What should you do, when your car’s suspension bounces like a rubber ball?

Disc brake and shock absorber

It is very easy to overlook suspension maintenance on your vehicle, writes motoring journalist Iain Robertson, because all of its components are out-of-sight but, unless checked every now and again, broken springs and dampers can prove to be very compromising.

Learning from your parents can be a valuable experience. When I was younger, I recall asking my dad why he went around his car bouncing the bodywork. He told me that he was checking the shock absorbers and that, if they bounced more than once, there was a possibility that they were wearing out and that worn dampers might cause an accident.

Of course, I have since discovered that the ‘bounce check’ was only one minor and not always reliable test. It can be a lot more important to check for fluid leakages, which you can do, while washing your car, by turning the front wheels onto full-lock and making a visual inspection of the dampers.

However, the much-publicised poor quality of our roads has led to an even more complicated series of reported suspension failures by the nation’s emergency services providers. Severe potholes and broken tarmac surfaces can inflict major damage on springs, dampers, link-rods, ball-joints, bushes, bearings and other suspension components that can affect your safety seriously. Should your car strike a road imperfection, it may not be just the tracking that is put out of alignment. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you have an expert give it a thorough health check (mrclutch.com).

Left unattended, worn, or damaged suspension components will lead to accelerated tyre wear and can create longer stopping distances, neither of which is good for your back pocket, or for the safety of other road-users. Severely worn, damaged, or broken components are likely to be picked up at MOT time (mrclutch.com/mot) but an annual test, where applicable, will not notice damage incurred in between Tests.

Whether you suspect damage, or not, it is advisable to take your car to your local Mr Clutch Autocentre, where a knowledgeable specialist will place it on a ramp and carry out a comprehensive inspection. If anything needs to be replaced, Original Equipment quality parts will be used and the task will carry the customary Mr Clutch Autocentres warranty, as valuable extra protection.

While it used to be acceptable to ‘bounce test’ a car’s suspension thirty, or forty years ago, modern suspension systems, on cars that are a lot heavier than they used to be, are significantly stiffer and it is more difficult to establish wear. While suspension bushes and bearings are designed to absorb road shocks to a certain extent, wear occurs more frequently from driving on poorly, or ill-repaired road surfaces, especially on vehicles with low-profile tyres fitted.

Sometimes, it is possible to hear knocks and noise from the car’s suspension, which may indicate that bushes, or bearings, are worn out. However, bent dampers and damaged suspension arms are less easy to detect, although they can cause steering pull to occur that will draw your car towards the kerb, or the centre of the road, if you are unwary.

An undamped spring will oscillate up and down. When dampers are worn, they have no control over such unwanted movement. An uncontrolled spring can allow your car’s tyres to lose vital grip with the road surface, which could lead to an accident but will certainly upset the car’s handling. While damper wear is gradual, be aware that springs can break instantly. If you are in any doubt, just contact your local Mr Clutch Autocentre (mrclutch.com/branches) for more information.