Tips, Tricks & Trends

Does Your Car Need New Sway Bars?

If you want to improve your car’s handling, there are a number of modifications you can install. Tires are one of the simplest mods. But the next step is modifying the suspension. Swapping out your shock absorbers would appear to be the obvious next step. However, not only can that be expensive, done improperly, it can be genuinely unsafe. Luckily, there is another, easier way of improving handling: sway bars.

What is a sway bar?

Sway bars are also called anti-roll bars. As Autoblog explains, these are part of a car’s suspension, linking opposite wheels together across an axle. They’re basically metal bars which act as a kind of spring. When a car or SUV turns, it’ll naturally lean in the direction of the turn. The sway bar applies an opposing force to the wheels and prevents the vehicle from leaning too much.

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In addition to preventing excessive lean, anti-roll bars also keep the wheels and suspension properly aligned. So, whether you’re in a Cayman GT4, Toyota 86, or Shelby Ford F150, the handling and tire grip remains consistent. That’s why stiffer sway bars are common car mods.

In fact, as Road & Track explains, some new cars have active anti-roll bars, which can change stiffness on-the-fly. However, there are some situations where sway bars aren’t actually beneficial.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon sway bar detail
2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon sway bar detail | Jeep

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There’s a reason off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator come with electronically-disconnecting sway bars. When you’re crawling over rocks, you want maximum articulation from the suspension. Electronically-disconnecting sway bars have a motor that pushes the two halves of the bar apart. This lets the individual tires move more freely.

Also, stiffer sway bars can have a similar effect as stiffer suspension. The ride will be stiffer, and your car will react more over bumps. However, there are a few new vehicles that offer a solution. The Mercedes GLE, for example, offers something called Active Body Control. This replaces the standard suspension and anti-roll bars with active air suspension. And Car and Driver reports the system is fairly effective.

Should you upgrade your sway bars?

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Although the anti-roll bar itself rarely breaks, Click Mechanic reports, the bushings, and links used to attach it do wear down. If you notice squeaking or knocking sounds during cornering, the bushings, and links likely need to be replaced.

But, if you want to improve your car’s handling, stiffer sway bars do have tangible benefits. They reduce body roll and lean, making your car feel more agile and stable. And, as Donut Media shows in the video above, they’re fairly easy to install.

Plus, they’re relatively inexpensive. For example, with the stiffer and lighter alloy brackets, I can upgrade my NB Miata with Flyin’ Miata’s adjustable anti-roll bar for $380. It’s also often possible to source parts from the OEM. For instance, Toyota offers a TRD sway bar for the 86.

Other handling modifications

There are a few other inexpensive handling modifications besides a stiffer sway bar.

One, Jalopnik reports, is to replace your car’s old rubber bushings with polyurethane ones. Polyurethane is a stiffer material, which will eliminate excessive flex in your suspension and steering. It’s also more durable. However, some of these bushings may need to be greased periodically.

You can also fit your car with a strut tower brace. Similar to the anti-roll bar, strut tower braces connect opposite wheels via the suspension. However, the strut tower brace installs on top of the suspension, via the strut towers. This prevents excessive flex, especially as the parts age, which improves rigidity and handling.

Finally, one of the best modifications is to the driver. Got to a driving school and understand how your inputs impact your car’s handling. Not only will you become a better driver, but you’ll also be able to better understand your vehicle’s limits. That way, you can pinpoint exactly where your car needs work.

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