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The ins and outs of spring spacers

© onX Offroad
© onX Offroad

Written by Wes Whitworth and Jess Olson

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So your 4X4 needs a bit of a lift, but you don’t want to (or can’t yet afford) a completely new suspension system. Don’t worry, there are options available. One inexpensive way to improve the look of your vehicle is to use spring spacers. They work by levelling it out or allowing the fitment of bigger (taller) tyres.

We’ve shared the ins and outs of spring spacers, including whether they’re legal in Australia, why you might fit them and some of the issues they may cause.

Are spring spacers legal in Australia?

Yes, spring spacers are legal in Australia, insofar as there is nothing within VSB14 stating that they’re illegal. If you want to know more about vehicle modifications, then VSB14 is the document for you. LS Section is where you’ll want to go for suspension rules.

However, what you can’t do is use extended shackles on leaf packs. They’re frowned upon by, well, pretty much everyone. Despite the fact they do essentially the same as a coil spacer, the springs just move around a lot more.

What is a spring/coil spacer?

Spring spacers are discs that sit on top of your springs in a coil-equipped vehicle. Whether a solid-axle coil-sprung 4X4 or an IFS rig with coil-over-strut set-ups, they work under the same principle. As the name suggests, they space your spring down a set amount from the spring seat. This equates to lift on your four-wheel drive. They usually come in sizes ranging from 25-50mm, unless you’re in the U.S. and you have 12-inch spring spacers. They’re cheap, easy to fit, and a solid alternative to changing out springs.

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They’re usually made from metal, rubber, or polyurethane, with the obvious advantage of each going along with it. Namely that the metal ones are absolutely solid, the rubber ones are a bit squishy but don’t rust, and the polyurethane ones are essentially in between and don’t rust either. Aside from their longevity, the main difference comes down to price.

Why would you want to fit a spring spacer?

Spacers are often used to add a touch of lift (say 25mm), and they achieve this without changing the spring rates of your current suspension. What they don’t give you is any extra wheel travel. However, they are useful for levelling your vehicle or if you’re looking for a cheap (first step) in building up your vehicle and have fitted taller tyres and need some extra clearance.

Due to being a pretty solid material, they’re a guaranteed height/lift amount. They’re easy to install, and are rather versatile in how and what you can use them with. Unfortunately, they’re not perfect, and there’s a reason for that. It is true that spacers are generally used as a first step in a vehicle build, but nothing beats a perfectly designed and tailored suspension set-up to suit your vehicle.

Drawbacks of a spring spacer

Spring spacers have the same issues as a full suspension upgrade, in that you can bust CV’s, struts, upper control arms (UCA), ball joints and suspension geometry. The whole lot of it, if you don’t do it properly.

Where this becomes an issue is that with a proper high-quality suspension kit, you may well get a diff-drop kit, extended brake lines and adjustable UCAs… the works. This will make sure everything works exactly as it should. But they’re rather expensive, especially when you put them against a set of $100 spacers. So if you are going to throw a set of spacers in, make sure you’re thinking about the accompanying mods to go along with them.

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The pros and cons of spring spacers

Pros

  • They’re cost-effective. Rubber spacers can be had for as little as $30 a pair, or decent alloy options at around $130. For a 25mm of extra lift, it’s considered cheap.
  • They’re versatile. They’ll work with factory suspension, or an aftermarket kit, regardless of the suspension kit you have.
  • Spring rate remains the same. If you’ve got your springs already dialled in exactly how you want them, rate wise, they offer a bit of lift, while leaving everything else alone.
  • A fixed amount of lift. They don’t sag or settle. It is what it is because it’s changing the height of the spring pad, not changing the height or size of your spring.
  • Easy to level out a ute. Most dual-cab suspension kits have much firmer springs in the rear, as that’s where you’re going to add any load to it (aside from a bullbar and winch). Therefore adding an inch to the front, will often keep things on the straight and level.

Cons

  • They don’t change the spring rate. There’s no stiffness or capacity change in your springs. If you’re needing to load more up, and you’re trying to level out your rig because you’re putting weight on it, you should be looking at appropriately set springs, not just adding spacers.
  • Gaining height, but not travel. The main issue with spacers is that you’re just increasing height. This will then limit the amount of suspension droop you have. This adds stresses to the suspension, potential fouling issues and more, like the strut bottoming out before it reaches the bump stop. It can also stiffen the on-road ride.
  • Some spacers can fall out. This is especially true when the spacer just sits on top of your coil. Unless it’s attached to the spring tower, nothing is holding it in. However, most spacers these days are made to attach to the spring tower.
  • Different materials mean different outcomes. Using different materials like rubber, polyurethane or a metal spacer will mean they behave differently.
  • Unlike a longer spring, you’re losing that potential extra inch of spring movement. You’re essentially adding an inch of mostly solid material (depending on spacer build material), where it’s certainly better to be using the whole spring for your four-wheel drive. This can negatively impact wheel travel and reduce the bump stop clearance reducing up travel. It can also potentially force the coil too close to the control arm on some makes of 4X4 (Toyota HiLux we are looking at you).

Final thoughts on spring/coil spacers

At the end of the day, which way you go will depend on a few factors like what you’re actually trying to achieve. Think about cost, ride height, use, ride quality and just simply levelling out your four-wheel drive. But you’ll also need to consider the potential risks involved, like damage to other componentry, coils fouling on control arms, CV joints being over-stressed and more.

Essentially, what you’re gaining on one hand (a bit of extra room for taller tyres) you’re taking away with the other because you’re messing with the suspension’s travel. This can upset your vehicle’s ride and handling.

It tends to be a more expensive exercise but there is no substitute to loading up your four-wheel drive as if you’re about to go away. Or having a ‘normal’ load in it, taking it into your local quality suspension mob and sitting down with them to get the right springs and shocks off the bat. Even if you’re not having a full suspension upgrade, it’s worth discussing your vehicle with a reputable suspension mob, on whether spacers will work and the type to buy.

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