Over the past four years my Tacoma has taken me many places and served me well, from exploring the backwoods of NY, VT and NH to camping on the beaches of MD and VA. Over that time the stock suspension on my SR5 double-cab took a beating and by mid-2014 after nearly 60,000 miles, the front shocks were shot and the rears were even worse, with one of the struts no longer providing any rebound what-so-ever. And so I started my search for a replacement set of shocks keeping in mind, my plan to lift the Tacoma while I was at it.
After many evenings of reading forums and perusing reviews, I had settled on an OME suspension system only to have Ironman4x4 announce their new Foam Cell Pro line of shocks that same week. Once I saw them I knew they were exactly what I wanted and abandoned my plans for the OME setup. They combined the robust design of their beefy regular foam cell coilovers with the adjustability offered by some higher end options. A perfect middle ground for me, but there was one snag in this plan… They weren’t immediately available in the USA; and so I went ahead and replaced my SR5 suspension components with a set of lightly used TRD Offroad Bilsteins that I got off of craigslist to hold me over until the Foam Cell Pros became available in the USA.
Finally earlier this year though, the Foam Cell Pros for the Tacoma started arriving in the US and I was able to obtain a set of Extended Travel Foam Cell Pros from Jackalope4x4 out of Eugene, Oregon for my Tacoma.
First receiving the package, it was very obvious that these things are HEAVY. They weigh nearly twice as much as the stock shocks, but that is to be expected given their construction. Opening the shipping box, it is clear they were very well packaged. They are set in two pieces (top and bottom halves) of molded foam with ample padding on all sides. If the deliveryman decided to toss it into your driveway at 40 mph, I’m sure they would have survived with no damage.
The welds all seem to be of very good quality as is the paint, which they claim to be an E-coating (I imagine this refers to some kind of powder coating process) that should protect from corrosion. Finally compared to the stock shocks they are massive and really look like they are made to put up with some off road abuse.
They feature a 3mm thick steel wall, and the bodies are over 2.5 inches in diameter, comparable to offerings from their competitors. However where these shocks differ from their competition is with their design; these use a twin tube body with a foam cell where as most other shocks use a monotube design with a gas charged reservoir.
Why this matters:
A shock functions by compressing a column of oil in the tube and pushing it through a disk (piston) with a variety of orifices (small holes) that control the flow rate of the oil through the piston. This creates the dampening effect which acts to control the amount of springy-ness provided by the spring and prevent it from oscillating (bouncing) back and forth after a disturbance (akin to hitting a bump in the road). In addition, engineers many times add tricks such as bypasses and adjustable valving to alter the damping rate provided by the shock.
When in use, the oil continuously gets compressed and pushed through the piston generating friction which causes it to heat up. If you work the shock too hard, the oil will continue to heat up faster than it is able to dissipate the heat (cool down) and eventually will start to boil, altering the properties of the oil and resulting with the shock unable to properly do its job. Additionally the oil can get aerated (full of bubbles) further reducing its effectiveness. To combat this, the oil cylinder is often charged with nitrogen to keep constant pressure on the oil (raising the boiling point). In a typical twintube design the nitrogen isn’t separated from the oil and this can cause further aeration.
One solution to this is to make the shock a monotube design and separate the nitrogen from the oil using an internal floating piston so the two can never mix. This gives up of some of the benefits of a twintube design though which provides allows for a larger volume of oil and runs at lower pressure resulting with a softer ride. Also the twintube design can take more abuse with the outer reservoir protecting the inner reservoir, and if the outer reservoir body fails, the shock will still function and allow you to get home. To correct for this some manufactures use an external reservoir on their shocks, taking the montoube design and adding additional volume outside of the main shock body. This is where Ironman’s foam cell design comes into play.
Instead of switching to a monotube design, the Ironman4x4 keeps the twintube design in their Foam Cell Pro. Rather than allowing the nitrogen to contact the oil as it does in a typical twintube, it is instead encapsulated in a closed cell type of foam that compresses as needed and expands again upon rebound. Thus you get all the benefits of the twintube design with out any of its drawbacks.
I decided to install these shocks on a Saturday with the help of a few friends. Although Ironman 4×4 includes very basic instructions, the installation is fairly straight forward and a variety of extremely guides can be found online. In addition to the extended travel Foam Cell Pros, I had also obtained and was installing some SPC Light Racing UCA’s.
Overall the installation went smoothly — Jack up and support the truck, remove the wheels, remove the old UCA and shock, install the new Foam Cell Pro shocks, install the new UCA, torque everything down, reinstall the wheels, lower the truck back down and torque everything again. The only major headache I ran into was the bolt holding the passenger side UCA in place. Over the years, lots of water, salt and other grime had gotten in there and corroded the bolt enough to “bond” it to the sleeve which itself is bonded to the bushing. Despite having soaked everything for days in advance with multiple cans of PB blaster, this one bolt did not want to budge, and eventually with a lot of hitting, more PB blaster, some heat and a lot of elbow grease the bolt finally broke free and came out. Finally once down, I had to adjust the rings up further to get the lift amount up to the 2 inches I was looking for, some lubricant (wd40 or PB blaster) on the ring threads makes the substantially easier.
Some advice if this happens to you:
- Put the nut on the end of the bolt before hitting it; hitting it bare will damage the threads and make it very difficult to get the nut on when putting the bolt back in – only pay attention to this if you don’t plan on using new bolts which in hindsight I recommend.
- Don’t try breaking the bolt free using multiple extensions and turning it with a breaker bar, the bushing is rubber and will twist and eventually will swing back around and attempt to take out your face or hit you down lower which will hurt a lot more.
The drive home after finishing the installation was uneventful on just some rural 2-lane highways. The ride was definitely stiffer but the truck overall felt more composed but by no means uncomfortable. Standing on my sliders and rocking back and forth the truck barely moved; before with the fairly new TRD Bilstiens I was able to rock the truck up and down over 2 inches. The next morning it was taken for its alignment in addition to the installation of some new shoes (upgrading from 31.5” C rated Cooper A/T3s to 33” E-rated Cooper ST Maxx’s).
Immediately the next day it went for a 1,300 Mile road trip (which did include some off-roading). On the way out, the ride was quite stiff and a bit jarring (though much of this can be attributed to the new E-rated tires at a slightly too high air pressure) but as the miles rolled on, with the tire pressures lowered to a reasonable 33 PSI and some off-roading was added to the mix, the shocks were given the chance to settle in and the ride became beautifully smooth. The coils did settle a total of about 1.25 inches over the first month and twice required me to adjust them back up. The truck now handles quite well with very little nose dive during braking or body roll when turning.
Offroad, the Foam Cell Pros are amazing. The ride is smoother and quieter and the shocks seem to also handle bumps and drops much better. On the slow stuff they keep the wheels planted and allow me more flex than the stock set up did, and the added height from the lift also helped in clearing obstacles. Their flexibility was hampered a bit the fact that I kept the sway bar installed and I am sure it would perform even better while crawling if it was removed. (Another nice feature regarding these shocks is that since the coil is kept compact, the swaybar doesn’t make contact and does not need to be relocated).
Getting the truck up to speed though is where the Foam Cell Pros really shine. As you push the truck harder and faster, the ride became more compliant. I hit some large bumps in the dirt roads as well as some potholes at speed and not only did the truck remain composed and well with in control, but the impact from the bump was each time much less than what I expected to feel. On washboard sections of the road, the vibrations were quickly damped out and minimal vibration was introduced into the cab; again a big difference from the stock setup.
After 2 months and a few trips and chances to test the suspension in various environments, I am still very happy with the outcome. They have gotten a little smoother and more comfortable as they were broken in and did require some adjustment when the coils settled as noted before. In my personal opinion, the Ironman 4×4 Foam Cell Pros are great shock option for someone looking for a compromise between budget options and the big expensive brands.
Before and After