Like most parts of your car, you wouldn’t necessarily notice it when your suspension is working properly. You’d be more likely to take notice when it’s broken. After all, its primary function is to smooth out the ride. So, what would you look for in order to spot a problem?

In the worst cases, you can actually see the problem. This past week I was driving home from the office, when I noticed a pickup truck with an obvious problem. This was an early 1990s Ford Ranger pickup. I was following behind it when I noticed that the rear driver’s side of the bed was sitting inches lower than the passenger side. I took a quick look, and the tires were inflated. In this case, the truck was sitting on broken suspension. In this case, one can guess the damage by looking at the symptoms. It’s unlikely that a broken shock absorber caused this, as the spring should have held up the body. It’s much more likely that the leaf spring itself broke due to age and rust. This, thankfully, can be fixed by bolting on a new spring. A worse possibility is that the spring mounts broke off the frame. In that case, it would be time for some heavy welding to repair the frame.

What about more subtle damage and wear? You can’t see a lot of it with the naked eye. Some of it you’ll feel on the road. If you’re out on the highway and the ride seems more bouncy and rough than it should be, then it’s likely time to replace your shock absorbers, or struts as the case may be. Depending on the design of your car’s suspension, you will likely need to take the car in for an alignment after this.

What about clunks and similar noises? Those are often caused by other worn parts. The most likely culprit is strut bearings. You can check them with the strut removed from the car. There should be no play at all and the bearing should move freely. It’s also a good idea to replace them preemptively if you’re also rebuilding your strut assemblies. Another item that can cause a similar problem is sway bar bushings and links. With the car off the ground and supported securely, you can check these parts by tugging at them. Once again, any play in the assembly indicates that parts are worn out. This is also a good way to check your wheel bearings, tie rods and ball joints. Remember, there shouldn’t be any free movement in suspension or steering parts when you wiggle them by hand.

By giving these items a quick inspection every time you have the wheels off the ground, you can fix problems as they occur, and avoid a costlier bill down the road.

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