Gotta Bounce ~ The Importance of Your Vehicles Suspension System
Your vehicles suspension system is one of the most important systems in your car. It’s job is to provide comfort to the cabin, make sure the car stays in contact with the road and that the driver has control over the tires at all points. This is achieved by the tires having contact with the road. It helps your car cabin to ride atop the suspension relatively smoothly, even when driving on imperfect roads. Suspension systems maximize the friction between your car’s tires and the road. The more contact your tires have with the road, the safer and more securely you’ll be able to drive. It controls the cars ability to smooth out a bumpy road and to safely accelerate, brake and corner.
If all roads were perfectly flat and smooth suspension systems would not be needed. Unfortunately this is not the case. Even freshly paved roads have subtle imperfections that interact with the wheels of your car. Even a small bump in the road causes the wheel to move up and down and experience a vertical acceleration. Without a suspension system all of this energy is transferred to the frame of the vehicle, pushing it upwards causing the tires to lose contact with the ground completely. Under the force of gravity the tires then slams back onto the road. This not only makes for a very uncomfortable experience but is also extremely hard on your car and unsafe. That is why the suspension system so important. It absorbs the vertical energy, allowing the frame and body of the vehicle to remain undisturbed while the tires follow the bumps on the road.
Suspension systems are important but complicated and can vary depending on vehicle so we are going to look at the basic functions of suspension and how you can best maintain it. There are three main components to a suspension system; springs, dampers and sway bars
A car spring is located on a vehicle between the wheels and the frame. A car spring will extend and release the energy it absorbs from a bump at an uncontrolled rate. The spring will continue to bounce at its natural frequency until all of the energy put into it is used up. This would make for a very bouncy ride and depending on the terrain, an uncontrollable car which is why dampers are needed.
There are two types of dampers that a vehicle may have; shocks or struts. A vehicle will either have a shock or a strut never both. Although you may have shocks on the front wheels and struts on the back.
A shock absorber slows down the motion of the spring by turning kinetic energy into into heat energy that is dissipated through hydraulic fluid. It converts force into heat thus removing the impact that the force would have made. A spring will hold the energy while a damper will convert it into heat.
A shock absorber is basically an oil pump where the upper mount connects to the frame of the car and the lower mount to the axle near the wheel. The upper mount is connected to a piston rod which is connected to a piston which sits in a tube filled with hydraulic fluid. When a car drives over a bump on the road it causes the spring to coil and uncoil. The energy of the spring is transferred to the shock absorber through the upper mount down through the piston rod and into the piston. The piston has tiny holes that allows the fluid to leak through as the piston moves up and down. Since the holes are so tiny only a small amount of fluid under great pressure passes through. This slows down the piston which in turn slows down the spring.
Shocks & struts perform very similar functions, the difference between the two is that a strut is a structural part of the suspension system, but a shock is not. Both use a hydraulic device (cylinder) that uses oil to cushion the vehicle’s bounce. A strut is basically a shock absorber mounted inside a coil spring. Struts help convert the kinetic energy but they also provide structural support and support the vehicle weight.
Are also known as anti-roll bars. This is a metal rod that spans the entire axle and joins each side of the suspension together. It gives your moving vehicle more stability. When the suspension at one wheel moves up and down the sway bar transfers movement to the other wheel. This combats the roll of a car on its suspension as it turns a corner and creates a more level ride.
Now that we understand the importance of the suspension system let’s talk about how to take care of it. A well maintained suspension system can help to increase the lifespan and durability of your car.
At First Gear we inspect your suspension system with every oil change. We make sure to inspect for oil around the seal which is a sign of a leak. When that happens you lose damping. We also check the rubber bushings (think of these like the cartilage between your bones keeping the parts of the suspension from rubbing & wearing against each other). First Gear makes sure that they are not broken, loose, or contain any cracks. Get your suspension system checked out right away if;
- It squeaks or rattles constantly
- The car is bouncing
- The car hit a pothole, curb or object hard
- You feel vibration especially when driving at higher speeds
- You feel that you have less control especially when driving at higher speeds
First Gear Automotive is here for all of your suspension questions and needs. Call to book an appointment today!