1st Gen LS400 Steering Damper - you want to read this!
So, I just switched to new tires, 16" wheels and then I had the wheel alignment done. All was great, braking is fantastic, car drives like a dream but one thing was bothering the heck out of me: steering.
Now, it is not that steering was bad or vague, it was just a bit too sensitive sometimes, and recently we had some really high wind gusts in N. California, and those winds could really push the car and affect the steering; in addition big potholes and dips in the road would steer my car away from the straight line.
My suspension and all bushings are in as new condition so its not that.
Then my alignment guy tells me that my steering damper was shot. I never even checked it - it just seems so unimportant. Also most 1st gen owners just ditch them or ignore them and say "I don't feel a difference".
Well, I wanted to confirm for myself, so I bought a new damper, installed and let me tell you: THERE IS A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE! From behaving like a nervous prom girl it became VERY stable at highway speeds, killer wind gusts do nothing to it, and potholes do not steer it away from the straight line. It's such a BIG difference that I cannot believe that no one is talking about it. Just because your old damper can be taken off with no difference which I did too, does not mean you don't need it. Believe me, you do! Probably the most important difference is that there is a lot less driver fatigue on highway as you barely need to correct steering at all.
NOW THE BEST PART: OEM steering damper for the 1st gen LS is around $150 shipped. Some people tried installing a damper from LX450, which sells on rockauto for only $30 or so, but that one does not fit our application because it is too short fully extended.
I spent two full days researching this, to find a damper that fits our purposes, that is both not too short fully extended and not too long completely compressed. And, lo and behold I found one: the SACHS damper that is OEM for >1997 Mercedes S320 (and many other Mercs)! Those cost $35 on Rockauto, and I just installed it on my car two days ago, and the car is fantastic. It really made my day what a big improvement it was and all that without having to pay an arm and a leg for a stupid little damper that costs all of 10 bucks to produce. And, best of all, Sachs is a famous European company so it is not some Chinese knock-off or garbage from one of the aftermarket companies - it is a good quality damper, which I hope may last longer than OEM due to its application on vehicles that are both the same size as our LS and even bigger ones. It also has bigger range, both extended and compressed, so that should work in our favor too. A win situation all over.
Here is the link:
It is a SACHS Part # SG203003 (W140) steering damper, also listed as "1997 MERCEDES-BENZ S320 3.2L L6 : Steering : Steering Damper" on rockauto.com
Best part is, it is a direct fit. Even the bolt holes are the perfectly same diameter.
Even though it is a direct bolt on, there is one caviat: its bolt hole is longer (on one end only). It is actually inserted there, so I tried banging it out with a hammer, but it would not budge. Those Germans... (did you know German autobans are built on top of reinforced concrete?). Then I borrowed an electric saw from a friend, and it took a while, but we cut of the portrusion on one side to accomodate for short bolt that is on our car. Otherwise, if you don't want to cut, just order a new bolt that is longer than OEM. Even with cutting, it does not take more than 15-20 minutes.
Here is a picture of the Sachs damper and let me know how it worked for you:
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Well, if you use a longer bolt you don't have to cut anything, I was just too impatient to order one and then wait. It would need to be about 5-10mm longer than stock one. Since it's a lexus, it is that "fine" 1.25mm thread pitch which is impossible to find in hardware stores around here especially in longer lengths.
As for heavier damping, checked that too, and they are all damping about the same, about 18lbs or so, which is actually pretty light. You can compress and extend this one easily with your bare hands. Only SUV and truck dampers have heavier damping.