Your car is an investment that requires proper maintenance to keep it running correctly. It is important to look after your vehicle to not only ensure your safety, but to prolong its life. For many people, car maintenance can be overwhelming with so many different things to look over after and understand. Your vehicle’s suspension system is one of the things you should be looking out for when performing vehicle maintenance. Let us break it down for you.
What is the Suspension System?
The suspension system consists of springs, shock absorbers, tires, tire air, and parts that connect your vehicle to its wheels and allows for motion between the two. Put simply, the suspension is what connects the cars body to its wheels. The suspension system is responsible for regulating the bouncing motion that your car would go through out on the road, making your drive more manageable and comfortable and protecting the vehicle from damage or wear.
No matter how you use your car, eventually there will be an effect on your suspension system. Driving on dirt or gravel roads makes good use of your suspension, as does off-roading and braking hard. Suspension systems are designed to last through hours of forceful use, under both daily and extreme circumstances. However, eventually all suspension systems will wear. In an extreme situation, the whole system could even break. This is why it is imperative that you keep tabs on your suspension system.
Fundamental Parts of the Suspension System
The suspension system is very complex. There are many parts involved, however, six components are basic to any suspension system- springs, shock absorbers (dampers), struts, anti-sway (roll) bars, ball joints, and the spindle.
Most cars will have four springs that are made out of steel that are wound in a spiral shape. These springs allow your car to absorb the energy of a pothole or bump in the road without shaking the passengers of the car about. Corvettes have transverse springs made from fiberglass or other complex materials. The springs are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle. If they are sized properly, springs rarely need maintenance or replacing.
The springs have a natural tendency to oscillate. Shock absorbers, or dampers, work to minimalize the effect this has on the vehicle. Dampers use valving of oil and gasses to absorb excess energy from the springs. If the car had only springs, it would wobble, shudder and bump along the road, jolting passengers about until they became physically ill and needed to get out. One way to test your shocks would be to push down on a corner of your vehicle and count how many times it bounces. If it bounces more than twice, this is a sign that your shocks are worn.
A strut combines the spring and damper into one unit. A fancier version of the strut would be the MacPherson Strut which is also the upper pivot point for the suspension. When shocks and struts are worn, it is possible that there will be excessive vehicle-weight transfer from side to side and front to back, which reduces the tire's ability to grip the road and affects handling and braking performance. Shocks and struts should be considered critical safety features that need to be maintained.
When cornering, or turning, forces want to roll your cars body to the outside of the turn. You can feel this force sitting in the car. Anti-sway/roll bars work to counteract this force and keep the wheel in contact with the ground. Anti-sway bars are metal rods that cross the entire axle and connect each side of the suspension together. When the suspension moves up and down at one wheel, the anti-sway bar will transfer movement to the other wheel reducing vehicle sway.
Suspension systems are made to move up and down with the road. What helps this to happen are the control arms that are connected to the spindle by ball joints. The ball joints look like they sound, and allow movement in two dimensions. Many ball joints are lubricated with grease then sealed, however some have a grease fitting that allow for adding grease.
The spindle connects to the lower control arm and upper control arm and is the center point for your wheel and rotor to rotate around. The spindle should remain as parallel to the road as possible.
7 Warning Signs that Your Car Has a Suspension System Problem
Your vehicle will usually let you know when it may be time to have your suspension system looked at by sending out one or more of these seven signs:
- Your vehicle dips or “nose dives” when stopping. When your car dips or noses further than anticipated when stepping on the brakes could be a sign of worn shocks. Have your vehicle looked at immediately when this happens as it can make it more difficult to stop in emergency situations.
- Your vehicle pulls to one side when driving. There are actually a few reasons why this could be happening, such as the level of tread wear is different on your tires, or you are in need of a wheel alignment. However, it could also indicate that suspension and steering components have become worn. Have your tires and suspension system looked at to determine the issue, then you can usually solve it fairly easily.
- Your car is visibly lower in one corner than the rest of the vehicle. First you should make sure that all of your tires are properly inflated. If they are not the problem, then there could be problems with the suspension in the area that the car sits lower. If this is happening, it is a good indication that something has failed in that part of the car and it needs to be addressed right away.
- The vehicle feels as though it is “pulling” or “drifting” when turning corners. This is a sign that the suspension system is no longer keeping your cars body stable, and there is an increased risk of your car rolling over. Have this symptom checked out as soon as possible to avoid any accidents and serious injury.
- The car continues to bounce after hitting a bump or pothole in the road. You will always feel bumps in the road as you drive, unfortunately there is now way of preventing that completely, however, the bouncing should stabilize almost immediately. You may have worn shocks or a damaged leaf spring if your car continues to bounce for a bit.
- The shocks appear to be oily or damaged. When you look under your vehicle and examine your shocks or struts and they appear to be greasy or oily, there is a good chance that they are leaking fluid and therefore not working properly. It is probably time to have them replaced.
- The vehicle rides roughly. When you notice that your normal commute is beginning to feel much bumpier than usual, it is probably time to have your suspension looked at.
You should check your owner’s manual for a mileage estimate for shock and strut and other suspension system parts life. Depending on how you drive and the road conditions in which you drive on, the average time to have your shocks and struts replaced will be between 60,000 and 75,000 miles.
- Check your shocks or struts for leakage frequently.
- Pay attention to how your car handles. If you notice the ride becoming more and more bouncy and uncomfortable, take your car in to have the suspension system checked.
- Have your mechanic check your ball joints at least twice a year or whenever your car is inspected as they can wear and can cause your car to wander while driving down the road.
This could potentially be dangerous as the ball joints can separate and cause you to lose control. Make sure you or your mechanic lubricates the ball joints and any other suspension components at each oil change.
The suspension system is one of the most important aspects to your comfort and safety when you are driving. If you suspect that there is a problem with your vehicle’s suspension system, schedule an appointment and bring it in right away. Your safety and the safety of others depends on making sure that suspension system stays in good working condition.