Your car’s suspension is something that hardly anyone can agree upon and very few people understand it properly. Different roads, weather, driving styles, curb weights, and so many things contribute to all the chaotic chatter. Particularly, every aspect of the confusion stems from the degree of stiffness your suspension should have.
As you see those high-performance cars with hefty price tags use stiff suspension, you may think a stiff suspension will work similarly on your vehicle while off-roading. But, is stiff suspension good for off-road? The answer is no. A stiff suspension isn’t good for off-roading at all.
Ideally, an off-roading vehicle should have a soft suspension so that you won’t clench your teeth or break your jaw due to abrupt stops when thrilling over rough terrains and take full advantage of all the suspension articulation.
Understanding Stiff Suspension Vs Soft Suspension – The Basics
Before we delve into the core of our discussion, let’s first understand what it means by a stiff and soft suspension. However, suspension stiffness is the main fact that differentiates a stiff suspension from the soft one. So, it’s good to also get an idea about the stiffness of a suspension.
Suspension stiffness refers to the resistance of the suspension spring to changes in length when it compresses or stretches. This will be more clarified if we express it as the spring rate.
The spring rate is used to measure how much force is needed to compress an object by one inch. It’s a universally accepted measurement, from automobile springs to torsion springs. The higher a suspension’s spring rate, the stiffer it is. Now you might be ready to learn about the stiff and soft suspension.
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A stiff suspension is simply a suspension setup that has a spring with higher stiffness or spring rate. In other words, this type of suspension requires more force or weight to be compressed lengthwise.
Since the spring of a stiff suspension is more rigid, it causes you to feel bumps more, giving you a rougher ride. However, stiff suspensions are well-recognized to give a car better aerodynamic properties.
This is the reason expensive high-performance cars normally have a particularly rigid suspension, allowing them to have better control at high speeds, especially when taking sharp turns or cornering.
The greater the suspension rigidity, the quicker they can take curves and dictate the road. At the same time, some trucks also have a stiff suspension because they’re loaded with a lot of extra weight.
Technically, if a truck has a suspension with a low spring rate and climbs to carry or pull a heavy load, this could lead it to sag or become dangerously uneven, which eventually affects stability and causes damage. In such cases, a rigid suspension allows significant payload weight and ensures competent handling.
As the name implies, a soft suspension is what feels soft or less rigid. And opposite to a stiff suspension, this type of suspension has a lower spring rate. A soft suspension on a vehicle reduces the general harshness of the ride, even on rough or bumpy terrains due to the increased suppleness and flexibility of the suspension spring.
Generally, the majority of cars, including small or light trucks, and most SUVs are equipped with soft suspension. These types of vehicles are not intended either for high-speed racing or carrying heavy loads.
Since they primarily transport people or small items, the only concern is maintaining a comfortable ride. This is why a soft suspension system is so often utilized in such vehicles.
Is Stiff Suspension Good For Off-Road?
You might already know a stiff suspension isn’t good for off-road. Now, let’s focus on more details. So, why is a stiff suspension not good for off-roading?
To understand this fact, let’s initially look at the purpose of suspension springs. Firstly, a suspension system secures the vehicle’s tires so they can maintain their grip on the road. Secondly, it makes the vehicle more comfortable, both for the drivers and passengers.
However, off-road driving means your vehicle is on a road full of bumps or dips, or at least the road just doesn’t seem to be smooth at all. When a dip in the roadway shows up, the suspension spring pushes down onto the tire to enable it to defy the dip and maintain good traction.
Similarly, when a bump in the roadway shows up, the spring facilitates the raising of the tire over the bump without the vehicle body moving much, again in order to protect the vehicle from tilting out of control.
So, it’s all about proper grip or traction, right? But, how can a soft suspension provide better traction than a stiff suspension while off-roading? To get it more clarified, let’s assume you’re in a vehicle that has no suspension.
A vehicle with no suspension means when you hit a bump the vehicle has no choice except for being lifted, meaning the vehicle will have no contact with the ground. Similarly, when you have a stiff suspension in your vehicle, it will lose contact with the ground or go airborne because you don’t get instant feedback from the suspension while hitting bumps.
On the other hand, as you lower the spring rate or make the suspension softer, the suspension becomes better at conforming to every bump or dip, thus ensuring better traction.
Ultimately, a soft suspension will more effectively adapt to road irregularities than stiffer springs, while still providing tangible contact with the road surface, making them more effective for off-roading.
Tips on Enhancing Your Off-Road Suspension
Off-Roading can give you a surge of adrenaline whether you’re driving across uneven terrain made of hillocks, dirt, sand, or mud, riverbeds composed of rocks and other natural landscaping, or uneven surfaces such as damaged pavement.
When you’re taking a more leisurely ride, the pavement on your vehicle’s suspension can become damaged. Rapid acceleration, heavy loads, and other abuse from divots in the ground can cause your suspension’s stock to become damaged. However, following some simple tips can help to enhance your suspension even while off-roading. These may include:
Be Mindful of Your Speed
While the bumps and dips render suspension difficult, the suspension’s operation is also affected by how fast the vehicle moves when it hits these bumps and dips. The suspension system only functions at its base range first gear when moving slowly, however, even then, the bumps and dips can cause it to work arduously.
On-road driving, obviously, increases the speed at which a vehicle can travel alongside the fact that the road surface bumps act upon the suspension. Not only this, but the issues that arise from poor suspension quality beneath the vehicle speed at which it performs best also become more critical at slower speeds, especially as the vehicle travels along higher-speed roads.
Tune the Damper
Since suspension dampers have less strenuous work to do, you’ll only need to have really complex suspension in simple driving conditions. In poor driving conditions, you can even get away with not having overly difficult suspension so long as you use leaf springs with intrinsic self-damping properties.
Furthermore, getting damper tuning right is of circumference to ensure the suspension of the vehicle is able to perform well. Alongside, it is a time-consuming undertaking compared to the task involved with getting the spring rates in line, which is a basic technical aspect.
Don’t Underestimate Your Shocks
Generally speaking, the quality of shocks is more significant in terms of your off-road experience than you might anticipate. Inexpensive shocks may wear out quickly, or they might not function properly or be adjustable enough to receive the ideal performance possible.
So, opt for a large-diameter monotube shock absorber that propels additional fluid and flows more rapidly, or pick a set of remote reservoir shocks. You want something not only very durable and that will likewise remain cool, something different that enables you to adjust the ride your truck or SUV requirements with a new suspension for a comfortable and secure journey.
The suspension in your car is not only meant for ride comfort, rather it determines how safe your journey will be regardless of the road condition. However, when it comes to off-road driving, you shouldn’t ever neglect the suspension.
And most importantly, don’t interchange a stiff and soft suspension. As you might have realized from the above discussion, riding with extremely stiff suspension in off-road conditions can lead to dangerous situations.