What Are Coilovers?

What Are Coilovers?

Last Updated October 12, 2021 | Meghan Drummond

A coilover is a suspension part that combines a coil spring and shock absorber into one unit (the name literally comes from “coil over shock absorber”). Coilovers are a popular modification due to their adjustability and handling benefits. Off-roaders, track cars, and even daily drivers can improve their stability and performance with coilovers.

What Do Coilovers Do?

From the factory, most vehicles don’t come with coilovers. Instead, you get a coil spring and then a shock dampener (a strut or shock depending on the vehicle and the axle). When you go over a bump, the coil spring bounces and the shock dampener absorbs the impact, creating a smoother road feel.

A coilover replaces both the coil spring and the shock dampener, so it needs to do the work of both. Because both jobs are being completed by one piece, they work together perfectly.

A diagram of a coilover showing each part

Coilovers vs Struts and Shocks

Most vehicles have struts in the front and shocks in the rear. These items absorb the oscillations of the coil spring, creating a stabler ride.

Coilovers act as both spring and shock absorber. But what makes them valuable is how adjustable they are. Ride height, compression, rebound, and preload are all changeable features on coilovers, usually with a wide range of adjustability.

A more cost-effective alternative to coilovers is adjustable shocks or struts that let you stiffen or soften the shock absorbers. If you only care about a small degree of adjustability, this is a good option.

Close-up view of an installed coilover

Pros and Cons of Coilovers

Like all suspension modifications, coilovers have advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Coilovers

The advantages to coilovers are pretty clear.

  • Better handling
  • More adjustable

Not only are they more adjustable, but you can adjust each corner of your suspension independently. If you know what you're doing and like making precise changes to your suspension, it's hard to beat coilovers.

Off-road vehicles benefit from the adjustability of coilovers as well. Coilovers can be used to lower vehicles, but they can also raise them. Though there’s a limit to the lift you can get, it’s pretty generous. Many coilovers can give you 3-5 inches of lift.

Coilovers installed on rear axle

Downsides to Coilovers

With so many advantages, you may wonder why we haven’t all just made the switch to coilovers. And it’s primarily because of a few important downsides.

  • Cost
  • Ride stiffness

Obviously, the cost factor is a big one. High-quality coilovers can be expensive. And low-quality coilovers can create a lot of problems (squeaking, clunking, leaking, and an uncomfortable ride for starters). Also, installation costs for coilovers can add up, unless you’re comfortable installing them yourself. Coilovers can last over 100k miles, though, so they're not a bad investment overall.

Ride stiffness is a little tougher. A lot of the advantages of coilovers come from the stiffness of the springs. But overly stiff springs can cause a painful ride. It’s important to get the right spring rate for your vehicle.

Should You Get Coilovers?

Side view of coilovers installed with Baer disc brakes

Coilovers are a great choice for many drivers, but they aren’t the only option. Depending on what you need, you could be spending money on features you’ll never use. Or worse, features you actively dislike.

Here’s how coilovers stack up against some other popular suspension modifications.

Coilovers vs Lowering Springs

Lowering springs can add stiffness and give you better handling in the corners. Obviously, they lower your car, too. But best of all, lowering springs cost much less than coilovers.

Coilovers excel in the stability they provide through tight corners, even at high speeds. They also offer more adjustable features than lowering springs.

Together, lowering springs and performance shock absorbers can offer almost all the benefits of coilovers. But at that point, it’d be cheaper to just get coilovers.

Coilovers vs Air Suspension

At the other end of the spectrum, air suspension setups cost more than coilovers do. And they’re even harder to install.

However, air ride suspensions offer absolute adjustability without having to make manual adjustments. With just the push of a button, you can fine-tune your suspension setup. For some, that’s worth the added cost.

But once again, coilovers are the better option for high-speed and performance driving.

Coilovers vs Lowering Springs and Air Suspension
FactorLowering SpringsCoiloversAir Suspension
Cost 💰 💰💰 💰💰💰
Installation Difficulty 🔧 🔧🔧 🔧🔧🔧
Daily Driving Comfort 🍮🍮 🍮 🍮🍮🍮
Performance Driving 🚀🚀 🚀🚀🚀 🚀
Handling 🎯 🎯🎯🎯 🎯🎯
Ease of Adjustability 📐 📐📐 📐📐📐

Coilovers are a great suspension mod that offers many benefits with few downsides. But lowering springs, lifts, adjustable shocks and struts, and air ride all have pros and cons that make them good alternatives.

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About the Author

Meghan is a Classic Mustang geek with a soft spot for four-eyed Foxes. She has over 300 in-depth articles to her credit that have been cited by some of the top news sites in the US. Read full bio →

Sources: How a Coilover Works, Motortrend | Why Coil-Overs Shouldn’t Make Your Car Ride Rough, QA1 | Coilovers vs Springs and Struts, Shocks, Autoworks | Coilovers vs Regular Shocks and Springs: What Is the Difference?, Fun to Drive

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.

What Are Coilovers?

Coilovers are one of the most recommended suspension modifications, and for most people, they’re a great choice. Here are the pros and cons, as well as how to know whether coilovers are right for you.