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Smoothing the Ride: Steering and Suspension, Tires and Transmissions

Drivers of the first horseless carriages were delighted to find that the ride was smoother (although sometimes noisier) than when the horse was attached and they had to steer with reins. Over the years, rubber tires have replaced rattling wooden wheels; flexible suspensions now cushion the bumps, and new types of transmissions enable you to smoothly change speed.

Put simply, “rattle-traps” have evolved into comfortable forms of transportation. This part shows you how each of these wonderful systems works and what you can do to maintain and troubleshoot it. Enjoy the ride

Except for the steering wheel, you probably consider the steering and suspension systems on your vehicle to be unknown territory, and up until now, you’ve probably been content to leave it that way. But these systems are the unsung heroes that smooth out the driving process and keep you headed exactly where you want to go.

Get a good idea of how the type of steering and suspension your vehicle possesses works so that you can deal intelligently with a technician if something goes wrong. Whenever you encounter a term set in this font, you’ll find it defined in the glossary in Appendix A.

The Steering System

The steering system consists of a series of linkages and gears that link the driver to the wheels. On most vehicles, only the front wheels turn in response to the steering wheel, while the back wheels just follow along. When you make a turn, each of the front wheels has to turn at a different angle because one wheel is closer to the direction you’re turning in than the other one is (think of the “snap the whip” game). There’s a difference between how far you turn your steering wheel and how far the wheels of your vehicle turn during one rotation of the steering wheel.

This is called the steering ratio. The more you have to turn the steering wheel to get the wheels to respond, the higher the steering ratio. To find the steering ratio, you divide one complete rotation of the steering wheel (360 degrees) by the number of degrees the wheels turn. The steering ratio in most cars is between for example if the wheels on your car turn 20 degrees during one rotation of the steering wheel.

The steering linkage

The steering linkage is composed of all the parts of the steering system that connect the steering wheel to the front wheels. When you turn your steering wheel, the steering linkage causes your front wheels to respond by moving in the proper direction. The principal parts of the steering linkage are the tie rod ends, ball joints, and control arms.

Tie rod ends

The tie rod ends are a type of ball socket assembly located where the steering linkage connects to the wheels. As the two parts of the linkage move against each other, the grease in the tie rod ends cushions them. The grease keeps the parts moving freely and prevents friction that would wear them away.

Control arms

The steering linkage actually connects to the wheels, which are held in place by a spindle that goes through the wheel and is attached to one or two control arms, or steering arms that allow the wheels to turn in any direction. To keep things moving freely, ball joints are located at points where movement takes place.

Last word

Ball joints are important parts of the steering systems on all vehicles. A ball joint is a ball socket assembly that attaches the steering knuckle to the suspension system. The ball joint allows for pivotal and rotational movement of the wheel as it moves up and down and is steered left to right.

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