As long as there have been aftermarket parts for cars, the debate has gone on, whether aftermarket suspension is better than the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) suspension that the vehicle was designed and sold with.
With those favoring OEM suspension, often raising the point that, the engineers of a certain vehicle, like a Toyota Tacoma for instance, that designed the vehicle, and all it’s components, designed it all to work together optimally and as such surely they got it right and to the best level possible.
Although there is a lot of sense in that reasoning, it is not all that simple nowadays. Modern cars are made up of on average, in excess of 30,000 parts. Now, given the fact that such a car has to be priced according to the market and what is affordable to a certain target market, counting the cost of each individual part and having it manufactured, even at a few dollars a part, quickly can add up to many thousands of dollars when you add 30,000 of those parts together. You start to realize how expensive it can be to design and manufacture just a standard entry-level or mid-range car, and that one of the most important factors in this process is sticking within the budget for such a new car. Not adhering to the cost of production of such a new car, will lower the profit margin on the vehicle, and with no profit, the company manufacturing the vehicle, cannot exist.
Sticking to a strict budget becomes quite hard if you are aiming to manufacture the best in each part when performance is taken into consideration. Although this does not mean that the cheapest part is made, it simply means that the manufacturers would spend more of the initial budget in engineering so their full-time engineers spend the time designing each component for best performance, but thereafter, it needs to be manufactured in as cost effective manor possible, but still being able to withstand what 90% of the customers will require from it.
This brings us to the next factor to consider, the intended use and purpose of the vehicle, by the majority of it’s target market. Going back to the example of the Toyota Tacoma of earlier, 90% of the people going to buy and use it, are going to be using it as a daily commuter on normal public roads, sometimes hauling some load in the back, with the occasional gravel road in between. Think of a sort of ‘Jack of all trades’ analogy, where it must be sort of comfortable most days, have good road holding, and be able to handle some heavy loads some days if needed whilst still offering the previous two requirements. So, the average Tacoma driver will require the suspension to be relatively comfortable on road, both slow speed and some higher highway speeds, both loaded up with gear and with nothing loaded on it too, and that brings us even further to the next consideration, the intended purpose and the performance requirements of that purpose.
A ultra slow speed, rock crawler, needs soft, plush, easily compressing suspension, with ample amounts of shock travel and articulation. A super high speed desert racer, also requires a bunch of bump absorbing shock travel, slower rate dampening, but possibly not as much articulation. A dedicated work truck hauling heavy loads and trailers needs to maintain ride-height, comfort and road-holding with a ton or more on the back. Although with the advent of technology many of these requirements can be catered for with the same suspension shocks and springs, a jack of all trades still remains a master of none, and a well set-up rock crawler will certainly not be as good hauling two tons on the back at highway speeds. So the intended purpose also needs to be considered.
So taking all the above into consideration, we start to see that the OEM engineers of a vehicle, did design the best suspension system for that given vehicle, for it’s most generally used purposes, and lastly to be manufactured within a strict budget. That does not mean that it is the best suspension there is.
Most people will be happy also daily with the stock engineered and manufactured suspension, but if you are a passionate car aficionado like us here at Modifind and most of our readers, the daily ride has to be enjoyed and memorable, so we can always do with more comfort, better road holding, better bump absorption, more traction, less body roll, the list goes on and on.
So, although for the general intended target market, the OEM manufacturers, have designed and manufactured the best suspension system for the general use within the budget available, for the majority of purposes. However, if you focus on certain specific needs or uses of the vehicle, or if you have a little extra money available and want to enhance all the characteristics of the suspension performance, an aftermarket, purpose designed and built system is without a doubt better, as a tight budget was not necessarily one of the considerations in it’s design. Performance rather is the first aim, there after longevity, and at the very end, the suspension system is then priced at whatever it cost to make, with the markup added.
If your intended use of the vehicle is a daily driver, with some off-road fun on weekends, then you will be better suited with any of the major aftermarket suspension kits from reputable brands, getting more daily comfort, possibly better road holding, and then better performance and longevity on the off-road field.
If you are building a dedicated rock crawler, forget daily comfort, and focus on articulation, traction and suspension travel. Taking these factors into consideration, suddenly you find that an plush valved, long range of travel, coilover, with long control arms suspension system, will not only perform better than the OEM suspension, but completely blow it out of the water, to the point where it is almost incomparable.