How to Mount Shocks to Avoid Breakage While Off-Roading

    Techline: Prevent your coilover shock from breaking, plus on-trail fixes.

    I recently went from front leaf springs to a three-link with coilovers on my Toyota 4Runner. Do you have a suggested trail fix plan in the event a coilover shock breaks? In the past, if I broke a leaf spring, it wasn't a problem. I carried metal plates, bolts, and ratchet straps for use as a trail repair. I'm wondering how you get off of a trail like Dusy-Ershim if you were to break a coilover in the middle of it.
    —Suhag Patel, via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

    How to Mount Coilovers

    It's a great idea to always have trail repair plans in place. The more time you spend with your 4x4 off-road, the more you learn about what might give you troubles and what spare parts you should bring along. Coilover shocks are generally pretty robust and difficult to damage if your suspension has been properly designed. Most coilover shock failures stem from improper mounting. When designing the three-link suspension, you should have cycled it to check for shock body clearance and binding at the mounting ends. If the ends bind or the shock body or shaft makes contact with another component, you'll need to remount the shocks. Tires rubbing on the shock body is also not ideal. This kind of contact causes side-loading of the shock assembly, which can lead to seal failure, or it could cause the shock to catastrophically fail and bend or break in half.

    Coilovers and Bumpstops

    You should also have proper bumpstops and limit straps on your suspension. Don't use the coilover to replace these components. The bumpstops should make contact long before the shock bottoms out. You'll want to avoid metal-to-metal contact to maintain long coilover shock life. Limit straps should be positioned and installed so that they tighten up with about 1 inch of shock travel remaining on the coilover. This allows the limit straps to stretch a little and keeps your expensive coilover shocks from topping out when the suspension droops or articulates, which is another situation that can damage a coilover. If you have your bumpstops and limit straps located and installed properly, you could technically drive off of the trail with the broken coilover shock removed. The vehicle would simply ride on the bumpstop and the limit straps would keep the suspension from overextending. All of the steering, driveshafts, and other linkages should clear just fine. Obviously, properly located bumpstops would also keep the tires from rubbing with the suspension fully compressed.

    Budget Coilover Ideas

    If you don't have the bumpstops and limit straps in place, or they are incorrectly positioned, you could carry a spare coilover shock or the equivalent air shock replacement. This would be even easier if you use the same shock length at all four corners. If you're looking for a more budget-minded solution, you could build a shock replacement rod that simply bolts into the mounts and doesn't allow the suspension to move at all. Basically, just a hefty steel rod with shock eyes at both ends. Of course, with something like this in place, you'll have to keep speeds down or you could cause even more damage.

    Coilover On-Trail Repair

    In a pinch, you could even use a properly trimmed Hi-Lift (hi-lift.com) jack body as a shock replacement rod. Unfortunately, most coilover failures are the result of damaged mounts, which is usually caused by binding or a lack of bumpstops and limit straps. If this happens, a spare shock or replacement rod won't do you much good. If all else fails, you could ratchet strap the axle to the frame with a spacer, such as a chunk of firewood. It will immobilize the suspension, but it will also keep the tires from rubbing and the suspension from overextending, causing other failures.

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