So you're cruising down the highway in a lowered custom pickup sporting large-diameter billet wheels mounted on low-profile rubber and you're feeling good. Tunes are pouring out of the speakers and heat is kicking from the bright sun above as you barrel down the freeway with nothing but a few inches between your truck's framerails and the ground. Every bump is soaked up by a quality set of shock absorbers, and the rear airbag system you had installed is keeping the rear axle from pounding into the framerails above. The suspension works flawlessly as each freeway inconsistency is taken with ease and your foot never comes off the go pedal.
This is the way the experience of driving a lowered truck should be, but poor ride quality and handling often results when the owner cuts corners on the suspension. While lowered trucks certainly look cool sitting on the ground with big wheels occupying the fenderwells, setting up the suspension and chassis correctly can make all the difference in the world in the way the truck handles. In the old days, hot-rodders would heat the coil springs to get their rides to hug the earth, but today there is a lot more involved in choosing to go low.
Many custom truck enthusiasts have turned to airbag suspension to put their rides on the tarmac, but there are still a handful of enthusiasts out there who subscribe to the bolt-on static drop kit to give their truck's rocker panels a closer relationship with the pavement. For a daily-driven hauler, a bolt-on drop kit makes the most sense because no issues can arise with blown airbags or shredded air lines. Simply jump in the truck, turn the key, and go. Back in our June '04 issue, we ran an article called "The Good, The Bad, & The Lifted," which discussed problems commonly associated with putting a truck up in the air and offered solutions in the way of aftermarket products to correct these issues. Since there is still a fair amount of slammed haulers on the road, and more are being built at shops all over the place, we figured a similar guide to products that enhance the lowered truck driving experience would be helpful. Here are five products that can enhance the driving experience behind the wheel of your slammed hauler.
1: Performance Shock Absorbers
It is important when lowering your truck to use a well-manufactured kit that maintains suspension geometry and facilitates a good ride and smooth handling characteristics. The folks from Belltech have been at it a long time and have successfully slammed a large majority of the lowered fullsize Chevy and GMC pickups on the road. Just as important as the fitment of the drop kit components is the quality of the shock absorbers that go along with it. Many companies supply substandard shocks with their kits, and as a result, the truck's ride quality and handling performance on the highway goes right out the window, making most custom truck consumers want to stick to the stock setup. The shocks need to be valved properly to carry the weight of the truck they are being bolted to. Put a set of shocks meant for a Chevy S-10 on a fullsize truck, and the load is too much for the shock, causing it to work too hard and not perform to its potential. Shocks also control the spring action (coil and leaf spring), and if they are too soft, the springs dominate the shocks, causing spring oscillation. Using an excessively stiff shock will not allow the suspension to do its job, since it is not damping the spring frequency. A good set of shocks can make all the difference in the way your truck handles and rides.
2: Aftermarket Front and Rear Sway Bar Kits
If stuffing your lowered pickup into corners and taking curved freeway on-ramps at high speed is your bag, than bolting on a set of aftermarket performance sway bars is probably the best modification you can make to your hauler's suspension. Sway bars eliminate and minimize body roll during cornering, making it possible to enter cornering situations faster and with more control of the vehicle. As a truck begins to turn one direction, either left or right, lateral energy and weight transfer is the result. When turning, weight transfers to the opposite side of the vehicle and creates an enormous amount of leaning action.
Sway bars minimize or eliminate lateral body roll, allowing the driver to stay on the gas through the turns instead of hitting the brakes. The truck is more glued to the road without producing excessive lean. When looking at a sway bar, the configuration features a U-shaped bar with flattened ends with holes drilled through these pieces. A sway bar endlink is used to connect the sway bar to the axlehousing or control arm, and the endlinks will transfer the weight from one end to the other by twisting or wrenching the sway bar arms in opposite directions. With regard to sway bar strength, the length of the bar from its bend to the end is where the strength lies, so as a rule of thumb, the shorter the sway bar arm length, the stronger it will be, while the longer the arm length, the weaker. In short, a sway bar eliminates the amount of body roll a vehicle has in a cornering situation, allowing it to go through the corners flatter.
3: Performance Brake Systems
After lowering your truck, tossing on some bigger wheels and rubber is a must and the hot ticket in this day and age is to run at least 20-inch wheels. Some truck owners are even turning to 22s, 24s, and 26s to fill the fenderwells of their prized haulers after the suspension has been mildly or wildly altered. As tire and wheel diameters increase, so does the rotating mass, which puts additional strain on factory brake systems.
Factory brake systems are designed to work with factory wheel and tire packages, and when an excessive amount of weight is added to the factory brake systems, their ability to stop the rolling package effectively diminishes. Installing an aftermarket performance brake system is good insurance to bringing your large-diameter wheel-equipped hauler to a safe halt. A performance brake system is also a good modification to make if your lowered hauler sporting big rims is used to do quite a bit of towing. Cross-drilled and slotted rotors help bite the brake pad more aggressively, increasing braking power, while the slots clean the brake pad. The drilling of the rotor also helps dissipate heat, eliminating issues of warpage. When looking at performance brake calipers, generally increasing the number pistons in the caliper used can facilitate a uniform load on the brake pad and produce faster action, getting the pad to clamp to the rotor faster and bringing the vehicle to a halt quicker. If you install large-diameter wheels and tires on your truck, we highly recommend upgrading the factory brake system to meet the stopping demands these new rollers will require.
4: Rear Load-Assist Airbags
Not entirely necessary but highly recommended for lowered applications is the installation of a rear load-assist air spring kit. A number of companies offer these systems, and for a truck with a static bolt-on drop, having a little rear air adjustability can be helpful, especially when entering steep or odd-angled driveways. When you lower your truck, the rear axle is brought considerably closer to the frame, and even with the presence of a C-notch, if the right bump is encountered, the axle can tag the framerails with ease. The ride can be smoothed and the potential for bottoming out can be eliminated with a rear airbag kit. When going down the road, if a large dip or bump is encountered, a pair of rear airbags can prevent the rear axle from over-traveling.
Another benefit to a rear load-assist airbag kit is to maintain ride height when towing a heavily loaded trailer. Exceptional tongue weight of a trailer will sink the tail end of any truck, but matters become worse when the vehicle in question is already close to the tarmac, such as in a lowered application. When towing heavy loads, the trailer can be lowered onto the back of the truck, and the air springs will lift everything up to help maintain the truck's normal ride height. Without rear air springs when toys are in tow, the extra weight from the trailer can significantly drop the back of the truck, which moves the rear axle even closer to the frame than normal and increases the potential for it to bottom out on the framerails. For extra-low daily driven pickups that perform towing duty on the weekends, a rear load-assist airbag kit is necessary. Most systems come with an on-board compressor, a gauge with fill and dump paddle switches, and plenty of air supply lines. The installation can be even cheaper if you choose to leave out the compressor and switches and run a line to the back of the truck with a valve stem. The only problem with this method is air is not available at your fingertips.
After lowering a truck, certain clearances on the vehicle get tighter. One of these clearances is between your truck's frame and the ground, but another clearance is the between your truck's frame and the rear axle. When lowering a truck just a few inches, nothing needs be done, except a simple change of the rear bumpstops that came in the lowering kit. Lowering kits that give a truck a 2/4 or a 3/5 drop do not require any modifications to the frame, but once a custom truck enthusiast commits to putting their ride down as much as 4 inches in the front and 6 inches in the back, the rear framerails must be altered above the axle using a C-section to provide additional travel for the rear axle. Without performing a C-section on the truck's framerails, the axle has nowhere to go except straight up against the framerail when the suspension is fully compressed. The C-section, or notch as it is often called, gives the back axle excess breathing room, virtually eliminating the potential to bottom out the rear axle on the frame.