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F150 Coil Overs Explained

By:  Connor MC  / Jun 18 2019
F150 Coil Overs Explained

Starting in 2004, F150 pickup trucks no longer used a torsion bar based front suspension. Instead, Ford switched over to a McPherson strut in order to provide improved ride quality and passenger comfort. With this in mind, the aftermarket seems wholly focused on the term coil over when discussing F150 related suspension upgrades. The benefits of a coil over are supposedly vast and all encompassing – the top tier of a high performance suspension. Well, what if I told you your F150 (2004 and newer) is already equipped with coil overs from the factory?

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Going from a stock suspension system to a customizable experience makes a world of difference when driving your F150. Take control of your trucks adaptability having adding the option to adjust your settings as you craft your perfect build.

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Stock vs Aftermarket Coil Overs

Yup, as mentioned, all 2004 and later F150 pickup trucks already have a front coil over suspension. The McPherson strut IS a coil over, however it is NEITHER adjustable in regards to ride height and dampening ability. Aftermarket coil overs do offer ride height and dampening adjustability, making them the superior option as they can be more precisely dialed in to offer personalized ride characteristics. These factors are greatly important for owners who want usable lift and better off-road control. 

F150 2 Inch Lift
2 Inch Lift

Coil Over Construction and Use

A coil over is a strut that has a spring installed directly over the body of the strut, thereby having the strut control compression and rebound of the coil spring in the most direct way. An internal piston is pushed through oil to dampen the energy of the coil spring (a coil over with an internal piston in the shock body is often labeled as IFP – internal floating piston). Aftermarket coil overs are always constructed of an aluminum alloy strut body that is threaded along its length. The coil spring sits between an upper mount and a base plate. F150 ride height is adjusted by threading the coil spring base plate into a new location (thus why the body is threaded, so the base plate can be spun into different positions). What is neat about a coil over is it’s basically infinitely adjustable between its stops, meaning if the range of adjustability is 0-2”, you can easily set it at 1.367” if you so desire (arbitrary number). This varies greatly from a block lift system, where you either have all of the lift or none of it.

Filled with specialty oil to absorb energy from the coil spring and smooth out the ride, a good quality coil over will also be nitrogen charged. The nitrogen applies pressure to force the oil through the piston and prevent any cavitation of the oil as it passes through the piston. Compression and rebound characteristics are controlled by the internal valves. Aftermarket manufacturers have been equipping their coil overs with an external dial that allows you to change these settings without having to open the strut up. Low speed and high compression settings can be dialed in, on the spot, as you need them, making these coil over systems highly versatile.

Best of all, aftermarket coil overs are constructed with the mindset of repair over replace. Quality F150 coil over systems are rebuildable and can be customized with specific valving and spring rates unique to your truck. If your strut breaks or you seek revised performance parameters, you can send it in (or try yourself) to have it rebuilt. Adaptability and adjustability are the two foremost strengths a coil over offers.

F150 3 Inch Lift
3 Inch Lift

Is Bigger Always Better?

Disregard the latest from Cosmopolitan (they are always changing their minds, anyway). Coil over sizing is important, but more so in relation to your wallet. Available in three sizes: 2”, 2.5” and 3”, each is in respect to the diameter of the coil spring. With no hands to measure against, how do we know which is best?

2” and 2.5” coil overs are considered the industry norm for 2004-2018 F-150 pickups. As you go bigger, travel usually increases, but more importantly, so does oil volume. The whole purpose of the strut is to dampen the spring, and it does this by converting the spring’s energy into heat (piston moves through oil, heats oil, dampens rebound of spring). With a larger oil capacity, larger shocks can take more abuse before their performance starts to degrade. Realistically speaking, a 2.5” coil over system is all the shock an F150 will ever need to perform admirably on and off the street. The added performance a 3” system provides will likely never be realized – it will only cost more. A 2” system is ideal for trucks that spend a lot of time on the road with moderate use off-road whereas 2.5” is better geared toward a hardcore off-road enthusiast. Take that, Carrie Bradshaw.

Icon Vehicle Dynamics 0 3 In Suspension Lift System Stages 4
ICON Vehicle Dynamics 0-3 in. Suspension Lift System - Stage 4

What’s the Deal with Remote Reservoir Coil Overs?

A basic coil over houses the oil and piston inside the shock body. A remote reservoir shock separates these aspects and mounts them separate from the shock body, connected via a high pressure hose. This looks cool, but more importantly allows for a larger reservoir to be used without interfering with any other components of the truck. This larger reservoir can now hold more oil, and as depicted above, means the strut can take more abuse before suffering degradation in handling. As is tradition, these remote reservoir bad boys are more costly.

Lifted Shocks

With all this talk of fancy coil overs for the front, we can’t forget about shocks for the back. If you have lifted, or will be lifting, your F150, you ought to replace the OEM rear shock absorbers. While they may work with a lift kit, the factory shocks were not designed for the change in ride height and will not perform well or last long. Aftermarket lift shocks are built more robustly and are intended to work with the new height and differing stresses a lift kit produces. Like coil overs, some lift shocks feature externally configurable dampening settings and/or a side mounted reservoir. Just to be clear, a “lift shock” does not provide any lift in and of itself. It is made to work with a separate lift kit.

Rough Country 2.5 In Leveling Lift Kit with Shocks
Rough Country 2.5 in. Leveling Lift Kit w/ Shocks
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