Coilovers are found on many vehicles, from RC cars to normal passenger cars, race cars and 4x4 vehicles. They are sometimes used as a factory suspension option on new cars. Coilovers are used in double wishbone suspension systems, and are often a component of MacPherson struts.
Two of the main types of coilovers are full coilovers and slip-on coilovers. Full coilovers are matched up with a shock absorber from the factory, while with slip-on coilovers, the dampers and springs are bought separately and then assembled.
There are a large number of companies who make aftermarket coilovers for vehicles, many of which allow the customer to adjust various settings such as ride height and damping. Camber and caster angles can also be adjusted if the car's suspension allows, and if the coilovers are supplied with adjustable top mounts. This high degree of adjustment is what gives coilovers an advantage over typical MacPherson struts.
A coilover consists of a damper, with a coil spring encircling it. The damper and spring are assembled as a unit prior to installation, and are replaced as a unit when either of the sub-components fails.
Some coilovers are adjustable. Most, if not all, adjustable coilovers have variable ride height and preload, adjusted using a simple threaded spring perch similar to a nut. Alternatively, the damper's threaded body is matched to a threaded bottom mount which allows ride height adjustment without affecting bump travel. Most coilovers also have adjustable dampers, which are usually adjusted with an adjustment knob on top of the damper. Stiffness can be changed by switching the spring for one with a different spring rate or by adjusting the stiffness of the damper.
The purpose of coilover springs is to prevent the chassis from bottoming out, support each individual wheel on the vehicle, and mitigate or reduce body roll when taking turns and cornering, particularly at higher speeds. The springs also help to reduce squatting when accelerating and diving when decelerating. They are often used to adjust the vehicle's ride height, which directly affects handling and comfort.
Preload is the pressure exerted on a spring over the distance it is compressed. A higher preload means a stiffer spring and a lower preload results in a softer spring with more travel. This is true if the coilover uses progressive springs. On coilovers with linear springs preload has no effect on spring rate. More preload can increase grip when cornering, but too much preload can make a spring too stiff. In coilovers with adjustable spring seats, linear rate springs and no helper or tender springs, ride height must be adjusted through preload. This can present a problem for vehicles whose ride height needs to be lowered but whose springs are already stiff enough.
A mono-tube coilover is a single piston and rod assembly in a damping case in which both compression and rebound occur. A larger mono-tube shock will be able to displace more hydraulic fluid, providing a more sensitive response to small suspension movements than twin-tube shocks.
A twin-tube coilover is more complex than a mono-tube assembly. Twin-tubes have an inner cylinder which moves up and down, and an outer cylinder which serves as a hydraulic reserve. This design allows for an increase in suspension stroke, which provides better ride quality and handling.
Adjustable coilovers allow adjustment of the vehicle's suspension in four main areas:
- Roll stiffness: By fitting springs with a higher spring rate, roll stiffness can be increased. Likewise, a lower spring rate results in increased roll.
- Ride height: By using threaded spring seats or threaded bottom brackets, the ride height of the vehicle can be raised or lowered. The bottom mount is a threaded sleeve with two adjuster nuts that are used to preload the coils and increase or decrease ride height.
- Compression and rebound: The stiffness of the compression and rebound of the suspension can be adjusted if the coilovers use adjustable dampers. Adjustable dampers fall into three main categories: those that adjust compression only, those that adjust rebound only, those that adjust rebound and compression in parallel, and those that are adjustable for rebound and compression independently. This later category can be split further into dampers that have low-speed adjustment and those that have independent high- and low-speed adjustment. An example of high speed in the context of suspension movement would be a car hitting a bump; an example of slow speed movement would be a car changing direction.
- Camber and caster: Some coilover suspension kits may also be supplied with adjustable top mounts. Depending on the design of the car's suspension these top mounts can allow the adjustment of camber and/or caster. Some coilovers use the car's original top mounts and are therefore not adjustable.
Compression & rebound
Compression occurs when the piston inside the damper is moved inwards, increasing the pressure of the fluid in the chamber. Adjusting compression changes the motion of the vehicle's unsprung weight, modifying how quickly weight will shift downwards towards the wheel. Rebound is the result of the piston moving back after having been compressed, resulting in compression of the fluid once more. Adjustments made to rebound control the motion of the vehicle's sprung weight, changing how rapidly weight will be shifted away from the wheel.
Nitrogen-charged struts can be used as a more stable alternative to coilovers since they do not unload or push off, increasing stability.
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