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Making Your Ride Less Rocky

Truck folks don’t often think about handling, until they need it that is. In normal day-to-day driving, everyone gets used to the road and the way one’s personal rig handles on that road. Anyone can be lulled into a sense of security and secure handling on the daily commute. The issue of poor handling and sometimes scary handling often occurs when we encounter something out of the norm. A sharp turn to avoid a stray pet or another driver wandering into your lane can and often will whiten your knuckles due to the sit-uation. In stock trim, these sharp maneuvers can also startle you due to your truck’s lack of handling in extreme situations.

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While these emergency situations are usually seldom encountered, the same handling issues can be seen when carryingand/or towing a heavy load. For instance, carrying a camper and towing your project vehicle to the shop or track will mean more weight on the suspension and more leverage working on it too. In these situations handling is usually not as bad as during an emergency avoidance maneuver. However, it does last longer… your entire trip. Fighting the sway and roll constantly will cause fatigue and make your trip less pleasant.

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Our expert tech, Billy, is seen here installing the new Hellwig front bar. The unit is a direct replacement for the stock unit and uses all the OEM mounting points. New hardware is provided in the kit.

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The stock end links on our tester truck had been replaced with some aftermarket parts. These would not allow the use of the new end-link bushings in the Hellwig kit. We installed the bar with the rubber bushings and went in search of a solution. See the sidebar for our fix.

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Here’s the Hellwig front bar for our 2003 Ford Excursion 4×4. It’s made from 4140 chromoly spring steel and coated in a hammer-tone silver finish to resist corrosion and look good.

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The rear Hellwig sway bar installs a little differently than the stock unit, but uses the same mounting points. The bend in the bar is different for more roll control than just the increased diameter alone can provide.

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The rear end links need to be assembled for use and then adjusted for the length needed. All the parts come with the kit and the instructions are easy to follow.

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The Hellwig rear sway bar features adjustable rear end links. This allows the bar to be set level with the ground, at your rig’s normal ride height. This allows owners to get the best bar position, no matter what load you normally carry, and to adjust it if your carry weight changes drastically. Here Billy is using a drift pin to help adjust the end links.

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Hellwig’s rear sway bar has three points for connecting the end links. The middle position is the most commonly used and the recommended starting point. Moving it in stiffens the bar rate and out lowers it. This allows for fine-tuning of your ride.

The solution to controlling roll and other handling issues requires a multi-point approach. First, be sure that your truck is in top shape, with proper maintenance to the springs, shocks and bushings. Worn shocks can be worse than stock sway bars that are on the smallish side.

The second solution is to upgrade your shocks and factory sway bars to higher quality aftermarket items that are built for truck owners who use their rigs for work and play, and need the best suspension for all road conditions.

Our test rig was a well-used 2003 4WD Ford Excursion diesel. This daily driver was mostly stock other than a healthy amount of engine mods for reliability and power, and it looked like the stock shocks were still on it. By the time our owner took possession of the truck, the Ford has some small issues that were not noticeable, until we simulated an emergency avoidance turn. Then the body roll and worn shocks were obvious and a little scary. After this upgrade he tells us that this massive Ford now handles like a car, compared to the tuna boat handling it had before. His wife, the daily driver of this tyke transporter, just smiles and enjoys the drive.

The suspension upgrade was accomplished with some simple, off the shelf parts. We installed a set of Bilstein 4600 series shocks, Hellwig sway bars, and Energy Suspension end link bushings and bump stops. The total upgrade time was about a halfday and the end results will last virtually the lifetime of the truck. Follow along and see how easy it is to upgrade your rig today, as these companies make similar parts for just about any truck or car on the road in the USA. You can install them at home or use your favorite local shop. For our install we had the experts at SoCal SuperTruck handle this installation.

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The selected shocks for this handling upgrade were a set of Bilstein 4600 series units. The factory says that, “4600 Series shock absorbers and struts are designed specifically to help your stock-height truck, van or SUV reach its pinnacle in ride performance and handling, while still providing the comfortable ride.” The owners of our test Excursion tell us the ride is nice and smooth, in all conditions. The front shocks feature a molded blue urethane splashguard.

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The rear Bilstein 4600 Series shocks come with a steel can that rides up and down with the shock shaft to protect it from grime and rocks. The 4600 shocks all feature Monotube gas pressure technology. Bilstein’s unique piston design offers greater sensitivity and superior vehicle control and have a lifetime warranty.

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This illustration shows the difference in the diameters of the
sway bars we started with and the new Hellwig bars. While the
bars are not monstrously bigger than the one we replaced, the
percentage of added roll control is impressive. The surface area
increase is greater than one would guess at a glance. And while
we’re not going to get into the math here, it would show that
the greater surface area means roll resistance of more than 20
percent in the front and 50 percent in the rear.

Bushings & Bump Stops

While installing our new Hellwig bars and Bilstein shocks we discovered that our well-used Ford Excursion was missing both front bump stops, half of one rear bump stop and that the factory sway bar end links were not only losing their rubber, but that they were aftermarket items and would not work with the end link bushings provided by Hellwig. They would have fit the stock parts, but we were not so lucky with these worn replacement parts. The solution was found at Energy Suspension; they make and stock replacement urethane bump stops and bushings for a wide variety of trucks and cars, even our road boat of an Excursion.

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Our test rig was missing the rubber on both front bump stops and half of the foam on one of the rear units… not good in anyone’s book of auto repair and upkeep.

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Energy Suspension offers replacement components for most trucks and cars that upgrade most stock rubber parts to their patented Hyperfl ex performance polyurethane material. Unlike OEM rubber, Hyperfl ex components will not break down and deteriorate, causing mushy handling and poor steering response.

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As with the bump stops, the sway bar end links were upgraded to Hyperfl ex bushings. The Hellwig kit came with their own brand of polyurethane bushings, but they would not fit the aftermarket end links that had found their way onto the truck over the years. Energy’s wide selection meant avoiding the cost of new OEM end links, just to use the parts from the Hellwig kit. Of course, if you have stock end links, the Hellwig parts will work just fine, but they are not available in red.

Sway Bars Vs. Anti-Sway Bars

Known generally as sway bars, the roll control bars on any truck, car or other vehicle are actually anti-sway bars. Their function is to restrict body roll and reduce the sway of the vehicle. So if you hear either term, they represent the same thing, and a premium set will help you enjoy the drive more.

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The rear Hellwig sway bar for our 2003 Ford Excursion 4×4 is seen here. It’s built for those who carry campers, and do heavy hauling and heavy towing. Hellwig calls this bar family “The Big Wig.” It’s said to provide improved stability of more than 20 percent, as well as improve cornering traction and handling. The kit comes with all the parts need for the installation. Like the front, it’s made from 4140 chromoly spring steel and coated in a hammer-tone silver finish to resist corrosion.

Sources:

BILSTEIN USA
858.386.5900
BilsteinUS.com

ENERGY SUSPENSION
888.913.6374
EnergySuspension.com

HELLWIG PRODUCTS INC.
800.435.5944
HellwigProducts.com

SOCAL SUPERTRUCKS
909.383.5454
SocalSupertrucks.com