Continuing on with my series on modifications that work, this time we'll be tackling some of the modifications that will improve handling on any car, almost without question. Last time we finished up our list of modifications that work every time for engine performance (part ii)) and before that, part i.
So let's dive in with the #1 modification you can do to really change the handling performance of your vehicle:
Fitting stickier tires will always improve grip and track times at the expense of fuel economy. The downside to these sticky tires is that they don't work well if they're not warm so all-season performance is out. You also have to balance the operating conditions with the size of the tire as if the tire is too wide, it may not get up to temperature quickly, too narrow and the tire may actually get too hot and get "greasy" or fail prematurely. Sticky tires also increase rolling resistance which affects fuel economy negatively (by up to 1-2%) and because they're soft they also wear out VERY fast. However, nothing will improve the overall performance of your car like a great set of performance tires so don't skimp on this if your goal is all-out performance. See related articles at bottom of this post for further reading.
Stiffening the suspension will usually improve handling and usually grip. While going too stiff can certainly lead to a very uncomfortable daily driver, a stiff spring and a great damper can go a long way to improving the handling of your car. Any car can handle like a race car with the right spring rates and dampers. For those who are going for great cornering without too much loss to their comfort, you'll want to look into fairly stiff sway bars. You don't want to go too stiff on the sways because you can create dangerous handling in wet conditions and really uncomfortable ride characteristics (especially on uneven surfaces), however, most OEM bars are dramatically undersized for enthusiast drivers and they will always add a welcomed improvement in cornering.
Don't go too low though or you risk safety issues as well as performance issues. Going much beyond an inch or so of lowering will typically create difficulties setting an alignment that is conducive to optimum grip and handling. While you gain an improvement in Center of Gravity when you go really low, it's typically at the higher cost of poor alignment and dynamic alignment. This will lead to poor predictability and grip and the reduced ground clearance will put a lot of stress on your car (and you) due to potholes, road debris and steep driveways. If you want to go lower than an inch, you can, just understand that it will become very expensive fast. To go lower, you really need a number of adjustable arms or altered mounting points for the suspension to get the suspension geometry back to acceptable.
Strut braces if designed properly do help with high speed, high stress cornering. However, the majority of the braces available are poorly designed so you have to be careful. You're looking for solid bars, preferably made of a huge block of aluminum or steel, you don't want any hinges or places where the bar could bend. Hinges, no matter how tightened down will always flex under the loads that these bars are intended to work on. A front strut brace is typically plenty for a street car and the loads they encounter. By far, this is almost always the brace that can give the biggest gains. Rear bars work too but in most car designs are less effective. Under braces, fender braces, etc, are typically unnecessary on a street car but potentially may give some additional driver confidence on the track. Braces do not improve grip much if at all and are typically only functional at VERY high cornering loads.
More to come in a future article, for now, enjoy the related articles below.
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