How Off-Roading Affects Truck Components and Suspension
If you take your truck, SUV or ATV on off-roading excursions frequently, you will begin to see a difference in the suspension system — bumps will start to feel harder, and you’ll also notice them more frequently. Yet, this doesn’t always have to do with the terrain and its harsh layout. When you start to feel your ride is rougher, it often relates to a flattened suspension system.
A worn down system means the springs that make up the suspension are not “springing” back to their original forms. If you’re not proactive and don't check your off-road suspension, severe permanent damage can occur, resulting in an inoperable vehicle. Neglecting your axle and springs can even compromise your safety on and off the beaten path.
With the off-roading vehicle market predicted to reach about 13.5 billion USD by 2024
, you’ll need to rely on the experts for suspension replacements for driving around the mud, sand and rocks off-road.
Purpose of Suspension Upgrades
Suspension modifications are ideal for any off-roading equipment. The idea of upgrading your system is to get rid of the stock suspension and raise the body and frame of your vehicle. Not only does the new installation create extra ground clearance to allow larger tires, but it also increases the suspension travel.
Suspension travel is the extent of vertical wheel movement allowed by the system. It helps your vehicle make more effective and safe contact with whatever terrain you’re on. If the wheels on your truck or ATV have limited contact with the ground, you won’t move an inch.
Installing a new suspension for off-roading also smooths out bumps and shocks and controls the stability of your vehicle. Springs absorb forces that act on the wheels to lessen the harsh impacts of rough riding. A suspension’s purpose is also to improve how the vehicle handles during turns and braking as well as to protect heavy loads of materials.
But before you invest in an off-road suspension kit, think about the typical terrain you drive, how fast you accelerate and if the vehicle serves as a dual-purpose with on-highway driving. Hitting high speeds on the sand and softer ground requires different systems than those that perform on rock crawling or tough environments.
- Does your vehicle perform on-road driving?
- What situation is most common to operate in?
- Are you installing larger tires?
- Do you drive at consistent speeds or make harsh accelerations?
The best thing you can do when searching for the right off-road suspension design is to consider safety, comfort and traction. While there is not one single suspension system that is perfect for both on and off-roading, there are modifications that can deliver excellent performance on both.
The Ins and Outs of Leaf and Coil Suspensions
Depending on the type of components that meet your off-roading requirements, you will have different parts for your suspension compared to someone else. However, there are a few things to familiarize yourself with before investing in new leaf springs or shock absorbers.
Caster and camber are two crucial angles to consider. A caster angle is part of the front suspension system to help form stable steering that will return to the center when you let go of the wheel. Camber is the angle of your truck’s tires to the road. When you have negative camber, the tires lean in at the top, while positive camber means that the tires shift out.
1. Leaf Springs
As mentioned before, various types of suspensions have different components. Axles are a constant, however. An axle runs from one side of your ATV to the other, and the whole piece moves as the suspension cycles through varying speeds.
The leaf spring and solid axle combination is a standard system that’s durable and simple. It performs as a double-duty solution that fixes to the axle and suspends the vehicle. Attached by U-bolts, the springs run parallel to the frame. The springs are mounted solidly on one end and installed to a shackle that pivots on the other. They compress when the axle move up over obstacles in the road. As the leaf springs become flatter, the shackle allows them to move and sway without binding.
The benefit of its multi-leaf design allows the spring to have a progressive spring rate. As compression rises, the spring rate also increases. Because they vary in length, width, thickness, arch and number of leaves, the springs can suspend almost anything. Pair your leaf springs with a shock that has the proper dampening skills to control rebounding springs.
Leaf springs are the most economical and most straightforward design for an off-road truck or ATV. Made of spring steel that returns to its original state after deforming, the leaf pieces stack in varying widths to accommodate different needs.
Stock leaf springs give you a nice ride under regular activity and an unloaded vehicle. But when you install aftermarket pieces, you can haul loads or go off-roading because of an overload spring below or above the one in place.Shop General Spring Leaf Springs
2. Coil Springs
Another aspect to think about is the radius arm setup that uses coil springs as opposed to leaf. While coil springs are more compact, they can only support the weight of your truck. The suspension components locate the axle and allow it to move, which is opposite of a leaf spring. The radius arm design has two arms that correspond to the frame. They have a solid mount to the axle housing and fasten to a rod on the frame, which allows the axle to pivot up and down.
From the frame to the axle, a track bar runs perpendicular to the radius arms, keeping the axle aligned on the frame. The caster angle changes when the suspension cycles since the radius arms are fixed.
The solid coil spring suspension is a dependent system that replaces several leaf springs with coil springs that have a more stable design. In return, they give you a smoother and quieter ride.Shop General Spring Coil Springs
What Type of Suspension System and Parts Are Ideal and Safe for Off-Roading?
Many truck suspensions for off-roading are available that can suit your particular requirements. While they all replace worn out, old components, each also offers specific qualities for certain environments. It’s important to understand your options, how they work, what they do and what they don’t do.
The most common kinds of springs are coil and leaf. They both require shock absorbers to lessen the vibration of driving over unsteady land. Each wheel has a spring and shock absorber, but the front and rear suspension are different. The front absorbs more braking torque and is more complex. The wheels are larger in the front, and they are the first to hit off-road bumps.
On four-wheel drive vehicles, the front suspension is often made of a solid axle with leaf or coil springs — also referred to as a dependent system. The wheels connect laterally, moving together as a single unit and the springs attach to the frame as U-bolts hold it to the axle housing.
Shock absorbers are ideal for off-roading, located on the opposite sides of the axle. One in the front and one behind will lessen the amount of axle tramp, which is a fast up and down motion of the rear axle caused by quick acceleration. The addition of sway bars controls body roll of the truck.
Aside from 4x4 trucks, ATV and utility-task vehicle (UTV) suspensions are often independent. Many of the vehicles have dual A-arm suspension on the front where the upper and lower arms form the A shape with strut located above the upper arm. The rear independent system often angles toward the back end for a smoother ride.
Other types of 4x4, SUV and ATV suspensions on top of leaf and coil solutions include the following:
1. Independent Front Suspension
Also known as an IFS, an independent suspension can operate as a two or four-wheel drive system. When it comes to two-wheel drive, it’s ideal for racing. However four-wheel drive independent suspensions are more popular because they are compact.
The most common setup has unequal A-arms that mount perpendicular to the frame, attaching to an upright. The arms pivot at both ends, allowing the front wheels to move independently from each other. The top is often shorter than bottom to help keep things parallel to the ground. An A-arm design encourages a consistent caster angle and camber positioning. In the independent front suspension, coils, struts and torsion bars are like straightened-out coil springs that promote springing. They are a combination of a coil spring and shock absorber.
2. Four-Link Suspensions
Four-link suspensions come in two types — parallel or triangulated.
A parallel four-link suspension system has solid upper and lower links positioned on each side of the vehicle that also has pivot points on both ends. Using a track bar and coil springs, the suspension centers the axle. As the axle cycles, the links help it maintain the proper relationship with the landscape as the caster angle remains the same.
With this type, you can choose between shock and spring combinations. It’s tuneable for any environment as you can adjust the angles and length of each link, which can affect how the vehicle reacts to braking, accelerating, turning, high-speed performance and low-speed performance. When the suspension responds quickly, it can keep the tires on the ground to increase driver control.
While the parallel type relies on a track bar to find the axle, the triangulated four-link suspension has links that are mounted at greater angles, eliminating the need for a track bar. With wider top links at the frame that narrow at the axle housing, the lower links mount at opposite angles, helping to resist side-to-side movement.
3. Twin-Traction Beam Suspension
A twin-traction beam suspension for off-road vehicles is also known as a TTB. Made of twin I-beams, it’s a combination of both a dependent and independent system. There are two beams at the front end where each mounts onto a pivot at one end, and on the other, joins onto a wheel. A U-joint in the center allows both beams to move independently.
The design is similar to a solid axle, but the drive axles and housing hinge in the center. Because of the structure, the wheels move on an arc, changing the camber. The system may have an odd appearance, but it’s strong. It spreads stress and compression out over a larger surface area thanks to the long beams. Twin-traction also provides great shock ratio.
4. Double Wishbone Suspension
Also known as A-arm suspension, a double wishbone system has drop-down brackets to help your vehicle gain ground clearance. It isolates the tire while keeping its travel aligned to the road, which maximizes driver control. The wishbone can even keep the wheels straight throughout a range of travel and gravel types. When your 4x4 goes over bumps, the angle of your tires and steering wheel stays the same, resulting in straighter steering.
The dual system is also the preferred system for Trophy Trucks that can have tires that reach up to 42 inches tall
. Accompanied by rear solid axles, a wishbone and trailing arms, the dual system offers maximum suspension that can travel between 36 and 40 inches. It’s often a custom-built with long and boxed trailing arms that are parallel to the frame. The arms attach to the lower front portion of the chassis, mounting below the axle housing with spherical bearings or heim joints.
A wishbone suspension creates a V shape with the broader part mounted higher on the chassis, above the trailing arms, and the narrow end attached with a single bolt to the rear end housing, allowing it to travel up and down with movement. Additionally, the single pivot point of the wishbone design gives it greater articulation.
Whether you’re searching for the maximum suspension system on the market, one that resists sideways movements or a reliable leaf system, you have options for any off-roading situation at hand.
Suspension Kit Options
Suspension kits are an entire package of parts that can replace your current components. The kit can include shock absorbers, sway bars, springs and other pieces that improve your ATV, truck or SUV. There are two types of suspension kits. Most trucks and SUVs have a body-over–frame construction where a steel frame acts as the foundation for the body and other crucial parts. Suspension lift kits raise a vehicle by way of suspending the frame, engine, body and power train, shifting them above the wheels. As a result, the distance between the axles and chassis increases.
The second type is a body lift kit where you use spacers to raise the body above the frame. The distance between the two increases, creating more clearance for tires but no modifications occur on the suspension components.
Aftermarket Suspension Parts Available At General Spring
The best way to prolong the life of your off-roading vehicle is to install your suspension parts with replacements that can withstand the roughness that an unpaved road can bring about. Here is a list of recommended suspension parts you might want to consider for off-roading activities:
- Super Springs: Super springs are an easy-to-install suspension part that attaches to your existing leaf springs. The design of these super springs increase your load capacity and allows the attachment work only when needed. The rolling shackles activate when the leaf springs begin to flatten out because of the amount of weight it is taking on. It is where the super springs kick in with its rollers, providing extra support for those bumps in the roads.
- Roadmaster Active Suspension: Roadmaster active systems bring balance to your load. The good thing about standard leaf spring attachments is that they will increase the load capacity and amount of pressure your vehicle takes on. The side effects of such remedies may cause a more sensitive ride. With off-roading, there is no such thing as a smooth ride, but with the Roadmaster Active Suspension system, it will bring balance to your trips, preventing any unnecessary swaying that might cause your vehicle to roll over.
- Heavy Duty Coil Springs: As the Super Springs and Roadmaster Suspension system support the back end of your vehicle, you are going to need something as durable to support the weight being shifted from the back end to the front. Heavy duty coil springs are more durable than your factory installed coil springs and won’t compress as easily. To learn more about Heavy Duty Coil Springs, read, “How to Check Your Current Coil Spring’s Durability.”
- U-bolts: U-bolts are one of the crucial pieces in forming an off-road leaf spring suspension. They act as a permanent tie between the leaves by using its two threaded arms. Over time, your original U-bolts can rust and wear down. Replacing them, along with the rest of your factory suspension, can increase safety, comfort and traction for your off-roading adventures.
- Shackles: Shackles attach the leaf spring to the frame of your vehicle through the eye spring bolt. Use a shackle flip, shackle angle or install larger and longer shackles to boost your ride. Lifting your off-road ride can also allow for more massive tires and make for a smoother drive.
- Timbrens: Timbrens are a way to enhance your ATV, SUV or truck’s suspension system. They can help reduce trailer sway, suspension sag, rough rides and body roll while improving the load capacity of the vehicle. The kit is simple to install to your existing suspension to absorb harsh road shocks. Timbrens also adjust to various road conditions and uneven loads you may be transporting.
Why General Spring Is the Best Place for Off-Roading Suspension Parts
General Springs specializes in leaf springs, coil springs, load support and other attachment parts for your off-roading vehicles. Our engineers can design leaf springs to fit your requirements whether you’re looking for a suspension system for your rock-crawling truck or sand-bearing ATV. We customize leaf springs for any application and older vehicles. General Springs offers a one-year warranty on our products and always have the items you need in stock.
Since 1965, our dedication and knowledge have earned us the respect of off-roading enthusiasts. We are a nation-wide brand that supports our customers with high-quality solutions.
Shop Off-Road Suspension
If you have more questions about the type of suspension parts that your off-roading vehicle might benefit from, contact General Spring
or give us a call at 888-829-0619. Residents in the New Century, Kansas City area, can bring their ATV in for an inspection by calling 913-829-0619 to schedule an appointment. Even if you live out-of-state, contact us online, and we’ll answer any questions you may have right now!