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Why do cheap coilovers ride so badly?

We’ve all bought parts on a budget, it’s part of life. I’m sure you or someone you know has bought coilovers off of eBay or a similar set for $200-500. If not, you’re at least familiar with them. First and foremost, we know you aren’t going to win any autocross or time attack championships on them, but that’s not why you bought them. You bought them because you want to go low, you want to adjust ride height on a whim and lowering springs won’t do that. It’s the next “best” option.

So you have these coilovers, you’re excited to lower your car and you get to work. You finish and stand back admiring your work. You post pictures on Instagram, you text your friends. Life is good. You’re part of the lowered crowd! Then you go for your first ride...

In the first 20ft, “these are great!” Then you hit a bump in the road. Did you hear a sucking/ squishing noise, a clunk, or did the back end of your car pogo stick off the ground? 

So why did your car just beat Tigger in a bouncing contest? To answer that, we need to go in-depth a little about the type of shock you have and the primary function of a shock..

A shock absorbs bumps. Yes, but that’s not all. It absorbs the bump (shock compressing) but it has to return to its natural static height too. That is what your spring does. On one hand the rate of the spring needs to be high enough to hold up the weight of the car but most importantly, it needs to match the shock. 

When a spring compresses, it stores energy that must be released. The amount of energy varies by spring rate, obviously the higher the rate, the higher force it produces. The shock needs to be built to handle that energy. 

Inside of a shock, you have the other half of the chrome rod coming out of the top. On the inside, at the bottom of the shock is a piston, shims, and on an adjustable shock you have your oil bypass controlled by a metering rod. The metering rod blocks the bypass hole little by little based on clicks of the adjustment knob. All of those components reside in a chamber of oil. 

When your shock compresses and decompresses, it’s moving through oil. The oil on its own creates a bit of resistance, but where the real resistance happens is in the shims. As the shock moves down, the compression shims bend upward allowing oil to pass through the piston. Simultaneously, on an adjustable shock, the oil is moving through the bypass. If you put the shock on full hard, the oil is passing through the piston only. Higher resistance = a firmer shock/ ride. The valving on the side is what soaks the bumps or makes your toes curl as you brace for impact.

As the shock decompresses after the bump, oil is forced through the rebound shims. A controlled shock that matches the energy of the spring will return and you won’t even notice. On those eBay coils though, those shims aren’t going to create the proper resistance and you activate “Tigger mode.” All of that energy releases, and the shock can’t keep up.

The reason those cheap coilovers “feel better” at 15-20 clicks (or whatever the max adjustment is), is because you’ve closed the oil bypass so the shims are creating some resistance but not nearly enough. You trade bounce for the feeling of riding on straight rods welded in place of a suspension. There’s no middle ground.

The bad news, those shocks aren’t meant to be opened, when they blow you just toss it and buy another one. That means you can’t revalve it. They don’t make them in various rates for various cars. They have one shock in 3 or 4 sizes to accommodate between a 90-05 Miata rear shock and a 93-07 Subaru Impreza rear shock. 

So you regret your purchase, you’ve spent $400 and now you’ll take them off and either trash them ($400 loss) or try and sell them ($200 loss?). Now, whatever suspension you buy next will cost you an extra ($200-400) to counter the money you wasted. Lesson learned. 

Here's what one of our customers had to say (Mazdaspeed3):
"The post-installation ride was WOW! The car sits about 1.5" lower than stock. There is a road near my home that is notoriously bumpy, I decided that I would use that road for my test. On the OEM suspension my car would bounce and shimmy over this road. My OEM suspension was in great shape, no blown shocks. On the 172s, I was halfway down that same road before I realized the car wasn't bucking and shimmying like usual! I went up and down that road two or three times! I have also noticed the car is cornering flatter too!"

In conclusion, a properly built shock CAN ride just as good, or better than OEM. Read reviews, do your research. Since you’re here, take a look around at what we offer. All of our shocks are built for your application to match the springs.

Thanks for reading. Please comment below with your thoughts. Shop on our site and use the discount code rw5 at checkout to save an additional 5% on top of our sales price!

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