Chinese eBay Coilovers - Should you Avoid Them?
I had a Great Uncle who was an engineer and he would always say when it comes to cars, "never cheap out on tyres, brakes or suspension". The more I work on cars in general, the more sense I see in that statement.
The internet has done wonders for track-day enthusiasts and competition drifters, not just in the abundance of advice available online, but also in opening up a market of cheap aftermarket suspension. Many of these coilovers can be purchased for chump change, but are they worth it? And was my Great Uncle right?
First impressions, cheap coil-overs, at-least from a distance, look reasonable. Parts are either anodized or powder coated, the alloy spring seats and top hats appear to be half-way decent. But up close, the quality starts to fall apart.
Under closer inspection, the quality of materials and assembly is lacking. The rubber boot feels poorly made and no doubt will split rapidly. The bump stop is inexplicably undersized. Threads seem ok for now, but after a number of adjustments, I'd be interested to see how they hold up.
The powder coating hasn't adhered well and it wouldn't take much more than a hit by a small piece of gravel to start removing the finish. Once that's gone, the shock body will start to corrode. Welds around the lower shock mount bush are dog rough. And this is only on the exterior, visible parts! I can only wonder what internal components are like. It wouldn't be surprising to find a light amount of surface corrosion from when parts are left on pallets in the yard of the powder coating plant. Worryingly, some of the tolerances to which the parts have been made are generous.
Overall, the quality is wanting. At less than $200 for 4 shocks, I can understand that, but there are other concerns I have.
Before handling, I always put safety! If a damper were to collapse at a critical moment, it could send you right off the track, causing all manner of damage to you and your car.
Safety regulations differ country to country around the world. Some of the manufacturers claim to have tested springs upwards of 600,000 times but has that been independently verified by a recognized evaluation board, like the stringent German TÜV certification? Are they dyno tested? Is it traceable? These are important questions to ask!
Quite a number of distributors even offer a 1-year warranty, but does that cover your wrecked car or worse? In my opinion, it is a false economy and not worth saving a few hundred bucks but risking so much!
Ah, the reason you're probably fitting coil-overs. To improve the handling. Do these cheap aftermarket coilovers make a noticeable difference? Yes, they do. But it isn't a positive one.
The handling is worse than OEM suspension. Every bump and imperfection in the track surface is magnified with an inconsistent spongy, yet firm ride. Also, there are loud troubling knocking noises which many drivers complain about with these low price budget deals! I'm curious as to how long they will last, but do not want to find out! One good thing, they have pillow ball top mounts for the taking up of axial loads and a few even offer camber adjustment! I note online that a number of owners who've fitted cheap coilovers complain of spring bind problems.
After sales care & Instructions
A select few established and reputable shock designers, such as Fortune Auto offer rebuild and inspection services. Each shock absorber is meticulously quality controlled by experienced craftsmen. This way they are able to offer a 5-year warranty!
Do cheap shock suppliers offer this level of after-care? It's unlikely. Once they have your money, you'll be lucky to just be able to speak with them again. The approach taken to instructions and manuals too could be improved, with poor translations and spelling errors leaving you scratching your head in confusion.
Shipping and Packaging
Finally, those cheap eBay coil-overs are in the mail and on the way to your door. After landing in the US, they will be subjected to customs inspections. This inspection can occur hidden charges related to the import of goods, leaving you to pick up a surprise bill.
When you do the sign for and open up the packaging, it's been my experience that the box can be pretty beat up and the internal protective packaging non-existent, meaning your brand new shocks are all banged up. Oh well, they were cheap after-all!
Are cheap shocks worth it?
The old adage, you get what you pay for applies here. If you want quality, well made, quality inspected parts, then pay more and get the peace of mind of having a 5-year warranty and a damper that works as promised.