Your car's suspension is a remarkably complex system with many moving parts. Every bump and jolt in the road places wear on these components, and encounters with potholes or curbs can cause surprising amounts of damage. When part of your suspension is worn or failing, you'll usually know from the unpleasant sounds of metal and metal contact when driving over a bump.
If you've noticed these noises with your car, you're probably looking for a quick and easy diagnosis and fix. Unfortunately, the situation isn't always so straightforward.
The Bad News: There's a Lot Going On Behind Your Wheels
If you've ever removed your car's wheels, you know a lot is going on back there. When you hear a loud clunk or bang from your suspension, the typical cause is two metal pieces coming into contact with one another. This contact shouldn't usually happen, but worn or broken parts can introduce extra play into the system, which ultimately creates the noises you'll hear while driving.
In other words, you can't immediately diagnose a problem with your suspension just by listening. There are simply too many potential points of failure, and any one of them (or more than one) may be causing your problem. However, these clunks do give you one critical piece of information: they let you know your suspension requires immediate attention.
The Good News: You Don't Need to Throw Parts at the Problem Blindly
While noises alone don't provide enough information for a concrete diagnosis, they offer a place to start. Once you can identify which wheel or set of wheels is noisy, you can begin to look for more evidence of trouble. Technicians will usually start by getting the vehicle into the air and rocking the wheels from the top and sides. Any movement may point to tie rod or ball joint failures.
A technician will further diagnose the problem by removing your wheels and visually inspecting your suspension components. Many parts of your suspension and steering use lubricated joints, and it's often easy to spot a problem by looking for dry or leaking bushings. It's also possible to check many of these components for excessive play by moving them by hand.
These diagnostic steps take time and experience to perform correctly, but they eliminate many potential suspects and help find the most likely cause for your noises. Once you've uncovered the parts that show the most significant signs of wear, you can replace them without spending extra money on repairs that you don't need.
Although "what's making that noise?" doesn't always have an easy answer, an experienced shop can still help you find the most likely causes for your suspension clunks. Taking care of these problems as you discover them will not only quiet down your suspension but also restore your car's ride and handling. Take your vehicle to a professional for suspension work if any of these situations arise for you.