How to Care for Your Automotive Suspension
As you’re driving down the road, you’re probably not thinking about the fact that you’re moving along an asphalt path at sixty or more miles per hour. You usually don’t feel every little bump in the road; indeed, it’s almost as if you’re driving on a cloud. When that’s the case, thank your suspension system. It was designed to take care of all those bumps and dips, keeping you as comfortable as possible as you get from here to there.
That’s why it is so important to maintain your suspension system as best you can. To this end, we offer a guide to the best suspension maintenance tips, everything from how to detect signs of trouble to how to keep your suspension in great condition.
What are Struts and Shocks?
Struts and shocks are key components of a suspension system. Some vehicles have only shocks, some have only struts, some have both.
Although they are not the same exact thing, shocks and struts are often referred to interchangeably when discussing a car’s suspension system because their purpose is the same. Both struts and shocks—i.e., shock absorbers—dampen the bouncing motion of the vehicle’s springs as it travels along the road.
Cars usually have springs on all four corners, serving each tire. The springs support the weight of the vehicle and absorb the impact of bumps that would otherwise be very uncomfortable to drive on. Struts and shocks dampen the motion of the springs so that your car doesn’t continuously bounce up and down as you drive over a rough road.
Signs That Your Suspension Needs Maintenance
You Feel Every Single Bump in the Road
When your struts and shocks begin to go bad, your car begins bouncing up and down. You’ll notice it every time you hit a bump or a pothole. You will also have a rougher ride as other components of the suspension system, like the bushings, sway bar, and ball joints, start to wear out.
If you start feeling every bump in the road or hearing strange noises when you go over rough terrain, your suspension system probably needs maintenance.
Oil on the Struts
Struts and shocks work because of hydraulic forces. That’s the only way that such a small tube can dampen the motion of a few-thousand-pound vehicle as it bounces down the road. So an easy way to tell whether your shocks and struts are going bad is to look under the car and see if there’s oil or grease on them. If there is, they’re leaking fluid, which means they can’t perform as well as they should.
On almost every vehicle, the shocks or struts are located right behind the wheel and tire. You’re looking for a long and narrow tube that comes down almost vertically and is attached to the knuckle behind the wheel. If you find oil or grease on these tubes, they’re getting worn out and starting to leak.
Uneven Wear on Your Tires
We recommend looking at your tires at least once a month to make sure that the air pressure of each tire is what it should be and that the tires are still in good condition. One thing to look for is uneven wear on the tread.
If the tires aren’t wearing evenly, this may be a sign that components of your suspension system are starting to wear out. As suspension systems start to go bad, the tires must take on more of the load, resulting in bald spots and strange wear patterns. These consequences will be visible when you inspect the tires.
A Corner of the Car Is Low
If you’ve checked out the tires and see no uneven wear as yet, this doesn’t mean that your suspension is in the clear. As you walk around the vehicle, check to make sure that one corner of the car isn’t sitting lower than the other corners. If one of the corners is slouching, this may indicate that at least one of the suspension parts in that corner is wearing out.
When that happens, uneven tread wear isn’t far behind. To save your tires while also saving some money, arrange to have your suspension system professionally inspected.
How to Take Care of Your Suspension
Avoid Potholes and Bumps in the Road
Shocks and struts dampen the bouncing motion of the coil springs as you drive over bumps and potholes. The more work they have to do, the faster they wear out. The same is true of other components of the suspension system.
So try to avoid bumps and potholes. In addition to causing gradual wear and tear, hitting a pothole can also damage your car abruptly—whether by popping a tire or popping a part of your suspension system. Try to avoid potholes whenever you safely can.
Make Sure That Your Tires Are Properly Inflated
Keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure is one of the best things you can do for your car. Proper tire inflation makes the tires last longer, enables a more comfortable ride, improves your gas mileage, and keeps your suspension system in better shape.
If your tires are overinflated or underinflated, the suspension system must work harder than it’s designed to work. Every system of your car is made to work together. So keep the tires properly inflated. Check your car manual or the placard inside the driver’s door for information on the best inflation pressure for your tires.
Don’t Carry Unnecessary Weight
The more weight you have in your vehicle, the more quickly your suspension system will wear out. It’s simple physics. As the weight pushing down on your suspension system increases, it must work harder to dampen the bouncing movement as you’re driving along. To help your suspension system last as long as possible, don’t overburden it.
You may be surprised by how much weight you’ve got in your car without even noticing, golf clubs in the trunk or a bed full of things in your truck that you just haven’t felt like unloading. Give your suspension system a break; unload it.
Get Your Vehicle Serviced Regularly
Although doing all of the above will help your suspension to perform better and last longer, there’s only so much you can do. You also need to let the professionals take a look. They will often be able to identify small problems before they become big problems.
We recommend getting your car regularly serviced and checked out throughout the year, but also make sure that you’re following the recommendations in your owner manual. Try to get your alignment checked twice a year; and while the mechanics are checking it, they can also check your suspension system. It’s easy enough to do, and you will save money and stress in the long run.
The purpose of the suspension system is to make your ride as comfortable as possible while also helping the rest of your car last as long as possible.
Parts do wear out eventually. It’s important to notice when components of your suspension system are wearing out so that you can replace them before they cost you even more money. If you take care of the suspension system, the suspension system will take care of you.