Back to Basics: Suspension System 101

Do you know what a suspension system is? It’s the mechanism that connects your car to its wheels. A suspension system consists of springs, shocks, and, if necessary, torsion bars. Now if that sounds overly simplistic, that’s because it is. There’s a lot more that your suspension system does than simply connecting parts of your car. When a vehicle travels on just about any roadway surface, it’s bound to encounter a few bumps. These bumps are absorbed by a vehicle’s suspension system, allowing the passengers to stay comfortable and the driver to stay in control of the vehicle by absorbing the roughness of the road.

If this system was not in place, it is entirely possible for a vehicle to bounce out of control due to the impact caused by bumps on the road. Among the earliest vehicle designs did not have any suspension system into the chassis. Because of this, travelling usually entailed suffering the full effects of the rough, uneven road. Occupants often suffered from bruises as they were tossed around the vehicle’s interior. Besides the occupants, the vehicles themselves were also damaged from time to time. The seriousness of the problem required an innovative solution to be designed — and in time, it was.

The leaf spring suspension system became the first attempt at controlling the unfriendly rides that became associated with automobiles of the time. Although the addition of this system managed to absorbed some of the impact, vehicles still seemed more like bouncing, uncomfortable experiences compared to the smooth rides of today. Whenever a severe bump was met, the leaf springs absorbed the impact but the vehicle’s weight still compressed the springs, resulting in very bouncy rides.

Taking care of the bounciness became the next order of business. In an attempt to control the bouncing, shock absorbers were added to the suspension systems. Although far from the advanced marvels of today, they were still suitable for their intended purpose. The very first models were made from leather disks and made use of the principles of friction. The system worked by sandwiching the leather disks between two metal arms, and as these arms moved, the disks provided the necessary friction. This early system not only improved the shock absorption capabilities of the vehicle during bumps, but they also greatly control the vehicle’s bounciness.

The leaf springs eventually gave way to torsion bars and coil springs. The evolution of the suspension system continued until it became what it currently is today. These days, many vehicles offer various options including the relatively recent innovation: automatic shock dampening. This allows an on-board computer system to adjust ride quality in order to create some of the most comfortable rides possible.