Car suspension: How does it work? Parts and types explained

Published on 31 Aug, 2021, 7:11 AM IST
Updated on 7 Jun, 2022, 9:41 AM IST

Team Ackodrive
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Cars are more than just a medium of transportation. They have become an integral part of our lives due to the excellent driving experience they offer. A car is not all about power and speed. It’s the handling and comfort that matters the most. Did you ever wonder how a car delivers a comfortable driving experience? The car’s suspension system is responsible for keeping you comfortable inside a vehicle. Read ahead to know more about car suspension.

Car suspension System

Car suspension system: What does it do?

A car suspension system is one of the most critical parts of a car. It often goes unnoticed as it is silent in operation. But without a suspension, it’s hard to imagine driving a car. So, what is the use of a suspension system in a car?

The primary role of the suspension system in an automobile is to keep the car stable by negating the external forces. Here, external forces are nothing but the forces felt by the car's body due to potholes, bumps, etc., on the road. Also, the suspension keeps the car stable in corners and at high speeds and delivers superior handling.

To make it even simpler, let's put it this way. A suspension system absorbs the bumps which we usually find on roads. If there is no suspension to absorb these bumps, the tyres may lose contact with the road, and you may lose control of the vehicle. Similarly, if there is a dip in the road, the suspension extends and ensures that the tyres are in contact with the road. To sum it up, the suspension maintains the stability of the car and also cushions the cabin.

What is a car suspension?

So, coming to the heart of the matter, what is suspension in a car? In simple words, it is a component of a car that cushions the forces that a vehicle goes through while driving on the road.

The suspension cushions the cabin from the external forces felt due to small stones/rocks on the road, bumps/speed breakers or small/big potholes. Apart from negating the external forces, a suspension is also responsible for the stable handling of a vehicle. Without a suspension system, it may be impossible to drive a car.

How does a car suspension work?

Refer to the points below to understand how a car suspension works.

  • A car suspension works on the principle of force dissipation. 

  • It involves converting the force into heat and thus, negating the impact on the car’s body.

  • The suspension system uses components such as springs, shock absorbers and struts to achieve the damping effect. 

Sounds like a bumpy ride? Worry not; we will explain all these terms in detail in the following sections of this article.

Car suspension types

The technology in the automotive industry is evolving with each passing day, and it has resulted in car manufacturers coming up with different types of car suspensions. Let's glance through some of the most common types of suspension systems used in cars.

Car suspensions are broadly classified into two types: non-independent and independent suspension. Below are the details of each suspension system.

1. Non-independent suspension

It is a type of car suspension wherein a rigid axle connects the left and right wheels. In other words, it is a solid bar held in place with the help of leaf springs and shock absorbers.

This type of suspension can be seen on trucks and some SUVs as well. However, non-independent suspensions are not used in modern cars.

2. Leaf spring suspension

It is one of the types of non-independent suspension, and the leaf springs are attached to a solid axle. This type of arrangement is mainly used in heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses.

A leaf spring is made out of several plates that are held together by rebound clips. The size of plates keeps getting shorter, and the most extended plate is called a master leaf. The advantages of this type of suspension are that it is inexpensive to manufacture, and it can withstand a lot of weight. That's the reason it is widely used in heavy vehicles.

3. Trailing arm suspension

A leaf spring alone cannot stop the side-to-side and forward and backward movement of a vehicle. So, control arms are fitted, and they are called trailing control arms. They are simple in construction and attached to the axle and the vehicle’s chassis.

One can easily adjust the arms without removing them from the vehicle. One of the advantages of the trailing arm suspension is that they negate the external forces felt by the axle. Similar to leaf springs, they are also strong and durable.

4. Independent suspension

As the name suggests, in this type of suspension, the left and right wheels move independently. There are several types of independent suspension that use different arrangements of springs and shock absorbers. This suspension is more complex in construction but offers a better dampening effect.

5. MacPherson strut suspension

It is one of the most common types of suspension. MacPherson strut suspension is compact, lightweight and the car suspension price is also on the lower side due to its simple construction. Below are the details of MacPherson strut suspension.

  • It is a combination of coil spring and shock absorber.

  • It takes up less space due to its compact design and allows for more room for the fitment of other components.

  • It is also light in weight, hence, reduces the overall weight of the car.

  • Not suitable for sports cars with low ride height due to the vertical assembly.

  • Also, not ideal for cars with wider wheels as it requires more input on the steering wheel.

6. Double-wishbone suspension

It is a type of independent front suspension mainly used in high-end cars. Below are the details of the double-wishbone suspension.

  • It uses two wishbone-shaped arms to hold the wheel in place.

  • A wishbone has two mounting points, one for the frame and the other for the wheel.

  • The suspension uses coil springs to absorb energy and dampers to dissipate the energy.

  • Double-wishbone suspension is a lot more stable than other suspensions. It also results in improved dynamics.

  • It is expensive due to its complex design and construction.

  • The cost of repair/maintenance is high due to several components within the suspension system.

It is the latest evolution of the double-wishbone suspension. The multi-link suspension uses three or more lateral arms and one or more longitudinal (vertical) arms. The advantage of this suspension is that the arms can be angled in any direction. It allows for a better balance between ride quality and handling. Generally, performance cars use this type of suspension.

8. Air suspension

It is an advanced suspension system that is mainly used in luxury cars. In this type of suspension, the traditional coil spring is replaced by air springs. They are made out of tough rubber and inflated with air.

The air suspension uses an air compressor, sensors and electronic controls to fine-tune the system. You can adjust the suspension (ride height) depending on the roads and load on the vehicle. It provides excellent cushioning. However, it is expensive and thus only used in luxury cars.

Also, read: Air bagged suspension system in cars

Car suspension parts

A suspension comprises several parts that work together to achieve the purpose of dampening the shocks. Below are the key components of a car suspension.

1. Spring

Spring is one of those parts which you may have come across in your day-to-day life. It is generally coiled up and elastic. The spring compresses or extends depending on the external force applied. The spring in the car suspension also works on the same principle. The below points will explain the working mechanism of a spring in a suspension system.

Car Suspension - Spring
  • The primary job of a car suspension spring is to store energy generated when the car drives over a bump, pothole, etc.

  • The amount of energy stored by a spring depends on various factors such as material, length, coefficient of spring, etc.

  • When you drive the car on a flat surface, the spring compresses due to the vehicle's weight.

  • When you drive over a dip on the road, the spring extends and ensures that the tyres are in contact with the road surface.

  • Similarly, when you drive over a bump, the spring compresses and keeps the tyres in contact with the road.

  • There are two types of springs used in suspensions: coil spring and leaf spring.

  • Coil springs are one of the most common springs, and you can see them on most cars.

  • Leaf springs were used in older cars, and you can also find them on heavy-duty vehicles such as trucks with solid axles.

  • A leaf spring can store more energy than a coil spring. Hence, heavy-duty vehicles use leaf springs.

However, a spring alone cannot provide a smooth driving experience because springs are only good for storing energy and not so good at dissipating energy. With only springs, the car will still bounce until the energy is dissipated. Dampers/shock absorbers are the solutions to this problem.

2. Dampers/Shock absorbers

A damper or shock absorber is a fluid/gas-filled reservoir encased within a tube. It is fitted between the car’s frame and wheels. The upper mount of the shock absorber is connected to the frame. The lower mount is attached to the axle. 

The damper’s upper mount is connected to a piston rod attached to the piston with tiny holes. The piston sits in a tube that is filled with hydraulic fluid. 

Car Suspension - Shock absorbers

Go through the points below to understand the working mechanism of a damper.

  • When the wheels go over a bump/dip on the road, the spring extends/compresses.

  • The energy stored in the spring is transferred to the damper via the upper mount.

  • The energy is dissipated to the piston rod and then into the piston.

  • Due to the energy, the piston moves through the oil. The oil is then forced through the piston holes and is channelled into a separate chamber.

  • The manufacturer can alter the resistance of the shock absorber by varying the size of the holes in the piston. It is also called the dampening rate. The higher the damping rate, the softer the ride.

Similar to springs, there are different types of shock absorbers such as single-tube, twin-tube, gas-filled and exterior reservoir dampers. However, the working principle of the shock absorbers remains the same.

3. Struts

The struts are not an individual component of a suspension system. Instead, they are the structural components comprising spring and shock absorber. In simple words, a damper wrapped with a coil spring is called a strut. A strut integrates the different suspension components into one compact assembly.

Car Suspension - Struts

4. Anti-roll bar

The anti-roll bar is responsible for preventing the car’s body from rolling when driving on corners/road irregularities. It is a metal rod that connects the left and right sides of the suspension. The below points explain how the anti-roll bar works in conjunction with the suspension system.

Car Suspension - Anti-roll bar

  • When the suspension moves up/down (left or right wheel) due to road irregularities, the anti-roll bar transfers the energy to the other wheel (left or right side).

  • It results in a level ride and reduces the possibility of the car rolling while going through a corner.

  • Almost all cars are fitted with an anti-roll bar as standard.

Car suspension problems and how to identify them?

Now that you are aware of the basic working mechanism of a car suspension, you should also be mindful of the anomalies in a suspension. Suspension is a mechanical component that may fail over time. However, if you notice the problem early, you can save yourself from a catastrophic suspension failure. 

Below are some signs that suggest that the suspension needs an inspection or repair work.

  • If you start feeling every bump on the road or your car bounces due to road irregularities, the suspension needs a checkup.

  • You can also conduct a ‘Bounce test’ to check the suspension. Press down on the front of the car with all your weight, bounce it a few times, and release. If the vehicle bounces more than three times, the suspension needs some pampering from a mechanic. You can repeat the same process for rear suspension as well.

  • If your car pulls to one side when cornering, the possibilities are the shock absorbers are failing.

  • The suspension may also have some issues if the car nose-dives (sudden compression of front suspension) when braking, rolls to the side while cornering or squats during normal acceleration.

  • Lastly, examine the tyres. If the treads have worn out unevenly, the suspension is putting uneven pressure on the tyres. It is a sign that there is some issue with the suspension.

Also, read: Drum Brakes vs Disc Brakes

Best suspension car brands/models in India

A suspension works best when it’s tuned to match the driving conditions. For instance, a vehicle used to drive on off-roads may require a soft suspension setup, while a car used on highways/paved roads may need a slightly stiff suspension to improve handling. 

Here is a list of cars that come with the best suspension setup for the Indian roads.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions related to car suspension

Can I drive my car if the suspension is broken?

No, it’s not recommended to drive your car with a damaged/collapsed suspension. You can drive the vehicle, but it will affect wheel alignment, and the ride will be rough. Moreover, you may find it difficult to control the car in an emergency. Driving with a broken suspension may also damage other components of the vehicle.

When do I need to change my car’s suspension?

Suspension is one of those components that you need not change frequently. On average, a car suspension should last for around five years/1 lakh kilometres. However, it entirely depends on your driving style and road conditions.

Which suspension is best for cars in India?

The MacPherson strut suspension system works the best in India due to its affordability, compact design and performance. Almost all car manufacturers use this suspension as it easily fits in compact cars and delivers superior ride quality.

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