More often than not, dialing in the performance characteristics of a modified vehicle is a multi-phased process rather than a one-time stint in the garage. Aside from tweaking settings to best suit the expectations of the driver/owner, our demands for our vehicles can change over time – especially when it comes to daily driven street cars.
Perhaps you initially set a threshold for modifications only to later realize that you want more – be it speed, braking, or in this instance, more cornering ability.
The vehicle in question is a 2012 RAM 1500 that rolled into our shop already having been previously lowered, but the owner was ready to take the truck’s handling to the next level.
Our strategy here was two-fold: increase roll stiffness with a set of Hellwig sway bars, and increase damping performance with a set of QA1’s double-adjustable shock absorbers.
The Hellwig sway bars. (PN 7708 – Front, 7709 – Rear) These bars are direct replacement components that reuse factory end links and hardware, and feature polyurethane bushings and a limited lifetime warranty.
You may remember our recent feature on a Hellwig sway bar install on a 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost. To an even larger degree than on sporty coupes like the Mustang, full-sized truck suspensions are designed to understeer at the limit in order to keep drivers out of trouble if they overcook a corner or otherwise lose grip while mid-corner.
With a higher center of gravity and a typically more compliant ride than you’d find in a coupe, stock truck suspensions are usually not geared toward road-hugging performance from the factory and instead focus on comfort, towing capability and ground clearance.
The owner of this pickup had already set out to change some of those characteristics with the RAM’s dropped ride height, but springs are only one piece of the suspension puzzle. Getting the truck’s roll control in check was a top priority.
The rear sway bar features three different end link mounting points to adjust the bar's aggressiveness. The adjustable end links are included to compensate for this truck's lowered ride height.
“The roll stiffness of a vehicle determines not only the amount of body roll it exhibits but also understeer/neutral/oversteer,” says Ben Knaus at Hellwig Products. “Roll stiffness is determined by the entire suspension, but a sway bar is there specifically to increase this.”
[quote align=”alignright” width=”250″]The roll stiffness of a vehicle determines not only the amount of body roll it exhibits but also understeer/neutral/oversteer. Roll stiffness is determined by the entire suspension but a sway bar is there specifically to increase this. -Ben Knaus, Hellwig Products[/quote]Hellwig carries a line of sway bars made specifically for lowered trucks that are designed to both increase roll stiffness as well as alter the ratio between the front and rear suspension to yield more neutral handling characteristics, which in turn allows for faster and more confident cornering capability.
“The main difference between the car and truck components we offer is that the truck stuff is also beefed up to compensate for increased weight and changing center of gravity for the differing loads,” Knaus adds. “Also, while the car sway bars are tubular, all of our truck bars are solid, heat-treated 4140 chromoly steel.”
These powdercoated bars also include polyurethane bushings to further increase the truck’s road holding capabilities. This particular kit also provides three end link mounting points on the rear bar (PN 7709). “This allows for rate adjustment in order to tune the suspension setup to your specific load or driving style,” Knaus tells us.
Swapping the old front sway bar for the Hellwig piece is a pretty straightforward process. Hold on to the factory hardware as it will be reused with the new bar. Be sure to lubricate the new bushings and line the flat spacer plate up with the holes to which the factory bar was attached.
To secure the bar, attach the U-plates over the bushings using the factory bolts and washers. Reattach the end links to the sway bar reusing the factory hardware, center the bar and tighten the frame bolts to 25-30 ft-lb. Included collar clamps attach to the bar touching the outside face of the D-Bushing to prevent side to side movement.
The installation of the rear sway bar is similar to the front, but there are a few key differences. Since this truck was already lowered, Hellwig also sent along a set of adjustable end links (P/N 7960). These end links are offered in a wide range of lengths to compensate for lifted and lowered vehicles. Secondly, the rear bar offers three different mounting points to adjust the suspension’s characteristics in terms of understeer/neutral/oversteer.
Hellwig recommends using the middle mounting point to get a feel for how the sway bars affect your vehicle and then adjusting to taste, if needed. The outer mounting point is the mildest setting while the furthest in the most aggressive. The owner of the truck wanted the full monty in terms of oversteer characteristics, so we used the inner-most mounting point. Frame bolts should be tightened to 25-30 ft-lb.
“The sway bars have kept the truck from pitching and diving when taking corner’s at speed. It now takes a ‘set’ and doesn’t push through the corner,” says Dave Lukason, the owner of the RAM 1500. “The rear bar has helped keep the rear from ‘floating’ on uneven pavement.”
Double Adjustability Means A Shock For Every Occasion
Whether you’re looking for a suspension tuning that makes the car feel like it’s on rails or one that reminds you of an old Cadillac, the shocks play a huge role in determining the car’s handling and compliance. With a typical monotube shock you don’t have the ability to make any adjustments to those characteristics, so manufacturers will typically select a shock based upon what they anticipate the buyer will want, and that’s typically a compromise between handling capability and comfort, with the scale tipping to one side or the other based upon the vehicle’s performance aspirations as it left the factory.
A cutaway view of QA1’s double adjustable shocks. Adjustable twin-tube shocks allow the driver to alter the characteristics of their suspension by making small adjustments to the valving of the shock absorber. Image: QA1
For trucks this is usually a vote for comfort/compliance, resulting in soft dampers that will provide a cushy ride. That soft ride comes at the cost of the truck’s ability to handle well. But what if you want shocks that can do both? That’s where QA1’s double-adjustable Stocker Star shocks come in.
The QA1 Stocker Star shocks are non-coil-over aluminum body shocks with application specific mounting and are offered for various GM, Ford and Chrysler applications. The Stocker Star shocks are offered in double adjustable (with independent compression and rebound adjustment), single adjustable (which adjusts compression and rebound simultaneously), drag race “R” Series (which are designed specifically drag racing), and non-adjustable valving. For this particular install the owner preferred the double adjustable models.
Not only do these shocks provide ride height adjustability, they also offer more than 300 different rebound and compression setting combinations with 18 different valving positions for each, meaning that the shocks’ characteristics can be altered to cater to comfort or performance (or somewhere in the middle) by changing the settings on each shock.
These give you the ability to tune your vehicle to be a no-holds-barred terror on the road course one minute and a comfortable cruiser on the way home from the track later that day. Or you can just simply find that perfect all-around setting that works for you and leave it there.
“Knowing what the vehicle is primarily used for helps to determine which adjustable shocks or non-adjustable shocks should be used,” says Damien Brase, Fitment Technician at QA1. “The wide adjustment range of the double adjustable shocks allows the same shock to be used for a number of applications by simply turning the adjustment knob(s) located on the base of the shock to change the valving.”
[quote align=”alignleft” width=”260″]The wide adjustment range of the double adjustable shocks allows the same shock to be used for a number of applications by simply turning the adjustment knob(s) located on the base of the shock to change the valving. -Damien Brase[/quote]Since this RAM 1500 already rode on a modified suspension when it came into the shop there wasn’t a specific part to use with it. But after providing some measurements to QA1’s team, they were able to supply us with a set of double-adjustable shocks based on the lowered stance of the truck.
“If we do not have an application listed in our catalog or the vehicle height has been modified we will need to know the length of the shocks from mount to mount with the vehicle sitting at normal ride height,” Brase added. “From that measurement we can determine the shock length needed to ensure there is adequate travel so the shocks will not top out or bottom out. Knowing the length and the mounting configuration allows us to help the customer build their own custom shocks that will fit with minimal modification.”
By providing QA1 with the width of the mounting sleeves and the bolt diameter, they were able to spec out a set of shocks that matched up perfectly with the truck's already-modified suspension.
“The shocks have allowed me to set the rebound and compression settings to make the truck feel much more stable. Going down the freeway it does not bounce and hop around like it used to,” explains Lukason. “It feels much more controlled, especially at higher speeds.”
Built in the U.S.A. at QA1’s Lakeville, Minnesota, factory, these shocks can be revalved or rebuilt by QA1 or at its authorized service centers.
More Options, More Capability
Just swapping out the sway bars and shocks, this truck now sports a suspension that allows for adjustability in terms of ride height, suspension compression and rebound, and understeer/oversteer characteristics with dozens of different combinations possible.
Not only is the handling tightened up substantially over the setup it had when it rolled into the garage, the owner now has the ability to adjust a vast array of the suspension’s behavior to dial in exactly what he wants from it. If he later decides he wants something else out of the RAM’s handling capabilities, he can transform the suspension’s character without swapping out a single part. “All in all a great upgrade, and neither have degraded the ride in any way – they just made it better”, says Lukason.
This RAM was a modified vehicle that required some involvement from both Hellwig Products and QA1. The message from both companies was the same: you’re not limited to what you find on the QA1 website or in the Hellwig Products application listing, they will work with customers to make sure that the right parts can be acquired for custom applications, too.