If not for your car suspension, every ride would be rough and uncomfortable. Even on smooth roads, your suspension allows your vehicle to pitch and roll. While your car or truck body and powertrain are more-or-less solidly affixed to the frame, the drivetrain is more loosely fixed, allowing for movement. Bushings allow for limited movement, such as control arms. Ball joints allow for even more movement, such as the steering knuckle. As your car suspension is so active on smooth roads, far less so over potholes and on bumpy back roads, it’s no surprise parts wear out or break.
Usually, failures occur at the weakest points, where they mount to other components, but they won’t just fall off. Instead, you’ll note suspension noises and clunks with your hands and ears. How can you diagnose car suspension noises, clunks, and squeaks? Here are three tips to ease diagnosis of car suspension noises.
Use Your Senses – Touch and Sound
When driving, pay close attention to how your car suspension sounds over bumps, manhole covers, potholes, or speedbumps. Paying close attention, you should be able to determine two important pieces of information: how and where the problem occurs.
If the noise only occurs on uneven bumps, like potholes or manhole covers, that might indicate a problem with the sway bar or sway bar links. If the suspension noise only occurs in the right front (passenger-side front) over a bump, then that might indicate a problem with that corner of the suspension, perhaps a control arm bushing, ball joint, or wheel bearing.
Use your hands to detect loose suspension and steering components. If you feel a clunk in the steering when braking, it can indicate a problem with tie rod ends or ball joints. A vibration in the steering wheel after hitting a bump might indicate a worn steering damper or worn front shock absorbers.
Wiggle Test – More Touchy
Once you’ve identified the general location of the suspension noise, you can get more hands-on and ears-on. With the vehicle sitting on the ground or on ramps, wiggle the wheels left-right, up-down, and diagonally. If you feel any looseness or hear abnormal noises, feel with your hands for the loose component. Wiggle the steering wheel left and right while feeling around ball joints and tie rod ends. Bouncing the vehicle, feel around strut mounts and shock absorber mounts.
With the vehicle lifted, resting on jack stands – never put any part of your body under a vehicle supported only by a jack – repeat the wiggle test. Unloaded, the ball joints and bushings may react differently, revealing their weakness. Wiggling the sway bar might reveal problems with the sway bar links or sway bar bushings.
Finally, use a flashlight to examine moving components. Leaking grease, cracked boots, split bushings, and leaking shock absorbers are all problematic. While your hands and ears are all that are really needed for this task, an assistant can make things easier, and a mechanic’s stethoscope can amplify your powers of perception.
When diagnosing car suspension noises, clunks, and squeaks, it pays to be observant and diligent. Isolate the problem before throwing parts at it, and you’ll get it done quickly and efficiently.
Check out all the steering and suspension products available at NAPA Canada or trust one of our 600 NAPA AUTOPRO locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on diagnosing car suspension noises, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
By Benjamin Jerew