It’s a pretty common train of thought that lowering a car improves the handling, because of the lower center of gravity. From a physical standpoint, that is true. Lower, wider, and lighter are all keys to improving how a car handles and reducing lap times. But that is not the whole story. Mostly this is because the suspension is designed to operate at a specific ride height/travel range- the one the manufacturer set. So when we go outside of that, some problems can arise.
When it comes to handling performance, it’s very important to keep the tire in optimum contact with the road. What that means is we want the whole tread to stay flat on the ground, and not see any sharp spikes in load. So, for example, going around a corner, we don’t want the tire to get leaned over onto the outside edge, and if we hit a bump in that corner the suspension should be able to absorb it smoothly. To do those things, we need a suspension that is aligned and functioning correctly.
The most obvious problem that comes up with a lowered car is suspension travel. The wheel and tire can only move up so far in the body before hitting the bumpstops, or ever worse, contacting other parts of the car. Tires can rub on the fenders. wheel wells, and wiring harnesses, axles hit the chassis, ball joints and rod ends can run out of articulation.. When that happens, tires get cut up, fenders are mangled, and parts can break. Imagine a tire blowing out or a ball joint snapping off in the middle of a corner.
And then of course there’s the issue of bottoming out the suspension travel. When that happens, you suddenly get a big jolt through the tire and chassis, and a big reduction in stability and grip. There you are, cruising around an onramp, when you hit an expansion joint and are suddenly headed for the guardrail.
Just from that, you should get the picture that you need to be careful when lowering a car. There are a lot cheap, readily available parts out there on the market that can cause these issues, such as springs that are too low and too soft and cause a car to ride the bumpstops constantly, and adjustable coilover systems that can be adjusted so low that axles, fenders, and tires get destroyed. Many of these come from reputable, popular brands, too, so if you want aftermarket suspension parts it’s important to get them from a knowledgeable vendor and have them installed and set up properly.
Still, a car can be lowered without causing much harm. Stiffer springs compress less given the same load, so can make up for a lower height. This has to be moderate though- most car suspension won’t have much more than 3″ of bump travel (and often less), so lower a car 2″ and what’s left? Almost nothing. The suspension is bottomed out just driving along. However, shorter shocks, some adjustable coilovers, and even different upper mounts or control arms can overcome this my simply moving the whole travel of the shock farther up. Then fenders can be rolled and wheel wells clearanced so you get adequate travel and nothing rubbing.
There you have it, right? Get some shorter shocks, stiffer springs, make sure nothing is rubbing, and you’re good to go. Looks cooler at car shows, friends, neighbors, girls, and forum bros will all be impressed, and you’ll probably win super lap battle.
But, of course, there is more to it. This was getting a bit long though, so I’m splitting it into two parts.