A comfortable car ride is something we can all often take for granted, but what is it that keeps your ride smooth over even the most broken of road surfaces? In this guide we will talk you through everything you need to know about your car’s suspension system, what warning signs you might see and how and why you need to keep on top of them.
What is car suspension?
A car’s suspension is a combination of components that all work together to support both handling and ride quality, two elements of driving that are constantly competing with each other. This balance is achieved through springs, axles, shock absorbers and linkages. The easiest way to get a visual representation of a car’s suspension is to look at a single-seat racing car, such as Formula 1, which has the suspension systems exposed, instead of being hidden under bodywork like in conventional cars.
How does car suspension work?
How a car’s suspension works depends on what type of suspension your car is running (more on that later), but the general principle is that it uses a variety of set-ups to not only attach the wheels to the car, but allow them to move up and down on their springs and dampers, offering a more comfortable journey.
What types of car suspension are there?
There is a wide range of suspensions out there on the roads today, and if you were to read any road test, or watch any Top Gear or Fifth Gear feature, you’ll likely hear them discuss the suspension quite a bit. If you’re not particularly au fait with what happens under the bodywork, then here’s a very brief rundown of the different types of suspension found in modern cars.
- Independent Suspension: Independent suspension allows the wheels on an axle move up and down independently to those on the other axle and can be found on either the front or rear – although it is more regularly used at the front rather than the rear these days. The advantages of independent suspension is that it provides better stability, handing and ride comfort, while independent front suspension also offers improved steering. While it is more commonly found on front suspension, independent rear suspension tends to be more durable than its counterpart.
- MacPherson Strut: No, we’re not talking about an Australian supermodel here. A MacPherson Strut has a coil spring positioned over a shock-absorbing strut and is not only a simple design, but also incredibly lightweight, requiring fewer components than other suspension types and taking up less space, too. You’ll often find a MacPherson Strut on small cars due to its space and weight saving properties.
- Air Suspension: As its name suggests, air suspension uses air springs controlled by compressors and self-levelling electronics. Air suspension provides fantastic ride quality as they absorb bumps much more effectively and can be adjustable, meaning drivers can adapt their ride as they change roads. There was a time when air suspension would only have been found in trucks, as it offered a boost to a vehicle’s towing capabilities, but sports and more high-end cars are beginning to also use this style of suspension.
- Leaf-Spring: Leaf-spring is another simple design, made up of a number of curved metal strips clamped together, and is one of the oldest and most common forms of suspension around. Due to the sheer amount of metal involved, leaf-spring suspension is very durable against bumps and carrying heavy loads, and its simplicity makes it much cheaper to produce and replace than its more complex equivalents.
- Multi-Link Suspension: Where leaf-spring is cheap and simple, multi-link is the polar opposite. Comprising three or more lateral arms, plus at least one longitudinal arm, it is, in effect, a more advanced version of independent suspension. Multi-link is often popular among off-road vehicles owing to its ability to allow a car to flex more than others and can offer a good compromise of handling, comfort and space efficiency.
- MagneRide Suspension: A modern and adaptive suspension, MagneRide uses magnetically controlled dampers or shock absorbers. Only really found on performance vehicles, MagneRide sends information to an onboard computer, which adapts the ride to the current road surface, offering you the perfect setting for the road you’re currently driving.
Which cars have the best suspension?
The “best” suspension will, as always, depend entirely on what it is you’re looking for from a driving experience. If we were to assume that the reason you’re looking for suspension in particular was to find the most comfortable car on the market, then you’d be hard pushed to find a more comfortable car than a Mercedes, most notably the E-Class, which often comes out on top of suspension tests in specialist motoring publications. Honourable mentions also go to the Lexus UX, the Citroen C3 and the Jaguar XF, all of which regularly make it into a number of Top 10 most comfortable cars of the year lists.
What cars have air suspension?
Air suspension has been said to have been one of the best advancements in driving technology over the past few years, but it is still incredibly pricey, meaning you’re only going to find it on the more luxury brands, and in particular in their tall SUVs. Going hand-in-hand with the car that has the most comfortable suspension, it’s unsurprising to learn that Mercedes-Benz utilises air suspension, as do the more premium marques such as Porsche, Audi, Lexus and Volvo. Air suspension is also very popular with manufacturers who focus on off-road vehicles, and can often be found in Jeeps, Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
How to tell if your suspension might be going?
Luckily, due to the importance of suspension with regard to driving comfort, it is quite easy to tell if you could be looking at a trip to the garage anytime soon. If your ride is suddenly feeling a little rough, then you could find your shocks or struts have started to wear out, likewise if your car begins to pull to one side while your turning you could have a shock system – if the latter is the case then you’ll need to head to the garage as soon as possible as issues when turning hugely increases the risks of an accident. If the car lurches forward and downward nose-first when you firmly apply brakes then you could also find that the shocks have gone, which can increase your stop time by up to 20%, and if you notice that there is some uneven wear on your tyres, or there are balding spots in suggests that the suspension is not holding the wheels on the road evenly, therefor wearing out one part of the tyre before the others.
How to check the suspension on a car?
If you suspect you have suspension problems then there is quite a simple way to test it – the bounce test. Simply push your entire weight down onto your car’s bonnet and release the pressure. The car should bounce no more than three times, and if it does then you will need to take your car to be checked and potentially replace either the shock absorbers or struts.
How long do car suspensions last?
As is the case with many parts of a car, there is no definitive figure as to when they should be replaced or an expected life expectancy, with the type of car and the usage it is put through all having an effect. However, you will probably find in most cases that you can go between 50,000 and 100,000 miles before you will need to replace any of your suspension parts, but it is worth checking up on them every 12,500 miles or so.
How much does a new car suspension cost?
The cost of suspension repair will depend entirely on the make, model and year of your car and you can, unsurprisingly, expect to be paying more if your car is a more premium or performance model. It’s also important to remember that only replacing one side of suspension is likely to cause you more problems in the very near future, so you will want to replace both sides at once. Also keep in mind that suspension problems can often have knock-on effects elsewhere in the car, and you may find that you need a wheel alignment check after replacing the parts, which will add more to the cost of your repairs.
For more car care hints and tips, make sure to visit our Car Care hub, keeping you on the road for as long as possible – but we’re here for when the time comes, and if your car has recently had major suspension issues that’s going to be more hassle than it’s worth to fix, that’s where we at Scrap Car Comparison can help. Our team of dedicated and friendly experts will get you the very best price for your car guaranteed, and we’ll even arrange a free collection, too.