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What Are Sway Bars And What Do They Do?

Excessive body roll is a performance car’s enemy. To combat this, we need various thingamabobs to tune your car’s suspension.

One of these components is the sway bar or, perhaps more formally, anti-roll bar. It helps reduce the body roll of a vehicle during fast cornering or over road irregularities. It connects opposite (left/right) wheels through short lever arms linked by a torsion spring. A sway bar increases the suspension's roll stiffness—its resistance to roll in turns, independent of its spring rate in the vertical direction.

Meanwhile, body roll happens when you turn into a corner. As your car begins to turn, its weight is thrown to the outside of the corner, causing your car to roll in that direction.

Simply put, a sway bar is a metal crossbar that ties the driver and passenger side chassis and suspension together. You will feel its effects as soon as you crank on the steering wheel and enter a corner, a sway bar ‘springs’ to life to help control the weight shift that occurs during cornering.

But How do Sway Bars Work?

  1. As your vehicle turns left, a portion of vehicle weight transfers to the right-hand side of the vehicle.
  2. This rolling effect loads the suspension, steering and tires on the right-hand side of the vehicle. Some sideloading is desirable and necessary as long as it’s controlled, mind you.
  3. A sway bar helps control this rolling effect by twisting along its axis as the chassis and suspension moves.
  4. As the bar cycles through its range of travel, it offers progressively more resistance to twisting.
  5. The sway bar’s ever-increasing resistance to twisting works to counter the force of vehicle roll.

The sway bar will control the suspension of each wheel to even out the body roll of your vehicle and keep your vehicle more level and in control. Again, when you're going around the turn, the body of your vehicle rolls or swings to the outside of the turn. This means that the weight of your vehicle is transferred more to the outer wheels and the suspension on the outer wheels is compressed. The two wheels on the inside of the turn will be lifted or the suspension will be extended. Just think, when you're making a sharp turn, you can actually feel your body moving or drifting out of the turn.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Sway Bar

  • Well, as we have established in the beginning, combatting body roll is the reason for existence of a sway bar. And once you’ve done that, you can now make turns more confidently, and perhaps, faster.
  • However, stiffer isn’t always better. For instance, suppose you’re looking to improve the handling of your daily driver and you install a sway bar rated at 200% stiffer than stock.
  • Rather than improve, your cornering performance, ride quality and traction will suffer on real-world road surfaces. Potholes, mid-corner dips, and road kill will all fight against your uber-stiff setup.
  • Overall, an extremely stiff sway bar will transfer much more of the energy – maybe enough to unsettle the suspension and reduce traction by creating tire lift on the inside wheel and excessive sidewall flex on the outside tire.

Do I Need to Install Sway Bars?

While a sway bar’s primary function is to decrease body roll in cornering, it can impact overall handling as well. More specifically, aftermarket sway bars can drastically change under-steer and over-steer. Many aftermarket sway bars are adjustable, which means you can easily tune over-steer and under-steer depending on what road or track you’re driving on.

  • In most applications, a stiffer rear sway bar results in more over-steer, while a stiffer front sway bar will result in more under-steer. Over-steering on the throttle can typically be managed with softer spring rates or softer damping in the rear, however, over-steering off the throttle or while coasting can easily be managed with a softer rear sway bar.
  • Sway bars come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have the same purpose at the end of the day. Solid and hollow (tubular) sway bars are both widely used in this day and age, it really comes down to the personal preference of each driver.
  • Hollow and solid bars work exactly the same way — the only real difference is the weight. With the added traction of performance tires and heavier cars with more horsepower, the bar diameter has grown to control the handling of the vehicle. Making the larger-diameter sway bars hollow enables weight savings whenever possible.

In short, if you feel your car has enough muscle mustering bends and you like the comfort it provides, aftermarket sway bars may take a lot more convincing. Upgraded sway bars are a major driver of vehicle handling characteristics and help with more than just body roll. Don't just settle for the biggest sway bars because they are the toughest, most expensive option; they should be thoroughly researched as there are a plethora of manufacturers, sizes, and styles. You can test what works and what doesn't work with your car with a clearer understanding of these components.

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