Is it safe to drive a vehicle with a broken suspension?
Driving a vehicle with a broken suspension is like walking with a bad knee or broken leg. The support is gone, the weight is shifted and your stability is compromised. This condition can cause the vehicle to sway or instability which can lead to loss of control or worse, as this concern is more than merely an inconvenience.
Since there are many parts to the suspension to consider, such as springs, shocks/struts, control arms, sway bars, and links, each having an adverse effect when failing. I will break down each one at a time to give you an idea of the concern. Springs , whether coil or leaf type, can cause sagging, noise, and affect alignment angles. These major suspension components should be checked for wear regularly and replaced in sets on the axle that experiences a failure. The repeated compression and relaxation of the springs will cause them to weaken over time. Other factors that can affect their life and performance would include the weight they are made to handle.
For instance, you have a ½ ton truck and you get a full scoop of topsoil dropped into the bed which causes the rear bumper to barely clear the ground. Clearly you have exceeded the weight limit of your vehicle. Trucks that have large utility boxes can also cause excessive loads on the rear suspensions, especially as they are often overloaded with tools and equipment. Also, the number of passengers or cargo carried daily can affect the life of your suspension. Off and on road conditions such as potholes are another factor to consider.
The control arms house the ball joints and connect to the frame and allow the suspension to pivot on bushings which allow for quiet articulation of the arms as they travel. Damage can be caused by potholes or an accident. If bent, they affect the alignment of your vehicle and can cause handling issues as well as tire wear.
Next, the shocks or struts have the purpose of dampening the rebound energy or shock as the vehicle travels over bumps. Struts when used on the front end of your vehicle are also crucial to steering and alignment. There are several types used here from oil filled, gas charged, and even viscous fluids which can react and change properties via an electrical signal. The shocks help to keep the wheels in contact with the road surface and if broken, missing, or defective it can cause excessive vehicle bounce. This can lead to tire wear as well as handling issues.
Sway bars are used to transfer weight shifts from side to side. They improve wheel contact when the vehicle shifts due to road conditions like the sway force during a cornering event. The torsional force applied by the bar is controlled or transmitted from side to side by the sway bar links which connect to the frame and suspension, usually on a control arm or strut. The first sign of failure is clunking over bumps, especially when one side of the vehicle is in compression. If the main center bushings for the bar are worn, then a general knocking over bumps will be noticed and will gradually get worse over time as the bushings deteriorate.
The main thing to keep in mind here is that all of these components working together keep your vehicle stabilized and help keep your tires in proper contact with the road at all times, no matter what the road conditions are. They will not only help with proper steering and handling but can contribute to maximizing tire life. The consequences of a broken suspension component range from noise to feeling a discomfort when handling instability, which can lead to a possible accident. Any worn component should be replaced as soon as a problem is noted to keep you and those around you safe. The loss of control of a vehicle is a hazard to everyone on the road.
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