Your suspension helps keep you firmly planted on the road through the twists and turns and blistering straightaways of life. Your tires stay in contact with the road, even when cornering at high speed. When the road is bumpy, the suspension smooths out imperfections, resulting in a seamless ride. If this is not the case, you may have suspension problems you should be investigating.
Lend an Ear
While driving down the road, be sure to listen to your vehicle. If your car has a suspension problem, it’ll often show up as clunks or bumps, which you may hear or feel. If you hear tapping or ticking on a relatively smooth road, you may have a problem with shock or strut mounts, sway bar links or bushings. On rough roads or over bumps, clunkiness could indicate worn bushings or ball joints. If you hear clicking or knocking on one corner, particularly when going over a bump, you may have a problem with the mount or sway bar link. A loud bang that shudders through the whole vehicle could be a problem with the jounce or frame bumpers.
With the vehicle stationary, turn the steering wheel left and right. Clicking could indicate a tie rod end or a bearing problem. A groaning sound may point to a power steering or strut bearing problem.
While driving, if you accelerate hard, does the rear end bottom out? If so, you might have a problem with rear shocks. If the car nosedives on hard braking, you may have a problem with front shocks or struts. If you’re driving down the road and the car keeps bouncing after every rise or bump, the shocks or struts are probably worn out.
With the vehicle parked, get out and bounce the vehicle yourself. Press down on the corner of the vehicle with all your weight and then let go. The car should bounce up and then settle back to normal. If it bounces more than once, you probably need a new shock absorber or new struts.
This test you can do in your driveway or garage. Jack up the vehicle and support it on jack stands. (Remember to never get under a vehicle supported only by the jack!) In the rear, wiggle the wheel up and down, left and right, and diagonally. If you hear a clunky noise or feel any excessive movement, you may have to investigate further to figure out which part is loose.
The front end can be more complicated, tie rod ends, ball joints, strut bearings, wheel bearing or steering linkages involved. Looseness or clunking here when wiggling the front wheels will require further investigation.
If the front wheels wiggle from:
Left and right: Likely a problem with steering linkage, tie rod end or control arm bushing.
Top to bottom: Probably an issue with the ball joint, strut mount or control arm bushing.
Both left-right and top-bottom: Might be multiple problems or a wheel bearing issue.
These are three fairly simple tests, exactly what the professionals do when you have suspension problems. They only require is some basic knowledge of the system and a few observations. Pay attention to your suspension and repair it when needed, and it’ll repay you with years of reliable performance, safety and comfort.
For more information on suspension problems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.