The Benefits of an Aftermarket Track Bar – Panhard Rod
By Jerrod Jones
If you’ve got a solid axle and links in the front of your 4×4, then you can benefit from upgrading your track bar. While new adjustable track bars are included in most link suspension systems for Jeeps and trucks, a stock a leveled truck can see the same benefits, too. A Track Bar was previously known as a panhard bar or J bar to the old school 4×4 crowd but that term has become uncommon.
Don’t be confused by sway bars, traction bars, they are not a track bar and are very different as you’ll see below.
What does a track bar do on a truck?
A track bar, also known as a panhard rod or panhard bar, laterally locates the front axle in a link suspension system. So why upgrade it? Simple: Strength and adjustability and flexibility. And if your stock track bar is worn out (which can cause a classic case of death wobble vibration), then we’ll add improved drive-ability and handling to that list, as well!
The track bar is the item that truly “locates” your vehicle. It orients the vehicle and is super important for alignment and geometry. The build quality of your track bar is very important to overall performance of your suspension and steering. This applied to factory and highly modified custom vehicles.
Mostly you’ll be replacing your updating your track bar in the front of the suspension of your vehicle.
However some of the newer vehicles will have them in the rear.
- Jeeps 2007-current
- Dodge 1500’s from 2009
- Ram 2500’s since 2014
These all have track bars on the back. If you have coil springs and and a solid rear axle you likely have a track bar in the rear.
How to know if my track bar is worn out?
- Play in the steering – You’ll notice when you try and turn the steering wheel on your vehicle
- Poor tire wear – Uneven tire wear from the tires not being held in a consistent position and alignment moving around.
- Death Wobble – Resonation and vibration and out of control vehicle steering.
The other things that will wear out on your front end are the ball joints, tie rods and also tires. We always check the track bar first and then check these other issues.
The infamous “Death Wobble” shakes your car like crazy and starts to create vibrations so badly that your steering wheel is getting yanked out of your hands. If your track bar is failing this condition can occur and is often the cause.
Driving with the death wobble condition is very dangerous and will cause resonation that builds and builds until and will cause major damage to your vehicle. Stop immediately if you experience this condition. and get a tow, it’s much less expensive.
Aftermarket Track Bar vs Stock
Any aftermarket track bar that we sell at OPP is a big jump in strength over whatever came in your 4×4 from the dealer. Beefier aftermarket track bars still bolt into the stock location, but are made for more heavy duty use.
And aftermarket track bar is going to have stronger connection, tighter more precise suspension movement.
Add a Track Bar with your Suspension Lift
When you upgrade your suspension or lift your truck you’ll want to definitely upgrade your track bar, period. It’s a key component to how your vehicle will drive and perform with your new front end modifications and they aren’t terribly expensive.
Aftermarket track bars are typically adjustable in length. With a lifted vehicle application you’ll need to make sure you get a track bar that’s long enough. The higher the lift the longer the track bar is the general rule. Give us a call at the shop or check with the manufacturer.
They are serviceable joints as well so if you do a lot of off-road adventures or you have a work vehicle under heavy load you can service them fairly easily and don’t need to purchase an entire new track bar.
When a track bar isn’t set to the correct length it can create a bind in the suspension and create a dangerous situation. Setting up the track bar with the correct length is critical to the health of your vehicle steering and keeping it vibration free.
They also feature rebuild-able joints at one or both ends that allow them to be renewed after the hard spherical bearings or bushings wear out. These joints can often tolerate more extreme angles than the stock track bar setup, allowing for more flexibility when your suspension is twisting up off-road.
And an adjustable track bar allows you to correctly position the axle after making any suspension height changes. Even a leveling kit can move an axle over to the driver’s side a bit, putting unneeded stress on suspension parts and making your 4×4 drive slightly sideways. If you run 6” lift coil springs and decide to change over to 8” lift springs, then an adjustable track bar will allow you to easily correct the axle position and retain proper vehicle drivability.
For the improved performance and the safety factor, a new adjustable front suspension track bar should be at the top of your list of planned mods for your solid axle 4×4.
Here’s a new adjustable track bar next the stock track bar it will replace. Stronger track bar drop brackets are also available with some setups, and can sometimes better place the upper track bar joint.
Lots of link suspension systems come with a new track bar, but there are also a wide variety of adjustable track bars sold separately.
If the joint on an adjustable track bar is not rebuildable, it is at least replaceable. This spherical bearing rod end (aka Heim joint)will allow excellent suspension movement and is easily replaced.
If it’s not a spherical bearing of some sort, then you’ll have bushings (either urethane or rubber) at the track bar end. Many track bars use a bushing on one end and a spherical bearing on the other.
On this Ford, a large ball joint is pressed into the axle housing and allows movement of the adjustable track bar at the axle side. The problem with this type of setup is that the joint is not easily replaceable and can fail even with an aftermarket track bar, as shown here. There are some kits that convert the ball joint to a double sheer mount so you can use a track bar with joints at both ends.
In case you’re wondering why a track bar (a fifth link) is even used in front suspensions instead of triangulating the upper links, there are a couple key reasons. First, and most importantly, a track bar is run parallel to the steering drag link and is theoretically supposed to be the same or close to the same length.
This is in an effect to keep everything traveling in the same arc as the suspension compresses and rebounds. Otherwise, you’d feel the steering wheel turn in your hands (or the wheels turn) on the truck as the suspension moved up and down. This is known as bumpsteer. Even some leaf spring suspensions (like ’99-’04 Super Duty’s) used track bars to locate the front axle.
Secondly, using upper triangulated links in a front engine vehicle would necessitate a huge amount of lift to keep the links out of the oil pan. Using a track bar on a solid front axle allows the other four locating links to be run somewhat parallel to the frame, greatly easing the packaging of suspension around the power-train.
Installing a Track Bar in your truck
This can vary a lot. It can be a 20 minute job or 2 hours depending on the vehicle and level of automotive experience. For a skilled mechanic this is not a super tricky job when you take the time to determine exactly which track bar you need for your vehicle so all goes smoothly.
On Jeeps and Dodges you need to move the steering linkage out of the way which is a little more involved. Removing the tires and removing tire rods are needed.
It’s typically a two person job to install it correctly. Your helper needs to help align the bolt holes while you’re installing it. Make sure you have the correct track bar for your vehicle especially if it has a lift kit installed.
As with anything we sell, we are always happy to walk through the options with you. Give us a call or shoot us an email, and we’ll make sure you’ve got the power you need on the trail, no matter where that trail might lead.