With some of the world’s most beautiful countryside, Australia has quickly become a nation of adventurers. With the right equipment and 4×4 suspension modifications, your vehicle can take you from the beach to the outback without skipping a beat. With 4×4 components becoming more affordable than ever, many people have begun to wonder which types of suspension are best for off road driving.
In this article we’re going to cover some basic suspension components and setups to see which ones are the best for your application.
The Major Components of 4×4 Suspension
Suspension setups are made of just a few simple components. While there are hundreds of different suspension technologies and configurations, they all use four core components:
- Coil springs, leaf springs and torsion bars are designed to hold the wheels and suspension in the correct position. They do this by absorbing the movement of the wheels and dampening shocks and vibrations from the road.
- Shock absorbers. Shock absorbers stabilise the ride and work together with the springs to manage the movement of the wheels.
- The type of axle your car uses – independent axles or solid axles – will determine its off road capabilities and which suspension setup you need to use.
- Wheels and tyres. Your wheel and tyre combination can make all the difference in off road performance and handling. The ideal wheel and tyre package is matched to the vehicle, the type of driving you’re doing and your suspension setup.
Independent Suspension Setups
Like the name suggests, the main feature of independent suspension is that it allows each wheel to move independently. This is a common type of suspension found on passenger cars, but it is also suitable for off road driving. Independent suspension setups on modern 4x4s typically use MacPherson strut or double wishbone configurations. These types of suspension provide a more comfortable ride, improve the handling and are a lightweight solution. The only downside to independent suspension is the complexity. Each of the suspension and drivetrain components needs to be able to move independently. That means there are lots of individual parts, increasing maintenance requirements and making durability a concern.
Solid Axle Suspension Setups
Solid axle suspension is usually considered the gold standard for heavy-duty off road driving. Unlike independent suspension which features dozens of drivetrain components, solid axle setups use a single, solid axle component. The solid axle assembly contains the differential and the axles into a single unit that connects two wheels together. Because the wheels are connected by a solid housing, they’re unable to move independently of each other. That means solid axle setups are heavier and the ride is less comfortable. The real benefit of solid axle suspension is durability. With most of the drivetrain components housed in a single, tough unit, solid axles are highly suited to off road driving, especially through rocky or difficult terrain.
How to Choose the Right 4×4 Suspension
There’s no shortage of 4×4 suspension upgrades available these days. If you’re the type of person who loves to pack up and spend the weekend adventuring, the right suspension components can make sure you’re ready for the toughest terrain. Ultimately, you need to design a suspension setup that’s right for your vehicle and lifestyle. Consider the following before investing in suspension upgrades:
- How the vehicle is used. Do you spend your time on soft sand? Crawling up rocky trails? Or is your 4×4 mostly used around town? Suspension needs vary depending on how the car is used, so it’s a good idea to prioritise whichever type of driving you do most.
- Legal limits. Suspension modifications can dramatically change the way your vehicle handles. For that reason, the Australian Government places certain limits on suspension upgrades. Things like lift kits, off road tyres and ground clearance are all monitored, so you need to design a suspension system that is both safe and legal for on-road use.
- Weight capacity. It’s great fun to load up your 4×4 with camping equipment and your mates, but the weight of your gear adds up quickly. Especially if you have modifications like bullbars, roof racks or heavy solid axle suspension components, your vehicle may struggle under the extra weight. Calculate the weight of the vehicle and all your additions and then design a suitable suspension system. Remember that while you can upgrade your vehicle’s GVM in some cases, doing so can affect safety, so it’s better to avoid overloading the vehicle as much as possible.
- Component durability. Complex independent suspension systems are great for how your vehicle handles, both on and off the road. But the durability of the individual components can increase maintenance requirements and prove to be a problem in harsh environments. Decide what sort of terrain you spend the most time driving through and then choose a suspension setup that matches your durability and maintenance requirements.