Thursday January 23 2014

Let’s chat: Suspension system, Ignored yet crucial area

Not many people ever bother servicing their car suspensions yet they are a crucial part of a vehicle’s day to day running. Sometimes we hit potholes and move on, but gradually, clanking noises underneath among many others, are linked to the suspension that we pay less attention to. In the third issue of the new series, Let’s chat, the trio looks at the suspension.

Jude: Often times we don’t seem to notice when we hit potholes. The suspension gets affected and we may have to pay through the nose after some time . Let us not forget that used cars when subjected to potholes, will lose their suspensions faster.

Mustafa: There is someone who had wanted to sue KCCA for a big pothole that often hit his car along Dastur Street just after Radio One. We often go to Kisekka Market for Z- links, bushings, link bars, ball joints and all that. It is a big problem in this country. Is there a specific way we should look out for our cars because potholes are here to stay?
Paul: The key issue here is maintenance although different cars are meant for particular terrain. Off-road vehicles can handle bad terrain as opposed to small passenger cars meant for good roads. Some of the humps that we hit were designed to enhance road safety, others are not well built. But the biggest challenge is about our suspensions. Most cars, when they hit 100,000km, need to have the suspension replaced.

Mustafa: Paul, do you mean that if I get my car, brand new say from Toyota Uganda, Victoria Motors or Spear Motors, that my suspension will go over anything regardless?

Paul: No. If you drive recklessly because the car is new, you will still damage the suspension. You are supposed to drive responsibly. suspension is brand new, your car needn’t be brand new. If you drive carefully with a good suspension, it will give you probably 50,000km to 100,000km before any replacement.

If it is a new suspension and you subject it to off-roads that it wasn’t meant for, it will wear out fast.

Are you saying those with off-road vehicles should literally sail through potholes because their cars are at a slight advantage?

Paul: No, people with off -road vehicles shouldn’t sail through but their suspensions are much better than those of saloon cars. Generally, whether off-road or not, the suspension will wear out at a given mileage.
We shouldn’t blame potholes and humps per se but also look at our own driving styles and the condition of the car before you buy it.

Jude: Paul, can you break it down for me as a lay man. When I hear about the suspension, I may not know the “suspect” parts that are usually going to break down fast, are they the shocks, bushes etc?

Paul: Suspension is a broad term. But these are articulate parts of a vehicle. Manufacturers make these parts articulate to suit changing terrain. For instance, if the wheels and axlewere static, the car’s performance would be affected. At every turn of a corner or every change of gradient of road surface, the car would tip over.

Mustafa: Talk about the people in the 1940s whose cars didn’t have suspensions.

Paul: The 1940s guys had very crude suspension systems. The suspension has gone through a revolution to now having elec tronic or air suspension. We have suspension of the axles and wheels, suspension of the engine.

mounting and suspension of the gearbox. We should focus on the wheel and axle suspension or suspension of the chassis and where we have the bushings, control arms (upper and lower) leaf springs, steering linkage-the steering rods, link bars that link the stabiliser bars and tie rod endsIf you drive roughly, you are going to damage these parts. 4WDs tend to have suspensions calibrated to handle tough situations.

Mustafa: Paul you said many things but suspen sion is a key component. If you are to rank your car which is basically a metal box on the road if not moving, number one would be the engine, without which it cannot move.
Number two is the gearbox and three is the suspension. Being number three is not bad, it is still vital. Many people don’t take care of suspensions until the car makes noise. We often look at other parts and ignore the suspension.

Paul: You raise a very important issue. Like the way a car cannot move without an engine, it cannot move without a suspension. If the suspension breaks, chances are that the wheels and axle system will detach.
You have seen some cars stranded on the road with a wheel broken off, that is usually a suspension problem. If your ball joints break, that is part of the suspension.
If your ball joint broke, chances are that your wheel attached is going to detach from the hub, the hub is that rotational part that is latched to the suspension.
You should do routine and mileage service based checks. Do checks every 20,000km to 40,000km and if you hear any noises, pay attention to them. Do wheel alignments as well.

Jude: Actually on New Year’s Day the front tyre of my Volkswagen Passat came off. My cousin was driving it and it literally went off. He had to call for a break down and it was towed to a garage. When he called on phone, I thought it was about a mere flat tyre. He clarified that the tyre literally went off. Good enough, he was not speeding.

Paul: That was bad, that was clearly a suspension problem. We should often do checks to avoid such scenarios.