2 technicians checking a suspension system on a car

Suspension Noises – Potholes Got You Hearing Things?

2019/05/21

Suspension noises, things that rattle, squeak, thump, and go bump in the night or any time of day are telling you your suspension has worn out. It’s not your fault, really, but you’ve been abusing your suspension, haven’t you? The fact is, anywhere outside of your own garage, your car’s suspension is under constant attack. Road salt accelerates corrosion, extreme temperatures embrittle rubber bushings, and potholes bend and break control arms, wheels, ball joints, and more.

Rust on a suspension element
Corrosion on a vehicle suspension system

Common Suspension Noises

Your vehicle’s suspension is designed to give you a smooth ride, allow for bumps in the road, and keep all four tires firmly planted on the pavement. Moving parts of the suspension allow for limited movement while keeping the wheels aligned. A few of these parts include control arm bushings, sway bar links, sway bar bushings, ball joints, and upper strut bearings. Ideally, none of these would be subjected to forces outside their restricted range of motion, but ever-changing road conditions, driving demands, and unexpected impacts take their toll.

Bushings are usually some combination of rubber and metal, but rubber becomes brittle over time. Eventually, the rubber cracks or separates, resulting in clunking or squeaking. Bearings can leak, leading to contamination, accelerated wear, grinding, or squeaking. A ball joint is a metal ball in a plastic or metal socket, allowing for motion on all three axes, which is why they’re usually found in the front suspension. Over time, a loose ball joint can thump or clunk as the ball moves around excessively inside the socket.

What Can You Do About Suspension Noises?

Suspension noises are not the only indication of suspension problems, though. As the worn suspension can no longer hold the wheel alignment, you may notice your steering wheel is no longer centered or the vehicle seems to pull in one direction or another. Abnormal tire wear is less noticeable, taking place over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. In extreme cases, a suspension joint could fail, a major safety issue. A flailing sway bar link could wear through a brake line, causing your brakes to fail. A loose ball joint could separate, causing you to lose control of your vehicle!

Whether you hear abnormal noises or not, or your vehicle feels fine or not, your suspension could be at the brink of failure. Take advantage of a tire swap to have the suspension inspected at least every six months, replacing worn suspension components as soon as possible. By keeping your suspension in check, you reduce the costs associated with abnormal tire wear and collateral damage. If you’re trying to sell your car, a quiet suspension sounds like a good buy.

Regarding pothole damage alone, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) estimates drivers spend $1.4 billion per year on repairs. Multiple freezing-and-thawing cycles turn small cracks into big problems for drivers everywhere. You can’t count on the municipality to cover the damages, even if you file a carelessness or negligence claim on time, but your insurance might. In the meantime, be sure to visit your local trusted mechanic to inspect your suspension for wearor damage so it can be repaired before it becomes a safety issue. In many cases, worn suspension bushings, bearings, and ball joints can be replaced independently of control arms or suspension linkages. Other times, the entire part must be replaced. Don’t forget shocks and struts services available at any of our 600 NAPA AUTOPRO locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on suspension noises, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTOPRO Service Centre.

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