How to Make Your Car Ride Smoother
Years ago a fella commented that his car had such a smooth and comfortable ride that the hardest part of driving it was staying awake. Now that’s smooth.
Maybe your car is not presenting so smooth an experience. Well, if you want to enhance the smoothness, you first need to know why it is not so smooth in the first place.
If you recently ran through a monster pothole, there is little surprise that some sort of damage might lead to a rough ride. Hit a curbside? Parking block? Same problem.
But crash damage to your vehicle is only one condition that keeps your car from riding smoothly. The state of your tires, wheels, steering and suspension, brakes, and more can prohibit a smooth ride. So can a poor wheel alignment. It is even possible that the design of your vehicle might provide a rougher ride than you like.
So, how do you know if your suspension is damaged? Or if your tires are bad? Or you wonder how you can tell if your car needs an alignment or why your car is wobbling at high speed. Let’s look at some common concerns that keep your car from riding smoother.
Tires and Wheels
A less-than-smooth ride in your car is most commonly caused by your tires. Tires that are severely worn, out-of-round, damaged, or unbalanced will cause your car to wobble, vibrate, or shudder when driving. How and when the problem happens is tied to specific tire problems.
For instance, vibrations or shaking at high speed (50 mph) might be related to a tire that is slightly out-of-round or unbalanced with the wheel, whereas a wobble at low speed (15 mph) is more likely to be caused by a tire separation (a potentially dangerous situation).
A broken radial belt, a bulge in the tire, a chunk missing from the tire, and uneven wear each present an unsteady ride.
So can a bent wheel or rim. Like a damaged tire, this is usually caused by trauma on the street; a pothole or other impact.
A technician at a tire store can thoroughly inspect and balance your tires to determine if they are the cause of your rough ride. And buy new tires if necessary.
Suspension and Steering
Tires may be the most likely culprits stealing the smoothness from your drive, but they are not the only ones. Loose, worn, or damaged suspension and steering components can also cause your car to wobble, to bounce, or to float down the road.
The suspension system is designed to hold, or “suspend” the body of the vehicle over the tires and wheels. The suspension also absorbs inconsistencies in the road so that you don’t have to. If you drive over bumps, the goal of the suspension is to absorb the ups and downs of the tires and wheels while allowing the body to remain relatively level. It also serves to keep the body level and the tires in contact with the ground when going around corners
Some parts of the suspension system can cause a rough ride when they are damaged or worn. Loose, worn out ball joints can cause the shakes. Same with tie rod ends (part of the steering system). When the car is moving, the wheels will start to shudder because of the slop in these weary components.
If your car feels more like it is bouncing down the road than it is vibrating – or if it “swims” back and forth and floats like a boat rather than a car – the problem is probably the shock absorbers or the struts. Some vehicles (mostly large trucks and some luxury cars) feature springs to suspend the body and shock absorbers to dampen the up and down movement.
Most modern passenger cars and SUVs sport struts instead. More fully known as “MacPherson Struts”, these assemblies combine both a coil spring and a shock into one unit. Either case, a worn set of springs and shocks or a worn set of struts, will lead to a bouncy ride. More importantly, braking efficiency and cornering will be severely reduced.
A wheel alignment is an adjustment of the angles of the wheels and tires in relation to the rest of the vehicle and to the road. If the wheels are not aligned at the correct angles, vehicle performance (handling and ride comfort) will be compromised.
To perform an alignment, a technician will lift a vehicle up in the air on an alignment rack. Using a special set of cameras attached to the wheels, the technician will turn the wheels through a series of motions so that a diagnostic computer can read the angles. If the vehicle is out of specifications, steering and suspension components may be adjusted to bring it back within tolerances. Otherwise, the technician may advise replacing worn or damaged steering and/or suspension parts.
A vehicle out of alignment will often pull to one side or the other. But a poor alignment can also lead to uneven tire wear and vibrations when the vehicle is in motion.
Bad brakes can also hamper your smooth ride.
In a disc brake system, a set of metal discs (called rotors) are attached to (and spin with) the wheels. When you press on the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid exerts pressure on a set of brake pads sandwiched around the rotors. The brake pads grab the rotors and cause them to slow and stop, thus slowing and stopping the car.
If, for some reason a brake rotor becomes warped, the result will usually show up as a pulsation in the brake pedal and a vibration on the road. Certainly not smooth. A warped rotor can be caused by aggressive braking (which causes overheating of the rotor and other brake system components) or a poor-quality replacement part. Uneven wear can also lead to a similar effect.
A stuck or seized brake caliper (the hydraulic clamping mechanism that houses your brake pads) can grab the rotor even when you are not applying the brakes and lead to vibrations. And uneven or worn brake pads can cause vibration, although that usually occurs while the brakes are being applied.
Other un-smooth issues
In addition to your tires, wheels, suspension, steering, and brakes, a few other issues can lead to a rough ride. For instance, the drive axles on many passenger vehicles (called Constant Velocity, or CV, axles) can wear out. CV axles are designed to apply torque to your wheels to rotate them while simultaneously articulating up and down and side to side. When their complex joints wear out, they get sloppy. And the axle shudders when you are driving, especially around corners.
Cracked or broken engine or transmission mounts will also cause your car to shudder. These mounts are made of a rubber-like substance designed to absorb vibrations and shifts in torque from your engine and trans, keeping the passenger compartment from shaking. If one or more is broken, the large masses of metal can shift around and cause a clunking sound and violent vibration when driving.
By the way, if you mash on your brakes really hard, especially on wet or slippery surfaces, you will probably notice a vibrating feel and hear a growling sound. This is normal. Your Anti-Lock Braking System is designed to help you maintain control of your vehicle when stopping on slippery roads and it makes a noise when it engages.
Design-related ride issues
Sometimes, a vehicle just does not provide the kind of experience you like. Cars that are designed more for street performance than comfort will feature suspensions, wheels, and tires that result in a stiffer ride than, say, a minivan might.
Suspensions and wheels and tires all strike a balance between performance/handling and comfort. If your car is in good shape but you would still like to squeeze a smoother ride out of it, there may be a few options to consider.
Large wheels and low-profile tires (tires with a short sidewall) transmit more feedback from the road to the passenger compartment, resulting in a bumpier ride. Swapping them out for smaller wheels and higher-profile tires will allow for a smoother ride since the taller tires can absorb more impact from the road.
Replacing your shocks and springs – or your struts – for aftermarket versions that provide a softer ride is an option on many cars. Some components are adjustable.
In any case, if you are deviating from OEM (factory) parts, make sure to consult with a professional to make sure you are not compromising performance too much – or safety at all.
Today’s cars are created with a blend of performance and comfort. If your car is not up to the task, if you want to make your vehicle ride smoother, make an appointment at a trusted repair shop for an inspection, alignment, or consultation today.
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