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VW Performance Parts - Suspension / Handling Upgrades
There are a lot of aftermarket parts you can install on your VW in your own garage that will improve handling performance. You should do plenty of research before deciding which parts to put on your car. There are many forums online full of VW tuners that can give you a great idea of what parts you should or shouldn't install on your car. Chances are if a part exists someone has installed it and written about it on one of these forums.
Here are a few handling upgrades you can do that will make your car more fun to drive.
1) Sway Bars. If you take a corner at high speed and it feels like your car is falling over sideways you might look into upgrading your sway bars. An anti-roll kit helps keep your car flat during cornering. Aftermarket bars are usually thicker and/or stiffer than the stock bars, which is how they can perform better than the stock sways. Be warned however that this puts more stress on your tires grip on the road, so if you install sway bars on a VW with bald tires you could be asking for trouble. These can be installed yourself without a huge amount of trouble if you have the right tools and a place to do it. It will probably take several hours. Installing these bars will not impact the ride quality of your vehicle, which is great for those who like to take corners a bit crazy once in a while but not have the car feel stiff and bumpy all the time. A good set of sway bars (front and rear) will run you a few hundred dollars or so.
2) Lowering Springs. Aftermarket springs lower your car anywhere from .5 to 2 inches. This has the effect of lowering your car's center of gravity, which improves handling. These new springs also have different spring rates and will usually give you a much stiffer ride than the stock springs. While springs are generally really cheap ($100-300), installing them is not easy. You must have a spring compressor tool and know how to use it. These springs are under tremendous pressure with an entire car sitting on them, and if one should come loose while using the spring compressor it could easily kill you. Even with the knowledge of how this installation is done it can still take a long time. Unfortunately this also means that having them installed at a shop is usually going to cost you more than the springs cost. I've seen quotes of $150 all the way up to $600 to install a set of springs. Be aware that lowering your car too much can have other implications and you should do research on "camber" prior to choosing a set of springs.
3) Shocks. Replacing the stock springs but leaving the old shocks on there is going to cost you in the long run. Lowering springs put more stress on the shocks since they are more compressed under normal use. This will cause them to wear out faster. Depending on how many miles are on your current shocks it is probably a good idea to replace them at the same time as the springs. This is especially true if you're paying someone else to install them. It will probably cost almost the same amount to install shocks and springs as it will to install just the springs. You don't want to pay someone that labor fee again in a few months when your shocks need replacing. Once you've 'sprung' for new shocks and springs, you may want to consider looking into coilovers since the cost will be very close to the same.
4) Coilovers. Coilovers are a shock and spring combination that has the added flexibility of being adjustable. You can adjust the ride height of your vehicle. This is great if you take your VW to the track. You can lower it for racing and raise it back up for daily driving. The more expensive coilovers also feature the ability to adjust the ride stiffness. This also comes in handy if you race your car. You most likely won't want it set to maximum stiffness for daily driving. A set of coilovers can run between $500-1500.
5) Strut Tower Bar. You've probably seen these bars for sale. They're usually made of colored aluminum and go across the front struts near the rear of the engine. It is generally accepted that these don't do much for you in terms of performance, but they do make the engine compartment look nicer. If you decide to pick one up make sure you get the billet aluminum oil cap that matches.
6) Tires. Probably the most overlooked performance enhancement you can do for your car is to replace the tires. Adding lots of engine power won't do you any good if you can't get that power to the pavement. Replacing your tires with a wider tire or tires with a stickier compound will help you get more traction. Choosing tires is usually a compromise between Performance, Ride Comfort, and Tread Life. High performance tires don't last as long as regular ones. High performance tires can cost quite a bit of money too.
I hope this helped give you some ideas about the upgrades you can do on your Volkswagen. Just remember that making your suspension perform better will sacrifice passenger comfort. You may have more fun driving, but nobody will want to ride with you if your suspension is too stiff!
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