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Why Adjustable Damping?

November 18, 2016

So you've got shocks with adjustable damping (such as the ones inclued with our PIC Select Coilovers) but like many people, those fancy shocks also probably came with a bunch of questions.  What am I adjusting?  How do I know that I've got the "right" settings?  My buddy's car has "32-way adjustable" coilovers, but my PIC's only have a single "way" of adjustment?

 

First, let's dispel some myths.

1.  "Our shocks have 16/32/40/100 way adjustability."  There are currently at most only 4 "ways" (or dimensions) in which damping can be adjusted on a shock:  low speed rebound, high speed rebound, low speed compression and high speed compression. If your shocks were advertised by the manufacturer as having any more than 4 ways of adjustment, there may be one more adjustment you can make to them and that is remove them from your car and toss them in the bin.

 

2.  "Adjustable damping shocks are always better than non-adjustable shocks."  Not always.  If you're a chassis engineer for a professional race team or developing the next flagship hypercar for McLaren, sure.  But for many grass-roots racers or the typical enthusiast, multiple dimensions of adjustability just means more gremlins to chase when handling issues arise.  (So why does PIC offer adjustable damping and not fixed damping shocks?  Having *some* adjustment on a racecar is always beneficial for tuning, and adjustments to high speed rebound can make broad stroke changes that can be further fine-tuned with tire pressures, alignment, aero, brake balance, etc.)

 

3.  The generally accepted term is Damper (or Shock, or Shock Absorber).  Dampener is less commonly accepted, and more often than not in racing circles labeled (wrongly) as incorrect  and the user ridiculed. The (again incorrect) assumption is that a Dampener is something that dampens, and to dampen can only mean "to make something wet or moist".  This is incorrect, as "dampen" can also mean "the act of reducing intensity", which is indeed the function of this particular part. 

 

Depending on how your adjustable shock is valved, you may or may not notice significant changes in ride quality for daily driving if you make damping adjustments.  It is at the track that damping adjustments are most significant, and in fact play a pivotal role in chassis tuning.  It is also at the track where well-paired damping/spring combos are separated from badly-matched ones, or just plain poorly-valved shocks.  

 

The art and science of shock tuning at the track is beyond the scope of this post, but thankfully the motorsports world has Mark Ortiz, who thankfully publishes a monthly Chassis Newsletter, an early edition of which covered in some detail general rule-of-thumb principles for shock tuning at the track.  As the articles are provided graciously free of charge (all of which can be found here), we wanted to repost here a snippet from that article here for reference, something that we've always found useful.   

 

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