Damping without getting wet
Modern vehicle suspension systems consist of highly sophisticated components, highlights our motoring man, Iain Robertson, that operate largely out-of-sight but also aid personal health, comfort and the overall safety of the driver and passengers.
In the earliest days of motorised travel, the rubber tyre, whether solid, or of a pneumatic, air-filled type, was an important way to improve comfort levels. However, vehicle engineers soon discovered that adding dampers into the equation would help to reduce the oscillations of the typical, undamped suspension spring.
Only the other day, I was driving a 1904 Vauxhall. A most advanced Edwardian vehicle, it was fitted with coil springs, not the more customary leaf-type. However, it also featured a very crude and only mildly effective damper system in the form of two wedges of wood placed within the centre of the spring that rubbed together, when the spring was compressed. It was innovative and was a rudimentary example of friction damping, if a bit bouncy!
Nowadays, we take suspension systems for granted. Yet, vehicle engineers regard them with the utmost importance. When new, the spring acts as a shock absorber and the damper allows only a strictly limited amount of spring movement. In doing so, it enhances effective stopping (especially in an emergency), reduces serious vehicle body weight transfer during cornering and both acceleration and braking, which also enables the vehicle’s electronic safety devices, such as antilock brakes and stability control, to work more efficiently.
Yet, it is within the vehicle that the most obvious benefit is noticed. In a vehicle suffering from worn dampers, even a slight lack of spring control can promote car sickness for occupants and the responses provided to drivers can often make them feel as if the car is ‘out of their control’.
There are some ways by which you can carry out a damper check yourself. The old-fashioned way was to place your weight on one corner of the car and release it to see how many oscillations (up and down movements) would result. More than one-and-a-half motions might pinpoint that a damper was at the point of serious wear.
While that method still works, if you turn your car’s steering to full-lock and then peer beneath the wings at the suspension struts, should you spot any moist patches on the dampers, it might suggest that they are worn out…but it is not a reliable test. To be sure, you should take your car to a recognised repair centre.
Naturally, Mr Clutch is geared-up to deal with requests about suspension systems, whether they be for the highly sophisticated fluid types, as operated by some Citroen, or older MG-Rover models, or the more straight-forward coil and leaf spring types. The Mr Clutch technician will inform you about replacement dampers, or even worn springs, which take a lot longer to display wear characteristics, and whether you need them, or not. When you consider that this form of safety check might stop you from having a bad accident, it is highly worthwhile.
Our vehicles are subjected to daily bombardment from bad road surfaces, or overloading, or clumsy handling, perhaps clashing with kerbs, or even ‘sleeping policemen’. It is inevitable that suspension wear rates increase. Therefore, to be safe and secure, let Mr Clutch relieve you of that burden of getting wet, when there is a damper problem.