Almost every driver knows that their car contains a system known as a "suspension" to help with their handling, but few know precisely how this critical part works or the theories behind it. In reality, the suspension is one of the most important aspects of a vehicle, as it controls just how well a car handles and rides.

The idea behind a suspension is quite simple. Essentially, the suspension is there to account for surfaces that are not smooth. If every road in the country was perfectly flat, then suspensions wouldn't be necessary. The car would have no trouble staying on such a road and would offer the driver unparalleled control of the vehicle. However, this is simply not the case. Even a freshly-paved road has tiny imperfections, flaws and bumps, and this is why a suspension is vital. This system keeps the car's tires in contact with the road at all times, ensuring the driver remains in control of the car.

Without a suspension, the car would react to just about every bump on the road, and the driver and any passengers would definitely feel it. Automotive engineers divide the role of the suspension into three different categories: road isolation, road handling and cornering. These three ideas can help you understand exactly what your suspension does.

Road isolation essentially means that the car has the ability to absorb bumps and minimize their impact on the car. The vehicle does this through a system of springs and shock absorbers. These devices absorb the energy generated by bumps and other imperfections in the road, then dissipate it by spreading it out across the suspension. This is where you get vehicles known for their "smooth ride." It's because the suspension is built in such a way that the driver and passengers are not bothered by bumps.

This aspect of the suspension is typically at odds with the road handling, which is the ability of the car to keep the tires on the road. A suspension takes care of both absorbing bumps and keeping the tires down on every automobile, but they vary in how much emphasis they place on each.

Luxury cars tend to go for the smooth ride, but this can make them a bit less agile when it comes to handling. The reason is that the suspension springs in these cars are loose, allowing for better absorption but more sway when the tires lose grip on the road. On the other hand, a sports car will wind their springs tightly - the driver might feel a few more bumps, but he'll be able to handle the car easily.

The final aspect of suspension systems is cornering, and this is really just related to weight distribution. When taking a corner, part of the vehicle naturally rises above the other. The suspension system transfers weight to the "low" side of the car in order to improve responsiveness in this scenario.

Suspension systems are divided into dependent and independent systems for both the front and rear of the vehicle. A dependent system is basically one in which the two wheels are connected by an axle, while the independent systems allow each wheel to move freely. Dependent systems were once more popular, but have fallen out of style in favor of the increased handling offered by independent rear and front suspensions. However, dependent systems can still be found on older models and some large trucks.

In terms of auto maintenance, drivers should make sure they have their wheels aligned regularly to keep their suspension in top shape. It also pays to look for worn shocks and struts, especially if drivers have been noticing a difference in the way their car handles lately.