What Is the Suspension in a Car?

Dustin Hawley | Feb 15, 2021

Modern cars are true wonders of engineering. They rely on multiple components and mechanical systems working together to guarantee smooth and safe operation.

what is the suspension in a car

However, while most people know a little bit about their cars’ wheels, steering systems, and brakes, many don’t understand what suspensions are or how they work.

Are you looking to find out what the suspension in your car is and what exactly it does? Let’s take a closer look together.

What Is a Car Suspension?

In a nutshell, your car’s suspension system is a protective lattice of shock-absorbing components such as springs and dampers. Your car’s suspension helps ensure that your drive is safe and smooth by absorbing the energy from various road bumps and other kinetic impacts. Furthermore, it helps your tires stay in contact with the road by increasing tire friction.

Think of the suspension of your car as a kind of carriage on which the car’s main cabin sits. Your cabin is made more comfortable because it is sitting on the suspension, which is connected to the car’s wheels. The vehicle and its cabin are insulated against impacts that are common when driving, even on well-paved roads.

The main parts of a car’s suspension include:

  • Springs, which help to control the height and load of the suspension and cabin.
  • Shocks (also called dampers), which absorb and dampen various kinetic energy impulses that your tires transmit when they contact the road.

Your car’s suspension system also likely has an anti-sway bar. The anti-sway bar can help to shift the movement of your wheels relative to your steering wheel. It effectively stabilizes your car’s direction as it moves along the road.

Your car likely has a suspension system for both its front wheels and its back wheels. Suspension systems can be either independent or dependent:

  • Independent suspension systems are used when your back or front wheels move independently of the front or rear axle, respectively.
  • On the flip side, dependent suspension systems are used when wheel direction is bound by axle movement.

What Does a Suspension Do?

To fully understand what you’re suspension does, you have to grasp what would happen if your car didn’t have one.

When you drive on the road, your car’s tires naturally roll over various imperfections and bumps. Those bumps interact with your car’s wheels, applying force each time. The laws of physics dictate that every force exerted on an object has magnitude and direction.

When you encounter a bump on the road, it forces your wheel to move up and down at a perpendicular angle (vertically relative to the road’s surface). Of course, small bumps won’t transmit a lot of vertical kinetic energy to your car. But larger road bumps or surface imperfections can transfer quite a bit of energy.

It’s common sense; when your car’s wheels hit a bump, your car receives energy and jolts upward or downward.

If you didn’t have a suspension, all that energy would transmit into your car’s frame. That kind of energy transfer can make riding in a car uncomfortable at best. Furthermore, your car might hypothetically lose its grip on the road, causing the wheels to jump up, then slam back down on the road’s surface.

Your car’s suspension:

  • absorbs the energy transferred through your car’s wheels
  • helps your car cabin to ride atop the suspension relatively smoothly, even when riding on imperfect roads

The two core components mentioned above both play a vital role in this process. The shocks or dampers absorb the impulses, with kinetic energy traveling along the dampers instead of transmitting to your car’s cabin (to the same degree, at least).

Meanwhile, the springs attached to your suspension flex and expand to control the dissipation of that kinetic energy. They prevent your car’s suspension from bouncing up and down too much, as well. 

Combined, both of these components keep your car’s ride feeling relatively level and even.

Why Is the Suspension So Important?

Each modern car is equipped with a suspension due to its benefits. For example:

  • Suspension systems maximize the friction between your car's tires and the road. By maximizing friction, you can steer your vehicle with more stability and experience more comfortable handling. The more contact your tires have with the road, the safer and more securely you'll be able to drive.
  • The suspension system of your car also provides added comfort. By limiting the kinetic energy transferred from road imperfections like bumps to your cabin, you’ll bounce up and down far less, and your passengers will also enjoy a smoother ride.
  • Furthermore, suspension systems can help to increase the lifespan and durability of your car. Your vehicle’s components will be taxed much less over time by limiting how much energy is transferred from bumps and potholes in the road. Therefore, your car’s other components will last longer.

Summary

Ultimately, your car’s suspension system is just one of the many crucial components required to ensure a safe ride whenever you hop in your vehicle. Without suspensions, vehicles would be bumpy at best and, at worse, hazardous.

Make sure that you keep your suspension system in good condition by periodically taking your car in for an inspection with a certified mechanic. We strongly suggest taking your vehicle in for repairs if your ride ever becomes too bumpy or you suspect that your suspension is possibly wearing down.

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