Sway bar, anti-roll bar, torsion bar, torsion beam, torsion spring. All of these terms are interchangeable, simply meaning a bar that can “twist” without breaking.
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The varying terms can cause confusion and for whatever reason, they are each preferred by one application or another; off-highway applications use the term sway-bar, sports car folks like anti-roll bar, and torsion bar is more clinically used in general engineering terms.
These devices are good for on-road handling manners, but in the process severely reduce suspension articulation. The first thing most people do upon getting a new wheeler is take off the sway bars. It’s no secret that improving compression and droop can be affected immensely by merely taking off those spoilsport handling nannies. Now what you have is a vehicle that can rip its brake lines out because it has so much down travel, which is good for traction by keeping more equal weight on each tire left to right. The only down side is that on the road that same super-flexy rig has the handling of a 4500 pound drunken shopping cart.
Many consider this unsafe if the vehicle is driven on the road at all and use sway bar “quick” disconnects; stock sway bar on the street, nothing on the trail. The only issue with this is that it’s time consuming and irritating to have to disco’ and reattach after a trail ride, so much so that people find themselves simply not doing it. While the sway bar discos address the on road down sides of not running sway bars, there are disadvantages to running that way on the trail as well.
In a severe side hill situation, the monster flex you love showing off on RTI ramps, loading docks or junk cars is kicking your ass. Basically, all of the weight of your frame and body is leaning downhill, transferring weight to the low side tires. If it gets steep enough, that can cause the horizon to switch its normal orientation and put you on your lid, leaving you sitting in a pile of old CDs, hot pocket wrappers and air fresheners. Hopefully your cooler, spare tire, tools and fire extinguisher were all strapped down.
There is a middle ground.
Currie Enterprises offers a solution that doesn’t force you to choose between side hill suicide and not being able to flex over a curb at the mall. They came up with a nifty little solution about 10 years ago and it has been adopted by a large number of wheelers from every walk of life; coil sprung, leaf sprung, moon buggies, rock racers, Baja trucks, you name it. While it resembles a normal sway bay (torsion bar), the Anti-Rock allows nearly infinite adjustability so it can be tuned and adapted to any vehicle application, either front or rear.
Recently, Currie introduced a Jeep Cherokee (XJ) specific version of their popular kit. They were nice enough to send us one to install on our well used and often abused ’98 2-dr. Running a set of Clayton Long Arms and 5.5” Rubicon Express springs, there is no shortage of front axle articulation, the 35” tires easily rubbing the inner fender wells. With no sway bar at all, the side-hill characteristics were slightly terrifying, and driving at freeway speed was akin to herding cats.
After installing the Anti-Rock you are left with is a suspension system that gives almost the same level of articulation as one with no sway bar, but with weight more evenly and effectively distributed over all four tires for improved grip. And while the Anti-Rock was designed with off-road performance in mind, it is also ideal for those who drive their wheeling rigs on the street. On road handling and drivability is improved significantly without robbing flex because the Currie product reacts to slow speed inputs (a tire climbing a rock) more than high speed inputs (swerving on the road).
During a recent trip to Moab, on which our Cherokee was driven over 2700 miles, we got to see and feel the difference in both on-road and off-road performance. Utah’s sandstone trails were a perfect proving ground for the Currie product due to the grip afforded by the area’s iconic red rock. We were able to drive on a sidehill angle with a lot more confidence and without that terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach of impending doom that often accompanies angles over 25 degrees.
Unfortunately, the Anti-Rock’s higher price point puts it out of the running for a lot of budget minded Jeepers. The next best and certainly acceptable alternative is a set of sway bar disconnects. As earlier mentioned, these are an extension of the stock sway bars, replacing the links that connect the torsion bar itself to the axle. Where the extensions meet the axle, there is a pin that can be (somewhat) easily removed, to totally disconnect the sway bar. Especially for a Jeep with coil springs at every corner (think TJ/JK) this can have adverse affects off-road. Massive flex is not always your friend on the trail.
Chrysler is even getting in the mix with their electronic sway disconnects that can be found on the Dodge Ram Power Wagon and the JK Wrangler Rubicon. While it certainly smells like a gimmick, these in-cab operated sway bar disconnects actually work pretty well. It’s certainly a viable option if these came as OE on your wheeler, though there isn’t anybody making these for other applications. With all of these options everybody can find a solution that best fits their situation and needs and keep you facing right side up while using your Jeep as nature intended.