After six years of owning one of the most reliable, scrappy, underrated hatchbacks of all time I finally decided to sell my beloved 2014 Mazda2. I'd put 105,000 miles on it, 65,000 of which were spent riding around southern California on harsh, track-focused coilovers with brutal spring rates. Why did I lead a life of punishment for so long? It was time to move on.
Peter Nelson is an author at Car Bibles, a coming-soon sister site to The Drive focusing on automotive adventures and DIY tips to help you get the most out of your car. And we’re not going to be precious about it—so I’m making our writers relive their worst wrenching mistakes to tell you what they learned from disaster. Enjoy! -- Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles EIC
I rode on rock-hard suspension because I utilized this 2,300-pound egg as my introduction to track driving. From learning momentum, finding optimal tire pressures, and the importance of trail braking, to corner balancing and making my own alignment adjustments. All this to drop fractions of seconds off of my personal bests at race tracks.
Since most used car buyers don't want to deal with the rough realities of aggressive suspension I thought I would increase the 2’s marketability (saleability?) ...well, just make it more enticing to the general population, by swapping in much more daily-driver friendly performance suspension before it went on the market.
I could’ve gone full OEM (stock standard), but I got great prices on aftermarket equipment as a perk of my job at the time, "so why not leave it with some sportiness," I thought. For both myself, so the car was still fun to drive while it was listed for sale, and for the next buyer who might appreciate something fun, but not spine-shattering fun.
I secured the parts quickly: Koni STR.T dampers all around, and H&R Sport springs to accompany them. I also decided to treat myself by renting a lift at a place called Your Dream Garage in West Covina, California to work in. Instead of sprawling out in my girlfriend’s backyard working in the blistering sun, destroying my knees, and being a poor influence on the neighborhood youths with my colorful language, I’d have a lift with air tools to do everything!
The day before my date with the big, hydraulic beauty, I decided to pre-assemble the front shocks and springs. Your Dream Garage charges rental time by the hour, after all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the shocks appearing to be way too big for the springs I'd ordered should’ve been a big red flag. Instead, I figured "non-coilover shocks must just be this big, it’ll be fine."
The following day I rolled up to my rented garage space ready to get cracking. After the staff lifted the 2 up in the air for me, I got to work. The driver-rear would be up first, because, well, no reason really.
Lower strut bolts removed, torsion beam dropped, two top strut bolts removed, new strut and spring in-place... Boom, done! It got a little tougher on the passenger-rear corner. One of the top strut bolts wouldn't budge, even with a massive impact gun that could probably pull the bolts off a rusty oil tanker’s hull.
I peered up into the wheel arch and my greatest fear stared me right in the eye: it was completely rounded. I should’ve replaced it the last time I swapped this corner; curse my laziness and over-torquing.
An hour later, with some help from one of the staff members trying some of their tricks, this thing still wouldn’t budge. Huge bummer, "but hey that’s OK," I told myself, "I’ll just leave this corner in place, swap the front suspension, and attack it later when I'm not on the meter."
With the front wheels removed, and the right assortment of sockets by my side ready to make quick work of the 2’s MacPherson front suspension, I went to it. The impact driver made quick work of everything, and the slender coilover shock and spring combo was removed without drama.
All I had to do next was put the pre-assembled Koni shock and H&R-spring combo in place, flip the switch on the impact, and ugga-dugga it all nice and tight. Done. Next, I picked up the wheel, slid it on… Only to find the shock’s spring perch sitting way the hell out, right above the tire tread. There was no way the perch wouldn’t sit on the wheel once I finished up the other side and lowered the car down, this puppy was way too big. Not even messing with the camber would've solved my issue.
"Well, I… isn’t that wonderful." First, a rounded-out bolt that wouldn’t budge in the rear, despite composing an Einstürzende Neubauten tribute record while trying to do so, and now, two oversized front shocks that aren’t meant for a 2014 Mazda2.
A quick search on my phone confirmed it: The part numbers did not match up to a Mazda2, or even its sibling the Ford Fiesta. It's a good thing I was swapping out perfectly good suspension, so I went ahead and put the front coilover back on, and left the driver-rear Koni-H&R-combo in place so as not to run the clock even higher.
Allow me the pleasure of summing up this afternoon of misery: $200 in rental fees for nothing, messed up front camber and toe settings that would later require an $80 alignment at a local shop (I had lost the will to fix anything myself, and thankfully, the rear beam suspension is simple and un-align-able), a rear upper strut bolt that I’ll have to drill out eventually, two huge shock absorbers I now have to throw up on eBay, and a Mazda2 that’s still too stiff for most consumers’ spines. I didn't even want to keep this car, remember?
All of this could’ve been avoided if I replaced the rear strut bolt when it still had some semblance of six sides and didn’t over-torque it, and double-checked part numbers when I received my big box of fresh, new suspension. Two hard, sweaty, sore, and grease-covered lessons learned for sure.
There was a slight silver lining to all of this, though. I eventually made some money back selling the Koni and H&R bits, and since I was forced to keep the 2 off the market for a little while, I decided to make some small adjustments to improve its ride quality. I’ve still got it, actually. During a weekend at the track shortly after I got it aligned, I fell back in love with how much fun 100 horsepower and heaps of lateral grip feels at Streets of Willow. I think I'll be hanging onto this four-wheeled egg for a little while longer.
I still have yet to drill out that pesky rounded bolt, though.
Peter Nelson is an author at Car Bibles, a coming-soon sister site to The Drive focusing on practical tips and DIY advice to help you get the most out of your car. Look for a freshly redesigned Car Bibles in early 2021. Meanwhile check us out on Twitter, IG, and Facebook. Actually LinkedIn too, if you're on there.