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The Ultimate Guide To Coilovers

July 16, 2021

 

Coilovers, aka the ultimate suspension upgrade. 

If you already have coilovers on your car, or you've at least driven in a car with coilovers, you'll know the massive differences in ride quality and the overall driving experience they can make. 

That tight, curvy road outside of town is much more exciting with the freedom to adjust your suspension in favor of those corners—less body roll, lower center of gravity, and more steering response. It's an entirely different driving experience compared to bouncy, stock suspension.

Coilovers feel more like a go-kart, if you do it right.

CHECK OUT OUR COILOVER KITS

 

2010 Subaru WRX STI Base with Volk TE37rt wheels, Federal SS595, and BC Racing Coilovers

 

Now, even if you feel confident in your understanding of coilovers, give this ultimate coilover guide a read! 

This is guide covers practical information you should know before jumping into your first set of coilovers. Even if you already run coilovers, this guide is still a good refresher. 

 

VIEW GALLERY CARS RUNNING COILOVERS

 

Everything You Need To Know About Coilovers:

- What Are Coilovers?

- How Are Coilovers Made?

- Compression and Rebound Damping Adjustments Explained

- How To Adjust Coilovers

- Adjusting Coilover Ride Height

- Adjusting Coilover Damping

- Installing Coilovers

- How Long Do Coilovers Last?

- How Much Are Coilovers?

 

 

 

 

What Are Coilovers?

Simply put, coilovers are designed for two primary reasons—one, to better a car's handling, and two, to adjust (lower) its ride height.

Coilovers completely replace the stock strut assembly and open the door to a completely new driving experience. 

While there are some nonadjustable coilovers out there, most people choose to just spend the extra couple hundred benjamins to get the adjustability in both ride height, damping, and sometimes camber, which makes coilovers special. 

 

READ: TOP 5 SUSPENSION BRANDS

 

1995 Mitsubishi Mirage ES running OZ Rally Racing wheels, Sailun Atrezzo ZSR tires, and Fortune Auto Coilovers

 

Outside of the lowered aesthetic that we all drool over, coilovers are a highly functional modification that serves the biggest advantage on the track but are awesome on dailys and show cars too. 

As you can probably guess, the first concept of coilovers originated on the track, so drivers could fine-tune their suspension and adjust things quickly before heading out for their next run.

Fine-tuning suspension is a really technical topic but also super useful if you want to get the most out of your coilovers, and thus your car's performance.

 

2020 Subaru BRZ Limited running Konig Dekagram wheels, Bridgestone Potenza RE71R, and Race Comp Engineering Coilovers

 

So, what exactly is a coilover?

 A coilover is a spring/coil over a shock absorber.

Did you catch that? Coil over a shock absorber…This is where the name "coilover" is derived from.

And as I mentioned before, a coilover completely replaces your stock spring and shock assembly.

 

Silvers NeoMax coilovers

VIEW OUR COMPLETE SUSPENSION GUIDE

 

 

 

 

How Are Coilovers Made?

Before we get into the juicy topic of adjusting coilovers, let's first break down the construction of a coilover.

For simplicity's sake, we're going to stick with standard, full-bodied coilovers.

Almost no one runs OEM strut and coil spring or slip fit coilovers anymore. 

 

READ: TYPES OF COILOVERS

 

2014 VOLKSWAGEN GTI WOLFSBURG EDITION with Rotiform wheels, Federal SS595 tires, and BC Racing coilovers

 

First, you have your shock absorber, which is the big dog.

This is a pressurized tube/damping case with a rod, piston, oil, and gas inside.

 

2012 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 Base with Enkei SC03 wheels, Nexen N'fera tires, and H&R coilovers

 

This piston has little holes/valves that allow the oil to slowly pass through when it experiences any sort of motion when you're cruising down the road. The bigger the bump, the quicker the fluid passes through.

You also have your coil spring, dust shield, bump stop, threaded shock, spring seats, your spring collar, mounting brackets, top hat, and your damping adjustments

 

VIEW OUR COMPLETE SUSPENSION GUIDE

 

2019 Subaru WRX Base with Enkei NT03M, Federal SS595, and Faction Fab coilovers

 

Depending on the brand and series coilover you go with, some will have some camber adjustments as well.

These adjustments will be on the top of the coilover and are ridiculously easy to use.

Now, if you're looking for some nasty camber, you're definitely going to need a more complex camber kit with some adjustable camber control arms and such, but this is a great place to start. 

 

Tien coilover camber adjustments

Camber Adjustment on Tein Coilovers | Photo from Tein Suspension

To adjust these bad boys, grab an allen wrench, loosen the four allen head bolts, and move them inwards towards the engine bay for a lil negative camber, or move them towards the fender for positive camber.   

The two main types of full-bodied coilover designs: mono-tube and twin-tube.

Mono-tube designs are a very straightforward design that uses one rod and piston housed inside the damping case. 

 

Mono-tube coilover design from Tein suspension

Mono-tube coilover design | GIF from Tein Suspension

Mono-tubes also have a nitrogen-filled gas chamber separated by a floating piston that constantly puts pressure on the fluid inside the oil chamber preventing it from foaming up due to heat buildup. 

 

CHECK OUT BR RACING BR SERIES COILOVERS

 

Mono tube coilover vs. twin-tube coilover design

Mono-tube vs. Twin-tube Coilover Diagram | Photo from Tein Suspension

A twin-tube design is very similar in its function, but the main difference is that the gas is not separated using a floating piston.

Despite its more complex design, twin-tubes aren't necessarily superior. For some applications, mono-tubes are better for the track because they have a larger oil capacity, better damping adjustments, and run cooler fluid temps because there isn't a second insulator" (oil chamber). 

Plus, mono-tubes are usually easier to install, are generally cheaper, and are more durable compared to twin-tubes. 

 

Twin tube vs mono tube coilover from Tein suspension

Mono-tube vs. Twin-tube Coilover Diagram | Photo from Tein Suspension

However, this doesn't mean twin-tubes are disadvantaged by any means. Twin tubes are just known to be suited better for street cars with some light track days.

Mono-tubes are known to suit serious track cars much better. In this case, you'll also look at getting coilovers with external reservoirs to help with cooling.

Advantages to twin-tube coilovers include less stress/pressure on the seals and an extended piston stroke due to having no separation of the oil and gas chamber. 

Tien Suspension twin-tube coilover design

Twin-tube coilover design | GIF from Tein Suspension

CHECK OUT TEIN SUSPENSION

 

 

 

Compression and Rebound Damping Adjustments Explained

I've mentioned compression, rebound, and damping several times now, but what do each of those adjustments actually do? What 

Compression refers to how fast and how much a coilover "absorbs" an upward motion, thus how much pressure is applied into the tire. 

 

2020 Subaru BRZ Limited with Konig Dekagram, Bridgestone Potenza RE71R, and Race Comp Engineering Coilovers

 

This concept is similar to rebound.  Rebound refers to how the coilover behaves after it moves upwards into the tire.

Essentially, rebound is how weight moves away from the tire.

 

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2019 WRX Subaru WRX base with Enkei NT03M wheels, Federal SS595 tires, Faction Fab coilovers

 

When you drive over a bump, your coilover/shock will move upwards into the car, causing some of the high-pressured oil inside the damping case to pass through the tiny holes/valves in the piston.

The same thing happens during rebound—the piston moves away from the damping case, and oil is compressed on the other end. 

 

CHECK OUT FORTUNE AUTO COILOVERS

 

2019 WRX Subaru WRX base with Enkei NT03M wheels, Federal SS595 tires, Faction Fab coilovers

 

In other words, when you adjust compression, you're changing how fast the unsprung weight of your car moves, while rebound changes how quickly your car's sprung weight moves. 

Together, these adjustments are "damping".

If you think of this term quite literally, every time you drive over a bump, your coilover, specifically the shock absorber, will dampen, or slow down, motion—in this case, up and downwards motion from the road bumps. 

 

READ THIS BEFORE BUYING WHEELS AND TIRES   

 

2001 Mazda Miata MX-5 Base with Cors TR3 wheels, Hankook Ventus V2 Concept2 tires, Tein coilovers

 

For advanced 2, 3, and even 4 way adjustable coilovers like BC Racing's ER, HM, and ZR series and Kw Suspension's Competition 4A coilovers, the process of adjusting things like compression and rebound are going to be a little more involved and complex because you have high and low-speed adjustments. 

This is where the suspension geeks start to get all bubbly inside...

Fine-tuning these adjustments is a lot of trial and error, but it's super rewarding once you've found the perfect settings for your application. 

 

READ THIS BEFORE BUYING WHEELS AND TIRES

 

2001 Mazda Miata MX-5 Base with Cors TR3 wheels, Hankook Ventus V2 Concept2 tires, Tein coilovers

 

Low-speed damping adjusts how the chassis moves within the tires. This includes fancy terms like pitch, roll, heave, and warp

High-speed damping relates more to how your car responds to road conditions. 

These adjustments are not as crucial for cars outside the track unless you're a geek about suspension, as I mentioned before. 

 

CHECK OUT OUR COMPLETE TIRE GUIDE   

 

2020 Subaru WRX Base with Enkei NT03M wheels, Falken Azenis FK510, and Faction Fab Coilovers

 

Beware, though, if you have these adjustments on your coilovers, it's essential to truly understand how to properly adjust them.

Poor adjustments can worsen your driving experience, especially if you're on the track. 

If you think about it, manipulating the way your suspension handles your car's weight is affects everything from your steering response, tire traction, weight distribution, cornering, and the stress on other suspension components. 

 

2021 Toyota Corolla SE Avid1 AV20 wheels, Federal SS595, D2 Racing coilovers

 

 

 

How To Adjust Coilovers

When adjusting coilovers, there are two things to actually adjust: the ride height and damping. 

 

 

 

Adjusting Coilover Ride Height

Adjusting ride height is the most tedious part of owning coilovers. And many people go into it thinking they know what's up but realize quickly they don't. 

Almost every suspension company nowadays includes spanner wrenches that you'll need to use to adjust your ride height. 

 

READ: MISTAKES WHEN ADJUSTING COILOVERS

 

Raceland How to adjust coilovers

Photo from Raceland

If you have a fully threadable coilover, you're going to have two adjustments, your spring pre-load, and your actual ride height. 

In this case, make sure you use your supplied wrench and adjust the second locking collar.

 

2017 Subaru BRZ running Volk T37 saga wheels and BC Racing coilovers

 

To lower your car, you'll want to turn that collar counter-clockwise. This will loosen the collar allowing you to essentially spin the entire coilover and shorten it, thus lowering your ride height. 

Obviously, you'll want to do this before you install the coilovers. In fact, in a perfect world, you'll completely set up your coilovers prior to installation. 

 

CHECK OUT FUNCTION AND FORM COILOVERS

 

2010 Subaru WRX STI Base with Volk TE37rt wheels, Federal SS595, and BC Racing Coilovers

 

Your coilover's spring preload describes how much pressure is put on your springs to compress them. This is a super important concept when it comes to your suspension. 

The more preload your springs have, the more stiff your ride will be, but it's more complex than this even. 

 

  Subaru BRX limited running Volk TE37 saga wheels and BC Racing coilovers

 

There are plenty of full-bodied coilovers that don't feature lower adjustable mounts allowing you to adjust preload and ride height independently from each other. Most of the time, your ride height adjustment is based on the spring preload. 

This is not ideal because your spring isn't going to be appropriately snug if you have your coilover lowered to the max.

Basically, make sure you get some coilovers with separate adjustments so you can lower it as much as you want while making sure your spring is snug too.

Before...

Tein coilover spring preload and ride height adjustments   

Here's the after...

tein coilover spring preload and ride height adjustments

 

 

Adjusting Coilover Damping

The most common coilover damping adjustments will only require a twist of the knob that sits on the top of the coilover.

For example, BC Racing's BR series has 30-clicks of simultaneous compression/rebound adjustment, which is a super solid entry-level option.

30-clicks of adjustment is plenty for weekend track cars or even daily drivers who take those curvy roads seriously. 

 

CHECK OUT BC RACING COILOVERS  

 

1995 Mitsubishi Mirage ES running OZ Rally Racing wheels, Sailun Atrezzo ZSR tires, and Fortune Auto Coilovers

 

If you turn the damping control knob to the left, you'll "loosen" your ride quality for a more comfortable commute.

If you turn the control knob to the right, you'll stiffen up your ride for curvy roads or the track.

 

1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo with JNC JNC005 wheels, Haidai HD927 tires, and Tein coilovers

 

 

Installing Coilovers

Now, there are mixed reviews out on the good ole internet, primarily FB groups and forums, which either say coilovers are a huge pain in the a** to install, or that they're a pretty simple install. 

I'm here to settle the dust and confirm that traditional full-bodied coilovers are really not that difficult to install, even if you're a noob. Most car projects are usually just a few bolts anyways. 

Just get your PB Blaster, a torch, a giant breaker bar, and some cold beer, and you'll be fine. Some good shop tunes are nice, too. 

 

CHECK OUT CARS RUNING BC RACING COILOVERS  

But, I would budget about 4 hours to install and adjust everything to your specifications.

If you run into ANY problems, which you inevitably will because...car projects...plan on spending the afternoon/night on this project.

 

2014 VOLKSWAGEN GTI WOLFSBURG EDITION with Rotiform RSE wheels, Federal SS955 tires, and BC Racing Coilovers

 

The biggest gripe with coilovers is adjusting them, specifically adjusting the ride height.

Make sure you have your handy measuring tape around, but be prepared to install everything and then redo the ride height because you realize that it's too low or not slammed on its nutz enough. 

The good thing with car projects in the 21st century is YouTube. I guaranteed that if you search for "how to install coilovers {YOUR CAR}", you'll find a detailed video that'll walk you through the process for your specific application. 

Don't forget about Fb groups and forums. 

 

1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo with JNC JNC005 wheels, Haidai HD927 tires, and Tein coilovers

 

 

 

How Long Do Coilovers Last?

Determining how long coilovers typically last is tricky because there are so many variables that play into coilover longevity. But I'll preface this—if you take care of your coilovers and do a proper install, they will take care of you too.

The general understanding is that coilovers last roughly 20-50K miles or so. They could last up to 150K miles even. 

It depends on whether you have mono-tubes or twin-tubes (mono-tubes generally last a bit longer), what your application is, what brand you go with (aka the quality), and how you normally drive. 

 

GET NEW COILOVERS FOR YOUR BUILD  

 

2020 Subaru WRX Base with Enkei NT03M wheels, Falken Azenis FK510, and Faction Fab Coilovers

 

So, what's the best way to make coilovers last? Don't get all rowdy when installing them and actually following the directions. 

This means when the instructions explain how to properly adjust the ride height using the threaded shock instead of the spring adjustment, listen. BC Racing, Tein, Silvers, ST suspension, and all those other big dogs in the industry might know a thing or two. 

Also, it helps if you invest in a good set of coilovers. Don't cheap out on eBay.

Just wait another month or so, OR you can finance your coilovers with us, and get a good set from a reputable brand that you trust. 

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT FINACING YOUR COILOVERS

 

2021 Toyota Corolla SE Avid1 AV20 wheels, Federal SS595, D2 Racing coilovers

 

 

 

How Much Are Coilovers?

Like any other car part, a good set of coilovers will be a lil chunk of change—anywhere from $1K to $1.5K. 

If your budget is <$1K, there's still plenty of great options on the market. 

 

CHECK OUT COILOVERS UNDER $1K

 

The BEST Entry Level Coilovers

- BC Racing BR Series | Starting at $930 

- Tein Flex Z series | Starting at $817

Tein Street Advance Z | Starting at $665

 

2012 SUBARU IMPREZA WRX LIMITED Work Emotion CR wheels, Federal SS595 tires, and Fortune Auto coilovers

 

If you're building a car to see some serious track days, spend the extra cash and invest in a good set of coilovers.

The adjustability will make the most significant difference in your cornering and center of gravity. 

 

CHECK OUT COILOVERS BETWEEN $1K - $3K

 

More Advanced Coilovers

- BC Racing DS Series | Starting at $1,030

- ST Suspension ST XTA | Starting at $ 1,209

- Function and Form Type 2 | Starting at $833

 

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