The suspension system, part of the undercarriage of an automobile, contains springs that move up and down to absorb bumps and vibrations. In one type of suspension system, a long tube, or strut, has a shock absorber built into its center section. Shock absorbers control, or dampen, the sudden loading and unloading of suspension springs to reduce wheel bounce and the shock transferred from the road wheels to the body. One shock absorber is installed at each wheel. Modern shock absorbers have a telescoping design and use oil, gas, and air, or a combination to absorb energy.
Luxury sedans generally have a soft suspension for comfortable riding. Sports cars and sport-utility vehicles have firmer suspensions to improve cornering ability and control over rough terrain.
Older automobiles were equipped with one-piece front axles attached to the frame with semielliptic leaf springs, much like the arrangement on horse-drawn buggies. Front wheels on modern cars roll independently of each other on half-shafts instead of on a common axle. Each wheel has its own axle and suspension supports, so the shock of one wheel hitting a bump is not transferred across a common axle to the other wheel or the rest of the car. Many rear-axle suspensions for automobiles and heavier vehicles use rigid axles with coil or leaf springs. However, advanced passenger cars, luxury sedans, and sports cars feature independent rear-wheel suspension systems.
Active suspensions are computer-controlled adjustments of the downward force of each wheel as the vehicle corners or rides over uneven terrain. Sensors, a pump, and hydraulic cylinders, all monitored and controlled by computer, enable the vehicle to lean into corners and compensate for the dips and dives that accompany emergency stops and rapid acceleration.