Car Setup and Troubleshooting Guide


Taken from the book "Performance Handling" by Don Alexander (Motorbooks Intl. Publishers)
DISCLAIMER: If you feel that there are mistakes in this guide, then blame the author of the book, not us!

[Suspension Changes]   [Tire Temperatures]   [Solving Handling Problems]




Effect of Suspension Changes

Before making changes to suspension components and settings, it is good to know how the changes will effect performance and ride. The following chart will help give you a general idea of the effect a specific change will make to handling and ride.


Spring Rate Changes
ModificationEffect on Suspension
Increase front and rear rate Ride harshness increases; tires may not follow bumps causing reduced traction. Roll resistance increases.
Increase front rate only Front ride rate increases. Front roll resistance increases, increasing understeer or reducing oversteer.
Increase rear rate only Rear ride rate increases. Rear roll resistance increases, increasing oversteer or reducing understeer.
Decrease front and rear rate Ride harshness decreases; tires follow bumps more effectively, possibly improving traction. Roll resistance decreases.
Decrease front rate only Front ride rate decreases. Front roll resistance decreases, decreasing understeer or increasing oversteer.
Decrease rear rate only Rear ride rate decreases. Rear roll resistance decreases, decreasing oversteer or increasing understeer.

Antiroll Bar Changes
ModificationEffect on Suspension
Increase front rate Front roll resistance increases, increasing understeer or decreasing oversteer. May also reduce camber change, allowing better tire contact patch compliance with the road surface, reducing understeer.
Increase rear rate Rear roll resistance increases, increasing oversteer or decreasing understeer. On independent rear suspensions, may also reduce camber change, allowing better contact patch compliance with road surface, reducing oversteer.
Decrease front rate Front roll resistance decreases, decreasing understeer or increasing oversteer. More body roll could reduce tire contact patch area, causing understeer.
Decrease rear rate Rear roll resistance decreases, decreasing oversteer or increasing understeer. On independent rear suspensions, more body roll could reduce tire contact patch area, causing oversteer.

Shock Absorber Changes
ModificationEffect on Suspension
Increase rebound and bump rates Ride harshness increases.
Increase rebound rates only On bumps, tires may leave track surface.
Increase bump rates only Body roll resisted; outside tire loaded too quickly; car won't stabilize into a turn.
Decrease rebound and bump rates Ride harshness decreases; car may float over bumps.
Decrease rebound rates only On bumps, tires follow track surface more effectively; car may continue to oscillate after bumps.
Decrease bump rates only Body rolls quickly; car is slower to respond to turn-in.
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The Importance of Tire Temperatures

In the course of testing the handling of a car, use tire temperatures and driver feel to make adjustments. It is critical to monitor tire temperatures often. They offer valuable clues to the setup of the car. The areas of adjustment that tire temperatures are used for include: tire pressure, camber, body roll, shock settings, wheel width and transient handling response.


Troubleshooting Tire Temperatures
ReadingHandling problemReason
All tires too hot
Compound too soft for track and ambient temperature conditions.
Front tires too hot Understeer Front tire pressures too low.
Rear tires too hot Oversteer Rear tire pressures too low.
Inside edges too hot Too much body roll Too much negative camber or too much toe-out.
Outside edges too hot Too much body roll Too little negative camber, too little toe-out or too much toe-in or wheel width too narrow for tire width.
Center of tread too hot
Tire pressure too high.
Edges on too hot
Tire pressure too low.
All tires too cold
Compound too hard for track and ambient temperature conditions or car not being driven to limit.
Front tires too cold
Inadequate load on front tires.
Rear tires too cold
Inadequate load on rear tires.
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Solving Handling Problems

The key to setting up your suspension is in diagnosing what the handling problems are and resolving how to fix them. While car enthusiasts often baulk at the "black art" of suspension tuning, there's no reason to. As with working on the mechanical aspects of an engine, the trick to suspension tuning is in the troubleshooting; there is always a cause and an effect.


Solving Handling Problems
ProblemManifestationSolutions
Steady state understeer All turns or low-speed turns only If front tire temps are optimum and rears are low, stiffen rear antiroll bar; if front temps are too hot, soften front (most likely).
If front tire pressures are optimum, decrease rear tire pressure. Increase if chunking occurs.
Improper front camber.
Too much body roll at front, causing excessive camber change.
Steady state understeer High-speed turns only If front tire temps are OK, increase front downforce.
If front tire temps are too hot, reduce rear downforce.
Steady state oversteer All turns or low-speed turns only If rear tire temps are optimum, with fronts too low, stiffen front antiroll bar; if rear temps are too hot, soften rear antiroll bar (most likely).
If rear tire pressures are optimum, decrease front tire pressure. Increase if chunking occurs.
Improper rear camber.
Steady state oversteer High-speed turns only If rear tire temps are OK, increase rear downforce.
If rear tire temps are too hot, reduce front downforce.
Corner entry understeer
Front shocks are too soft in bump resistance.
Too much front toe-in; use a small amount of front toe-out.
Corner exit understeer
Rear shocks are too soft in bump.
Front shocks are too stiff in rebound.
Corner entry oversteer
Rear shocks are too soft in rebound.
Rear ride height is too high (too much rake) compared to front.
Corner exit oversteer
Rear shocks are too soft in rebound.
Too much rear toe-in or any rear toe-out.
Straightline instability
Tire pressure is too low in one or more tires.
Too little positive front caster.
Too much front toe-in or any toe-out in rear.
Straightline speed too slow
Too much overall downforce.
Too much toe-in or toe-out.
Ride height is too hight.
Excessive steering effort All turns Too much positive caster.
Front tire pressures are too low.
Chassis or suspension bottoms
Spring rates are too soft.
Shock absorber bump rates are too soft.
Inadequate suspension travel.
Inadequate ride height.
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