Virginia Auto Service

Getting to Know Your Suspension System

If you have ever driven down a dirt road in a car with bad shocks you have an appreciation for the benefits your car’s suspension system provides.  While this part of the car rarely gets the attention it deserves, it is important to understand what it does and what components are involved so that you can recognize when there is something serious going on in that system.

shock absorber
photo: bigstock

The various components of the suspension system make two things possible every time you drive your car.  First, they make it possible for you to control the car while you are driving.  The suspension system is what keeps the tires in contact with the road, even when the terrain is uneven or rough, and it is this contact that makes it possible to steer, turn, and stop the car.  Second, the suspension system makes it possible to ride comfortably in the car.  The suspension system absorbs some of the energy that is moving between the tires and the car’s frame.  Removing this energy smoothes out the bumps in the road, making riding in the passenger compartment more comfortable.

The car’s suspension system accomplishes these two things by solving some basic problems caused when a car travels over even a well-kept road.

One of these problems is the vertical acceleration of the wheels.  Whenever the car hits a bump it causes the wheel to move up and down.  This creates energy that moves up into the frame of the car.  This causes everything in the car to bounce up and then crash down.   By absorbing most of this vertical energy, the suspension system helps keep the tires from bouncing up off the road and smoothes out the ride inside the car.

Another problem the suspension system solves is the natural weight imbalances that result as weight shifts to different parts of the car while you drive.   If you have ever had to stop short in your car, you understand the weight shifting problem.  As you brake, the weight shifts to the front of the car.  Without the suspension system, the back of the car would flip up as the weight shifts.  The suspension system provides stabilization when these weight shifts occur that help keep the tires on the road.

The suspension system also helps dissipate the centrifugal force that occurs when the car turns.  This is the force that sends things sliding across the backseat when you turn suddenly.  Without the suspension system, this force would pull the wheels on the far side of the road up off of the road and cause the car to tip over.  The suspension system also uses weight rebalancing to provide the stabilization required to solve this problem.

Now that you have an understanding of what the suspension system does, the signs that there may be a problem are easy to understand.  If you notice that the ride seems to be bumpier or that the car seems to be more difficult to handle, there may be a problem with the suspension system.  Take the car to your technician and have the suspension system checked out.