You may have gotten accustomed to your car riding a little rough, until a friend riding with you shouts "Wow! That was a big bump!" Then you know it's time to troubleshoot the problem. Here is how you can check out your car to find why it's riding rough and how to get a smooth ride again.
Start with the Tires
The tires are easy to check and could be a major reason for a bouncy ride. Check the air pressure in the tires and make sure they are at the pressure stamped on the side of each tire. If your tires are over-inflated, they will bounce more on bumps in the road instead of absorbing the force of the rough road. Just one tire over-inflated is enough to cause your car to bounce when hitting bumps.
Check the sidewalls of each tire while you're checking the pressure. If you can see or feel a bump under the sidewall, one of the layers that make up the tire may have split. This puts you at risk of a blow out but it also means the tire is not supporting the car as it should. Again, the tire isn't able to absorb the shock of a bump, so you feel it more in the car.
Check Alignment and Steering
Bumps in the road will feel larger if your car's alignment or steering is worn or loose. The rack and pinion mechanism that controls your steering and the tie rods that keep your wheels pointing in the same direction may be worn. With the car running and in "Park" with the parking brake on, step out of the car and watch the left front wheel as you turn the steering wheel. Can you turn the steering wheel a bit before the front wheel moves? You'll need someone to help you do this while checking the right front wheel. If you have a little play in the steering wheel before the front wheels move, take the car in to an auto repair shop to check out the steering mechanism and tie rods.
When driving down the road, does the car drift to one side or the other until you straighten the steering wheel? Are the tires worn more on one side than the other? These are signs of an alignment problem. A tire service center, like Spring Suspension & Alignment Services, will check your alignment and make the right adjustments to get your car driving straight again.
Shocks, Struts and Springs
These work together to absorb the bulk of the shock when your hit a bump or pothole in the road. Start by looking under the car for leaks directly under the shocks. Some shocks use fluid to dampen the bumps and if the seals are worn, fluid may escape and make the shock less effective.
Next, do the bounce test. Quickly press down on one corner of the car over the wheel as far as you can go then let go of the car. It should bounce once or twice then settle back into place. If the car doesn't spring back up quickly or it bounces more than a couple of times, the shock is bad. In that case, it's time to go to an auto shop that does suspension service. They will check the springs and struts, as well. If you need to replace the shocks, it may be time to replace the springs, too, and your car will ride as smoothly as it did when brand new.