The standard suspension on many new 4x4s is woefully inadequate, especially when loaded up for the big trip away, so it’s fortunate there are plenty of suspension options available that will provide additional ground clearance and better load-carrying capacity. These attributes will not only improve a vehicle’s off-road capability but also its ride quality and safety.
Give me a lift
A vehicle can be raised up to 75mm in most states of Australia, without having to seek an engineer’s certificate. Up to 25mm of this height increase can be achieved by fitting larger diameter tyres, and another 50mm by fitting a raised suspension system.
The obvious advantage of raised suspension is that it provides more ground clearance for off-road driving, as well as improving the vehicle’s approach, ramp-over and departure angles. Of arguably more importance, however, is a suspension system that will also provide more wheel travel.
In the case of some vehicles with independent suspension, this can be difficult to achieve as there are limitations in suspension geometry; but with live-axle vehicles most suspension specialists will be able to provide longer-travel springs and dampers.
There are specific suspension requirements for those who tow heavy trailers and caravans. If the rear suspension sags when a correctly balanced trailer is hitched to the vehicle, then heavier rear springs will need to be fitted, or the vehicle’s current springs will need to be complimented with air bags or air-helper springs.
4x4 opinion: The difference between good and bad suspension
Air bags can be inflated when there’s a heavy load on board the vehicle or when hauling a trailer, and then deflated to a lower pressure when there’s only a light load or no trailer, minimising the effect on unladen ride quality.
Selecting the correct suspension system to match the load your vehicle carries is vitally important. This is why most suspension system manufacturers and suppliers offer various kits to suit different loads, whether in the form of vehicle accessories or cargo. If your vehicle is equipped with a bullbar, winch and driving lights, for example, it will need heavier front springs than a vehicle with no accessories fitted.
Or if you have a ute with a canopy, drawers, long-range fuel tank and water tank fitted, you’ll need heavier springs in the back than someone with a standard ute who occasionally throws a board in the tray for an early morning surf.
The best way to ascertain the load your vehicle will carry when touring is to fit all accessories and load it up as you would for your trip away, then put in on a weighbridge. Armed with this information, your suspension specialist will be able to help you choose the right spring and damper package to suit the weight of the vehicle and the conditions you’re likely to encounter on your travels.
The full kit
Most aftermarket suspension manufacturers and suppliers will be able to fit an integrated suspension system to your vehicle that includes springs, shock absorbers, bushes and other components, all designed to work in unison.
As well as different spring rates to suit different loads, there are a number of dampers (shock absorbers) available, such as mono-tube shocks, twin-tube shocks, foam-cell shocks, bypass shocks and shocks with remote reservoirs.
Choosing the right dampers for your vehicle will depend on your requirements and your budget, but always go with a reputable brand and one that has outlets around the country in case you have a failure far from home.
The gear that counts on 4x4 Touring Essentials Gear Guide