What Are Coilovers?Last Updated June 12, 2023 | 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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?
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.
Coilovers aren't the only way to lower your ride, though. Check out our coilovers vs lowering springs and coilovers vs air suspension comparisons to see how they stack up to other aftermarket alternatives.
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