Vehicle suspension repair: 6 signs your car needs it

Renata Liubertaitė

Renata Liubertaitė

A vehicle’s suspension plays a pivotal role in ensuring a harmonious balance between driving comfort and road handling. So, if driving your car lately feels like being on a rollercoaster, it’s time to look for signs of a failing suspension system and consider vehicle suspension repairs.

Here are 6 signs your suspension may need some work!

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The importance of a vehicle’s suspension system

Bumps that cause discomfort are not the only problem when it comes to a failing suspension. Besides absorbing shocks and vibrations from the road surface, a vehicle’s suspension system is also responsible for several other crucial aspects of your ride.

First and foremost – safety. A vehicle’s suspension system ensures you don’t lose control during sudden maneuvers, emergency stops, cornering, and similar situations. It also helps maintain tire contact with the road, ensuring a proper grip on the surface and contributing to stable steering and responsive braking.

Vehicle suspension
Source: Orlov Alexandr / Shutterstock

In vehicles with a higher center of gravity, like SUVs and trucks, the suspension system also reduces the risk of rollovers. Moreover, some of these cars have adjustable suspensions that allow for variable ground clearance, which is useful for driving in different conditions, for instance, off-road.

Looking from a more practical perspective, a well-functioning suspension system can help prolong the lifespan of your tires, reducing the need for frequent replacements.

How to tell if the suspension system needs repair

Spotting the signs of suspension problems is crucial for maintaining your safety and comfort on the road. Fortunately, once a vehicle’s suspension system starts failing, you’ll most likely notice/feel it.

Look for these common indicators that your car’s suspension system may need repair.

1. Uneven tire wear

A vehicle’s suspension ensures proper tire contact with the road and holds your wheel and tires securely in position. Any worn or misaligned component of the system can make it loose or prevent it from holding your tires straight, resulting in uneven tire wear.

It’s important to note that tires can wear out unevenly for various reasons. For example, under-inflated tires tend to have inner and outer shoulder wear, while center wear is generally caused by overinflation.

However, you can suspect suspension issues when you notice so-called tire cupping. It is uneven wear that looks like some parts of your tires wear more than others. This, in turn, will likely cause your car to bounce up and down while driving, as the problem usually lies in bad struts or shock absorbers.

Besides a thorough visual inspection, there are a few other ways to identify uneven tire wear:

  • Gently run your hand over the tire’s surface and try to find any irregularities in the tread (e.g., raised or lowered sections).
  • Use a tread depth gauge to measure the tread depth at various points across the tire’s width.
  • If you feel excessive vibration while driving, especially at higher speeds, it may be due to uneven tire wear – check them out.

Identifying uneven tire wear early and taking appropriate actions to address the underlying causes can ensure safer and more efficient driving.

2. A very bumpy ride

Not all rough rides mean there’s a problem with your vehicle’s suspension system, but this can be one of the first signs. There’s a difference between minor road bumps and those that indicate actual problems, and you can distinguish one from the other by their symptoms and vehicle response.

For instance, minor road bumps are common, and they occur regularly during everyday driving as a result of small potholes, cracks, or speed bumps.

When encountering a minor road bump, you may feel a temporary disturbance in your vehicle, and your tires may briefly lose contact with the road, but they quickly regain traction. Typically, you’ll hear minimal to no unusual noises or won’t feel weird vibrations. Encountering a minor road bump will make no noticeable change in steering response or handling, and you will be able to continue driving like nothing happened.

A car wheel next to potholes
Source: Bilanol / Shutterstock

Bumps that indicate problems with your suspension system are usually more severe and can be caused by significant road hazards or – you guessed it – worn-out suspension components.

Unlike minor bumps, “problem-indicating bumps” will likely result in pronounced and prolonged discomfort. There could be excessive bouncing, vibrations, and instability, making your vehicle more difficult to control.

Moreover, if a vehicle’s suspension is failing, the tires may not fully regain traction after hitting a bump, which will negatively impact steering response or handling.

3. Nose dives or rear-end squats

In this case, nose diving refers to the front of the vehicle excessively dipping or “diving” forward when you brake, while rear-end squats occur when the rear of the vehicle “squats” downward, typically during acceleration or when carrying a heavy load.

Needless to say, both of these symptoms indicate that your vehicle’s suspension system is not functioning as it should, and you may no longer be safe on the road.

For instance, nose diving can be a sign of reduced braking performance and control, which makes it more challenging to stop a vehicle safely. Meanwhile, squatting can affect your car’s traction and stability, especially when you speed, potentially compromising control and handling.

If you notice either of these issues, get it inspected by a professional immediately.

4. Drifting or pulling

Car drifting
Source: Supreet / Pexels

Another indicator that it may be time for a vehicle suspension repair is drifting or pulling while driving. While this can also be caused by other factors, drifting and pulling generally warn about handling issues caused by a potentially faulty suspension.

Drifting feels like your vehicle floats or wanders without your input, often indicating uneven tire wear or misaligned wheels due to worn suspension components. Pulling, on the other hand, occurs when the vehicle swings to one side, suggesting imbalances.

To spot these problems, observe how your car behaves during straight-line driving. When there’s a suspension issue, drivers typically have difficulties steering and often feel that their vehicle is unstable. This can be tiring and frustrating, but most importantly, it can endanger the lives of your passengers and everyone on the road.

Therefore, prompt action is essential to ensure safety and prevent further damage.

5. Oily shocks or struts

Damaged or worn shocks and struts are often what causes an unpleasant driving experience. Generally, these components of a vehicle’s suspension are not something you can casually spot, but if you suspect suspension issues, you can check the shocks and struts yourself, too (to some extent).

Depending on your vehicle’s make and model, you may need to access the shocks or struts from underneath the car or by looking through the wheel well. You can also remove the wheel to gain a better view if necessary.

Visually examine or try to feel the shock absorbers or struts for any signs of fluid leaks. If they appear wet or oily, this usually means they need to be replaced.

However, a visual inspection might not be enough to reveal all potential problems, especially when it comes to internal issues. Taking your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a comprehensive assessment and accurate diagnosis is best.

6. Clunking, knocking, or rattling noises

If you hear clunking, knocking, or rattling noises coming from the suspension area, it’s your first sign that some of its components may be loose, worn, or damaged.

For example, control arms that are a part of the suspension system ensure that tires maintain full contact with the road when you drive. If you start hearing clunking or popping sounds whenever you speed up, slow down, or go over uneven roads, take this as a hint that your suspension system may need your attention.

Another common issue is worn ball joints that connect various suspension components, e.g., control arms to the steering knuckles or spindles, ensuring smooth and controlled movement of the wheels. Ball joint damage can have different appearances (e.g., torn boots or rust), yet it’s important to address any symptoms you notice, as they may worsen over time.

Shock absorber
Source: Axtem / Shutterstock

Weird car sounds can also be caused by loose sway bar links, broken or weakened springs, worn out shock absorbers and damaged struts, or loose fasteners (like improperly tightened suspension bolts).

Routine maintenance is one of the most reliable ways to avoid these issues.

Avoid potential safety issues when buying a used car

Before buying a car, taking a longer test drive is one of the best ways to identify potential suspension or any other visible issues a vehicle might have.

When a suspension system is compromised due to wear, damage, or neglect, it’s often not that difficult to spot the warning signs by carefully listening for unusual noises coming from the suspension area, evaluating the driving comfort and vehicle’s overall stability, identifying potential braking problems, or visually inspecting the tires for signs of uneven wear. After all, losing control on the road can lead to accidents.

If you suspect this might have been the case in the past and the seller is trying to sell you a damaged car without disclosing it, check its history. A vehicle history report can reveal past damages, moreover, you’ll also be able to check odometer readings, original vehicle specifications, ownership changes (frequent ones can indicate problems with the car), and other available information.

damage reports
Source: carVertical

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Finally, never skip a visit to a professional mechanic. They can thoroughly inspect a car inside and out and inform you about any potential issues and risks related to a particular vehicle.

This can help you avoid spending extra money on repairs in the future, not to mention giving peace of mind on the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

Renata Liubertaitė

Article by

Renata Liubertaitė

Renata is a writer with over 8 years of experience in publishing, marketing, and SaaS companies. Writing in various fields and covering highly technical topics has taught her to turn complex things into something everyone can understand. When not writing for carVertical, she loves DIY projects and spontaneous bike rides.