How to Improve the Suspension on Your Pickup Truck
Suspensions have two major functions:
- Support the weight of the truck
- Absorb the bumps of road and trail
Perhaps you recently bought a new half-ton pickup and it rides like a Cadillac. Nice!
But even though the ride is great, you’ve noticed lately that it’s starting to squat. There are many reasons why that might be happening…
- began towing a light-duty camper
- filled the bed with tools and equipment
- set up a salt spreader in the back
- installed a slide-in camper
- added a heavy cap over the bed
- fit a snowplow or winch on the front end
As we mentioned above, the goal is to keep the truck level and stable while, at the same time, improve over-all ride quality. Here is a list of things you should consider if you want to properly upgrade your suspension:
- Upgrade the shocks
- Add spring helpers
- Add torsion bars
- Use a lift kit
- Tune-up the suspension
Upgrade the shocks
One of the fastest ways to beef up your suspension is to upgrade your shocks. This might be all that you need but beware of being too aggressive. Any time you veer away from OEM equipment you are taking a bit of a gamble. Most of the time an upgrade translates into “stiffer.” And, of course, this can help you control a saggy rear end and help keep your tires on the ground. But it doesn't necessarily translate to a smooth and comfortable ride.
That said, if you plan to carry heavy loads up to and including towing, it is probably a good idea to go for heavy-duty shocks to keep your rear end from bottoming out.
One word about shock upgrades: Unless you are installing a lift kit, steer away from shocks that are meant to compensate for a lift, not provide one. You’ll end up with less travel on your shocks, and likely ruin them as well.
Add helper springs
You might also consider reinforcing your springs if you’re planning to do some heavy hauling. For leaf springs (a common rear suspension for trucks) you could simply add another leaf, or use 'spring helpers' that bolt on to your existing springs to add tension and strength.
Coil springs are more common on the front end and can be reinforced by fairly inexpensive, easily-applied supports. A polyurethane brace can be slipped into the spring coil, reducing the amount of play in the spring without adding any additional ride height.
These types of spring helpers help to prevent the suspension from squatting and can actually increase your ride height giving your truck a slightly lifted appearance.
An alternative to the above is the hollow rubber spring. These rubber springs usually replace the factory bump stops, sitting between the frame and the axle, only engaging with the axle when the vehicle is loaded.
Crank up the torsion bars
Many trucks have adjustable torsion bars in the front end which allow you to change the ride height, raising it to match a lift in the rear, or lowering it to keep it level if the rear springs are being taxed.
Check your owner’s manual for adjustment procedures. Better yet – since you will need a re-alignment after adjusting the ride height – pay your alignment specialist to do it for you.
With torsion bar adjustment in the front, leaf spring helpers in the back and heavy-duty shocks all the way around, you can keep your truck level under load.
*Keep in mind that torsion bar adjustments do not increase your travel range, only the clearance of your wheel well over your tire.
Add a lift kit.
Use your best judgment when it comes to using a lift kit. Lift kits can provide an inch or two all the way up to twelve inches and more. Don't get carried away. Just a couple of inches can make a dramatic difference. But the more you add to your clearance height, the more likely you’ll have to get new shocks to match. (At some point you're actually sacrificing stability and reliability, as well as making it harder to get into your trunk.)
Pick out the right size of lift kit. If you've already got spring helpers and better shocks in place, and you are still riding low in the back, go for a 2" (or even a 1.5") lift kit. For coil springs this is usually another polyurethane insert that just lowers the point where your spring connects to the chassis.
For leaf springs, this is a shim that goes where your springs come into contact with your axle, and sometimes with shackles to adjust where they connect on the chassis side. If you are very lucky, you can boost up the rear end (again, matching heavy-duty shocks, of a length that matches your lift) and just use torsion bars to compensate and level your front ride height.
In some cases (where there are no adjustable torsion bars) you'll need a lift kit that covers all four wheels unless you are okay with having your rear end sitting higher than your front when the vehicle is unloaded.
Tune-up the suspension
Before you start adding new parts, consider getting a suspension tune-up first. Even if your truck was recently serviced, chances are the mechanic gave the suspension only a modest tuning. Keep in mind that suspension tune-ups are usually done to prepare a truck for average demands.
However, you might need a more dynamic response from your suspension if you constantly haul heavy loads or drive along rugged terrain. A mechanic who understands can tune your suspension to match more adequately your use of the truck.
Here is a list of things to consider if you require a suspension tune-up:
- Examine the springs
- Inspect the shocks absorbers
- Check the steering system
- Examine the bushings, bearings, joints and linkages for wear
- Inspect your wheel alignment
- Check the power steering fluid and belt
- Examine the tread on your tires
- Check the air pressure in your tires
If your truck suspension fails to carry the weight of your vehicle adequately and absorb the inconsistencies of the road and trail, you need a suspension upgrade.
One type of helper spring that provides load leveling, added stability and good ride quality is the Aeon® hollow rubber spring. Timbren SES products have Aeon® springs in every kit.