Guest Opinion: Spring Rates, Drops, And Other Mysteries

There is a certain deceptive marketing practice which has been bugging me for a LONG time, and after doing a bit of research, it appears that I’m not alone in my frustration. The problem at hand is with the aftermarket automotive spring manufacturers. They rarely tell us any of the spring rates for their street springs, but they display all this information for their racing springs. A spring is a spring, right? They have millions of dollars in equipment and teams of engineers which should be able to give us this information, right?

For example, what’s wrong with these statements?

“Company X Sport Springs will turn your ordinary stock suspension into a performance tuner suspension by lowering your car’s center of gravity while increasing spring rates 20-35%.”

“Spring rates are tuned to enhance front-to-rear balance and street handling performance (generally about 15-20% stiffer than stock), while retaining a level of ride comfort that’s equal to or better than stock.”

“Our Company Y kit is designed to reduce the fender-well gap by safely lowering your vehicle, giving it a more attractive, spoiler stance. This spring kit is the perfect compliment to any vehicle, whether in stock form or fitted with a larger tire and wheel package. “

You can find many more examples if you take a look anywhere on the Internet. Check the spring manufacturer sites. They will tell you what will fit your car, but they won’t tell you the rate of the springs. The shoddy information with which we are provided only tells us how much aftermarket springs will “drop” your vehicle. Look for 5 minutes and you can find the classic tagline: “These springs will lower your car X amount and provide a stiffer ride.”

Oh yeah? Well big whoop-tee-freaking-DOO! What if I don’t want to lower my car any amount at all? What if the roads in my area are terrible for lowered cars? What if the kind of driving I’m doing is fine for a stiff suspension, but isn’t conducive to a lowered car? What if I already know the spring rate I need, and I just want something that will fit my stock installation without needing coil-overs? All I want is to be able to buy springs with the rates printed on the box somewhere! Are these companies even selling us something that is made for our cars? Did they even bother to do the research in the first place? The vague information they tell us really isn’t confidence inspiring at all. We don’t know if we’re even getting something that will work, unless we’re willing to take their word for it. The language is so vague that we could end up doing the research properly, buying what we think will work (based on what they’ve told us) and totally ruining our car’s handling! And at the end of the day, due to the vague information they’ve given, they’re pretty much absolved of any responsibility from a legal perspective.

Why do they do this? I’ll tell you why:

Let’s take a generic example here and create some generic data. Let’s pretend we have a 2003 XYZ Motors Ultracar for which you want to put better springs on. The STOCK rate is 135lbs/inch. NoBounceCo Springs says their springs are “15-30% stiffer than stock.”

So that means that these springs are 155 lbs/inch? Or they could be 175 lbs/inch? That’s a bit of a difference there! If we are really in tune with ours car, we can tell the subtle difference in handling between a 150lb spring, and a 175lb spring. Can they? You sure hope so because otherwise we’re out $200 or more.

As another example, let’s say we go with PoseurCo Springs which claim to offer springs that are 20-35% stiffer than the stock springs on our 1993 ABC Getupandgo. The stock rate on this great little car is 160 lbs/inch. We don’t know if we’re getting 192 lbs/inch, or if we’re getting 216 lbs/inch! That’s also quite a difference! Why not just tell us their springs are 200 lbs/inch and stand by their product? All they would need to do is label each kit by rate, for example, and state, “Our Improved Handling kit for your car is 200 lbs/inch. This is an 18% increase over stock rate.” They could also say, “The Aggressive Street kit for your car is an awesome 275 lbs/inch. This will be perfect for autocross or those weekend track sessions.”

If they really are selling something that is made for OUR cars, then they should take the time to tell us just what we are buying for our money. Imagine going to buy a camera, or medicine, or power tools, or a stereo, and the information was just as vague. Instead of stating milligrams, or millimeters they’d just say “Oh well it’s 20%, that’s good enough right? Is that 20% based on when the car was new, or now that it’s 30 years old? We don’t know and we don’t care. It’ll either get the job done or end up wasting your money. It makes no difference to us! All we know is that it’s a super-vague 20%.”

So why are the companies stiffing us in this important information? The reason is all too easy – spring manufacturers simply don’t think the consumer is smart enough to know the difference. They can pass off a spring which has terrible quality control because they’re not guaranteeing any level of accuracy to begin with. It’s easy – just paint up any old spring, run one of them through some machine, and then claim, “Yeah, it’s stiffer, just make a hundred thousand more and who cares if they’re all the same.” It’s really easy to say “20% stiffer” when we’re not being told any exact amount in the first place. Imagine if someone told you, “Do a better job” instead of saying, “Complete two more reports per hour,” or, “Check your information against this document.” Their information is vague and really doesn’t explain anything – sort of like a spring manufacturer offering springs for a street car.

Take a hypothetical scenario where someone have purchased two of the exact same car and wants to outfit them precisely the same. With the vagueness of the spring manufacturer information they might, within all likelihood, end up with two cars that don’t handle the same. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Wouldn’t it be frustrating to find out, though, especially after spending the long hours to buy, install, and set up that suspension?

I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment and mention I’ve heard some people say that spring manufacturers don’t print the rates because they believe they have trade secrets to protect. I call BS! A spring is a physical device that can easily be measured with a machine such as the Longacre 7308. Anyone who really wanted to check these “trade secret” rates of another company could go out and spend $450 and blow the cover off the entire operation. I find it impossible to believe that a company would spend millions of dollars on equipment to manufacture springs, and NOT have the simple equipment necessary to test their own spring rates as well as the rates of other companies.

I also want to state that this entire mess is NOT the fault of aftermarket vendors. They aren’t being given any more information than what we the consumers are. After reading this, I even challenge you to call the spring manufacturers directly. They won’t even tell you, the end user, any exact amounts! You really have to wonder if they even know, or care, in the first place. Why should we trust they have selected the correct spring rate for our cars if they won’t even tell us what the rate is? They’ll stand by all their racing products and quote you exact information down to the most minute detail. So why can’t they at least attempt to do this with their street springs for which they sell higher volumes? The sad part is that this all adds up to a big crap sandwich and it’s the consumer which has to take a bite. They can take full advantage of the unknowing consumer because, for now, we’re riding around on worn out old springs so ANYTHING will seem better than what we currently have! We, as consumers, just want to get a better suspension on our rides so they won’t wallow like barrels in a stream. We are certain stiffer springs will work and we’ve done the research to know that a certain spring rate will be PERFECT for our cars. All we need to know is who sells springs in that rate?

The situation sucks, it really does. These vague practices are not accepted in other industries, so why should it be okay with automotive suspension?

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