Off-road-focused pickup trucks are the latest innovative trend to hit the industry. Whether it be the new Ram 1500 TRX, Ford Raptor, Chevy Colorado ZR2, Toyota’s TRD Pro or others, these trucks are ready to leave the pavement right from the factory. Make no mistake, however, while these trucks are incredibly capable off-roaders, they all have one common problem: suspension squat when towing and hauling.
So, why do off-road trucks squat so much? The off-road version of the truck should just have different shock absorbers, right? Well, not exactly. Each off-road-focused truck has a much different suspension setup than one designed specifically for hauling and towing.
Because we want to help you can make informed decisions when purchasing and towing with an off-road truck, we’ve done some research and have the download on suspension squat.
Let’s start at the beginning. Suspension squat is the compression of a truck’s springs due to payload or a trailer being attached to the truck. The spring compression causes the back of the truck to sit lower to the ground. While every truck is expected to experience a certain level of suspension squat when payload is added, off-road-focused trucks tend to experience much more.
But why is it bad? Because it changes the overall ride of the truck. For example, with the back of the truck sitting lower to the ground, the headlights may no longer be pointed at the road and, instead, blind oncoming traffic. Additionally, windshield visibility may not be as good due to strange angle of the truck.
Another dangerous problem: A truck experiencing significantly greater suspension squat is riding much closer to the bump stops, putting the suspension at increased risk for bottoming out when hitting a pothole or uneven road surfaces.
An off-road focused truck achieves greater suspension travel by using a decreased spring rate. A spring rate is a calculable value of the amount of weight it takes to compress the spring a given distance, and there are a variety of methods used to alter the spring rate — such as number of leaves or stiffness of leaves in the pack.
An off-road truck usually utilizes springs with a lower spring rate than a more on-road-focused truck because the softer the suspension (lower spring rate), the more off-road capability it provides. You see, the softer suspension allows for better traction as the tires remain in contact with the ground more evenly in uneven terrain.
Shock absorbers do not provide much, if any, additional suspension travel. So, what is the purpose of high-end off-road shock absorbers OEM manufacturers seem to be using more and more? To dampen the input loads. What this means is they control the energy that would otherwise go straight to the spring. This leads to improved ride quality in both on- and off-road situations.
For example, we asked Toyota Tundra Chief Engineer Mike Sweers the purpose of using the high-end Fox Shocks on Toyota’s Tundra TRD Pro off-road truck, and he said the Fox Shocks provide improved dampening on both the extension and compression strokes. In addition, these shocks have piggyback reservoirs that contain additional oil to keep the shock cool in a high-speed off-road environment.
Sweers also said shocks like these can create additional body roll. However, he added Toyota’s philosophy with the TRD Pro package is to “add the high-speed element without sacrificing on-road capability.”
Let’s start with the “yes.” A proven method for preventing or limiting suspension squat is with air-helper springs or a full air-ride-suspension system, which raises the truck bed up to its stock level.
Currently, the only production off-road truck using factory air suspension is the Ram 1500 Rebel. The Rebel uses a four-corner air-ride system that can automatically level the suspension when payload is added.
There are, however, a variety of aftermarket air-helper springs and full air-suspension kits for most all other makes/models of off-road trucks.
Now here comes the “but.”
Yes, air suspension works really to prevent suspension squat, but it’s really expensive. In addition to the air-suspension bags, any air-ride system requires an expensive compressor attached to the vehicle that can inflate or deflate the air bags to level the ride height. There are also concerns air suspension may not perform as well in harsh winter climates or could suffer damage when off-road. Plus, the additional weight of the air suspension system will lower the truck’s payload.
One final big but for you: Adding air suspension is a great upgrade to prevent suspension squat, but air suspension will not increase your truck’s towing or payload capacity.
Modern day pickup trucks are incredibly capable vehicles. That being said, off-road-focused trucks are not always designed with maximum towing and hauling capacity in mind.
Thus, when towing or hauling with one of these trucks, you must follow all the manufacturer’s guidelines. It is important not to overload your truck — even if it has modifications such as air suspension. If you follow the manufacturer’s rating, you will have a safe towing and hauling experience with your truck.
If you need more payload or towing than an off-road truck provides, get a different truck.