Suspension Systems Explained

The inner workings of the suspension system of a vehicle are largely a mystery to casual vehicle enthusiasts except for chassis and body experts, perhaps for good reason. “Suspension” is a term that refers to an intricate system of shock absorbers, springs, tires, tire air, and linkages that connect the vehicle to the wheels, which allows for relative motion between the two.

Suspension systems play the role of supporting both ride quality and road handling/holding. However, the two are often at odds with each other, which means that tuning the suspensions requires striking of the right compromise by vehicle manufacturers, which is not an easy job.

It is equally important for the suspension to ensure that the wheels stay in contact with the surface of the road as much as possible since all the ground forces that bear down on the vehicle do this through the contact patches of the tires.


Originally, suspension came in the form of ox-drawn carts that had platform swings on iron chains that were attached to the carriage’s wheeled frame. It is this system that remained as the basis for suspension systems until the turn of the 19th Century. However, leather straps had replaced the iron chains by the 17th century.

What many people don’t realize is that vehicles were originally developed as self-propelled variants of horse-drawn vehicles. Unfortunately, the horse-drawn carriages were designed to operate at fairly low speeds, which means that their suspension systems were not perfectly suited for the higher speeds that the internal combustion engine allowed.

The advent of industrialization was what made possible the development of the first practical spring-suspension. Obadiah Elliott is credited for being the first to register a spring-suspension vehicle patent where each of the wheels had 2 durable steel leaf springs on both sides while the carriage’s body was fixed to the springs directly and the springs were attached to the axles. Today. Most vehicles have independent suspension on all wheels.

What is the Role of a Suspension System?

Simply put, the suspension system in a motor vehicle is designed to ensure comfort and safety, although it actually does much more. The suspension system makes a vehicle safe since it determines how the vehicle will behave in terms of handling and road gripping. The suspension system is designed to make the most of the tires that are fitted to a vehicle.

A tire is likely to have better grip if more force is pushing it onto the road. It is part of the role of the suspension system to apply this force when the vehicle starts turning into a bend. The suspension system is also responsible for absorbing any imperfections in the road. In its absence, every pothole and bump would be transferred to the vehicle and its occupants directly.

How Do Suspension Systems Work?

The suspension system should maximize the friction between the surface of the road and the tires to ensure steering stability with positive handling all without sacrificing passenger comfort. While it is not an easy task, the suspension system and other components provide road holding, road isolation, and cornering solutions by:

– Reducing the transfer of the weight of the vehicle from front to back and side to side since this reduces the grip of the tires on the road.

– Absorbing energy from road imperfections and bumps and dissipating it without resulting in unnecessary oscillation in the vehicle.

– Transference of the vehicle’s weight during cornering from the vehicle’s high side to the vehicle’s low side.

What Does a Suspension System Comprise Of?

The suspension system in a vehicle is actually part of the chassis, which encompasses all the critical system located beneath the body, including:

  • -The Frame: It is the structural and load-carrying component responsible for supporting the body and engine of the vehicle, which are in turn supported by the suspension system.
  • The Suspension System: It is the setup tasked with supporting weight, dampening and absorbing shock, and helping maintain tire contact.
  • The Wheels and Tires: The components responsible for vehicle motion through grip and/or friction with the road.
  • The Steering System: It is the mechanism that allow the driver to direct and guide the vehicle.
  • Simply put, the suspension system is one of the critical systems in any vehicle.

Bearing this in mind, here are 3 fundamental components of a suspension system setup:

Shock Absorbers (Dampers): A vehicle spring will extend and release the energy absorbed from a bump at an uncontrolled rate unless a dampening structure is in place and the spring will continue bouncing at its natural frequency until all the energy put into it initially has been used up. The shock absorbers keep the undesired spring motion under control through a process referred to as dampening, which is the slowing down and reducing the scale of vibratory motions by transforming the kinetic energy of the movement of the suspension into heat energy.

Struts/Anti-Sway Bars: Struts are essentially shock absorbers mounted inside coil springs while the anti-sway bars are used together with the struts or shock absorbers to enhance the stability of a moving vehicle.

Springs: The springing systems of today are based on 1 of 4 basic designs i.e. air, torsion bars, leaf, and coil.

What is the Ideal Suspension System?

A suspension system that’s poorly made can lead to serious wear and tear on the tires, brake parts, steering parts, and even the vehicle’s frame. To ensure that a suspension is performing to optimal standard, you should only consider the ones made by top-rated manufacturers of suspension parts, which include Rancho and Bilstein.

What are the Top Performance Suspension Systems?

The major handling and suspension product brands can be found online or in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, which allows consumers to choose the best options for their vehicle and change the handling and suspension components. Some of the top performance suspension systems and lift kits come from brands such as Moog Suspension, TEIN, Ohlins, Eibach, Hotchkis, KW, Air Lift, Continental, AC Delco, KYB, H&R, GReddy, and Bilstein.

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