The suspension system on your vehicle is made up of several different parts that connect the vehicle to the wheels and provide handling ability. The suspension typically aids a comfortable ride and also allows safe braking and steering. A suspension system's job is to keep the tires in contact with the surface of the road as much as possible. It also protects the actual vehicle and any cargo that the vehicle is carrying from undue wear and tear. The rear and front suspension system of two-wheel drive vehicles is often different, while the suspension systems of four-wheel drive vehicles are much the same on the rear and front.
The Job Of Vehicle Suspension Systems
When you think of a car and its power, you most likely think of the engine and transmission. However, all that power transmitted to the wheels would be useless without the suspension to allow the driver to control it. A suspension wouldn't be necessary if all the roads were completely smooth and flat, but even the smallest irregularity applies force to the tires and wheels. A bump causes the wheel to have vertical acceleration and, without a suspension, the wheel would lose contact with the road for a second, before slamming back down onto it. The suspension absorbs the impact of that moment of vertical acceleration and allows the vehicle, and everything in it, to ride undisturbed as the wheels move over the uneven surfaces.
When looking at the control and feel of a moving car, the following concepts are necessary:
1.Ride - which is the ability to absorb impact from a bumpy road
2.Handling - which is the ability to safely speed up, stop and turn
Road isolation is the vehicle's ability to keep road shock from affecting the passenger area. To this end, a suspension will absorb the shock from bumps and dissipate it before it reaches the body. Road holding is the amount of contact that the car maintains with the surface of the road. Friction between the tire and the road surface is what allows the vehicle to handle properly. Cornering is the ability to minimize vehicle body roll when turning. During a turn, the suspension transfers the weight of the vehicle from the high side to the low side, thus keeping the vehicle upright.
Suspension System Parts
The parts of a vehicle's suspension system connect the wheels to the body and include the following:
- Steering knuckle
- Coil spring
- Shock absorbers
- Track control arm
- Radius rod
- Steering gear or tie rod
The steering knuckle could be considered the suspension's main part as it is the closest to the wheel. In a small passenger car, the steering knuckle can be found within a compression link that also houses a shock absorber and coil spring.
Coil springs work by compressing and expanding when the wheels hit bumps on the road's surface. The bump causes the spring to expand and compress to absorb the energy and movement of the wheel's up and down motion.
The shock absorber is in the same housing as the steering knuckle and spring and it works to dampen the expansion and compression movement of the spring. It absorbs the shock energy contained in the spring and keeps it from reaching the body of the vehicle.
The track control arm connects to the vehicle body at a point beneath the coil spring and shock absorber. It controls the wheel's lateral movement.
The radius rod connects the steering knuckle and frame. It controls the wheel's front to back motion. Sometimes a torsion bar is used instead of a radius rod if more weight-bearing ability is needed.
The final item is the steering gear, sometimes called a tie rod. This is a long, slim rod that has the job of connecting the steering knuckle to the rest of the system. It has enough strength to move the wheels in a steering motion, but is not part of the weight-bearing team of suspension system parts.
How Suspension Systems Work
Now that you know the job of the suspension system and its parts, how does it actually work? The suspension system is part of the chassis, which is that part of the car below the body that houses a number of important parts. The chassis includes the frame, the suspension system, the steering system and the tires and wheels. The frame is the basic metal structure of the car and the steering linkage connects it with the shock absorbers and control arms on each side of the vehicle. The frame supports the body and engine of the vehicle, while the suspension supports the frame. The steering system controls the direction of the vehicle, while the tires and wheels allow vehicle motion and grip the road to maintain control.
In simple terms, the suspension system "suspends" the energy of the vehicle generated in motion from reaching the body and passenger compartment of the vehicle. This keeps cargo and passengers safe and prevents excess wear and tear on the body.
Maintaining Suspension Systems
The forces of physics and math going into how the suspension system of your car works is something generally incomprehensible by the average person. However, as the driver, you can still notice differences in how your car rides and handles. A change in ride or handling is often the first clue that something is wrong or worn in your suspension system. The following symptoms are important to look out for:
- Car bouncing too much over bumps
- Steering wheel is hard to turn
- Loose steering
- Car pulls to one side while driving
- Car wanders, forcing constant correction
- Steering wheel jerks or vibrates
- Clunking or creaking noises when turning
You can also check tires for uneven wear, which could indicate that the shocks and struts are worn. Shocks are easily visible behind the wheels and you should inspect them regularly for leaks or cracks. Generally speaking, suspension systems wear out slowly over time, but occasionally can be severely damaged in an accident or by hitting a rock or pothole. Always check pertinent parts after such an incident.
Suspension System FAQ
Q: How can I tell if I need new shocks?
A: Try a simple test while the vehicle is at rest to determine if you need new shocks. Push down firmly on one corner of the vehicle and bounce it three to four times. If the bouncing stops quickly, the shocks are likely working correctly. If the vehicle keeps bouncing, the shocks are probably worn.
Q: What other suspension parts go bad aside from shocks?
A: Nearly every part of the suspension system can wear out. Springs, ball joints, tie rod ends, control arms, boots and bushings can all wear out.
Q: How should I inspect my suspension system?
A: The feel of your vehicle on the road is the easiest way to tell if suspension system parts are becoming worn. Uneven tire wear is another clue. To visually inspect your car's suspension parts, you'll need to jack up the vehicle. There you can check for cracks, leaks and excess play in parts like tie rod ends.
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