Suspension problems are one of the most common ailments faced by most car owners in the lifetime of their cars. But diagnosing what exactly is wrong with your suspension is the tricky part.
CarToq puts together some common suspension-related problems and tells you what you should be looking to fix if such a problem occurs. Here are some common symptoms and the likely causes for trouble.
Symptom: Excessive bumpiness
The car tends to bounce up and down a lot over bumps and even on slightly undulating roads it tends to ride like a boat.
Likely cause: The first sign of a failed shock absorber is excessive bounciness in the suspension. A shock absorbers function is to dampen this up and down movement of the suspension and not let the car bounce too much. The bounce is caused by the spring action from the coil spring, leaf spring or torsion bar depending on the kind of suspension your car has.
What to check: If it’s a failed shock absorber, an easy check is to press down on the car at one side and release it. If the car bounces back up and settles, there’s no problem. But if it bounces up and down a couple of times, it’s likely that the shock absorber has failed. Visually check the shock absorber – it may have tell-tale oil leakage signs around it. The shock absorber alone will need replacement.
Symptom: Car sways from side to side
The car feels like it’s drifting from side to side after going over a bump. This is sometimes accompanied by a squeaking sound.
Likely cause: Worn suspension bushes. The suspension system has rubber bushes at most of its linkages, which tend to wear off with time. If these bushes wear down, some play develops in the suspension arms, which causes this swaying movement.
What to check: With the car raised on a jack, grab the suspension arms and try moving them. They normally should not move if you move it with your hand. If they do move, then look closely at the rubber bushes at their joints – they may be cracked or worn. The bushes will need replacement.
Symptom: Thud or rattle from front suspension
Whenever the car goes over a bump you hear a clattering rattle from the front suspension. Sometimes this also is felt as excessive vibration in the steering column.
Likely cause: Worn out tie-rod ends / ball joints. The tie-rod ends are what “tie” the steering rod linkage to the wheel hub and account for steering the car. These are flexible joints that take a lot of stress from the suspension. Tie rod ends can fail early if you turn the steering of the car often, when it is stationary and not moving, as the added force needed to turn the wheel can weaken these joints. If the tie rod end problem gets worse, it will lead to the car “wandering” on the road – moving from side to side.
A thud or rattle can also be caused from the strut mount in a McPherson strut setup (this is a shock absorber within a coil spring – common on most small and medium cars). The strut mount at the top has a rubber bush which wears off in time. This will need to be replaced.
What to check: Play in the tie-rod ends can be checked by jacking up the vehicle, holding the tie rod end and having someone wiggle the front wheel. If the tie-rod feels like it’s moving slightly in your hand, there is play in the joints. They need to be replaced.
Symptom: Car sagging or collapses on one side
A car sagging to one side could be caused for different reasons based on the kind of suspension set up.
Likely cause: If it’s a torsion bar set up – it could mean that the torsion bar has slipped in its mounting. This can be adjusted to get it to regain its normal posture. If it’s a leaf-spring suspension – some amount of sagging happens with age, with the springs losing their tension. They will need to be re-cambered (heated and bent). Sometimes leaf springs can break, causing similar symptoms, and this will need to be replaced. Coil spring, multi-link suspension set ups don’t normally sag, except when the coil springs are old.
What to check: This will have to be checked at a garage as it involves removing the whole suspension set up. One can only visually look for problems, but bigger issues can also be seen when the suspension is removed from the car – be it a leaf spring set or a McPherson strut with coil springs.
These are some of the common suspension-related problems. If you have any more, please share them with the CarToq community, who will help you diagnose and suggest fixes as well.