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How to measure your car's height

  • Posted: 08-09-2010 12:43 PM
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  • Suspension

People often ask how much a certain spring or coilover will lower their car. Others will ask how their car will sit with a given level of lowering. And still others will install new suspension parts on their car and wonder how much the car was actually changed.

All the scenarios above involve the basic need to take measurements of the height of the car before and after making any changes. Sometimes taking a measurement is needed to simply to decide what parts to buy! The popular “finger gap” test (see how many fingers you can fit between your car’s tire and the fender) has been used for decades to set vehicle height, in this internet age when things are already really vague this isn’t the a very reliable and repeatable standard. This article is written in order to show you the proper method for measuring the height of your car so that you can share the heights and such of your car’s rides and have it really MEAN something!

First, you need a car, and a tape-measure, and a flat, level surface.

Second, get some paper and a pen. You are going to need to take down the measurements to keep them fresh in your mind. On the paper draw a quadrant (a square with a cross in the middle to make a sort of “corner chart” to help you visualize the measurements).

Or Better Yet, Download the Heeltoe Vehicle Height Measurement Form in Excel format here. Input your “before” measurements and your “desired height” and the form will tell you how much of a change you need to make. This will help you choose suspension to fit your needs. Also, you can enter your “after” measurements later to see how close to your goal the parts got you and to see how accurate the manufacturer claims are!

Third, take some measurements off the car. Here are some pointers on how to do this:
A) Measure from the center of the wheel cap to the edge of the fender/wheel well. You measure from the center of the wheel because this will eliminate any variation in tire pressure or tread depth. This becomes especially important when you want to compare your height with stock wheels to your buddie’s donked out ride on 24″ wheels. The size of the tires makes a difference in fender-gap, and in ground clearance, but in terms of vehicle suspension height you want to eliminate this variable.

B)

Measure from the approximate center of the center cap to the fender edge to get your suspension at each corner.

 

C)

It is easy enough to get within 1/16-inch of the center for an adequate measurement. You are only really measuring relative height and .0625-inch isn't going to impact your accuracy greatly.

 

D)

You'll want the angle of the tape measure to line up with the angle of the sshock or strut since these parts actually dictate the height of the car.

 

When measuring the rears on some cars, you may notice that the edge of the fender comes down and curves inward toward the wheel well. There is a sort-of lip there that makes the gap to the tire smaller than the visual height of the car when looking at it. I suggest measuring to the edge if the fender rather than the lip that protrudes inside, just because it provides a better visual reference to the state the height of the car.

Last, write down the measurements at all 4 corners of the car. Note that with nobody in the car it is most likely going to be within 1/6″ all around and this can partially be attributed to variance in the the measurement and it OK. If you have variance more than 1/6″ and you know for sure your car is not corner-weighted, you may have a problem with the suspension causing an imbalance.

After installing a new suspension, you will see exactly what the impact was in the car. Make sure you do a brief test-drive to make sure the car is sitting properly before taking an after-measurement.


About the Author

Marcus di Sabella Marcus is the founder of Heeltoe Automotive. He's been working with cars (mostly Honda cars) since 1996, and has been providing enthusiasts with excellent products, services, and web experiences since 2002. He's been published in Honda Tuning, and holds a degree in Engineering Technology.
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