When riding in someone else’s car, one of the first things you are bound to notice is how the ride differs from your own vehicle. If the vehicle rides smoothly, hugs corners, and allows you to sip a cup of coffee without spilling it, you can credit a good suspension system. A suspension system consists of several parts that can vary depending on the type of suspension system. The varying components associated with suspension include the chassis or frame, coil springs, leaf springs, dampeners including struts and shock absorbers, and anti-sway or torsion bars. Various combinations of these might form a particular suspension system.
The very important job of a suspension system is
to smooth out the ride while maintaining excellent control. This may
sound like a simple job, but with acceleration comes force, and force
translates into raw energy. When a vehicle accelerates down a road,
bumps cause forward energy to be converted into vertical energy, which
travels through the frame of the vehicle. Without coil and leaf springs
to absorb this, the vertical energy would cause the vehicle to jump up
off the road, reducing tire friction and control. The car would then
come bounding back down with even greater force, making for a very
uncomfortable and dangerous ride.
Coil springs and leaf springs are designed to
absorb up/down forces to keep tires firmly planted on the ground.
Passenger cars commonly have coil springs in front and leaf springs in
the rear, while many 4-wheel drive utility vehicles, sports utility
vehicles and trucks have coil springs in the front and rear, or
independent front/rear suspension. Dampeners, namely struts and shock
absorbers, dissipate the energy absorbed by coil springs, so
up/down motion is quickly quieted to zero. If the dampeners are in
proper working order, the passenger cabin should remain fairly
unaffected by traveling over dips or bumps in the road. If shock
absorbers are old or faulty, once the car starts bouncing, it continues
bouncing for elongated periods of time.
Some vehicles benefit from torsion bars, also
called anti-sway or anti-roll bars. These bars span the frame, helping
to level out side-to-side motions while cornering. Torsion bars are an
important feature of the suspension system on high profile vehicles that
are considered top-heavy.
While passenger and luxury vehicles
have suspension systems designed for maximum comfort, stiff suspension
systems are typical of utility vehicles designed for carrying heavy
loads. Vehicles that have been lifted for a higher profile, often for
off-roading, replace key parts of the suspension system. Lift kits are designed for a particular model to compensate for the shift of weight and how it will affect steering and suspension.
A vehicle that does not sit level or has
excessive bouncing or poor handling is demonstrating problems associated
with the suspension system. Suspension greatly affects safety, so such a
vehicle should be repaired before driving.