Feature > Manufacturer Profiles
Beefier Bushings: How Energy Suspension Takes the Rubber Out of a Rubbery Ride
by Steve Temple
We frequently cover all sorts of suspension lifts, which often involve some fairly substantial modifications, in the pages of this magazine. But what if we pointed to something that, by simply changing the material in one small component, could markedly alter the ride of your off-road vehicle?
If that sounds too good to be true, visualize a similar situation with human anatomy. Even though you might not have experienced bad joints, for example, you’ve likely heard about professional athletes who’ve been sidelined by a bum knee. In describing a ball players’ plight in detail, sportscasters often refer to the torn cartilage that came from years of pounding down the court or one too many illegal tackles by monstrous linemen.
So what does this have to do with your 4x4? Energy Suspension makes space-age polyurethane bushings and bump stops; in other words, untearable cartilage for your 4x4. Just by using durable polyurethane instead of soft rubber, resistance to that roly-poly motion on gnarly terrain can be improved, with control and handling that’s better than new.
How did this discovery come about? Energy Suspension and founder Don Bunker started building suspension components for BMX bikes, skateboards, and automotive applications some 20 years ago in Laguna Hills, California. As the company grew, Bunker realized that the bushings on cars and light trucks had serious problems.
The original manufacturers normally use rubber in bushings to cushion the metal-on-metal suspension points. This setup makes for a nice, soft ride that appeals to commuters, but it’s not usually up to the rigors of off-road use. Compounding the problem is that over time, road contaminants reduce these rubber bushings to dust. And if road salt and oil don’t get these tiny components, the constant compression of the vehicle weight and torque eventually pancake them until they become functionless.
The key to Energy Suspension’s product longevity and durability is its special formulation of polyurethane-Hyper-Flex-that is uniquely immune to the weaknesses of rubber. According to Mike Papazian, Energy Suspension’s National Sales Manager, Hyper-Flex is essentially high-grade polyurethane: “A good analogy is a 20,000-mile tire compared with a 60,000-mile tire,” he says. Just as you need a set of tough knobbies to endure the torture dished out by rock crawling, superior bushing materials hold up to the wear and tear far longer than lesser materials.
“With our safety interlock feature, these mounts cannot fail.”
The number of automotive applications grew widely with Bunker’s better bushing concept. Today, Energy Suspension occupies two large manufacturing and administrative buildings in San Clemente. The company has the in-house capability of blending and mixing the polyurethane formulation. Depending on the demands of the application, Hyper-Flex parts can be fine-tuned to the ideal degree of firmness to cushion your 4x4’s suspension.
These small marvels are tucked away in your 4x4 just about everywhere and range in size from button-sized nubs to the big pucks, which weigh a couple pounds each, found in monster trucks. A tour of the company product line serves as a primer in suspension components and automotive dynamics.
The simplest bushings are mounts that absorb the bounce, torque, and vibrations of truck bodies and cabs, engines and transmissions. Traditionally, original truck cab and body mounts are either rubber, which deteriorates, or aluminum, which is far too harsh for street use, prone to break, and can start a domino effect of other breaking components. The same goes for motor and tranny mounts. The vibration and constant torque of these drivetrain components can reduce original mounts to mush.
In contrast, the Hyper-Flex mounts feature the best of both - a compliant cushion between cab/bed and frame and the strength to hold up under the pounding of off-road conditions. To withstand the stress, Energy Suspension molds a zinc-plated steel ring into its body mounts for added strength.
NASCAR and virtually every other form of racing, according to Hoyt Vandenberg, Energy Suspension’s PR manager, use Hyper-Flex motor and tranny mounts. “With our safety interlock feature, these mounts cannot fail,” he says. “You could hit them with a blow torch, and they wouldn’t fail. The car could literally burn to the ground, and those mounts would stay put.”
Moving on to some other key components for off-roaders, bump stops are bullet-shaped components that thread into the frame and limit suspension travel and cushion metal-to-metal contact. They can be found on front-end control arms and other suspension elements in constant flex. Like knee cartilage, a bump stop is more obvious when it’s worn thin or absent than when it’s in good condition. Without a functional control-arm bump stop, your tires and other components can come into lethal contact with your 4x4’s body.
In addition to providing a more durable cushion, Energy Suspension bushings also help control the front-to-rear motion of the vehicle’s suspension as well as the side-to-side articulation. These bushings feature a different formulation than stock bushings, which prevents binding from the pivot action of the vehicle’s suspension. In the case of Ford pickups, Energy Suspension’s C-bushings are firmer than stock to keep the wheel angle at a true 90 degrees in relation to the road surface.
That brings us to another topic: wheel alignment. “There are a lot of forces, especially with off-road vehicles, that impact that 90-degree angle of the wheel to the road,” Vandenberg explains. “The quickest way to completely trash a good wheel alignment is to drive on bad bushings.” With the durability of Hyper-Flex, that alignment will stay true through the serious pounding of off-road ruts and bumps.
If bushing/bump stop information had to be reduced into 25 words or less, you could put it this way: just about any adverse handling or control issue can be boiled down to a dead bushing and/or bump stop.
Take body roll, for instance. Just like the vehicle’s body, the driver’s body can be bounced around like a punching bag. Swaybars are supposed to prevent body roll, and with Energy Suspension swaybar mounts and end links, they do. “If you’ve got a worn end link bushing, that pretty much negates the function of the swaybar,” Papazian adds. (Of course, this advantage wouldn’t apply in more extreme off-road adventures where the swaybars are disconnected.)
In addition to all of the above, Energy Suspension Hyper-Flex components are available for leaf springs, shock absorbers, struts, and strut rods. Rather than picking and choosing specific items, however, an easier way to Hyper-Flex your 4x4 is to go for the Master Bushing set. Available for the most popular cars and light trucks, the set includes all the bushings for all the parts you’ll need.
“The quickest way to completely trash a good wheel alignment is to drive on bad bushings.”
Another consideration unique to off-road vehicles: lifts that allow for greater clearance and larger tires also put stress on suspension components. The cure is nonbinding, free-floating bushings that go a long way in maintaining proper suspension geometry. A moderate 3/4- to 1-1/4-inch lift can be achieved with Energy Suspension’s coil-spring suspension spacers, alone or added to an existing lift kit. According to Vandenberg, this is an easy, inexpensive way to get that nose-high Pre-Runner look that accommodates oversized tires.
There’s one final plus of using Hyper-Flex in a chassis. Tie-rod dust boots frequently fall victim to 4x4 terrain. When that happens, you’re faced with the approximately $40 cost of replacing the tie-rod end. Energy Suspension has a polyurethane tie-rod dust boot that costs a fraction of the tie-rod assembly, and, in most cases, that’s all you really need. And, like other Hyper-Flex parts, the dust boot is more resistant to off-road abuse.
Going back to our original cartilage analogy, keep in mind that suspension woes don’t fix themselves. If you’re waiting for some form of miraculous healing to make your vehicle well again, you’re probably causing additional damage by ignoring those worn-out rubber donuts in your chassis. The cure for suspension and handling problems is probably as simple as upgrading those bushings and bump stops.