Performing A Full Suspension Inspection: The 5 Crucial Step Checklist

Welcome to Cartoon Motors’ comprehensive guide on performing a full suspension inspection. A car’s suspension system is a complex assembly of various components, making it essential to have a solid understanding before attempting an inspection. In this guide, we will provide you with valuable references on the different functions and systems of a car suspension so you can confidently carry out a suspension inspection.

Furthermore, the suspension inspection checklist covers the entire inspection process, from the initial test drive to thorough physical and visual examinations. We will guide you through each step, highlighting potential issues to look out for and explaining how to diagnose them. Additionally, we have compiled a list of essential tools and equipment you will need for a successful inspection.

Remember, a well-maintained suspension system is vital for a smooth and safe driving experience. So, let’s get started and ensure your car’s suspension is in top-notch condition!

Suspension Inspection

Suspension Components breakdown

A car suspension is composed of a lot of a lot of different parts and it comes in many different styles. Therefore, it can often be complicated and confusing for anyone with minimal knowledge on cars. The following lists are all references that can teach you a bit more about suspension so you can be confident performing a suspension inspection.

Different functions and systems of a car suspension:

How suspension parts work:

Suspension Diagrams:

How suspension works Video

How to perform a suspension inspection video

Suspension inspection checklist Overview

  • step 1: The Test Drive
  • Step 2: The Bounce Test
  • Step 3: The Diagnosis Test
  • Step 4: The Visual Test
  • Step 5: The Physical Test

Tools & equipment needed to perform a suspension inspection

Here is a list of the following tools and equipment you will need to perform this suspension inspection test:

  • Jack and Jack Stands
  • Breaker Bar & Socket For Lug Nut
  • Torque Wrench
  • Pry Bar
  • Flash Light
  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses

How to perform a full suspension inspection step by step checklist

Step 1: The Test Drive

Before commencing a full suspension inspection, it is essential to initiate the process with a thorough and methodical test drive. A well-executed test drive serves as the foundation for identifying potential suspension issues and provides crucial insights into the overall performance of the vehicle’s suspension system.

During the test drive, focus on varying driving conditions, such as city streets, highways, and rough surfaces, to assess the suspension’s adaptability to different terrains and speed. Pay close attention to any abnormal noises, vibrations, or irregular handling behaviors, as these can indicate underlying suspension problems.

Observe the vehicle’s responsiveness to steering inputs and braking actions, evaluating its stability and how it handles corners and turns.

By meticulously documenting any observations made during the test drive, you will establish a valuable baseline for further inspection. The insights gained from this initial step will guide the subsequent examination of the suspension system, enabling a systematic and effective approach to identifying and resolving potential issues.

Step 2: The Bounce test

The bounce test is a very quick and easy test to perform to check the shock absorber’s health. Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to add it to your suspension inspection checklist.

This test consists of compressing each corner of the car with your body weight and observing how the car reacts when the pressure is released.

Optimal Bounce Test Result: The car shouldn’t do more than one bounce when released.

Here is how to perform the test:

To begin the bounce test, position yourself at one corner of the vehicle. Firmly apply downward pressure to the body of the car or truck. Press down with your full weight, then quickly release the pressure and observe how the car reacts.

Perform the bounce test on all four corners of the vehicle, one at a time.

Diagnosis: If the car does excessive bouncing (more than one) or takes an extended period to stabilize after the test, it may signal worn-out shock absorbers or struts.

A worn shock absorber can compromise the vehicle’s stability and control, especially during cornering and braking.

Note: The bounce test is similar to a test drive and can help you determine where to look during your suspension inspection.

Step 3: The Diagnosis tests

After completing the initial bounce test, the next step in performing a full suspension inspection involves an extra series of diagnosis tests. These tests are designed to provide even more detail of the suspension system’s components, detecting potential issues that might not be immediately evident. However, the difference with the tests that follow is that it is essential to lift the car before conducting them.

Therefore, securely lift the vehicle using a suitable automotive lift and jack stands. If you are able to lift all four wheels off the ground safely it is recommended. This will allow unrestricted movement during the examination process. However lifting only the two front or rear wheels at a time will do the trick. Prioritize safety during this procedure by employing proper lifting equipment and following established lifting guidelines.

Test 1: The Wheel Shakes

The wheel shake procedure for a suspension inspection

#1: 12 & 6 O’clock

With the vehicle elevated, position yourself near one of the wheels and firmly grip the wheel at the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions. Proceed to pull and push the wheel vigorously in a front to back motion. However, you want one hand to pull while simultaneously the other to push and alternate.

You are trying to feel for a play. It will usually be very subtle but if there is one you will feel it. In the majority of cars there shouldn’t be any play at all. However, many pickup trucks or older vehicles do allow for a slight play. Therefore, check your car specification.

Repeat this process for each wheel on your car.

Diagnosis: Having a slight play in the 12 & 6 O’clock position will usually be signs of a worn bearing or ball joint which can be verified later.

#2: 9 & 3 O’clock

You want to do the exact same test, but this time place your hands on the wheel at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions and proceed to shake the wheel from side to side. Repeat this test for each wheel. 

Diagnosis:

  • Front: If you feel a play in one or both of the front wheels this could potentially be signs of a bad inner or outer tie rod. Wheel bearing and ball joints are also a possibility.
  • Rear: Unless your car is 4 wheel steering play in the wheel generally means bad wheel bearing. If it is 4 wheel steering it has the same potential issues as the front wheels.

#3: Diagonally Shake

Lastly you want to perform the same test but this time on both diagonals. (8 & 2 / 10 & 4) 

Test 2: 

Test the Wheel Bearing

If you believe your wheel bearing is worn, there is one more quick test you can perform to test it. However, this test will usually only work on McPherson Strut or Coilover style suspension but it is worth a try on any suspension. It is a very simple suspension inspection test to perform.

Pinch the spring with only two fingers and hand spin the wheel. If your bearing is bad you can usually feel a very subtle vibration. Furthermore, a bad wheel bearing will usually be referred to as the constant sound of a plane engine when driving.

Test 3:

Bad McPherson Strut Bearing

Diagnosing a bad top plate bearing on a McPherson strut involves a straightforward process that requires attentive observation and listening. To start, turn your front wheels back and forth while paying close attention to the spring.

If when spinning the wheel the spring doesn’t turn with the whole assembly it can be a sign of a bad top plate bearing. A bad top plate bearing will usually make a distinct “boing boing boing” sound when turning your wheels.

This sound is a result of the spring winding up, which should not happen due to the bearing’s role of serving as a pivotal point.

Step 4: The Visual suspension inspection

Inspection 1: Tires

Start by removing the tires to gain better access for inspection. Check the tire pressure to ensure they are properly inflated. Examine the tire treads for signs of wear and look for any uneven patterns, as this could indicate alignment or suspension issues. Confirm that the tires are of the correct size and suitable for the current season to optimize vehicle performance and safety.

Inspection 2: Boots and Bell Hoses

Thoroughly inspect all the boots or bell hoses surrounding the suspension components. Look for any visible rips, tears, or cracks. Damaged boots can lead to debris and moisture entering critical parts, causing premature wear and potential failure. Replace any damaged boots or hoses promptly to maintain the integrity of the suspension system.

Inspection 3: Shock absorbers

Check the shock absorber for any signs of leakage. Leaking fluid is a clear indicator of a worn-out shock absorber, which can significantly impact the vehicle’s handling and ride comfort. If you notice any leaks, it’s essential to replace the shock absorber to ensure optimal suspension performance.

Inspection 4: Springs

Run your fingers along each end of the spring to feel for any broken piece or sharp edges. The ends of a healthy spring should be smoothly manufacture. If you detect any cracks or sharp edges, it indicates a broken spring that may affect the suspension’s ability to absorb shocks and maintain stability.

Inspection 5: Extras

Lastly, you can conduct a visual examination of the suspension components for excessive rust or visible excessive damage. Rust can weaken the structural integrity of the parts, while damage may impair the suspension’s functionality. Address any rust or damage appropriately to prevent further deterioration and maintain the suspension’s longevity.

Step 5: The physical suspension inspection

Inspection 1: Outer Tie rods

To properly assess the condition of the outer tie rod, it’s recommended but not necessary to perform the inspection at ride height.

  • Ride Height On Jack Stands: To achieve ride height with a car on jack stands, use a jack to compress the suspension by jacking up the control arm. Go very slowly and be sure the car stays stable to not tip it over. If you are uncomfortable with doing so it is not necessary to achieve ride height. However, ride height simulates normal driving conditions.
  • Outer Tie Rod Inspection: Examine the outer tie rod by pushing and pulling on it in an up and down movement. Pay close attention to any play or looseness in the joint. Even a slight movement can indicate wear or damage in the tie rod, which could lead to imprecise steering and potential safety hazards.

Inspection 2: Inner tie rods

Check the inner tie rods for play by pulling on them in and out. The inner tie rods are essential components that connect the steering rack to the outer tie rods.

Any noticeable movement or play could indicate wear, which may lead to steering wheel vibrations and reduced handling responsiveness. If there is any sign of play in the inner tie rods, they should be replaced promptly to ensure precise and safe steering.

Inspection 3: sway bar and sway bar links

The sway bar plays a critical role in stabilizing the vehicle during cornering. To inspect it, use a pry bar to ensure it is tightly attached to the chassis and doesn’t move. Any excessive play or movement from the sway bar can negatively affect the vehicle’s stability.

Additionally, assess the sway bar links preferably at ride height by pulling on them to check for any play or unwanted movement. Damaged or worn sway bar links can compromise the effectiveness of the sway bar and make noise when driving.

Inspection 4: Ball joints

Proper functioning ball joints are essential for maintaining steering control and suspension performance. Inspect the ball joints by using a pry bar to slightly pry the control arm.

Observe closely for any play or movement in the ball joint. Alternatively, you can also check the ball joints by pulling on the control arm up and down up and down. If there is any noticeable looseness, replace the ball joints to prevent potential safety risks.

Ball joints are often the reason for “clunk” noises when going over bumps.

Inspection 5: Bushings

Thoroughly examine all the bushings with a pry bar. Look for any cracks, tears, or signs of deterioration in the bushing material. Particular attention should be given to any separation between the rubber and metal components, as this indicates advanced wear.

Damaged bushings can lead to increased vibrations, reduced ride comfort, and compromised handling. Replacing worn bushings is essential to maintain a smooth and controlled driving experience.

Conclusion

A full suspension inspection is crucial for maintaining a safe and well-functioning vehicle. By following a step-by-step suspension inspection checklist and understanding car suspensions, you can confidently identify and address potential issues, ensuring optimal performance on the road.

Regular inspections can extend the vehicle’s components’ lifespan, prevent major malfunctions, and enhance road safety. Addressing wear and damage promptly, replacing worn-out parts, and maintaining structural integrity is essential.

A well-maintained suspension system contributes to the overall health and longevity of your vehicle, making it a wise investment for every car owner.