The pros and cons of spring spacers
Want to give your 4X4 a bit of a lift but don’t want (or can’t afford…yet) a completely new suspension system? We look at the pros and cons of spring spacers. Written by Wes WhitworthArticle …
Want to give your 4X4 a bit of a lift but don’t want (or can’t afford…yet) a completely new suspension system? We look at the pros and cons of spring spacers.
Written by Wes WhitworthArticle from Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures
Spring spacers have been around for some time now and can be a very inexpensive way to improve the look of your vehicle by levelling it out or allowing the fitment of bigger (taller) tyres. In this article, we’ll explain what spring spacers are, whether they’re legal in Australia, why you might fit them and some of the issues they can cause.
Are spring spacers legal in Australia?
Yes, spring spacers are legal in Australia, insofar as there is nothing within VSB14 stating that they’re illegal. If you want to know more about vehicle modifications, then VSB14 is the document for you, and you can check it out HERE. LS Section is where you’ll want to go for suspension rules. What you can’t do, however, is use extended shackles on leaf packs. They’re frowned upon by, well, pretty much everyone, despite the fact they do essentially the same as a coil spacer; the springs just move around a lot more.
What is a spring/coil spacer?
Spring spacers are discs that sit on top of your springs in a coil-equipped vehicle. Whether a solid-axle coil-sprung 4X4 or an IFS rig with coil-over-strut set-ups, they work under the same principle. As the name suggests, they space your spring down a set amount from the spring seat, which equates to lift on your four-wheel drive. They usually come in sizes ranging from 25-50mm, unless you’re in ‘Murica and you have 12-inch spring spacers. They’re cheap, easy to fit, and a solid alternative to changing out springs.
They’re usually made from metal, rubber, or polyurethane, with the obvious advantage of each going along with it. Namely that the metal ones are absolutely solid, the rubber ones are a bit squishy but don’t rust, and the polyurethane ones are essentially in between… and don’t rust either. Aside from their longevity, the main difference comes down to price.
Why would you want to fit a spring spacer?
Spacers are often used to add a touch of lift (say 25mm), and they achieve this without changing the spring rates of your current suspension. But they don’t give you any extra wheel travel but they are useful for levelling your vehicle or if you’re looking for a cheap (first step) in building up your vehicle and have fitted taller tyres and need some extra clearance.
Being a pretty solid material, they’re a guaranteed height/lift amount, they’re easy to install, and are rather versatile in how and what you can use them with, but they’re not perfect, and there’s a reason for that. Indeed, spacers are generally used as a first step in a vehicle build, but nothing beats a perfectly designed and tailored suspension set-up to suit your vehicle.
Drawbacks of a spring spacer
Spring spacers have the same issues as a full suspension upgrade, in that you can bust CV’s, struts, upper control arms (UCA), ball joints, suspension geometry, the lot if you don’t do it properly. Where this becomes an issue, is that with a proper high-quality suspension kit, you may well get a diff-drop kit, extended brake lines, adjustable UCAs, the works, which will make sure everything works exactly as it should. But they’re rather expensive, especially when you put them against a set of $100 spacers. So if you are going to throw a set of spacers in, make sure you’re thinking about the accompanying mods to go along with them.
The pros and cons of spring spacers
- They’re cost-effective – Rubber spacers can be had for as little as $30 a pair, or decent alloy options at around $130. For a 25mm of extra lift, it’s cheap.
- They’re versatile – they’ll work with factory suspension, or an aftermarket kit, regardless of the suspension kit you have.
- Spring rate remains the same – If you’ve got your springs already dialled in exactly how you want them, rate wise, they offer a bit of lift, while leaving everything else alone.
- A fixed amount of lift – they don’t sag or settle. It is what it is; because it’s changing the height of the spring pad, not changing the height or size of your spring.
- Easy to level out a ute – most dual-cab suspension kits have much firmer springs in the rear, as that’s where you’re going to add any load to it (aside from a bullbar and winch), so adding an inch to the front, will often keep things on the straight and level.
- They don’t change the spring rate – There’s no stiffness or capacity change in your springs. If you’re needing to load more up, and you’re trying to level out your rig because you’re putting weight on it, you should be looking at appropriately set springs, not just adding spacers.
- Gaining height, but not travel – the main issue with spacers is that you’re just increasing height; this will limit the amount of suspension droop you have. This adds stresses to the suspension, potential fouling issues and more, like the strut bottoming out before it reaches the bump stop. It can also stiffen the on-road ride.
- Some spacers can fall out – this is especially true when the spacer just sits on top of your coil. Unless it’s attached to the spring tower, nothing is holding it in; however, most spacers these days are made to attach to the spring tower.
- Different materials mean different outcomes – using different materials like rubber, polyurethane or a metal spacer will mean they behave differently.
- Unlike a longer spring, you’re losing that potential extra inch of spring movement – You’re essentially adding an inch of mostly solid material (depending on spacer build material), where it’s certainly better to be using the whole spring for your four-wheel drive. This can negatively impact on wheel travel, reduce the bump stop clearance reducing up travel, it can also potentially force the coil too close to the control arm on some makes of 4X4 (Toyota HiLux we’re looking at you).
Final thoughts on spring/coil spacers
At the end of the day, which way you go will depend on a few factors like, what you’re actually trying to achieve. So, think about, cost, ride height, use, ride quality and just simply levelling out your four-wheel drive are the things you’ll need to think about when you’re looking at going a set of spacers. But you’ll also need to consider the potential risks involved, like damage to other componentry, like coils fouling on control arms, CV joints being over-stressed and more.
Essentially, what you’re gaining on one hand (a bit of extra room for taller tyres) you’re taking away with the other (and more) because you’re messing with the suspension’s travel which in turn can upset your vehicle’s ride and handling.
It tends to be a more expensive exercise but there is no substitute to loading up your four-wheel drive as if you’re about to go away, or having a ‘normal’ load in it, and taking it into your local quality suspension mob, and sitting down with them and getting the right springs and shocks off the bat. Even if you’re not having a full suspension upgrade, it’s worth discussing your vehicle and whether spacers will work and the type you should buy and install with a reputable suspension mob.