Here’s The Difference Between A Stabilizer Bar And A Sway Bar

Sway bars and stabilizer bars are often found on off-road vehicles to help keep a vehicle from flipping or tipping. Sway bars are U-shaped pieces of metal that are attached to the front wheels of a vehicle. These are installed to help stop and control the rocking of a vehicle. This simple attachment can make a big difference in helping your vehicle not roll. 

What is the difference between a stabilizer bar and a sway bar? There is no difference between a stabilizer bar and a sway bar. These are two names for the same thing. In addition, there is no difference in functionality or cost between a stabilizer bar and a sway bar. You may hear people use one name more than the other but this is all based on personal preference and habits. 

You are going to be able to find what you need whether you search for a stabilizer bar or sway bar. When talking to a mechanic you can also use the terms interchangeably. With a sway bar, your vehicle can tackle much more difficult terrain than you would be able to otherwise. Though it might be a little strange that a sway bar and stabilizer bar are both a name for the same thing they both get the job done. Rolling your vehicle can be scary and often cost people their lives, so it can be comforting to know that there is a way to help stop them. 

Sway bar vs Anti-sway bar vs Stabilizer bar

We have talked about sway bars and stabilizer bars but now we are throwing a whole other name in there, anti-sway bars. What in the world is that? If having two names for the same thing wasn’t enough; well maybe having three names is enough. That’s right, the anti-sway bar is yet another name for the same thing. It is a little contradictory that the name sway bar and anti-sway bar are used to describe the same piece of metal. Just another example of how not everything in the world of cars makes sense. 

Sway bars can help protect against rolling at a fairly low price. A sway bar system costs on average between $300 and $500. Sway bars also last for a very long time. On average, a sway bar only needs to be replaced once in a vehicle’s lifetime if it has to at all. These replacements are even cheaper and often only cost between $50 and $150. If you want some added protection against rolling, then sway bars are an efficient way to do so. 

What Does A Stabilizer Bar Do?

Now that we know a stabilizer bar, a sway bar, and an anti-sway bar are the same thing, for the sake of easy reading I will just refer to all of them as stabilizer bars. The whole function of a stabilizer bar is to reduce what is called rolling. 

Essentially, rolling is the movement that makes a vehicle rollover. For example, when you go around a sharp turn you have probably felt your body want to continue to move straight toward the outside of the curve. This deals with momentum and inertia. The entire car feels this same force. When moving around a curve or turn the weight of the car is going to shift onto the outside wheels and the pressure on the inside wheels is going to decrease. 

If you are going around a curve fast enough then the inside wheels might even come off of the ground and that is how you end up flipping cars. Early car designers saw this problem and put their minds into developing a way to help even out the pressure that is put on the sides of the car traveling around a curve; therefore, the stabilizer bar was created. Stabilizer bars are fairly simple and only use a few pieces of metal to make a big difference in evening out the force of the turn. 

The main part of a stabilizer bar is a long u-shaped rod that is usually just a bit shorter than the front axle of the car. This rod is then attached with a bushing that allows for rotation to the frame of the car. Arms from this rod are attached to the suspension system. When one arm is pushed up by the compression of one side of the car, then the rod rotates in a way that is pushed down on the suspension on the other side of the car. This evens out the compression on both sides, leveling the car out. 

You need to make sure that your stabilizer bar is calibrated well enough so that it isn’t leveling out the suspension. This is to hinder your suspension’s ability to compress when you drive over bumps in the road. It is important to find that balance between having your sway bar level out your vehicle on turns and still allowing the suspension to work efficiently when you go over bumps. Otherwise, you are going to either have a sway bar that is still allowing a whole lot of sway or a sway bar that creates a bumpy ride. 

How To Know If You Need A Stabilizer Bar?

Stabilizer bars are more common in larger vehicles like RVs and large trucks. Stabilizer bars are also very useful for vehicles that are going around curves at high speeds. For example, off-road race cars or trucks on dirt tracks are often fitted with stabilizer bars. That isn’t to say if you don’t fit into one of these categories you can’t get a stabilizer bar. If you feel like you have a vehicle that is at risk or rolling then it might be a good idea to get one. It is better to take steps to stop a vehicle from rolling than have to deal with the damage a roll causes. 

Going around turns with a large vehicle or with any vehicle at a faster speed is going to cause the inside wheels to lose traction. There isn’t going to be as much pressure on the inside wheels and therefore those wheels will have less traction. This can be a dangerous situation because it can make a vehicle more difficult to steer when going around turns. Since only one wheel has traction your steering ability is going to decrease. This is another danger of not having a stabilizer bar besides full-on rolling a vehicle. 

Larger vehicles have a higher danger of rolling and losing traction when going around turns because they have a higher center of gravity. What this means is that essentially there is a greater amount of weight that is higher above the ground than there is with smaller vehicles. 

This means that gravity is going to have more leverage to pull the top of a car over than it would with a car that is closer to the ground. Cars like sedans and sports cars often have a low center of gravity and a much lower risk of rolling than vehicles like trucks and Jeeps. 

Are There Instances Where It’s Better To Not Have A Stabilizer Bar?

There are instances where it is better to not have a stabilizer bar. As I mentioned previously, having too strong of a stabilizer bar can rob the suspension systems of the front tires to act independently of one another. This can be very detrimental in situations where you are having your front wheels go over terrain that is at different heights. The most common example is off-roading. When off-roading on technical terrain, your tires are going to be going over ground which has many different bumps and height changes. 

During this situation, the suspension systems must act independently of one another. If they can’t then you are going to have a very bumpy ride. Trying to go over terrain like this can cause your wheels to come off the ground more often than they would otherwise. With a stabilizer bar, your suspension system isn’t going to expand as much as it usually would. The stabilizer bar is still going to be working to level out the suspension system even though you need the suspension system to be at very different levels. 

When you are only going to be driving on paved roads and around a city, you don’t have any need for a sway bar. It won’t negatively impact your vehicle to have a sway bar but it isn’t going to necessarily help you at all. There is no need to spend the time and money to buy and install a sway bar when you don’t have any need for one. City and paved roads are specially engineered with curves and slants in the road to help prevent rolling. 

Related Questions

Why might a car shake after off-roading? Some common reasons a car shakes after off-roading may include the wheels getting out of balance, the driveshaft being bent and/or the U joints coming apart, and the wheels getting out of alignment from the rough terrain. Some less common culprits may include problems with the engine, transmission, transfer case, or differentials. Click here to view the article in full.

Do I need longer shocks for a 2-inch lift? You do not have to get new shocks for a two-inch lift. The distance of shock retraction may be affected slightly, but shock extension should not be. The majority of off-road lifts use spacers, and spacer lifts do not change how far your stock shock can extend. But since the spring is now under more load, it can decrease the inward distance the shock can move towards the top of your wheel well. Click here to view the article in full.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. His passion for cars is his daily motivator and is constantly working on his projects such as restoring his 1966 Bronco, 1968 Firebird, or modifying his 2022 Bronco.

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