VAN COMPASS 4X4 SPRINTER SUSPENSION UPGRADES - EXPLAINED
Posted by Mark Hesser on
At VC we try to only sell you products that will add value to your van. We try to educate our customers on our products to be sure you get the best value for your dollar spent.
Van Compass offers many different suspension packages for the 4x4 Sprinter van to help with ride quality and ground clearance. This blog explains our methods and reasons for building our suspension kits the way we do so the consumer can choose the correct suspension package to fit their needs.
Let's start by outlining the typical complaints regarding a stock Sprinter van's ride quality.
- Ride harshness. Relative smooth roads didn’t seem too smooth.
- Head jostling,violent sway / rocking with uneven, low speed road conditions. (Lack of low speed damping) Most noticeable when pulling into and out of driveways at an angle or tackling speed bumps in a parking lot at an angle.
- Relative instability in even moderate wind conditions.
- Body roll around corners
- Ride harshness. Washboard roads and rocky forest roads near unbearable.
- Head Jostling, violent sway / rocking with uneven, low speed conditions, again a severe lack of low speed damping to control the tall center of gravity and most importantly, overly stiff sway bars.
- Lack of articulation and overly stiff sway bars causing unnecessary tire lifting and severely limiting articulation.
Now, how to address these issues.
The OEM shocks are cheap and are designed to cover a wide array of weights / and chassis configurations. The sprinter suspension was most likely designed for its intended customer base, which are not the individuals who used these vans as campers or everyday family vehicles. The sprinter customer base is commercial; fleet trucks. Thus, cost, longevity, and maintenance were likely the priorities in the chassis design, not ride comfort and on or off-road prowess. A simple upgrade to a quality, tune-able monotube rear shock will make you love your van 10x over. Do yourself a favor and before doing anything else to your van. Get a set of tuned Fox shocks from us and you will immediately be happy.
Rear spring rate. The OEM spring is a good spring. It’s a leaf spring. It’s technology from the 1800s and it is still in use today. OEM spends millions and millions on chassis design and making sure some, not all, components will never need replacement. If you have a relatively light van, I.E. not nearing the GVWR of the van, we do not recommend adding spring rate to the rear of the van as it is just not needed. More spring rate means more damping will be needed to control said spring rate to keep the van from rocking, swaying violently and feeling harsh on relatively smooth roads. We use properly tuned shocks to make the ride better and to save our customers money. We have many happy customers that thought they needed a custom spring for their light van to get the ride quality they wanted. We convinced them to start with a set of $350 rear Fox shocks before going all in. We constantly get positive feedback from these people and they feel the shocks did everything they wanted.
We do a mini rear spring pack for vans that are always loaded over 7800lbs. This mini spring pack bolts under the factory leaf springs to give the factory springs extra support. It is made in USA to our specifications and will support the factory springs to be sure they last the life of your van. We do sell full spring replacement packs to customers that are way overweight, 9500lbs+ and/or have worn out the OEM springs.
We do a rear add-a-leaf pack for these reasons;
1. OEM components. They tend to go the distance. This is a contradiction to our stance on shocks, but shocks are a wear item. They are meant to have a shelf life. The rear leaf spring on a vehicle is not a wear item. It is designed to outlast the vehicle. Thus we wanted to keep it on the vehicle and design something to give it a little help and fit our goals.
- Our mini spring pack allows us to give heavy vans at or near the GVWR a slight spring rate and ride height increase to help control the additional weight which they are always hauling around as well as get them back to the same amount of uptravel the van had when it was an empty cargo van, thus preventing excessive bottoming of the rear suspension and improving the ride quality.
- Cost. Making a full replacement pack is expensive and the retail price has to be high.
- The way our mini spring pack is designed allows us to use it in a variety of applications. It allows us to tune ride height, getting up to a 2.0” lift for those desiring a big increase in tire size and ground clearance, as well as just being able to use it on heavy vehicles just needing a slight increase in spring rate and ride height.
Harshness in the front end. In our opinion, the front of the OEM spring rate on the front of these vans is adequate for the weight that the front of the van carries. We use a front sumo spring to give the front suspension a progressive rate as the front suspension moves into the compression stroke of the travel. The addition of the front sumo spring does not change the ride height or limit suspension travel. The sumo spring will compress to 1/3 of its height, making this the same height as a compressed OEM bumpstop. The sumo spring helps to reduce body roll around corners, sway over uneven surfaces, wind sway and harsh bottoming out of the front suspension. We feel the sumo spring is a cost effective solution for a better handling van and progressive spring rate is added to the chassis in an area that is designed to handle the full weight of the vehicle.
Side to side sway / rocking. This is due to a lack of low speed damping in the front struts. There simply is not enough damping in the factory struts to control the tall chassis and overly stiff front sway bar. A sway bar is a spring. Load one end of a sway bar, and the other side wants to unload. It’s a giant solid bar that you are effectively twisting as the van handles bumps unevenly going down the road. It is this loading and unloading of the front sway bar along with inadequate damping that is most conducive to the violent rocking which Sprinters are so well known for.
We address improving the front suspension ride quality by adding shock damping.
- We add a secondary shock to the front of the van. We use custom tuned Fox shocks combined with bolt on VC shock brackets.
- We do not add front ride height unless that's what the customer is looking to gain. If a customer is looking to gain ride height, we use a true lift kit which retains the factory suspension geometry and wheel travel.
- We put a lot of rebound damping in the shocks to control the unloading of the sway bar and drastically limit the side to side sway / rocking of the vehicle over uneven, slow surfaces. The increase in compression damping and the amount of additional damping drastically improves on and off-road performance with fast, small bumps (washboard for example).
- Our front shock kit can be bolted on a bone stock 4x4 van without the need for less wheel offset or a wheel spacer. A benefit to an additional front shock is that you have a backup should a stock strut blow out or wear out prematurely. And I promise you, your front struts will wear out. With our kit, that secondary shock acts as a redundancy should you lose a strut damping on a long trip.
- Our front shock kit is a relatively cost effective upgrade that provides a night and day difference in handling and ride quality.
- No alignment is needed after installing our front shock kit.
Van Compass 4x4 2” Striker lift kits
We manufacture a full 2" lift kit that properly lifts the front and rear of the van by spacing the suspension components away from the chassis and back to the original position, factory suspension geometry is retained. We pair the lift kits with the suspension upgrades described above to give the Sprinter more ground clearance and ride improvement. Factory shocks can also be re-used if you want to upgrade those later. Our lift kit and suspensions components are modular, you can add to the van without removing previously purchased parts.
The Striker lift kit retains the factory ride height on the front struts 7" of travel and rear shock 8” of travel. The suspension can compress and extend equally as Mercedes intended when at ride height. The 2” spacing of the suspension components away from the chassis keeps the fully compressed suspension 2” further from the body. This extra room allows for larger tires to be installed. The suspension will extend 2” further away from the body; factory wheel travel is retained. The suspension bushings, cv axles, tie rod ends and ball joints are in their neutral position at ride height to prevent premature wear. Other kits on the market increase the ride height of the van with additional spring rate and do not space the suspension components away from the chassis. The suspension has less usable downward wheel travel when this method is used. This limits the suspension articulation and makes tires lift off the ground quicker when off road.
Van Compass Suspension kits choices
We like to start out by having our customers weight their vans at a certified scale. “CAT Scales” or other commercial truck stop scales are a great place to do this. We like to get a front and rear axle weight when possible. We can also work with a total weight and pictures of the van if you cannot get front and rear axle weights.
Stage 1 and 2 kits
These kits are designed for lighter weight Sprinter 4x4s. The kit includes front and rear Fox shocks and a front sumo spring. We feel this is all you really need to make a drastic improvement in handling and ride on a 4x4 Sprinter that is loaded under 7800lbs (2500 single), or 9000lbs (3500 DRW). The Stage 2 kit offers a remote reservoir rear shock with a compression adjuster knob. This adjustable rear shock is great for people that have load swings in the van. Many people daily drive their van completely unloaded and want a smooth ride out of it when it's empty. When the van is loaded for a weekend trip with heavy gear the compression damping on the shock can be increased for more stability. You can also back off the compression damping when off road to allow the rear suspension to move easier over rough terrain. We included a special wrench to make turning the knob on the shock easier with each set we sell.
Stage 3 and 4 kits
We recommend these kits to customers with vans over 7800lbs (2500). These kits include front sumo springs, front and rear Fox shocks (adjustable rear shocks on Stage 4) and our 3-leaf mini spring pack to restore the rear suspension ride height. The additional rear spring rate from the mini spring pack prolongs the life of your OEM rear leaf springs. We make a Stage 3, 3500 specific kit for dual rear vans weighing over 9,000lbs. This kit includes a new replacement spring pack vs a mini spring pack. We can do full spring replacement packs for 2500 customers as well.
Mini 3 leaf spring pack shown below
Stage 3 - before and after picture. See how the rear end sag is corrected on this 9500lb van in the bottom picture. The van is now sitting just slightly higher in the rear.
Stage 5 and 6 kits
These kits include the parts from our Stage 1 or 2 kit and our full 2” lift kit. The lift kit includes components to space the suspension away from the chassis for a true lift with bump stop spacing for larger tires and our full 5 leaf mini spring pack. Compatible on all 2500 vans that want a full 2” lift kit and a ride improvement package with Fox shocks and front sumo springs. Our 2” lift kit allows for 35” tires with the proper wheel offset or spacers and a slight bit of trimming. The additional ground clearance and advantage of larger tires truly helps the Sprinter perform better offroad and make the vehicle look more proportionally correct. Larger tires is the only way to achieve more ground clearance under the live rear axle on a Sprinter van and in our experience, the rear differential is the most common part of the undercarriage to come in contact with the ground when traveling off-road.
Before and after Stage 5 kit. 285/65/17 tires installed with no fender trimming or wheelspacers. This van weight in at 9000lbs. No more rear end sag and much better clearance under the van and for the rear hitch.
Stage 6 kit with 35x12.5x17 tires, 14mm wheel spacers required and a slight front fender trim.
Front sway bar disconnect kit
We offer a replacement sway bar link that can be quickly disconnected front the vehicle. Disconnecting the sway bar can allow for 3" of additional articulation while off road. The front suspension will move independently over bumps for a much more compliant ride and additional traction. Simply steer the van all the way to the left, unhook the sway bar link and store it in the provided bag till you are back on the road.
Please drop us a line if you have any further questions and if you want to built a kit for your van needs.
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