Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shock Absorbers

"So, shocks do matter. But, there's no perfect compromise in features. Someone who has driven with both "Ford" and Bilstein shocks one after the other needs to speak up." So begins the debate over which shock absorbers are best for your LD.

In reply to the above question comes this from Larry Wade:

I have tried three different shocks on our 2003 23.5' E450 LD; the stock Ford shocks, Bilstein Regular and the Bilstein Comfort models. I find the regular Bilsteins to be too harsh on today's busted up roads. The Bilstein Comforts ride very similar to the stock shocks and are what I now use.

If ordering a new Lazy Daze, I would go with the stock shocks and use them until they wore out. If they hold up 50,000+ miles, I would replace them with another set of castoff new stock shocks. The Mothership always has sets of four available for $40. If the stock shocks wear out quickly, I would install a set of Bilstein Comforts.

BTW, many 26.5' and 27' LD owners are now removing the regular Bilsteins and running softer shocks to reduce the beating the roads are inflicting on their rigs. I do prefer the control of stiffer shocks but times have changed and our once good roads are slowly becoming trails.

Problem

There have been past issues with the driver's front shock bushings on Fords with Bilstein shocks. The top nut is located where it is almost impossible to get a wrench on it to tighten it. It is difficult to even touch the bushing, much less see it. A flashlight and a small dental-type of inspection mirror is useful for this inspection.

A few weeks ago, we where driving up I-5 when we hit a section of rough road that caused the LD to start rocking violently side to side, something we have never experienced. The next day I started inspecting the suspension, trying to figure out what the problem was. I found the driver's side top shock bushing to be torn in half. Bilstein uses an unusual hour-glass shaped bushing, something I do not have immediate access to.

Solution

I replaced the bushing with the stock shock bushings the LD originally came with. Checking the rest of the shocks, front and rear, I found all the top bushings to be loose.

Checking the Bilstein website, I found that Bilstein calls for 19 foot/pounds(ft/lbs) of torque for the nut securing the top. It is impossible to use a torque wrench on the top nuts but I have a good feel for what about 20 ft/lbs feel like. I was surprised to see such a high value since I was taught years ago to tighten the nut until the bushings compress and spread but not to over compress them. I would estimate I had been tightening them to around 10-12 ft/lbs. BTW, to estimate 19 ft/lbs, it will take 35-40 pounds of pressure on a wrench where the center of effort is about 6 inches from the center of the nut. However, another LD'er says that Bilstein told him that the bolts should be tightened to "just snug," no torque wrench allowed.

I ended up replacing both of the Bilstein front top bushings with the stock bushings and torquing the front and rear bushings to approximately 20 ft/lbs. The difference in ride stability was amazing.

Installing the top driver's side front bushing is not an easy task. A 1/4' or 3/8" swivel head breaker bar and a short 15mm socket work unless the stem spins. That requires a needle-nose visegrip, a bent open-end 15mm wrench and a tiny bit of skin. For the other three shocks you can use a 15mm gear wrench.

If your LD doesn't seem as stable as it once was or is bouncing more than usual, tighten or have your mechanic tighten the top shock bushings.The consensus is that when you replace your failed bushings, it should be done with Urethane bushings, not the stock rubber ones. The Urethane last longer and saves you from having to change them so frequently.

Contributor: Larry Wade, Steve S., Dave

Revised 3 Jul 11

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