How to Extend the Lifespan of Your Vehicle’s Suspension System
When it comes to the maintenance of your car, truck or SUV, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about the vehicle suspension system. Sure, you’ll diligently change the oil every 5,000 miles or top off the battery electrolyte, but how often do you inspect and tune up the car’s suspension components?
As it turns out, the suspension system is more important than you might think. Knowing how to maintain it can help extend the lifespan of the suspension system and all of its components, which can make driving safer and more comfortable.
What Is a Vehicle Suspension System?
A vehicle’s suspension system includes many parts, big and small, ranging from the tires all the way down to joints and bearings. The purpose of the suspension system is to support the vehicle, absorb shock from bumpy roads and other obstacles, and keep the driver in control of maneuvering the vehicle.
The car suspension components are all interconnected, and they need to be functioning properly to keep other parts of the car, like the brakes and the axles, working too.
Car Suspension Components
The suspension system is made up of many parts, including:
- Tires. The wheels are the exterior suspension component that makes contact with the ground.
- Springs. These metal coils absorb the impact when the car hits a bump or other obstacle in the road.
- Shock absorbers. Not all vehicles have shock absorbers, but these provide extra cushion, in addition to the springs, from bumps and shocks.
- Joints, bearings and bushings. These parts connect other parts of the suspension system while also allowing components to slide and twist for proper functioning.
- Steering linkage. This component transfers movement from the steering wheel to the tires in order for the driver to maneuver the vehicle.
- Rods. Rods work with the steering linkage to transfer steering wheel movement to the tires and to connect various parts of the suspension system.
- Stabilizer bar. The stabilizer bar or sway bar helps balance out the car as it turns to prevent the vehicle from rolling over.
These parts work together to keep the vehicle passengers from feeling jostled at every bump or curve in the road while also helping the driver keep complete control over maneuvering the vehicle.
Suspension System Maintenance
The long list of car suspension components can seem intimidating when it comes to maintaining the vehicle, but keeping the suspension system in great shape is actually pretty simple. Fortunately, you won’t need to spend a lot of time or money to extend the lifespan of the suspension.
Stay on top of wheel alignments. When you take your car for an oil change, the team may ask about checking the tire alignment. This isn’t to upcharge you; suspension system inspections are often complimentary or included in full-service oil change packages. Alignments are important to keeping the suspension system in good condition and your car safe. The pros can take a look at the tires and suggest when it’s time for realignment.
You may need to get wheel alignments more frequently than you think: At a minimum, you’ll need realignment every 30,000 miles or about every two years. If your daily commute involves dodging a lot of potholes or driving on some dusty gravel roads, you’ll likely need alignments more often, about once per year.
Keep track of the alignment frequency so you know when to schedule your next wheel alignment.
Check tire pressure and treads. As the only part of the suspension system to make contact with the road, maintaining the tires is crucial to extending the life of the entire system. Poorly inflated tires or tires with worn treads can lead to damage in other parts of the suspension and can limit your control over the vehicle. Checking the pressure and treads is easy to DIY and should be done once a month.
For the tire pressure, make sure to keep a gauge in the glove box so you can check this metric anywhere. (If you forget, gas stations have gauges and tools to fill the tires to the correct pressure.) Check inside the driver’s side door for the recommended tire pressure, noted as pounds per square inch (psi).
On cool tires (meaning you haven’t driven the car in a few hours), remove the valve on the tire and apply the gauge. Repeat for each tire. Compare the gauge readings to the recommended amount,and refill tires when they are too low.
To inspect tire treads, grab the spare change in your wallet. To make sure tires meet the legal minimum tread of 1/16 of an inch, stick a penny into a groove of the tire. The tires should at least cover part of Lincoln’s head on the coin. If you can see Lincoln’s head after inserting a penny into the tread, the tires are too worn to drive safely, and it’s time for replacements.
For safer tread height, use a quarter and the same principles — the tread should cover part of Washington’s head, making it at least 1/8 of an inch.
Inspect shocks and struts. You’ll want to get the shock absorbers and struts inspected about every 12,500 miles, and this can be done during regular oil changes. You can also simply feel when something is off with these parts while driving. You may feel more bounce and impact as you drive, which can be a sign that the shocks and struts are wearing down.
Even with regular inspections, these car suspension components wear out over time. So how long do shocks and struts last? You’ll want to replace shocks and struts about every 50,000 miles.
Examine power steering fluid and belt. Vehicles with hydraulic power steering systems rely on power steering fluid and a tightened belt for safe driving. You’ll want to have a mechanic check the fluid level and top it off and also tighten the belt during regular oil changes or every 5,000 miles. You should also replace the fluid every 30,000 miles or so (or any time you have the tires aligned).
Drive bumpy roads with care. One of the easiest ways to keep your car’s suspension system healthy is to drive with care. Avoid hitting potholes as often as possible, and reduce your speed when you drive into turns and curves. Drive slowly over speed bumps and any other road obstacles you can’t avoid.
How Long Do Suspension System Parts Last?
You’ve probably wondered how long your vehicle’s shocks and struts last or when you should finally replace your tires. Many car suspension components last about 50,000 to 100,000 miles, or around seven or eight years.
These parts may wear down at different times. You may need to replace the steering fluid every 30,000 miles, install new shocks and struts every 50,000 miles, or replace the tires every 36,000 to 75,000 miles.
By keeping up with maintenance, from regular inspections to simple tune-ups, every part of the suspension system can live the longest life possible. Maintaining the suspension system doesn’t have to eat up your paychecks, though. Many of the inspections and repairs, like tightening belts or checking tire alignment, are included in your regularly scheduled oil changes, while other tasks, like checking tire treads or refilling tire air, can be done at home.