Most vehicles, including several sports cars, use a MacPherson strut system as part of the front-end suspension design. That means the strut becomes part of the steering geometry for the vehicle. It is an inexpensive option that still provides enough support so that the riding experience remains comfortable.
The disadvantage of this design is that the strut system transmits its load through a strut tower. This issue causes the chassis to flex, which can create stability issues for the vehicle. That’s why a strut bar is included with this design. The added component adds another level of rigidity to the chassis to prevent cornering problems from occurring due to the natural flex that happens.
Strut bars go by a few different names, but the design is essentially the same in every situation. The bars connect the two front strut/shock towers under your hood to create a unification point that overcomes the problems with the suspension. When added to lightweight, nimble vehicles, there is an added level of responsiveness that helps them to handle corners with greater speed and ease.
List of the Pros of a Strut Bar
1. It distributes the tension between the left and right struts.
When you have a strut bar as part of the front-end suspension design, then you’ll experience less stress on one side of the vehicle when there are fast cornering or steering movements. It gives the vehicle an opportunity to manage the gravity forces that work against it in either direction, reducing the amount of tension that gets placed on the left or right side. This design element allows the roll tension to have greater sharing without limiting the stability of the vehicle when handling a straight section of road.
2. There is less sway with the vehicle with a strut bar.
The amount of sway that a vehicle has becomes minimized when incorporating a strut bar is dramatically reduced. This advantage means that the weight receives better distribution along the right or left during cornering. You’ll have more of the tire surface remain solidly on the road, which translates to better handling and traction for you as you go through the turn.
3. It helps to reduce the impact of a high center of gravity.
Some vehicles have a reputation for rolling over easily because they have a high center of gravity with their design. When a car sits naturally high, then the effects of gravity are felt more often when driving because the movement makes more of an impact. If you take a high-stepping truck into a high-speed turn, then you’ll have a greater chance to roll it than if you were driving a Mini Cooper. Strut bars create a more even distribution of the roll force, which helps to keep it upright if you enter turns with too much speed.
4. Strut bars reduce the wear-and-tear on other vehicle components.
When there is a strut bar included in the front-end suspension design, then you are removing the disproportionate levels of stress that occur on different vehicle components. Your suspension and the strut towers receive the greatest benefits in this area. You will receive a more even wear on these parts because you aren’t placing undue stress on just one component. That reduces the issue of premature failure and the need for replacements under standard driving conditions.
5. There are several design options from which to choose.
If you are thinking about adding a strut bar to your front-end suspension, then most vehicles come with several design options to consider. Each one gives you some specific advantages to consider when you get behind the wheel. Some cars, like a Mustang built before 2005, benefit from a triangular brace design because the shape allows for additional stiffening. Since the item is easy enough to install or remove, you can try different shapes to see which option works the best for your vehicle.
You can also choose a separated two-point shaped strut bar where the shaft and bracket are separated. This option works better when a standard installation is too difficult to achieve. A triangulated three-point bar can tie your strut towers together with your firewall to add another level of stiffness as needed.
6. You can install a strut bar on the rear as well.
Most strut bars go on the front-end suspension because that is where the most benefits are with this design. You dive into a corner, which means the weight always goes toward the inside. This component helps the other strut tower to receive some of that weight. When you place one in the rear, then there are fewer stresses to manage because the structure tends to be stiffer already. Most vehicles can skip the installation of a rear strut bar, but it can provide more stability in a car where the front one isn’t getting the job done as expected.
7. Strut bars are very easy to install.
Unless you are very bad with tools, a strut bar installs without much difficulty. The first step is to remove the nuts from your strut tower. Then place the bracket of the strut bar over the struts with the nuts on top. Then tighten the assembly. Do the same thing on the other side, and then adjust the bolts to the required length. Make sure that your lock nuts are tightened appropriately and that no dynamic tension is placed against the bar. Then you’re ready to enjoy an improved driving experience.
List of the Cons of a Strut Bar
1. It can make the response of the vehicle become too stiff.
There are times when the strut bar doesn’t match the performance of the vehicle. In this situation, too much stability can transfer as you transfer energy to one side or the other. This disadvantage causes the car to become stiff, which means you can lose its handling rather easily. You’re essentially transferring all of the energy to the opposite side instead of limiting the body roll so that you receive independence with your tires.
A stiff feeling behind the wheel isn’t a bad thing if you drive your high-performance vehicle regularly at top speeds. If you are a casual enthusiast who doesn’t drive very often, the added stiffness of a strut bar is not always as appealing.
2. There are times when you need the suspension to act independently.
Strut bars are useful for highway driving because of how they transfer energy to keep everything balanced. If you are driving in off-road situations, then it may be helpful to eliminate this feature of the front-end suspension because you want it to act independently. Jeeps have quick-release stabilizers to compensate for the strut bar so that you can climb over challenging objects without impacting the amount of tire surface that is on the ground on the other side of the vehicle.
3. Strut bars are usually an after-market addition to a vehicle.
If you think that your vehicle could benefit from the presence of a strut bar, then you’ll want to speak with a mechanic about adding this feature if you don’t want to do the work yourself. Most makes and models today that you purchase from the dealership will not come with this feature. There are some exceptions to this disadvantage, of course, including the Mazda RX-8, Ford Mustang, and the older Pontiac GTO.
4. It will add a small amount of weight to the vehicle.
When you include a strut bar with the front-end suspension design, then you’re adding a small amount of weight to your vehicle. Although this number is negligible, it can impact the fuel economy and performance of some upper-end vehicles. If you want to maximize your numbers as you’re driving fast, then you’ll want to consider different options for stability if the vehicle feels like it has too much sway as you travel down the road.
You can minimize this disadvantage by considering the metal materials you choose for the strut bar. Steel is the most common choice in the industry today because it is stiff and cheap to install. Aluminum is a popular option because it isn’t as stiff despite its added size. When price is not a concern, then go with a carbon fiber design because it will provide a lighter option than steel without compromising its strength.
5. Strut bars will not help with drag racing or straight-line driving.
If you consistently drive at slow speeds in urban environments, then a strut bar is not a useful investment. There is no need to reduce sway on low-speed turns because the danger of rolling or transferring too much energy is negligible. The same can be said of drivers who use their vehicles for drag racing. The benefits of a strut bar come when you need better support in cornering. If you want pure speed for straight-line driving, the added weight to the front end is a disadvantage. You can always remove and install the item as needed for more versatility from your vehicle, although that could be a hassle for the casual driver.
6. Some vehicles may not have an appropriate placement option.
When you place the strut bar in your vehicle, you need to make sure that it is not too high. Some cars have an installation point where this option won’t be helpful at all because of where it sits, making it impossible to close the hood. Even when you have a special strut bar built in this situation, you must ensure that there is sufficient clearance between it and the engine valve cover. That option is not possible in all vehicles either. If you have an economy car, then you’re the most likely driver to encounter this disadvantage. The goal is to improve performance and handling at speeds which are typically higher than what you’ll encounter on streets and highways.
The pros and cons of a strut bar must be based on what your plans are for the vehicle in question. If you want to experience a high-performance result around curves while reducing the wear-and-tear issues of your vehicle, then this option can work well for you. If your vehicle would transfer too much weight as a result of this addition, then other methods of stability might work better for your needs.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.