Hamilton Vehicle Suspension Maintenance - Undercar Inspection For Winter Preparation

In the fall you should check & lubricate your car's steering and suspension, to prepare for a long season of driving on snow, water, ice and loose gravel. A suspension inspection should include a check of springs, shock absorbers and struts. Water can easily get inside many steering and suspension parts, and the contamination can create premature wear. Regularly lubricating these parts with grease reduces the possibility of contamination and rusting.

This is also a good time to check on irregularities in the way a vehicle handles. Because problems develop slowly, compare performance now to how you remember it a year or two ago. Does the steering feel loose? Does the vehicle pull to the side? Do the wheels shimmy or vibrate at certain speeds? Does the ride recover slowly after a bump?"

A complete undercar check-up can pin-point problems such as premature tire wear, splits in the rubber bushings, or worn shocks and springs. According to an industry survey, four out of every seven vehicles need repairs; and 57% of the vehicles in for a check-up need wheel alignment, 31% of show ball joint wear and 20% of all vehicles brought in for alignment need idler arm replacement.

Looseness in the steering, typically coupled with excessive tire wear, would indicate a possible steering linkage replacement. On the other hand, "tight" steering, combined with excessive movement in any direction, or a popping or rubbing noise can be a sign of worn upper strut mounts. You might also check ball joints for looseness and any damage to their dust boots.

An undercar inspection should include a check for looseness, off center or worn bushings. This can result from age, oil and heat, which can cause the rubber bushings to crack, distort and wear. Bushings in such condition should be replaced.

With colder temperatures, a vehicle may have 'morning sickness' with very sluggish steering, which invariably disappears when the engine warms up. This is a good indication to have a mechanic look at your car's rack and pinion system. This can happen because the Teflon ring seals in the rack and pinion system's control valve do not seal as well because they contract in cold weather.

Inspect the bellows boots, which keep contamination from rack and pinion systems, as well as CV (constant velocity) joints on front-wheel drive vehicles, for cracks, wear and deterioration. Once water, snow and ice can accumulate around a CV boot, they can easily tear and lead to damage of the CV joint it should protect. Replacement of a boot is far less expensive than replacing the entire joint.

You should consider inspecting and replacing springs at the same time shock absorbers or struts are installed, if the need is found. The additional labour will be small, since the mechanic is doing significant work in that part of the vehicle already.

A comprehensive inspection of your car's steering and suspension systems in the fall might make the difference in winter driving, by reducing the cost of repairs and by improving driveability during hazardous winter road conditions.

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