.
Imagine you're riding along and you hit a bump. If there is too little compression damping, the wheel
will not meet enough resistance as the suspension compresses. Not enough energy is dissipated by
the time you reach the crest of the bump and because the wheel and other unsprung components
have their own mass, the wheel will continue to move upwards. This unweights or unloads the tyre and (17 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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in extreme cases, it can lose contact with the road. Either way, you briefly lose traction and control.
The opposite is true if compression damping is too heavy. As the wheel encounters the bump in the
road, the resistance to moving is high and so at the crest of the bump, the remaining energy from
the upward motion through the shock absorber is transferred into the frame of the bike or the chassis
of the car, lifting it up.

Rebound damping.

Go on - have a guess at what this is. Well in case you're not following along, this is the damping that
a shock absorber provides as it returns from its compressed state to its steady state, ie. after
you've crested the bump in the road. Too light, and the feeling of control in your vehicle is
minimised because the wheel will move very quickly. The feeling is the soft, plush ride you find in a lot
of American cars. Or mushy as we like to call it. Too heavy, and the shock absorber can't return
quickly enough. As the contour of the road drops away after the bump, the wheel has a hard time
"catching up". This can result in reduced traction, and a downward shift in the height of the vehicle. If
that happens, you can overload the tyre when the weight of the vehicle bottoms-out the suspension.

Damping controllers.

High-end kit has controls on the shock absorber for both compression and rebound damping. Typically
the rebound damping will be a screwdriver slot at the top of the shock absorber, and compression
damping will be a knob either on the side or on the remote reservoir. Ultra-high-end kit has
separate controls for high- and low-speed damping. ie. you can make the shock absorber behave
differently over small bumps (low speed compression and rebound) than it does over large bumps
(high speed compression and rebound). Of course you could buy yourself a nice big TV, a DVD player,
dark curtains, a new couch and a year's supply of popcorn for the same cost as four of these units. (18 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Spring preload.

Some motorbike suspension units, as well as some found on cars, give you the ability to alter the
spring preload or pre-tension. This means that you're artificially compressing the spring a little which
will alter the vehicle's static sag - the amount of suspension travel the vehicle consumes all by itself.
For example, if you ride a motorbike on your own, the preload might work on the factory setup. But if
you put a passenger on the back, the tendency is for the bike to sag because there's now more
sprung weight. Increasing the preload on the spring plate will help compensate for this.

Sprung vs. unsprung weight.

Simply put, sprung weight is everything from the springs up, and unsprung weight is everything from
the springs down. Wheels, shock absorbers, springs, knuckle joints and tyres contribute to the
unsprung weight. The car, engine, fluids, you, your passenger, the kids, the bags of candy and the
portable Playstation all contribute to the sprung weight. Reducing unsprung weight is the key to
increasing performance of the car. If you can make the wheels, tyres and swingarms lighter, then
the suspension will spend more time compensating for bumps in the road, and less time compensating
for the mass of the wheels etc.
The greater the unsprung weight, the greater the inertia of the suspension, which will be unable to
respond as quickly to rapid changes in the road surface.
As an added benefit, putting lighter wheels on the car can increase your engine's apparent power.
Why? Well the engine has to turn the gearbox and driveshafts, and at the end of that, the wheels
and tyres. Heavier wheels and tyres require more torque to get turning, which saps engine power.
Lighter wheels and tyres allow more of the engine's torque to go into getting you going than spinning
the wheels. That's why sports cars have carbon fibre driveshafts and ultra light alloy wheels.

Progressively wound springs

These are the things to go for when you upgrade your springs. In actual fact, it's difficult not to
get progressive springs when you upgrade - most of the aftermarket manufacturers make them like
this. Most factory-fit car springs are normally wound. That is to say that their coil pitch stays the same
all the way up the spring. If you get progressively wound springs, the coil pitch gets tighter the closer
to the top of the spring you get. This has the effect of giving the spring increasing resistance, the more it
is compressed.
The spring constant (stiffness) of a coil spring equals:
k = compression / force = D^4 * G / (64*N*R^3)
where D is the wire diameter, G an elastic material property, N the number of coils in the spring, and R
the radius of the spring.
So increasing the number of coils decreases the stiffness of the spring. Thus, a progressive spring
is progressive because the two parts are compressed equally until the tightly wound part locks
up, effectively shortening the spring and reducing its compliance.
So for normal driving, you'll be using mostly the upper 3 or 4 'tight' winds to soak up the average
bumps and potholes. When you get into harder driving, like cornering at speed for example, because
the springs are being compressed more, they resist more. The effect is to reduce the suspension travel
at the top end resulting in less body roll, and better road-holding. Invariably, the fact that the springs
are progressively wound is what accounts for the lowering factor. The springs aren't made shorter -
they're just wound differently. Of course the material that aftermarket springs are made of is usually
a higher grade than factory spec simply because it's going to be expected to handle more loads. (19 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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Note:Make sure you get powder-coated springs! This means they've been treated with a good
anti-corrosion system and then covered in powdered paint. The whole lot is then baked to make the
paint seal and stick and bring out it's polyurethane elastic properties. It's the best type. If you just
get normally painted springs, the paint will start to flake on the first bump, and surface rust will
appear within days of the first sign of dampness. Not good. Besides - powder coated springs look cool

Electronic damping force controllers.

Remember way back at the top of the page I mentioned that some
dampers allowed you to change the damping rate by altering the size
of the constriction hole? That's all very well and good but you have to
stop your car, get out and twiddle a knob or screw on the top or side
of the strut each time you want to make a change. In 2005 the
aftermarket saw the first appearance of an EDFC - electronic damping
force controller.
The premise is really simple. Four servo motors (the four smaller
boxes in the picture here), one for each strut, each one designed to
replace the manual screw adjuster. A control unit mounts inside the
car and allows you to change the damping force of the shocks front and rear without leaving the
drivers seat. The way it works is dead simple. When you first install the system and power it up, all
the servos spin clockwise for a few seconds. This ensures the adjusters are screwed all the way in on
all four struts. From that point, you can dial in any number from 0 to 20 on the control unit. When you
do, the servo motors spin a certain amount - the same as you getting out of the car and spinning
the adjuster with your finely calibrated fingers. The units currently have three memory settings so you
can store motorway, city and track-day settings (for example), and recall them at the push of a button. (20 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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Installing the current-generation EDFCs is pretty simple - about the most difficult thing you'll face
is running the wires from each servo back to the control unit inside the car.
There's a few different companies selling EDFCs right now. This link will take you to a googlesearch
for further info.

Picture credit: TEIN

Torsion bars

Torsion bars (or torsion rods) deserve their own

section because they are a type of spring which can
be used in place of coil- or leaf-springs. It's one of
the topics I get the most e-mail on, so instead
of continually sending the same answer, I thought
I'd cover it on this page.
A torsion bar is a solid bar of steel which is connected
to the car chassis at one end, and free to move at
the other end. They can be mounted across the
car (transverse like the rear suspension on the
Peugeot 205 and Renault 16) or along the
car (longitudinal, like the front suspension on the
Morris Minor) - one for each side of the suspension.
The springing motion is provided by the metal
bar's resistance to twisting. To over-simplify, stick your arm out straight and get someone to twist
your wrist. Presuming that your mate doesn't snap your wrist, at a certain point, resistance in your
arm (and pain) will cause you to twist your wrist back the other way. That is the principle of a torsion bar.
Torsion bars are normally locked to the chassis and the suspension parts with splined ends. This
allows them to be removed, twisted round a few splines and re-inserted, which can be used to raise
or lower a car, or to compensate for the natural 'sag' of a suspension system over time. They can
be connected to just about any type of suspension system listed on this page.
The rendering below shows an example longitudinal torsion bar. The small lever at the far end of
the torsion bar would be attached solidly to the frame to provide the fixed end. The torsion bar itself
fits into that lever and the suspension arm at the front through splined holes. As the suspension at
the front moves upwards, the bar twists along its length providing the springing motion. I've left the
shock absorber assembly out of this rendering for clarity. (21 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Lift Kits

Because of the mechanical nature of suspension, all sorts of mods are available. Lifting suspension is
a popular mod used to try to increase ground clearance. This is often a source of misunderstanding. A
lift kit doesn't really give you more ground clearance. What it does is increase the height between the
axle and the underside of the body. Whilst this does give more ground clearance for the bodywork,
the lowest point on the vehicle is still the axles - or on a 4-wheel-drive, the bottom of the transfer case.
For this reason, you'll often see trucks and SUVs with lift kits and larger wheels and tyres. The lift
kit boosts the clearance under the bodywork whilst the larger wheels and tyres result in the axles
being lifted higher off the ground. Technically of course, in a 4-wheel-drive, you don't really need a lift kit
- bigger wheels and tyres would do it. BUT lift kits typically end up being required because adding on
the larger wheels and tyres can often mean they will no longer fit in the wheel arches. The lift kit will
help solve that problem.
Lift kits come in literally hundreds of shapes and sizes, all dependent on the final application as well as
the design of the vehicle the kit is going to be used on. For street cars, typically with
independent suspension, the kit will basically be longer struts, longer springs and remounted shocks.
For off-roaders with beam axles and transfer cases, the suspension system is typically leaf-spring, so
the kit will be a set of blocks that fit between the beam axle and the bottom of the leaf
spring. Alternatively, some kits have blocks which lower the spring mounts themselves so that the
spring-to-axle joint isn't changed. The image below shows an example of a typical leaf-spring beam-
axle suspension system along with two examples of how it can be raised. (22 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

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Fitting a lift kit is pretty basic engineering but it's really difficult to do without access to a hydraulic lift,
so its best to either get a garage to do it, or to find a mechanic friend who has a decent sized hydraulic
lift. Trying to mess with the suspension whilst a vehicle is on the ground is just asking for trouble.

Speaking of trouble...

Lifting a vehicle is going to affect its handling. Most obviously, you're going to add height to the centre
of gravity, which in turn is going to make the vehicle more prone to roll in corners. At the extreme,
an already roll-happy SUV or truck will become even more likely to turn over in the event of an accident.
Similarly, just because you've lifted your truck, don't think you can instantly go off-road with it like a pro.
If you're doing it for off-road functionality rather than just pose value, spend the extra cash and get a
one-day off-road course. You'll have a blast and it will make you infinitely safer when you do take
your vehicle off the beaten track.
It's also worth pointing out that putting larger wheels on simply to increase ground clearance can
come with all its own problems including the legality of it, changes to the steering and
suspension geometry and steering load. It's also a possibility on some types of 4WD vehicle that
larger tyres and steering load can result in tearing the steering box off the chassis. Other things which
tend to fail quicker when this is done are items like pitman arms, track rods, knuckle and ball joints - all (23 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
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of these get stressed beyond their normal design limits when you stuff massive tyres and wheels on a truck.
One other point to consider when doing this: if your speedometer is based on a mechanical link to
the gearbox, your speedo will become so innacurate that it will basically be useless. You'll be driving at
an indicated 30mph but could be doing 40mph if the tyres are big enough.
Just be warned.

Lowering Kits

The opposite of lift kits - lowering kits. These are designed to (wait for it....) lower your car. Also at
the other end of the scale - lowering kits are almost exclusively used on cars, whereas lift kits are
almost exclusively used on trucks and SUVs. (Having said that, the number of pimped-out low-rider
trucks on the road does seem to be increasing by the day.) Lowering your car will similarly affect
the handling, just like a lift kit. But again it's the opposite end of the spectrum - a lowered car will
typically handle much better than factory suspension, and it will lower the centre of gravity, making it
less likely to tip or roll in an accident. I'm a European, and as far as I'm concerned, if you're going for
pose value, lowering your car is the quickest way to do it, hotly pursued by larger wheels and tyres
to make the car appear even more ground-hugging.
Lowering kits typically consist of shorter, stiffer springs and gas shocks - often nitrogen-filled. Don't do
it by halves. Get a matched kit from someone like Spax or Jamex. Matched kits have springs and
shocks designed to work together. If you get shorter springs, your factory shocks will be under a lot
of stress because they'll be operating a much shorter throw than they were designed for, and
ultimately, they'll normally fail much quicker. Similarly, don't get shorter shocks and cut the
springs. Cutting the springs is the epitome of A Really Bad Idea. You're weakening the spring's
structural integrity and the chances are that when you've finished a ham-fisted attempt at hacking off all
4 springs with a grinder, the result will be 4 springs all slightly different lengths.
There's something else worth mentioning here - do not try to disassemble a shock absorber. Ever.
Those things are like little bombs, and unless you have all the right tools, you could easily loose a hand
as the shock explodes into its component parts when you get that last twist off the collar. Please -
just don't. I know your mate Guido might have told you it's a "sure fire" way to shorten the shock, but
he's lying.
Matched lowering kits typically assume you're going for sportier handling, so a lot of times, you'll get
a whole slew of new adjustments which you never had before. Spring height, rebound
damping, compression damping etc. My recommendation is to leave everything as it is to start with.
Right out of the box they're normally set up pretty well. The following renderings show an example
"before and after" of a lowering kit fitted to a car: (24 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]

Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 2 of 2

Lowering kit questions.

What if I get shorter springs to lower the car? Will I need to adjust my caster and camber
angles and/or my shock absorbers?
Generally the answer would be no for caster/camber angles. Most cars have a good 10-13cm (4-5
inches) movement in their suspension from the factory. As most of the lowering springs you can buy
only lower by 2-7cm (1-3 inches), your suspension should still be well within it's designed operating
limits. Therefore, caster and camber angles shouldn't need looking at. As for the shocks, see the FAQ page.
What if I get shorter springs to lower the car? Will my tyres rub on my arches?
They shouldn't unless you start messing about with wheel and tyre sizes. Again, given that
most suspension kits lower within the car's normal operating limits, there shouldn't be a problem. If
there was, then every time you went over a big hump with standard suspension, the tyres would
rub. Rubbing against the arches will almost certainly only occur if you lower the car and widen the (25 of 26) [7/19/2009 12:22:30 PM]
Car Bibles : The Car Suspension Bible page 2 of 2

wheels. See the Wheel & Tyre Bible for more info on this.

Where can I buy a good kit to lower or lift my car?

Again, a lot of local and internet stores that offer you ready to go suspension kits. Spax and Jamex are
two big names for car suspension kits.

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