Steps to Improve Handling

Steps to Improve Handling

Making changes one modification at a time

The first step toward improving your car's handling is to honestly assess where and how you'll be driving it. A car modified to whip through a tight autocross course will likely attempt to spin out on a full-sized road racing circuit-and will almost certainly be treacherous in a public-road driving-skill pop-quiz. (Imagine encountering an old, dripping-coolant beater on your favorite on-ramp.) Most everyone this side of pit wall will be happier with light changes that improve handling feel. A simple switch from touring all-season tires to high-performance summer rubber may be all it takes.

Most everyone this side of pit wall will be happier with light changes that improve handling feel.

Cause and Effect

Next, know that modifying your suspension is like playing with a Rubic's Cube: An improvement in one area may mean a degradation in another. Modifications should be small and taken one step at a time. Also know that Conventional Wisdom is often wrong. Many (incorrectly) subscribe to the theory: the stiffer, the better. But the secret for good handling is-as soft as possible, as firm as necessary. Too stiff can handle worse than too soft!

Prep Work

If your future road-rocket is a current driveway dog, you'll need to do a lot a basic maintenance first. The world's best tires and suspension pieces are useless if they're connected to worn-out bushings, ball joints, steering racks, and shocks. Reassess you plans if your not-so-blank canvas is an '92 Firebird. In the long run, a four-year-old Z28 fitted with a set of new ultra-high-performance tires will be cheaper, faster and better handling.


If you're just looking for improved handling "feel" and additional grip, a tire upgrade may be your final destination. Select at least a high-performance tire and consider an ultra-high performance or max-performance tire.


The next step is a set of slightly firmer-or, preferably, adjustable-shock absorbers. The combination of performance rubber and new premium shocks may be all you need. Understand that shocks do not reduce the total amount of body roll, but instead reduce the rate at which the car's body rolls on its suspension springs.

Anti-Roll Bars

Anti-roll bars (commonly mis-termed "sway bars") are out of the realm of those seeking only handling feel. Anti-roll bars are suspension tuning devices: A stiffer bar REDUCES traction on that end of the car. Don't go too stiff with the rear bar!

See how these changes work before you think about suspension springs, unless, that is, you have your heart set on lowering. Understand that for street applications lowering is strictly for looks. If you go this route, the best choice is to buy a complete package from a leading tuner. Keep the old parts: You may discover you're not willing to pay the ride penalty or that the handling becomes unpredictable. And you'll need to restore your car to stock before you sell it.

> Move one step at a time with your handling upgrades.

> Ultra-high-performance tires may be all you need.

> Firmer shocks are next.

> Anti-roll bars and suspension springs are very advanced changes.

> For the street, lowering is strictly cosmetic and requires a complete package from an expert.

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