Suspension Systems Buyers Guide

Save for body and chassis experts, the inner workings of an automobile’s suspension system are largely a mystery to casual automotive enthusiasts, perhaps for good reason: The term “suspension” refers to a complex system of tires, tire air, springs, shock absorbers and linkages that connect a vehicle to its wheels, allowing relative motion between the two. Suspension systems are tasked with supporting both road-holding/handling and ride quality – often at odds with one another – so the tuning of suspensions involves auto makers striking the right compromise, which is no easy task. Additionally, it is important for the suspension to keep the wheel in contact with the road surface as much as possible, as all the road or ground forces bearing down on the vehicle do so via contact patches of the tires.

What is the Purpose of the Suspension System?

Put simply, the purpose of an automobile’s suspension is to provide safety and comfort, but it goes deeper than that; such systems make a car safe because the suspension determines how a car behaves with regard to its handling and road-holding (or grip). Any suspension system is designed to make the most of the tires fitted to the vehicle.

A given tire will offer greater grip the more force there is pushing it onto the road, and it’s part of the suspension’s job to apply that force as the car begins to turn into a bend. The suspension is also tasked with absorbing imperfections in the road; without it, every bump and pothole would be transferred directly to the car and its passengers (though, admittedly, some systems do this better than others).

What are the Top Performance Suspensions?

Major suspension and handling products brands are available online and in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, enabling consumers to select the best options for their vehicle and change the suspension and handling components. Some of the top performance suspensions and lift kits come from the likes of Bilstein, Eibach, Ohlins, TEIN, Moog Suspension, GReddy, H&R, KYB, Air Lift, HKS, KW, Hotchkis, AC Delco and Continental.

History

Suspension, early on, came in the form of ox-drawn carts that boasted platform swings on iron chains attached to the wheeled frame of the carriage. This particular system remained the basis for all suspension systems until the turn of the 19th century, though the iron chains were replaced with leather straps by the 17th century. Unbeknownst to many, automobiles were developed initially as self-propelled variants of horse-drawn vehicles; however, horse-drawn vehicles had been designed for relatively slow speeds, their suspensions not particularly well-suited for the higher speeds permitted by the internal combustion engine.

Only through the advent of industrialization was it possible for the first workable spring-suspension to come to realization. Obadiah Elliott is credited with registering the first patent for a spring-suspension vehicle – each wheel boasted two durable steel leaf springs on each side, and the body of the carriage was fixed directly to the springs which were attached to the axles. Fast-forward to modern times, when most cars today have independent suspension on all four wheels.

 

How Do Suspension Systems Work?

A vehicle’s suspension system must maximize the friction between the tires and the road surface in order to provide steering stability with positive handling – all while ensuring the comfort of the passengers. While no easy task, indeed, a car’s suspension and its various components provides road isolation, road holding and cornering solutions by:

• Absorbing energy from road bumps and dissipating it without causing undue oscillation in the vehicle.
• Minimizing the transfer of vehicle weight from side to side and front to back, because this transfer of weight reduces the tires’ grip on the road.
• Transferring the weight of the vehicle during cornering from the high side of the car to the low side.

What is the Best Suspension System?

Poorly-made suspension parts can cause serious wear and tear on tires, steering parts, brake parts and even the frame of a vehicle. To ensure a suspension is performing to its peak standards, only the ones made by the top-rated suspension parts manufacturers should be considered, and these include Bilstein and Rancho.

What Does a Suspension System Consist Of?

A vehicle’s suspension is actually part of the chassis, which comprises all of the important systems located beneath its body, including:

• The Frame – The structural, load-carrying component that supports the vehicle’s engine and body, which are in turn supported by the suspension.
• The Suspension System – A setup that supports weight, dampens and absorbs shock and helps maintain tire contact.
• The Steering System – Mechanism that enables the driver to guide and direct the vehicle.
• The Tires and Wheels – Components that make vehicle motion possible by way of grip and/or friction with the road.

So, essentially, the suspension is just one of the major systems in any vehicle.

With this in mind, here are the three fundamental components of any suspension setup:

• Springs – Today’s springing systems are based on one of four basic designs: Coil, leaf, torsion bars and air.
• Dampers (Shock Absorbers) – Unless a dampening structure is implemented, a car spring will extend and release the energy it absorbs from a bump at an uncontrolled rate, the spring continuing to bounce at its natural frequency until all of the energy initially put into it is used up. The shock absorber controls unwanted spring motion through a process known as dampening, slowing down and reducing the magnitude of vibratory motions by turning kinetic energy of suspension movement into heat energy.
• Struts/Anti-Sway Bars – A strut is basically a shock absorber mounted inside a coil spring, while anti-sway bars are used along with shock absorbers or struts to give a moving automobile additional stability.