The suspension of your car isn’t one of the necessary components for it to operate, but it does make a difference in how the ride feels. Essentially, it’s just like the bridge that connects you and the road. While you can drive with a worn out suspension, you wouldn’t appreciate the ride. That’s why it’s imperative you understand some suspension basics.
Components of a Suspension System
There are several different types of suspension systems for vehicles, but there are some common parts among them. These components require maintenance, inspection and replacement at times to ensure a smooth ride.
The springs are the central part of your suspension system. There are several varieties from leaf springs, coil springs and torsion bars. Most of the modern cars and trucks utilize coil springs. These springs absorb the shock from dips, bumps and cracks on the road. They do this by extending or compressing as needed.
A spring capable of absorbing lots of energy offers the most comfortable ride. In vehicles with a higher ride height, the tradeoff is some instability while cornering. This comes because the spring extends or compresses over a longer distance which causes the body to roll on the suspension. This is referred to as weight transfer.
The shock absorber is responsible for dampening the road impact. It’s used in conjunction with a spring. Without the shock absorber, your springs would work at uncontrolled rates. Not only will it allow the spring to overextend and compress, but your ride would become quite bouncy.
Struts are a form of shock absorber that’s used as a structural part of a vehicle. The struts are placed inside of a coil spring. This saves space and money for automakers.
What Happens if You Have a Worn Suspension?
Because the suspension isn’t talked about like oil changes and brake service, many people neglect the care. Sure – it’s true that the suspension mainly allows you to achieve a smooth ride, but it should never be taken for granted.
The maintenance and repair are just as necessary. Having a worn out suspension lessens your ability to control the vehicle. You will notice it mainly while turning or braking. If left ignored, it could lead to an accident.
Checking Your Suspension
There are several ways to check your suspension and many warning signs that something might be wrong. You can start with an easy test. Push down on the rear and front of your car quickly. If it bounces more than once or twice once you let it go, it might be time to consider replacing the struts or shocks.
Here are a few other warning signs to pay attention to:
- You notice the shocks or struts leaking fluid.
- The strut or shock casings become damaged or dented.
- The strut or shock mounts are worn or broken.
- Your car seems to sway, drift or float around turns.
- The vehicle bounces excessively after you hit a bump.
- You notice the car begin to nose dive when you hit the brakes.
- Your tires begin to wear unevenly.
Maintaining a Suspension System
There are some steps you can take to ensure the suspension of your vehicle is operating correctly. The most critical aspect is to monitor the health of your tires. They should always have enough tread and correct inflation. Without that, your suspension system can’t do its job the right way.
Aside from that, you’ll want to have regular wheel alignments. All four wheels should be done every 30,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first. If you drive on a lot of rough roads, you may need to do an alignment every 15,000 miles instead. Of course, any time you have new tires installed, you should also have an alignment.
There’s nothing for you to lubricate with the shocks or springs, so that’s not something you need to think about. About every 15,000 miles, you should just take a look at everything. You’ll want to keep an eye open for any damage, leaks or worn out components.
Most parts of the suspension won’t need to be replaced for at least 50,000 miles. The cost for repairs depends on what you need to replace. Make sure you always swap out your shocks and struts in pairs.
Other Parts of the Suspension System and What They Do
Aside from the major components like the shocks and struts, you have several other pieces of your suspension to consider.
The wheel bearings are found inside your wheel’s hub. They relieve some of the load on your vehicle and help the wheels turn on an axle with less friction. The first sign that something is wrong with the wheel bearings is noise. You might hear grinding, squealing or chirping. The sound tends to be most prevalent while turning or you alter your speed. You might also notice vibrations or wobbling that seem to come from the tires while driving.
It’s imperative that you replace the wheel bearings as needed. Otherwise, you face uneven and excessive tire wear. Most sealed wheel bearings last from 85,000 to 100,000 miles, but some will last longer. The key is preventative maintenance. If you grease your wheel bearings every 25,000 miles, they should last you longer.
Ball Joints and Tie Rod Ends
The tie rod ends connect the steering linkage to your wheels. The ball joints enable your front suspension to move up and down while allowing the wheel to turn in the process. Together, these two components work to allows you free movement up and down while steering the wheels.
If you begin to experience erratic steering, it might be an issue with the ball joints or tie rod ends. You may also hear a clunking noise when you go over bumps. If you feel a popping when you move your steering wheel, it could also be the sign of worn tie-rod ends.
Look to see if the rubber boot is damaged or missing. That keeps the grease in while preventing dirt from entering.
Stabilizer Bars and Bushings
The stabilizer bar is also referred to as the anti-roll bar or anti-sway bar. Its primary purpose is to stabilize the vehicle during sharp turns and prevent it from rolling. It’s a short rod which connects your suspension from left to right. The bars themselves are connected to the chassis via rubber bushings. If your vehicle’s steering begins to operate sloppy or loose, you might need to replace the bushings on the stabilizer bars. Often, this is done every 50,000 miles and helps your vehicle respond better through turns.
Your car’s suspension system has a lot of parts working together to give you a comfortable and smooth ride. Don’t overlook this critical aspect of your car or you might put yourself at risk of an accident. Maintain your suspension and replace components at the first sign of trouble to ensure a comfortable, responsive ride.