What is a steering stabilizer for? How are they mounted? Can you drive without one? What is “best practice” for this particular upgrade?
I had a rough idea of what they are before I started writing this, but I wanted to really understand them better- enough to make an informed decision when it comes time to upgrade my truck. So I dug into the research to get some answers.
What a Steering Stabilizer Is
A steering stabilizer, or steering dampener, is a shock absorber. You have four shock absorbers (at least) mounted vertically at each of your wheels. For those that aren’t sure what they look like, shock absorbers are the piston-looking things that attach to the frame and axle. They work with leaf springs or coil springs, depending on your set up. The design limits the amount of bounce and recoil you would experience without them.
For the stock steering stabilizer, it is mounted horizontally near the front axle, to the frame and drag link.
You can get them in different styles depending on what your end goal is. The stock stabilizer is of average quality and can handle most of your typical driving conditions.
The easiest option for upgrade is to buy a higher quality version that mounts in the same position, using the same mounting points.
Next option would be to get a neutral stabilizer, such as the Fox ATS (Adjustable Through Shaft).
The benefit with this type of stabilizer is the neutral charge. The shaft runs through the chamber but does not attach to the drag link mounting hole. Instead, an integrated clamp grabs the link.
The neutral charge prevents the tendency of gas-charged shocks to push the steering in one direction (to the left). It has a built-in reservoir and the ability to dial in the amount of resistance you want to fine-tune your ride. These are great for upgraded trucks and can handle all but the most difficult conditions.
The final option that you will find is a dual-stabilizer set up. These are mounted along the front axle. A lot of people go this route because they want to handle more aggressive driving, and they look good. They also negate the one-direction push that an inexpensive charged shock tends to have. The downfall is that they are exposed to all the rocks and damage-inducing debris you normally wouldn’t worry about bouncing off that tough straight axle. Also, you will likely need to lift the front end some for clearance, but a leveling kit will likely get the job done.
What a Steering Stabilizer Does
Like I said earlier, the stabilizer is a shock absorber. You know that feeling when you’re pounding down a rough road and the wheel suddenly wants to jerk out of your hands? Without a stabilizer you would be more likely to lose control.
The stabilizer is dampening the effect that you feel at the steering wheel. It cushions the impact of hitting a bump or pot hole with just one of the front tires, commonly referred to as “bump steer”.
You won’t become nearly as fatigued when spending a day on the trail because you won’t be fighting the back-and-forth from climbing over rocks and hitting pot holes. Also, it’s much less stressful when the wheel doesn’t want to yank itself out of your hands and send you cock-eyed… on a side-hill… above a cliff…
Technically, you don’t “need” a steering stabilizer. A truck will go straight and turn just fine without it, on a very smooth road, at low speeds, with stock wheels and tires. I’ve heard of guys removing their stabilizer and then doing some light driving to see if they could pinpoint problems. I don’t recommend it though.
What It Doesn’t Fix
If you are experiencing steering issues, such as excessive wandering- especially on a good road, or the dreaded “death wobble”, a better stabilizer isn’t going to solve your problem.
A new stabilizer can mask some problems like death wobble by absorbing the vibration you feel through the steering wheel. However, it will wear out over time and your problems will come back from the grave.
Best practice is to check things like alignment and loose connections before you invest in a new stabilizer. Look for missing hardware. Grab onto linkages and see how much movement you can get by yanking on them. If you get very much wiggle, get the truck checked out or start replacing hardware and components. Extra weight up front, such as aftermarket bumpers & winches (not wenches), or a snow plow can affect the behavior of your steering system.
Who Needs One?
You! Silly question, I know.
Actually, if you just want to keep your truck stock, or run with a slightly larger tire, or if you don’t plan on doing much aggressive driving, just keep the stock stabilizer. It was chosen and incorporated into the truck design by some very competent engineers working for a company that has over a century of experience designing some very good vehicles. You may decide to replace it at some point, however, as it does have moving parts that wear out over time.
If you lift your truck, add over-size tires, and plan on doing some rough driving, then an upgraded stabilizer is a solid investment. The more radical your truck and your driving get, the more you will need to spend to get the job done.
If you just like the way they look, then go for it, just don’t get too frustrated when you’re trying to keep the under carriage spotless.
The More You Know
The key to making a smart purchase is being informed. That means understanding not just the “what”, but the “why” as well. I didn’t understand a lot about these stabilizers until I wrote this up, so I hope this article helps you out.
As always, if you have a question, some awesome pics, or have some experience installing a new stabilizer or running with one, leave a comment below.