Sway-bar Disconnects (and why they should be one of your first mods)

A while back I did a three part series on planning a build and selecting first mods for an overland adventure rig.  One of the things I didn’t mention were my sway-bar disconnects.  This will also be a lead-in piece to a multi-part series on suspension system basics and the pros and cons of lift kits and other suspension related modifications.

Sway-bar disconnects help with articulation – aka “flex”…
… but what other reasons might you want disconnects on your sway-bar?

I firmly believe that disconnects should be one of the first modifications made to any 4×4.  Why you ask?  Well read on…

The anti-sway-bars (or “sway-bars” for short) on your 4×4 do a very important job.  They help transfer weight side-to-side as your 4×4 travels which help keeps it level and stable.  Some 4x4s only have one in the front since a majority of the weight is on the front axle where the motor is.  4x4s with a longer wheel base, room for additional cargo and/or passengers, and are equipped to tow might also have a rear sway bar.  Remove the sway-bars and your vehicle will feel very wobbly.  Take a tight turn too fast and you’re liable to topple over. This is of course compounded with lifted 4x4s with larger tires.  So why on earth would you want to disconnect them?  The same mechanics that transfer weight back and forth from one side to the other also limit wheel travel and axle articulation.

As a vehicle leans it pushes down on one side.  The sway-bar transfers that excess downward pressure to the other side leveling out the vehicle.  Simply put, it’s goal is to keep the axle parallel to the bumper.  When traveling off-road as the wheel articulates up over a rock, log, or other obstacle that upward pressure is transferred to the other side forcing the body to lean.  So what’s good on-road is bad off-road.  That’s why a common modification to 4x4s is a set of sway-bar disconnects.

An OEM sway-bar end link.
Common point of failure is the ball and socket joint at the top.
Too much flex and the joint explodes (ask me how I know).

Let’s look at my my 2004 Wrangler Unlimited for a moment.  It is currently running a stock suspension (OEM springs, OEM control arms, and OEM track bars) but is  equipped with a set of aftermarket sway-bar disconnects by JKS.  They replace the factory link between the sway-bar and the axle.  I had originally used these same links on my Grand Cherokee when I added 2″ taller springs.  The lift springs I installed at the time extended the factory links beyond their limit.  While wheeling I experienced a R.U.D. (Rapid Unexpected Disassembly).  I ended up limping home with no front sway-bar.

Rather than install new longer fix links I upped the investment to disconnects.  Not only are they adjustable, working with a range of suspensions from stock to about 4″ of lift, but their rugged design meant they would last a long time and could be rebuilt if needed with new bushings and hardware.  Also, with the ubiquity of Jeep front suspension components these same disconnects would work on Grand Cherokees, Cherokees, and of course Wranglers – which is how they ended up going from a ’96 ZJ (’06-’10) to a ’97 ZJ (’10-’14) to an ’04 LJ (’14 to today). over a ten year period.

When in place the disconnects act like a factory link for the sway-bar and help transfer weight side-to-side on the Jeep.  With a quick pull of the pin, and a few zip-ties and a bungie cord to hold them up, the sway-bar can be disconnected allowing for more front axle articulation.  This is very useful when rock-crawling, but also useful when riding unimproved roads.

New JKS Manufacturing “Quicker” Sway-Bar Disconnects
Notice heavy duty bushings top and bottom.
Also adjustable for stock suspension up to 4″ of lift (taller ones also available).
Quick release pins at bottom make for quick and easy disconnect and reconnect.

For the average overland vehicle who won’t see very extreme terrain, having maximum articulation isn’t essential.  However, with the sway-bar disconnected the axle is free to move and is quicker to respond to bumps in the road.  This means a less harsh ride and fewer shakes, rattles, and rolls transferred into the passenger compartment.  Coupled with a little less air in the tires this can smooth out even the bumpiest of roads.  A word of caution though, by disconnecting the sway-bar the vehicle is more prone to side-to-side weight shifts at higher speeds.  It is not recommended to have the sway-bar disconnected at speed in excess of around 30mph.  If at a higher rate of speed take turns slower and avoid sharp sudden steering motions.
The reason I say sway-bar disconnects should be one of the first mods made to an overlander, even before an upgrade to the suspension size like a lift kit, is to maximize the current suspension you have.  They’re quick and easy to install even for a notice shade tree mechanic.  They’re inexpensive compared to larger lift kits.  They replace a common failure point in the OEM suspension.  Did I mention they are made in the good ol’ U.S. of A.?  There is no reason not to get a set of disconnects for your 4×4 and there is  no better option out there than the JKS Quicker Disconnects (in my humble opinion at least).

For more information visit JKS Manufacturing’s website at: http://jksmfg.com