Car performance. When you hear the experts talk about increasing a car’s performance, in most cases, it has to do with horsepower, or how fast a vehicle can move from zero to sixty. We’ve been chasing speed for as long as cars have been in the marketplace. That’s why muscle cars are still celebrated around the globe.
But for the average driver – you and me – performance means something else entirely.
Power is great, but when all you’re doing is driving to the grocery store, or picking the kids up from school, you probably don’t think much about speed. Instead, you want a car that connects well with the road. One that provides a smooth ride no matter what the road conditions are like on the outside.
That’s the suspension system’s job. A vehicle’s suspension system maximizes the friction between the tires and the road, and provides easy steering and good handling to ensure the safety and comfort of the occupants. If all roads were perfectly smooth and flat, a suspension system wouldn’t be necessary. But even just a few short miles from home, your car can travel over many different paths. Gravel roads. Potholes. Construction sites. Curves and turns. Hills. Bumps and dips.
Car designers and engineers take all that into account as they create a suspension system. They ensure every vehicle has a proper ride so you don’t notice the bumps and rough spots, and proper handling, so you’re safe with every turn and curve you take.
What is a suspension system?
Like all systems within a vehicle, your suspension system is made up of several other parts and systems, including:
The frame – the car’s structure that supports all important components of the vehicle
The steering system – the parts that give a driver control to guide the car along
The tires and wheels – these make contact with the road and create friction to allow a safe journey
The suspension system – the parts that give your vehicle a comfortable ride and keep the passengers safe on the inside
Let’s dive a little deeper into the parts that make up the suspension system.
Springs are attached to the wheels and are designed to compress and expand with the motion of the wheels. They come in several different varieties, depending on the vehicle’s purpose.
You may also hear springs referred to as sprung or unsprung mass. This refers to the stiffness of the spring. A sprung mass will have looser springs designed to take the punishment of the ride. It swallows the movement keeping the occupants inside free from feeling the bumps of the road. Unsprung is found in higher performance and sports cars. These tightly sprung cars are less forgiving over the bumps in the road to give the driver the ability to drive more aggressively, cornering with ease.
A car also uses shock absorbers to control unwanted spring motion. Springs will continue to coil and release energy unless it has the ability to control it. That’s the shock absorbers job. It slows down and reduces kinetic energy with the use of hydraulic fluid. As a wheel encounters a bump, it causes the spring to coil and uncoil. This energy is transferred to the shock absorber where the pressure is dissipated, slowing down the spring.
Are there different types of suspension systems?
As you drive, you’ve probably noticed your front wheels and back wheels work together. That’s by design. It’s also the reason vehicles come with different types of suspension systems: front and rear. The four wheels work together to get you where you’re going. But the two wheels in front are connected by the front axle, while the two in back operate with the read axle.
The MacPherson strut is one of the most widely used suspension systems available. It combines a coil spring and shock absorber into one, giving the suspension system a lighter, more compact design.
Both front and back suspensions come in dependent and independent design. The spring and shock absorber are mounted as a single unit to the axle, or independently to all four wheels.
Why is a suspension system important?
Your car’s suspension system is responsible for the smooth ride, and for keeping you safe as you drive. It provides you with good handling and steering ability. Without it, you wouldn’t have a comfortable ride.
But a good suspension system does more than that. It also protects your vehicle from premature wear and tear. If your suspension system isn’t working the way it should, it quickly starts impacting other parts and systems throughout your car. Replacing your shocks and struts as needed will help:
- Control spring and suspension movement
- Keep the tires connected to the road
- Maintain wheel alignment
- Reduce wear on individual tires
- Keep tires balanced
- Prevent bounce and sway
How do I know if my suspension system needs repair?
Like other systems within your vehicle, your suspension system is designed to provide warning signs that it is in need of repair. The more you ignore the warning signs, the strong the signals will become.
Your vehicle’s suspension system is in need of repair if:
The car rides roughly
It’s easy to tell when shocks and struts are wearing out because your smooth ride will disappear and you’ll be left to feel every bump in the road. Have you ever referred to your car’s ride as “it feels like I’m riding in a truck”? Yep, that’s a sign your shocks and struts are wearing down. You’ll feel every bump in the road, and your car will bounce along taking in the impact.
The car drifts or pulls
As you turn your vehicle, you’ll feel it drift or pull, having to keep a tighter hand on the wheel to control the direction. This is because the shocks are no longer to keep the body stable as the car moves into the action of the turn. The higher the speed you take turns and curves, the more risk you have of having the car roll over.
The car dips or dives
As the shocks wear out, you’ll notice the front of your vehicle dives forward as you press down on the brakes. This can affect your breakability, increasing the amount of time it takes to stop.
The tires have uneven tread
It’s a good idea to watch your tires for any sign of wear. If you notice uneven wear, it’s a sign the suspension system isn’t doing its job of holding your car evenly down to the road.
The shocks are oily
Have you noticed liquid on the road underneath your tires? If it occurs directly where your shocks are, it could be a sign of damaged struts. If they are leaking fluid, they aren’t working the way they should.
The car can’t pass the bounce test
Try this if you think your car may need a new suspension system. With the car in park, press down on the front hood and release. Does the car bounce more than 2-3 times before settling back into position? Try it again in the back. If it rocks more than the 2-3 times, it’s a sign your suspension system is in need of repair.
For expert repair service, give us a call. We’re here to help you with your suspension system, and all of your auto needs.