In the never-ending quest for style and performance, one of the main ways to increase both is by lowering your vehicle. As they say, “decrease the altitude, increase the attitude.” Not only do lowered vehicles look more aggressive, but also numerous handling benefits can be found by dropping your ride height a few inches. There are different ways to achieve this, each with their own unique benefits and drawbacks. So what are the differences between lowering springs vs. coilovers? Quite a few. But with a side-by side comparison and by answering three simple questions, you’ll be better able to determine which route is right for you:
While lowering springs and coilovers both serve generally the same purpose – making your car lower – they achieve this end in very different ways and provide noticeably distinct handling characteristics.
Let’s start with the simpler of the two: lowering springs. Like your factory springs, lowering springs are made to support the weight of the vehicle and fit nicely in place of the originals with little to no modification necessary – simply remove the old springs and swap in the new. But that’s about where the similarities end. Otherwise, what would even be the point of upgrading to lowering springs?
First of all, lowering springs are physically shorter than OEM springs (thus the name), so your vehicle sits lower to the ground as a result. But of course, as with most things when modifying a car, there’s a tradeoff. Spring rates are measured in pounds per inch, so a spring that’s shorter than stock must have a higher spring rate to compensate and still support the same amount of vehicle weight. The downside of this is that with a firmer spring, the ride quality likely will become harsher. But in the world of performance driving, the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks. First, by lowering your center of mass, your handling and stability will improve. Combining this with a higher spring rate results in less body roll to keep your car flat and composed during cornering. For the enthusiast, this is often a very acceptable price to pay for the increase in cornering ability.
Lowering Springs Provide
- A cost-effective way of lowering your vehicle
- Better handling in corners
- Compatibility with existing parts – simply remove old springs and replace with new
- Preset spring rates – no adjustments to make after installation
- Preset ride height – not able to be raised or lowered
- Available in linear or progressive spring rates
While lowering springs are designed simply to replace your factory springs and play nice with the rest of your existing components, coilovers are an entirely different animal. The term “coilover” is short for “coil spring over strut,” and while they may look somewhat similar to a typical strut & spring, they aren’t. With coilovers, your vehicle’s entire shock/strut and spring combination are replaced with matched performance dampers and springs. Unlike lowering springs, coilovers offer a much greater range of adjustability including ride height, spring pre-load, shock damping and rebound. Also, most high-end coilover kits are lighter than the factory components they replace to reduce unsprung weight and further increase handling.
Coilovers allow you to fine-tune each corner independently for the ultimate in vehicle balance and control. Typically a coilover set features even stiffer spring rates than a set of lowering springs alone, again sacrificing ride quality for cornering performance. It is possible to swap to springs with different spring rates for an even greater range of adjustment and tuning. Unfortunately, these extra features come at a premium. A premium price, that is.
- Adjustable ride height
- Adjustable damper settings
- Adjustable rebound settings
- Firmer spring rates than lowering springs alone
- Ability to swap to firmer/softer springs
- Matched damper & spring combinations
- Interchangeability of parts – can replace springs, dampers, perches, pillowball top mounts, etc. independently of other components
Your Questions Answered
What are your objectives with your vehicle? If you are a die-hard road-racer who trailers your car to the track every weekend and burns through an entire set of brakes and tires each time, then coilovers are the right choice for you. Practicality is out the window at this point anyway, and you need something that you can infinitely adjust millimeter by millimeter to shave that extra tenth of a second off your lap time. You need the ability to alter your setup to suit the characteristics of different racetracks. The increased cost is worth it for the extra performance and you know how to handle a car well enough to make it worth the investment.
If this does not sound like you, then a set of lowering springs would suit you fine – you don’t really need coilovers. Many people opt for coilovers simply for the “street cred” or bragging rights, or because they look cool, or because they’re building a show car where no corners will be cut. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s wholly unnecessary. If it’s just a fun street car that, while you may be passionate about it, you don’t have any real plans to use in competition, a set of performance struts and lowering springs are a much more prudent choice.
What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your objectives? This one, unfortunately, we can’t answer for you. If you drive your car on the street every day, the harsh ride that coilovers deliver will likely become tiresome very quickly. Coilovers typically lower your car more than a set of springs alone, leaving you vulnerable to steep driveways, speed bumps & rough, uneven road surfaces. Lowering springs with upgraded shocks or struts offer a more compliant ride that is much easier to live with on a day-to-day basis while still providing a boost in handling and adding to your fun factor behind the wheel. On the sliding scale between comfort and performance, only you can know for sure where your point of compromise is.
How much are you willing to spend? Coilovers are more expensive than lowering springs. Period. Much more expensive. As said before, if you absolutely need coilovers because your skill behind the wheel has you driving at the very limit of your current suspension’s ability, then it’s a justified expense. But for the sake of practicality, if you drive your car on normal streets or if your last name isn’t Schumacher or Trump, then a set of performance shocks or struts paired with high-quality lowering springs are more than enough to provide the increased thrills and aggressive stance you’re looking for.
Lowering springs and coilovers are two different means to largely the same end. Each have their own benefits and drawbacks, but both are more than capable of hot lapping at the track and getting you home afterward. Which route you choose all depends on what you’re willing to sacrifice for performance.