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Knowing the basics of vehicle suspension

A vehicle’s suspension system is what enables it to drive straight, make sharp turns and gives the car and driver stability and comfort at all speeds. Though the suspension components connect areas of the vehicle to make it stable while driving, time on the road causes those parts to wear down. Extreme weather and temperatures, especially during the summer months, also contribute to its wear.

Mechanic working on a car suspension

The role of suspension components

Connected by joints, your car is like a human body. The joints can’t be completely firm; joints need flexibility. A vehicle’s suspension holds the vehicle together by connecting the frame to the tires, much like your hips connect your torso to your lower body. Your vehicle’s steering system carries your input from the steering wheel to the steering gear and other steering components to control the car’s course or direction. Suspension components allow the driver to maneuver better and help the vehicle handle better, so for you and your passengers’ safety, you don’t want steering/suspension components to be loose.

Keeping up on suspension maintenance

Every brand of car has a recommended maintenance schedule in its owner’s manual, many of which are available for purchase online if your original book was misplaced. By following such a schedule, you can prevent your suspension components from deteriorating. Whether you change your vehicle’s oil yourself or have it done for you, this routine maintenance represents the optimal time to visually inspect the suspension components. You can also do a press test on your shock or strut assembly by firmly pressing downward several times on the hood or rear area of your vehicle where the shock sits. Count the amount of rebounds from this pressure; if they exceed more than one and a half, that’s a sign that your shock/strut assembly could be in need of replacement. If you hear unusual sounds while doing this, it could indicate a damaged suspension component.

Paying attention to your suspension

There are a few components that your suspension employs to smooth out your ride: springs, shock absorbers and control arms. The spring's job is to harvest energy, bringing your wheels back to their optimal height while driving and stopping. Shock absorbers assist in controlling the impact and rebound of the springs. Control arms link the frame to the wheels and maintain your vehicle’s alignment. Here are a few things to consider to help ensure these components are doing their jobs:

  • Vehicle handling: If you notice your vehicle is pulling to one side while you’re driving, or if you experience vibration or bouncing, it may be a sign that one or more of your suspension parts need replacing.
  • Tire wear: Uneven tire wear is a sign that your tires may be misaligned, have improper air inflation or a suspension component could be damaged. Getting your tires aligned and having your suspension components checked are some of the ways to improve the longevity of your car’s suspension and tires.
  • Driving style: Adopting better driving habits, like reducing fast stops and fast turns around corners, can also prolong the life of your suspension, as can avoiding obstacles in the road, like holes or uneven surfaces. Damaged roads can impact your suspension.

Scheduled maintenance on your vehicle, good driving habits, and heeding your mechanic’s recommendations are all ways to get the most out of your vehicle’s suspension and prolong its lifespan.

Caitlin Granfield is a news writer based in Miami, Florida. She and her husband, who is a mechanic, are avid car enthusiasts. They often frequent the Miami Auto Museum, which has one of the largest collections of James Bond vehicles in the world.

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