Who Took The "Custom" Out Of Custom Vehicles?

To submit a question, email: mini.truckin@sorc.com

cus·tom/ˈkəstəm/, as defined by Google, adjective: Made or done to order for a particular customer

All too often, someone will contact me about working on his vehicle and without wonderment, it usually has something to do with suspension. This comes as no surprise as I am a suspension specialist after all. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the vehicle is one of the standards: a (insert year here) Chevy truck, a Toyota pickup of any generation, or one of your garden-variety old cars. What never seems to change though is the question asked, which seems to be regurgitated as though it had been asked ten other times to ten other shops: "How much would it cost to ’bag my (vehicle name here)?"

Really, that’s all the info you’re going to give me in hopes to procure a solid-dollar figure from me, and since when did custom take on the meaning of generic? Has this industry as a whole become so standardized that something as major as modifying a vehicle’s suspension can be conveyed in a nine-word phrase?

Usually my knee-jerk reaction is to respond by asking them if they know how long a piece of string is, but I don’t think that they would get my humor and write me off as a jerk. So instead, I spend a few minutes explaining that I can’t quote a custom suspension simply by knowing what type of vehicle they have. And before you spend any more time wondering, yes, I have people that ask me for a price without even telling me what vehicle they have.

Now there was a time when air suspension was young and everyone had 17s or 18s and you could ask that simple question, but today’s options are FAR too vast. We now have several different compressor and airbag manufacturers and a handful of height control systems that by themselves could change the price of the project by a thousand dollars or so based on just those decisions. Then what about wheel choices and the associated body modifications needed to fit your dream wheel under the vehicle’s sheetmetal and of course the all-important question of how low you actually expect your vehicle to lay? These are all major concerns that need to addressed before we even talk about suspension design, outside needs (like towing the occasional boat), and finish quality (of course everyone wants their suspension fully TIG-welded inside and out but usually opt out once they get a taste of the additional cost).

Now I truly don’t expect everyone to understand all of the intricacies of a custom suspension, that’s what the sales person is there for, but I would expect someone to convey his lack of knowledge and ask what all is involved in performing the work that he is interested in. I do this all the time when I contact other shops to perform specialty work. My introduction to the conversation starts a little something like this:

Them: "Hello, this is guy on the phone, what can I help you with?"

Me: "I’m not exactly sure where to start, so you’ll have to forgive my ignorance. I have some questions about custom axles."

Them: "All right, that’s no problem. What do you have?"

From there I can explain all of my needs, wants, and dreams, and they can respond with concerns, specifics, and requirements. This conversation may take a few minutes or may stretch over a few days as I gather information to pinpoint my needs. Only now that the shop fully understands my wants and needs do I ask for a ballpark dollar figure as to what something like this might run.

This may seem like a ridiculous subject to some people, but starting the conversation out like this can not only get you the answers you are looking for but can also weed out shady shops that are probably not going to give you what you want or need.

In this industry, it is important to discuss wants and needs; after all, that it is the definition of custom.