Why Is Off-Road Suspension Stiff? 


Suspension is your best friend when you are off-roading. Without good suspension, your teeth are going to be rattling inside your head every time you have an adventure. Having a good suspension on your vehicle is going to make the difference between having a great experience or a miserable one when off-roading. Off-roading suspension is a little different than the suspension for any regular street vehicle. 

Why is off-road suspension stiff? Off-road suspension is stiff to better control the sway and impact of the vehicle under dynamic loads. Off-road suspension should always be stiffer than the suspension of an average street vehicle because they’re built for different purposes. Stiffer suspension allows an off-road vehicle to not sway back and forth uncontrollably and maintain a smoother ride. 

The off-roading suspension has to be ready to take a beating because your average pothole is nothing when compared to what you are going to face when off-roading. Deep ruts, giant rocks, and rivers are what await you and your vehicle on the trial. When going up against these obstacles, you don’t want to have suspension that bounces up and down with the smallest bump. With off-roading vehicles, you are going to want a suspension system that can take big impacts and not bounce up and down like an 80s Cadillac. 

Reasons Why Offroad Suspension Is Stiff

The off-road suspension has to be stiff to counteract the massive amount of force that a vehicle experiences when off-roading. While off-roading, it is not uncommon to have situations where one or two wheels come off of the ground and then slam back down. This movement causes the wheels to push up on the bottom of the car and the body to exert force down on the shocks. The reason the car doesn’t crumple is due to the suspension system. 

Let’s visualize that your off-roading vehicle has a loose suspension. The amount of force pushing on both sides of the shocks is going to cause it to completely compress and when it can’t compress anymore, it is going to bottom out. This is one of the leading causes of suspension system damage when off-roading. This can cause cracks or leaks in your shocks which will make them essentially useless. Having stiff shocks is going to allow your suspension to better resist this force and not bottom out. 

Another consequence of having shocks that are too loose is that you are going to put yourself through a bumpy ride. Having loose shocks is going to cause your suspension to bounce excessively. One compression of one shock could cause the whole system to bounce back and forth and side to side. Bouncing can also lead to more dangerous situations like rolling vehicles or losing traction on individual wheels. Thus nullifying the purpose of the suspension system. 

Stiff suspension systems can also help keep a vehicle’s wheels on the ground. If you have too loose of a suspension system on uneven terrain, you may find your wheels coming off the ground. This can lead to loss of traction and power. It can be a really scary situation when you are trying to go sideways or straight up steep inclines. A stiff suspension system is going to help stop your wheels from bouncing off of the ground and help keep the rubber on the ground which, in turn, gives you more traction and power. 

Is Off-Road Suspension Supposed To Be Stiff?

The type of off-road suspension needed will depend on what type of off-roading you are trying to do. Stiff off-road suspension is preferred when you are driving at any speed over 15 miles per hour or taking turns quickly. Many manufacturers of off-roading vehicles prefer the Ford Raptor and Jeeps which come with stiffer suspension, as compared to standard street vehicles. Off-road suspension is supposed to be stiffer than the suspension of street vehicles. 

There are arguments made that off-road suspension should be loose and allow a lot of movement. The people that make these arguments say that having loose suspension allows for a smoother ride overall. Having loose suspension does allow your suspension to change heights and adjust with much less force and more quickly. Having a loose off-road suspension may allow for more effortless movement of the suspension system, which in some cases, may lead to a smoother ride overall. 

As you can see, there are clear arguments for both stiff and loose off-roading suspension. What you want are shocks that are stiff enough to not bounce up and down with every little bump and that they are doing their job of absorbing the impact of the ground. 

Finding this sweet spot for your suspension is going to be the key to getting the best off-roading experience that you possibly can. It may take a little time before finding the exact stiffness that works best for your vehicle.  What type of obstacles you are going to run into on the trail may affect what the best stiffness for your suspension system may be. 

Is There A Way To Soften Offroad Suspension?

There are ways to soften off-road suspension systems. it is very easy to soften the suspension if you have adjustable shocks.  All you have to do is turn your shocks to a softer setting. This adjustment is made by turning a ring on your shock with a wrench made for that shock. 

On vehicles like my Ford Raptor, you have to get the shock completely rebuilt to choose the stiffness/valve setting. If you don’t know if you have an adjustable suspension make sure to check for it. But in most cases, having an adjustable suspension is very rare. 

It is going to be a little more difficult to soften your suspension system without an adjustable suspension. When a vehicle doesn’t have adjustable suspension, the easiest way to soften road suspension is by replacing your shocks and struts. There is a large variety of shocks and struts on the market. All of the different types of shocks and struts are designed with different stiffnesses and specifications. Adjustable shocks are often more expensive than regular shocks but can be worth the investment. 

Buying and installing a new pair of shocks and struts which are looser than the ones you currently have is a fail-safe way of getting softer shocks. Once you buy a pair of softer shocks and have them installed, you can easily take your car back to the shop and have your stiffer shocks reinstalled if you ever change your mind. 

This can be a pain even because you have to pay money and take the time to have them replaced. This is where investing in some adjustable shocks might be very much worth it if you are off-roading frequently.

What Type Of Suspension Is The Smoothest?

Soft suspension is going to be the smoothest type of suspension. Having a loose suspension is often smoother than a stiff suspension. Stiff suspension isn’t going to compress as easily as loose suspension, which means that you are going to often feel more of the small bumps when you have stiff suspension. Stiff suspension is designed to better absorb big compressions and big impacts that come from hitting the ground hard. 

Loose suspension is overall more smooth for driving because when the suspension is loose it can better adjust to small changes on the road’s surface. This is also going to be true for dirt and gravel roads that don’t have any major elevation changes. Having the ability to more quickly change height is going to offer a smoother ride. Having a looser suspension system allows the shocks and struts to more quickly change height. This allows the body of the car to stay more level and have all of the movement done by the suspension system. 

Good suspension systems that are specifically designed for comfort are going to be your best bet if you are looking for something that can give you the smoothest ride possible. I mentioned adjustable suspension systems earlier and yes, there are really good adjustable suspension systems. But the smoothest and most comfortable rides are going to come from soft suspension systems that are specifically designed for smooth rides. 

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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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