How Your Driving Habits Can Ruin Your Suspension

How Your Driving Habits Can Ruin Your Suspension

How Your Driving Habits Can Ruin Your Suspension
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You are already aware that driving habits have a significant impact on the safety of yourself, passengers, and others on the road. Distracted or impaired driving can increase your risk of an accident, sometimes leading to potentially life-threatening results. When you forgo safe driving etiquette, you risk a severe collision and expensive damage to your vehicle’s components, such as its suspension system. 

Did you know that your vehicle’s many parts work together to provide stability and handling, support your vehicle’s weight evenly, and manage contact between its tires and the road? To enhance your understanding of these numerous components, here is a concise summary of some features of a suspension system.  

  • Shocks are hydraulic-oil-filled absorbers that compress and decompress as the vehicle travels along uneven terrains.
  • Control arms and ball joints are tasked with connecting linkage parts and allow pivoting from the steering knuckle to provide accurate control of your vehicle. 
  • Coil springs support a vehicle’s weight at the specific height set by the manufacturer and absorb most of the shock produced when driving. 
  • Rubber or neoprene bushings are found in most suspension systems. These absorb impacts sustained during a commute.
  • Tires (filled to the proper psi) play a major role in a quality suspension. The rubber travels up and down to absorb the shock from bumps when conforming to uneven roads. 

Some vehicles do not use a traditional shock system and are instead equipped with struts. Although they perform a similar task, a strut plays a significant role in the structural support of the suspension and takes the place of the upper control arm, ball joint, and shock found in conventional setups. 

Discover how your driving may be affecting your suspension and how you can treat your vehicle better while avoiding expensive repairs. 

Avoid Road Irregularities

Staying alert when driving can prepare you for upcoming road imperfections, enabling you to slow down or avoid them altogether. Continuously hitting speed bumps or potholes at high speeds will inevitably cause damage that leaves you stranded on the side of the road. 

Blown tires, broken shocks or struts, and compromised axles are all common results of failing to slow down before hitting bumps. Of course, these issues are not obvious in newer vehicles; in time, however, the components will begin to degrade, and the amount of turbulence they can withstand will decrease. 

One way to prevent component failure is to avoid travelling over potholes when possible. For instance, to avoid a collision, you should always check blind spots before changing lanes. It is also vital to steer clear of water-filled potholes, as the road defect can be more profound than it appears, inflicting a massive shock on the suspension. 

Bad Habits When Parking

Concrete markers are used in most commercial parking areas to ensure uniform parking. Some drivers tend to pull into a space until they contact the obstruction, ensuring they are securely in place and out of the way of other drivers. However, even minor contact with these markers causes the wheels to abruptly stop, jolting the suspension components into a reverse position. Once you resume driving, critical parts will be damaged as they continue in their proper performance. 

Curbs are another hazard you should avoid at all costs. Your wheels can become misaligned if you contact a curb when making a sharp turn or parallel parking. Misaligned wheels put more stress on the vital parts of your suspension system and cause tires to wear unevenly and prematurely.

Plan for Stops

Although a panic stop is sometimes unavoidable on an unpredictable highway, you should be proactive to prevent the situation from arising. When a vehicle stops suddenly, the braking system can overheat, quickly damaging brake pads, rotors, calipers, and hoses. In addition to impacting how effectively you can slow down, the suspension components will also become compromised over time.

As a vehicle quickly comes to a stop, the shocks, struts, and springs must immediately adjust to support the shifting weight. This sudden force causes detrimental stress that will necessitate future repairs. 

With the proper driving habits, you can considerably reduce the risks of emergency braking, saving your suspension and potentially your life. Here are some tips to follow to ensure safe driving.  

  • Slow down when driving at night, and use your bright headlamps when possible. 
  • Follow vehicles at a safe distance, which the Ministry of Transportation defines as the distance your vehicle will travel in two seconds.
  • Plan ahead so that you can prepare for stops, avoid obstructions, and monitor other drivers’ behaviours. 
  • Adjust your driving speed when approaching wet or icy roads, which reduce your brakes’ effectiveness. 

As you approach a red light, depress the brake pedal softly before coming to a complete stop. This enables you to gradually decrease your speed while reducing the stress on your vehicle. 

Do not Exceed Your Vehicle’s Payload

If you use your car or truck as a hauling vehicle, it is essential to avoid exceeding the manufacturer’s payload weight limits. It can be confusing to tell the difference between a vehicle’s payload and towing capacities. Here is how they differ:

  • Payload capacity is how much weight a vehicle can safely handle when empty. (A vehicle’s weight when empty is called its curb weight). You can determine this limit by reading your owner’s manual.
    • Payload Capacity = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – Curb Weight  
  • Towing capacity is how much weight a vehicle can safely tow with a trailer. This limit is higher than payload capacity because most of the stress is placed on the trailer’s axles rather than on the hauling vehicle itself. To determine towing capacity, you will need to know the vehicle’s gross combined vehicle weight rating.
    • Towing Capacity = Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) – Curb Weight 

Although your heavy-duty pickup may be able to handle a heavier load than what the manufacturer recommends, the limits are in place to ensure the safety of the vehicle and driver. 

When you force a hauler to tow more than its recommended weight, the suspension system is immediate damaged. Your commute will also damage your brakes, tires, and even your transmission. You can find yourself in serious danger, as a vehicle’s stopping power is significantly reduced when operating under a heavy load. 

Signs Your Suspension System Needs Attention

The suspension system is similar to other components in your vehicle: it will alert you when something is amiss. Although suspension-related issues typically will not trigger a dashboard warning, there are many other signs that suggest attention is required, such as: 

  • excessive bouncing or shaking after driving over potholes or bumps, 
  • the vehicle leaning to one side when parked, 
  • difficulty steering or controlling the vehicle’s direction, and
  • squeaking or crackling noises coming from the wheels.  

Because the suspension system uses numerous components to work correctly, it is a good practice to hire a professional to diagnose the cause of suspension-related issues. The problem could warrant a quick bushing replacement, or you may need to invest in replacing structural supports such as struts or control arms. 

Preventive Maintenance for Suspension Systems

Driving with your suspension system in mind is an effective way to extend the components’ effectiveness. However, you should also consider including parts’ inspections in your service routine.  

When you visit your mechanic, ask them to assess the condition of the vital parts that assist your vehicle in performance and handling. They can tell when the shocks or struts are experiencing too much stress, and they can recommend a replacement to avoid the occurrence of more expensive damage. 

If applicable, it is also a good idea to get suspension components greased. Most ball joints and steering tie rod ends feature a Zerk fitting where lubricant can be introduced. Ensuring these components are always greased will reduce vehicle noise and extend the life of the parts. 

You also want to pay attention to the vehicle’s tires to ensure they have quality tread and are properly inflated. When the rubber is low on air, the suspension system experiences hazardous stress by absorbing an accelerated workload. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

You should address suspension-related issues as soon as you notice them. Operating a vehicle with ineffective handling or stability puts everyone on the road in danger. If you are unsure of the integrity of your vehicle’s active components, gain peace of mind by having a professional assess their performance. This is especially important before purchasing a used vehicle. 

Another essential factor to consider when buying a new or a used vehicle is how the system operates. Some modern vehicles forgo traditional oil-filled shocks and struts to provide more luxurious handling and performance. Many manufacturers now use air or an electronic system that requires expensive shocks, struts, sensors, and computers. The cost of replacing damaged parts can be prohibitive for those expecting conventional, gas-powered suspension repair.

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