Is It Dangerous to Drive on Worn Springs?

Used cars are simply a better value. The second you drive off the lot with a new car, it loses at least 15 percent of its value. If you’ve got the patience and have a little mechanical knowledge, you can score an absolutely serviceable car with a few miles and enjoy years of service, but what risks come with driving on used parts?

Like any machine, a worn-out car can’t perform the way a new one does. We have regular services to mitigate the consequences that come as cars age, but springs aren’t typically replaced at the dealership. So are new springs vital?

What Do Springs Do?

When you consider servicing your car, you probably think about oil changes and engine components, or maybe a fresh set of tires. Your car’s suspension is an essential system that needs the same level of attention as any other running gear.

If the tires on your car are the only components that come into contact with the asphalt, think of your suspension as the “hardware” that locates the tires. That makes it pretty important. Springs are one of two major components in your suspension, along with shock absorbers.

While shocks control your car’s forward and rearward motion, springs keep lateral motion in check. Linear rate springs push back against body roll with the same force, regardless of how hard you corner. Progressive springs get stiffer as you load them, to provide more damping in high-speed corners.

Symptoms of Worn Springs

Unless you’ve spent your entire life riding in new or lightly used cars, you’ve probably ridden in a car with burnt-out springs and not realized it. Cars shouldn’t have excessive body roll, but a set of tired springs will cause your vehicle to lean disproportionately to the left or right.

Body roll equals weight transfer, and when you have a car leaning dramatically to one side, handling can get unpredictable. Worn suspension can become self-destructive. A spring that is already bottomed out can’t absorb forces placed on your car from imperfections in the road. Those forces help shake loose the fasteners that hold the rest of your car together.

When Should Springs Be Replaced?

Cars come from the dealership with springs that last quite a while. By the time a car’s springs are worn to the degree that they need replacing, it might be on its third, fourth or fifth owner.

At roughly 100,000 miles, you can begin to think about the life of the springs on a car. You probably won’t need to replace them until around 150,000 or even 200,000 miles. As with all car parts, these numbers can change depending on the life the car has.

Maybe you drive off-road frequently or use your car as a weekend warrior at the track. In cases like this, your springs are enduring forces the average car doesn’t, and you will most likely need to replace them at lower mileage than you would for a car not subjected to this type of treatment.

Installing New Springs

When the day does come that you’ve got to install new hardware, it’s important to know what you’re doing. Don’t attempt to remove and install springs without a spring compressor, a unique tool that keeps springs from exploding out of their perches.

You can always have a mechanic install new springs for you. Any reputable shop will have the equipment and the knowledge to install new springs on your car, and when the job is done, you’ll be able to enjoy a smoother ride with less body roll.

You might be surprised at what a difference a new set of springs makes. Every time you turn the wheel, you’re loading the springs of your car, and after many years of hard work on the road, a refresher can make quite a difference.

From Scott Huntington, a guest NMA blogger who is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter@SMHuntington

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2 Responses to “Is It Dangerous to Drive on Worn Springs?”

  1. KC Green says:

    I would like to know… to what extent do the springs (and the rest of the suspension components on my car) wear out each time I cross over a speed bump.

  2. Joe says:

    This would have been more helpful if he spoke about how there are different types of springs, and what exactly he was talking about. For example, there are coil springs and leaf springs. He cannot just say springs. Which kind? What do they do?