Nefarious Racing

Coilovers VS Lowering Springs: Which Are Better?

Coilovers VS Lowering Springs thumbnail

The topic of lowering springs vs coilovers is definitely one of the most common topics of debate in the car modifying world.

You will find strong proponents on each side of the argument, and both seem to make sense with what they are saying. This can make it difficult to decide which is better for you and your car.

In this post I’m going to answer the question and give you my opinion after 10 years of modifying cars and having a number of both lowering spring and coilover setups on multiple cars.

Firstly, Why Even Lower Your Car?

The primary reason 99% of people lower their cars is for looks. Even if you do it for performance, you have to admit it makes the car look better. It gives the car a sportier and more aggressive appearance, and it ones of the biggest aesthetic changes you can make, even though it may seem subtle.

Lowered Nissan GTR

The second reason is for performance, and this topic can get a bit technical. Generally speaking, lowering a car is always going to improve the handling over factory ride height, because it brings the center of gravity down, and the springs are usually stiffer, which reduces body roll. Both of these factors tend to improve handling responsiveness and tyre grip.

However, if you go too low, you mess with the suspension geometry, which can actually make the handling worse, decrease tyre grip and introduce bump steer. Stiffer springs are also not always the answer, as going too stiff can actually create less traction, since the tyres won’t be able to comply to the bumps as well.

These things need to be taken into consideration if you are looking to improve the performance of your car, and often need to be balanced with the appearance aspect to find a good middle ground.

If you are just looking to lower your daily driver, the above is not a big deal for you, so don’t worry too much about it.

This brings us to the two options you have to lower the car – lowering springs and coilovers. There is the option of airbags as well, but that’s a whole other topic.

Why Lowering Springs?

Blue lowering springs

The simple answer to why people would want to use lowering springs is cost. Lowering springs in themselves offer no benefit over a coilover setup. The simple reason why lowering springs still exist is because you can pick up a good set of lowering springs for around $300, and for people who are on a budget this is a temping option to lower their car right now.

However, there are several problems with this.

The Problem With Lowering Springs

Firstly, since the biggest reason people lower their car is for looks, lowering springs will rarely sit how you want them to. No matter how much you measure, check the drop specifications from the spring manufacturer, measure again etc, nine times out of ten the drop will not be exactly what you wanted.

Now you are stuck having to either stick with a height you are not happy with, or try to find another solution, which often involves having to pull apart your suspension again. If you are desperate enough, it might even involve an angle grinder (take my word for it – this is usually a bad idea (but we’ve all done it)).

The second problem is that lowering springs are usually used on factory shocks, due to the cost saving aspect (otherwise why not just buy coilovers?). The problem here is that the factory shocks are not made to handle the stiffer lowering springs, and most times are well past their use-by date anyway.

This leads to the dampers having to overwork, often in a range they were not designed for, and they quickly blow as a result.

Now you are left in a position of having to buy new shocks. By the time you have done this and either paid someone to install them, or spent several of your days pulling your suspension in and out at least twice by now, you are in deeper than you would be with a set of coilovers in both time and money.

So in the long run, not only will you most likely not to be satisfied with the ride height, you will also end up spending the same if not more money eventually.

In terms of handing, lowering springs offer no benefit what-so-ever performance wise, which is why practically every racecar on the planet uses coilovers.

One other argument I see for lowering springs and shocks is that they ride better for street use. However, this is simply not the case, and only applies if you are comparing them to cheaper coilover setups that don’t have properly matched springs and dampers.

However, by the time you have bought a really good set of shocks and lowering springs which are properly matched to give you this good ride, you will have spent at least as much as a coilover kit would have cost you. So this argument doesn’t hold much weight either.

What Exactly Are Coilovers?

Coilovers

The term coilover generally refers to a type of suspension most commonly known for being adjust to adjust ride height by winding the shock body or spring perch up or down.

Coilovers were originally designed for racecars and the name literally comes from the fact that they feature a coil spring over a shock (except on divorced rear setups – but don’t worry about that for now).

Coilovers have become an extremely popular modification mostly because they allow you to quickly and easy adjust the car’s ride height and set it to be exactly where you want it.

Also, when setup correctly, they also offer the best handling performance of any suspension kit available on the market today.

Are Coilovers Really That Great?

Yes. Yes they are. But it depends which coilovers you get.

Of course, if you get a cheap kit which are just generic mass produced dampers with some springs thrown on, they are going to ride rough and you probably won’t have a good time (unless you just want to go low and don’t care).

However, if you buy a slightly more expensive coilover kit that has been properly designed for the car, there is literally no reason they are going to ride any worse than a shock and spring set up.

Just because a coilover has threads on the shock body and winds up and down does not in any way mean it will ride worse than a shock and spring setup (if fact, it means it might actually ride better – more on this in a bit).

It all depends on the dampening, the spring rate, how these are matched together and selected for the car.

Some companies spend a significant amount of time tuning their coilovers for each specific vehicle, to provide the perfect balance of ride comfort for the road and handling for the track.

The Benefits Of Coilovers

Lowered Honda S2000

Coilovers give you a whole list of benefits over shock and spring setups.

Ride Height Adjustment & Shock Travel

The most obvious one is the fact that they give you the ability to adjust the ride height quickly and easily, as much as you like. This allows you to set the ride height to be absolutely perfect.

None of that sinking heart feeling when you lower the jack and realise your car is still too high (most of you who have bought lowering springs will know what I’m talking about).

However, there’s another element of this which I briefly touched on earlier.

Most coilover kits these days are designed to lower the car by lowering the whole shock body, rather than using shorter springs (lowering springs) or winding the spring perch down (some coilovers still use this, such as KW and ST).

The benefit of this is that the damper is able to always operate in its optimal range, giving you not only a more comfortable ride and minimizing the chances of bottoming out, but also meaning that the dampers are going to last a whole lot longer.

Compare this with using a shorter spring (lowering springs) which forces the damper to work in a lower range and cuts out a good chunk of its travel. This means you are more likely to bottom out, the ride will be worse, and the damper is bound to blow out sooner.

Now, to be fair, this may not be an issue if you are just going 15-20mm lower, but any more than that and you are rolling on thin ice.

That’s also the reason I’m not a fan of coilovers that use the spring perch to lower the ride height – they have this same issue. Coilovers like KW, ST and some other European manufacturers use this for some reason.

Dampening Adjustment

Another benefit of coilovers is that a large majority of them these days come with adjustable dampening, which allows you fine tune the ride to how you like and quickly change if you want softer of stiffer – say for a track day.

Now, to be fair, you can buy shocks for regular springs which do this, but they tend to be on the upper end of the price range and most people buying lowering springs are not going to get these.

Customizability

Coilovers give you the option to customize several things to get the perfect setup.

Most coilover springs are universal, which means that if you are not happy with the ride and want a different spring rate, or you have specific requirements you can just buy different springs and swap them in. Most good coilover companies will also allow you to select custom spring rates and will valve the dampers to suit these as well.

Coilovers also allow you to run camber adjustable strut mounts, or swap between rubber and pillow ball if you want to change between a better ride or more responsive handling.

Some coilover companies such as Silvers and Fortune Auto have even made their coilovers modular, so that you can upgrade them to 2 or 3 way dampening adjustable if you need to later on.

These are all things you don’t get with lowering springs.

Rebuildable

Many coilover kits on the market today are either rebuildable or the shock inserts are replaceable.

This means that now you don’t have to throw out the kit if you blow a shock like you used to some years ago.

Now, you can either buy the parts and get them rebuilt, or you can send them in to have the manufacturer rebuild them for you.

Now, again, some shocks designed to work with normal springs are rebuildable as well, but these will usually cost you as much as a coilover kit anyway.

Summary: The Benefits of Coilovers Over Lowering Springs

  • Quick and easy ride height adjustment
  • Dampers work in their optimal range for better ride comfort and longer lifetime
  • Adjustable dampening on most coilover models
  • Big customizability range – spring rates, damper valving, camber adjustable strut mounts and more
  • Some are modular and can be upgraded
  • You get new dampers with the coilovers
  • Coilovers are rebuildable

Conclusion: Coilovers Are Better In Every Way

In the end, the fact is that coilovers are better in practically every way if you want to lower your car or improve its handling performance.

Sure, if you get cheap coilovers, they are going to ride worse than a really good shock and spring setup. But by the time you pay for that, you may as well buy a good quality coilover kit for the same price and be done with it.

Decent coilovers aren’t even that expensive. Some kits like the TEIN Flex Z, which has an excellent reputation, can be picked up for about $750 (you can find them here) and offer a very comfortable street ride, adjustable damping and can handle track use.

With kits like these, there’s really no reason to go for lowering springs unless you really want to lower your car right now and will upgrade in a few months.

If you want to get coilovers for your car, you can a wide range of coilovers for the best price here.

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