Damper Setting Information

Megan Racing Coilover Damper Kit : Damper Setting Information

We often get questions regarding the best damper settings for their vehicle and for their intended use.  It is often mis-understood that dampers have a “set it and forget it” setting.  The truth of the matter is that they are adjustable for a reason, whether it be to make necessary damping adjustments to a spring rate change to fine tuning the handling characteristics of the vehicle.  These topics of damper settings will be addressed in this article.

An important issue with the damper adjustments available is how to find the settings.  When in doubt, it is best to rotate the damper knob towards the STIFF setting, which is by rotating the knob clockwise.  There is a physical limitation towards the STIFF setting, while there is no physical limitation towards the SOFT setting, which is why it is extremely important not to exceed the amount of clicks going towards the SOFT setting as it may upset the shim-stack alignment within the strut or shock internals and may result in damage to the damper internals.  At this point, a third-party re-valve may be necessary.  Should the customer find a custom re-valve of the shock necessary, we offer shock cartridge insert replacements and often keep these in stock for quick replacement for the customer.  Keeping replacements for each and every application would be impossible, though we do our best, so please check with us as far as availability for each specific component you may need.

To set the damper, we suggest rotating the knob full clock-wise towards FULL STIFF and counting back the clicks counter-clockwise until you find the desired setting.  For strut/shocks with 32-way adjustability, this means when the knob is adjusted to full stiff, you can count back 32-clicks to find the softest setting, but it is critically important for the life of the strut/shock that this limitation is not exceeded to prevent against internal damage within the strut/shock.

First and foremost, all of our coil-over line-ups feature 32-way adjustability, except for our newest line-up, the EZ-Streets, which are 15-way adjustable.  As stated in the item descriptions for the EZ-Street coil-over applications, the valving characteristics between the EZ-Street Series and STREET Series coil-overs are the same, while the only difference being 15-way vs 32-way adjustable.  This is simply to allow for finer damper adjustments should the user call for it.  In essence, the max and min settings are similar (as long as they share the same valving code) and these would be reflected in the dyno plots provided for each damper, however one would take more clicks to reach the maximum and minimum settings compared to the other. 

Changes between each click are sometimes so minute that you will not feel these differences back to back on the vehicle as there are several variables to consider when feeling for the differences.  These would inevitably become apparent on an extensive dyno plot where the dyno is meticulously dyno’d at each individual click. 

For the purpose of the general user with limited experience with adjustable shocks, we provided a very generic outline of the damper settings:

1-8: Suggested for track use.
9-16: Suggested for mountain/aggressive use.
17-32: Suggested for common street use.

These settings are for generic purposes and should not necessarily be the end-all setting suggestion, but merely as a point of comparison to help understanding the nature of the strut/shock valving characteristics.  With that said, while 1-8 is “suggested for track use,” you may very well find a softer setting may be more ideal for your particular vehicle, suspension setup, tire compound and driving style.  Again, these are generic recommendations and should only be noted as a baseline.

To further understand the purpose of an adjustable strut/shock, one must understand exactly what it does.  During the R&D phase of the development of a coil-over damper kit, spring rates are chosen based on the front to rear weight distribution and the front and rear wheel motion ratios to determine the potential ride frequencies of the vehicle that would result from the selection of certain spring rates.  Once the spring rate is determined for the particular application, the valving code is determined accordingly to handle the specific spring rate.  The strut/shock valving deals primarily in controlling the spring, not necessarily the vehicle—again the spring rates are determined by factors of the vehicle, which is why some applications feature the same spring rate on all four corners, while some use heavier springs up front and some applications use heavier spring rates in the rear.  In layman’s terms, the strut/shock’s sole responsibility is to critically dampen the spring oscillations and keep the spring under control during compression and especially during rebound of the spring.  When a bump in the road is encountered, the energy of the wheel and suspension is transmitted to the spring, which causes the spring to compress a certain amount.  This energy is stored in the spring during the compression stage of the spring and results in the decompression of the spring, or the lengthening of the spring back to free-length.  The damper’s job is to absorb the energy transmitted from the compression of the spring to reduce extra oscillations of the spring that would inevitably be transferred to the vehicle resulting in undesirable handling characteristics.

Once these characteristics are well understood, we are ready to move onto properly tuning the damper.  For an intermediate user, tuning primarily for street use, the main thing to tune out for is making sure the suspension is not under-damped, not over-damped, but critically damped.  What this means is that the damping needs to be set to properly dampen the spring oscillations.  If the spring is under-damped, the spring will continue to oscillate a few times after the initial compression.  This results in a bouncy ride, which can be very uncomforting and potentially dangerous.  The over-damped situation can occur with the settings adjusted too stiff than what is necessary to control the spring oscillations.  When the spring compresses and then rebounds, the shock is over-damping the spring and is surpassing the spring frequency, which will result in what feels like a stiff ride.  Looking closer at an over-damped situation, the shock would be too aggressive for the spring and can result in loss of tire traction over rough and uneven surfaces by not letting the wheel conform to road undulations.  This can be equally dangerous as sudden traction may be lost—this is critical to handling performance as an over-damped situation would result in less overall grip of the vehicle. 

When one understands the concepts of a critically damped suspension, they will be able to further fine tune what the suspension is doing and further adjust the strut/shock damping to cater to his/her own driving preferences.  Damper adjustments also have an effect on the handling characteristics of the vehicle as a whole and therefore also provide another means of tuning out under steer and over steer tendencies.  For advanced users, they may fine-tune the shocks to cater to their driving style, whether they prefer a more under-steer-prone vehicle or a more over-steer-prone vehicle.  Of course, these under steer and over steer tendencies are attributed to the entire suspension package and vehicle setup—not just the dampers.  The dampers should be used to fine-tune the vehicle when everything else in the vehicle setup is tuned accordingly.