Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dropping My Car, And Then Regretting It

The mechanic at my tire place may as well have just whispered a sweet sonnet in my ear when said to me "you really need to get those shocks and struts replaced." I tried to hide my smile, but it was no use. 

 Ask any real car guy, when something's about to go, it means a rare opportunity to replace boring stock parts with much better, cooler aftermarket equipment, and get your hands dirty in the process. As an additional bonus, if you do it cheaper than paying a mechanic, the wife acceptance factor does not calculate into the equation.

I know I wanted to drop my car just a little bit, in order to get the handling and fuel efficiency benefits. And, let’s face it, the Nissan Maxima has enough wheel gap to rival most 4x4’s.

That Instagram photo that never happened
 I started researching the best spring and shock combinations, and after much deliberation, purchased a set of KYB Excel GR2’s shocks and a set of Tein S-Tech lowering springs. Everything I read on the forums said the drop wouldn’t be too aggressive, and at 1.5” in the front and 0.5” in the rear, I figured I would be safe. It was like Christmas morning when my lowering springs arrived; they were in a huge box, sitting on my doorstep with a big Tein logo on them. I unwrapped the bright green springs from their box like a kid getting his first Nintendo, and resisted the urge to Instagram a shot of them, because, well, no one cares but me.

The worn strut after it blew
A few days later, I rolled over a bump, and heard a snap and a pop, and realized I blew my worn front strut. When I got home, fluid was splattered all over my wheel well, and I had to hose it off. The car literally bounced at every bump and didn’t feel safe to drive more than 40 MPH. Despite that, I packed up my shiny new car parts, and headed upstate to my friend’s house, where he had the tools to do the job.

Putting in an entirely new suspension was only about a three beer job, and my friend and I did it over the course of a Sunday. The old struts and springs had to be taken off, while the hardest part was working through a few rusty bolts. We used a spring compressor to get the new struts onto the new springs, mounted them, and we were done. It wasn’t the most difficult job, but it is something that needs to done with at least a little mechanical experience, and a lot of YouTube videos.  Additionally, it was extremely cost effective. An entirely new suspension cost me about $450 in parts, vs. the $1200 or so I would spend to have a mechanic do it with stock parts.
new suspension and springs

Riding home, I felt like the car was on rails. The car was so planted to the road with absolutely no body roll, I felt like a Ferrari blasting through the backroads with new found confidence. But the ride quality was jarring to say the least. I felt every little bump in the road like a slap, and I kept telling myself to wait until the springs settle…

Now it’s a month later, and the springs have settled. The drop on the car looks amazing; it has an aggressive stance that i love, but I’m starting to think it’s just too low for metro NY. I have to creep into my driveway at a perfect 45-degree angle to minimize the scraping, and speedbumps have become my new worst enemy. The parking garage at my office is doing construction, and we are now routed through a series of the nastiest bumps I have ever seen. Even at 2 MPH, I can hear my catalytic converter hitting them. I am now officially “that guy” who comes to a near complete stop before every speed bump, lest I do serious damage to my undercarriage. On the bright side though, the ride quality has significantly improved since the springs settled, and the handling is better, but not as good as when I first installed them.  Eyeballing it, I would say that the lowering rate was a mild suggestion, as I think it’s more like a 2’5” drop.

For now, I’ll live with it, although in a constant state of fear, vigilant of every pothole, railroad crossing and speedbump in the road. I'll embrace it because the car looks great, and the handling is much better. As for fuel efficiency, well that has yet to be determined.  I have to be careful when I park head-in to a curb, so I don’t rip off my front bumper. I’m looking for my next flip car, and I find myself passing over every entry listed as having “lowering springs” installed just because now I know this horror. My advice to anyone who does long commutes is to not drop your ride unless you are willing to deal with the consequences. 


                           But damn it looks good. 

P.S. - Big shout-out and thanks to my buddy Ryan for helping out on this job.