With a show of hands, how many of you out there have installed coil-overs in your car without performing an alignment or getting it corner balanced afterwards? We are willing to bet there is probably a large number of you who are guilty. Hey, I was guilty of that too in my formidable years.
Having coil-overs on your ride is like having the Rolex of suspension modifications: CNC shock body, adjustable ride height, adjustable damping, pillow-ball upper mounts, etc. (You can stop drooling now.) Unfortunately, the glitz and glamour of owning coil-overs has twisted our vision of what it means to own them.
There are countless benefits of having coil-overs. The obvious advantage is being able to adjust the ride height of the vehicle with a turn of a perch without having to either swap out springs or add spacers. Another advantage is the ability to adjust the damping characteristics of the shock. Some shocks adjust with a turn of a knob while others require the revalving the shock body.
Many coil-over systems utilize a shortened shock body for a more comfortable ride on lowered vehicles. By reducing the length of the shock body the shock shaft sits at a more ideal spot for better damping, with more travel left in the shaft before full compression. When a vehicle is lowered substantially, the shaft sits near the bottom the shock body limiting the amount of travel.
There are limitless combinations that can be performed on a coil-over system with spring rates, damping rates, height adjustments and camber adjustments that are just not possible with the factory suspension components.
The biggest mistake many owners make after installing suspension components is not performing a four-wheel alignment. Anytime a suspension component is removed and reinstalled the suspension geometry may be altered. Lowering a vehicle will alter camber, toe and caster adjustments. A suspension technician can easily correct these adjustments on an alignment rack. However, some vehicles do not have the capability to adjust camber without the addition of an adjustable camber plate or arm. For Honda owners, an adjustable upper A-arm is highly recommended to get the front suspension back in alignment.
Several different manufacturers offer adjustable front A-arms and rear arms for Hondas/Acuras. Most four-wheel alignments run about $75 and are worth every penny. Not only will your vehicle perform better and be safer on the road but also it can save you money in the long run by decreasing excessive tire wear caused by, among other things, too much negative camber.
To obtain an even greater benefit from a coil-over system is to get the vehicle a corner balance and alignment. Corner balancing your vehicle will make it perform better in the turns and generally feel more "balanced" throughout.
Not a lot of shops specialize in corner balancing, but they are out there if you look hard enough. Although corner balancing is a term often associated with racecars, street driven cars can also benefit from it. Why spend thousands of dollars on your suspension without going the extra mile to make it perform to its maximum potential?
If you plan on corner balancing make sure you take the proper steps to extricate all the benefits from the corner balance. The key to any corner balancing procedure is to have your vehicle in the condition you normally drive it in. If you plan on racing your vehicle, make sure it is in the condition you normally race it in. Have all the fluids topped off, tire pressures and ride height adjusted.
Find a level spot to perform the corner balancing. If the surface is not level the readings will be off and affect the readings. Once the vehicle is on a level surface mark the spot where the vehicle will be measured. Mark off with tape the wheelbase and track width of the vehicle. That way when you go back to measure the corner balance again you will have consistency in your measurements. Once marked off, lift one side of the vehicle at a time. Make sure you zero out the scales prior to placing them underneath the tire.
Once the vehicle is in place put it in gear and release the hand brake. Next, settle the vehicle by pushing down on the front and rear bumper as well as sitting in both passenger and driver seats. If you have front and/or rear sway bars, be sure to disconnect them to prevent any possible preloads.
Under ideal conditions a racecar will have 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear and left and right. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible unless you have a purpose-built racecar. Most vehicles will weigh heavier on the driver's side due to steering column, pedal assembly, master cylinder, etc, and other parts associated with driver control.
The key however is to balance the cross-weight percentages, also known as wedge. That way the vehicle performs identical on both right and left hand turns. The idea is to attain 50 percent bias on both right front (RF) and left rear (LR) to the left front (LF) and right rear (RR). By adding the RF and LR weight and dividing it by the total vehicle weight you can figure out the vehicle's wedge. If the percentage is higher than 50 percent the vehicle has a wedge, a percentage lower and the vehicle has a reverse wedge.
Again it is probably going to be impossible to get exact figures due to the driver's weight not being in the mix. The key is to get that figure as close to 50 percent as possible.
Many recommend distributing weight around vehicle by moving the battery, fuel cell or ballast around but not everyone is willing to go to such extremes for weight balance. To adjust the wedge of the vehicle with a 53 percent cross weight between the RF and LR suspension you need lower the RF and LR spring perches to decrease the percentage. If you lower the ride height of a given corner, the weight of the corner will decrease as well as the weight of the diagonal corner. The weight will however increase on the two opposite corners.
Instead of making large increases or decreases at one corner make smaller adjustment at all four corners to help maintain a level ride height. For example if the wedge of a vehicle between the RF and LR suspension is extremely high instead of just reducing the ride height of the RF and LR suspension you could also increase the LF and RR suspension to offset the difference. Although most of us do not have corner-balancing equipment at our disposal, corner balancing should be left to the experts.