Get to Know Your Car’s Axles, Suspension, and Brakes

November 17th, 2023 by

A mechanic is shown performing brake service in Cincinnati.

As you drive and enjoy your car each day, it’s helpful to know whether your brakes are simply squealing due to rain or if you need to look for brake service in Cincinnati to replace something right away; the situation can get a lot more complicated once you introduce things like your vehicle’s suspension and axles.

This will come as no surprise, but today’s vehicles are complicated pieces of machinery; long gone are the simple designs and engineering of the old Chevy Series C Classic Six. Modern cars, trucks, and SUVs have a tremendous amount of work put into them to ensure they are safe and comfortable and remain under control when you’re behind the wheel.

While not every driver needs to be an automotive engineer, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the major components that make up your car, as this would make it easier to understand what might be wrong if you feel something off or hear a strange noise. So, let’s look at these major components to get a sense of what each one does, what you should know, and how to ensure they all remain in great working order.

First, Let’s Talk Car Axles

We could spend a lot of time discussing different types of axles, but you honestly don’t need to understand things at that level. Instead, we’ll keep things as simple as possible. There are quite a few different ways that axles are made and function these days; by and large, you won’t find many solid or dead axles on vehicles (why this is will become clear when we look at suspensions). The type of axles you have will depend on your drivetrain, which is to say, how power is transferred from your engine to your wheels.

If you have a car with rear-wheel drive (RWD), then the power goes to your rear wheels, and you’ll likely have a live rear axle that includes two half-shafts connected to your wheels and a differential between the two of them. On the other hand, if you have a front-wheel drive (FWD) car or SUV, then the power goes to your front wheels—and there’s probably a transaxle, which is a combination of a transmission and differential (since they’re both up front near the engine in this case). Finally, if you have a vehicle with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD), then power goes to all of your wheels, which means you’ll have differentials on the front and rear with axles designed to provide power to all four wheels.

The differential, by the way, exists to allow your powered wheels to spin at different rates, hence the name. When you make a turn while driving, the inner wheels travel less distance than the outer wheels, which means they need to spin at different rates; the differential allows this to happen. You only need this for the wheels with power since unpowered wheels are free to spin as they naturally need to, so you won’t have a differential where there’s no power to the wheels.

How to Tell When Something’s Wrong

In general, knowing when you have a problem with an axle isn’t easy as a driver, but loud noises—bumping or grinding sounds—can indicate an issue of some kind. Similarly, rough ride quality or new vibrations coming through your vehicle can mean you’ve broken or damaged an axle. Any time you notice these sorts of things, bring your vehicle to us, and we’ll take a look to see where the problem lies. Your differential also has fluid for lubrication and cooling, which needs to be checked frequently and replaced as needed, which we can do during other services.

A close-up is shown of a suspension beneath a car.

Second, Your Suspension Is Vital

Again, the suspension on your vehicle is pretty complicated, and there are numerous types of suspensions in use these days, but we’ll keep things as simple as we can. For starters, the two major types are non-independent suspensions and independent suspensions. A non-independent suspension typically involves a live axle with two half shafts and a differential. Since these wheels are physically connected together through the live axle, the suspension springs and other components are built onto the axle itself.

An independent suspension, on the other hand, can be found where you don’t have a live axle, so the wheels aren’t connected to each other. Instead, each wheel is independently attached to the body or frame of the vehicle; therefore, different springs and suspension systems are used as part of this mounting for the wheels. You can also find vehicles with front and rear independent suspensions, which still have a differential that uses shafts to send power to the wheels. Whichever kind of suspension you have, it exists to absorb shocks from dips and bumps on the road, providing you with a smoother ride while you’re driving.

How to Tell When Something’s Wrong

One of the simplest signs that your suspension is off is when you notice you’re feeling a rougher ride than usual, though this can also indicate an axle or wheel problem. You can manually push down on your vehicle and see how it bounces afterward; it should only bounce once or twice if your suspension is in good shape. If your vehicle pulls to one side while you drive or you notice one corner of it sits lower than the rest, then this can also indicate a suspension issue we can fix.

Third, Keep Your Brakes Braking

Brakes have a simple purpose: slow and stop your vehicle. Since you typically drive at high speeds, your brakes take a lot of abuse as they function, working hard to ensure you stop when you need to. That’s why it’s important you react quickly if you notice your brakes aren’t working properly—especially before you embark on a road trip or other times you’re going to be doing a lot of driving.

There are two main types of brakes in use today: drum brakes, which use brake shoes pressed against the inside of a drum to slow you down, and disc brakes, which use brake pads squeezed against the sides of a disc to bring you to a stop. In either case, the drum or disc connects to your wheels, so these two components take all the abuse rather than your wheels themselves. You’ll typically need to replace the brake shoes and pads on a fairly routine basis, depending on your vehicle and driving habits; the drums and rotors (or discs) will also need to be replaced occasionally, though they should last longer than the shoes/pads.

How to Tell When Something’s Wrong

If you hear squealing, squeaking, or grinding coming from your vehicle when you apply the brakes, then there’s probably something wrong with them. Squealing brakes when it’s raining isn’t too unusual, but if you hear this sort of thing on dry roads, then you likely have a problem. If you feel vibrations through your car when you hit the brakes, that can also mean it’s time to replace your brake pads or shoes—or that the drums or discs have become worn down. One important thing to note: you should always replace both sets of brakes on an axle together; so if you need to replace your front right brakes, then replace the left ones up front, too. Failing to do so may cause your car to lurch to one side if you brake hard and suddenly.

A hand is shown offering a thumbs-up next to a gloved hand holding a wrench.

Finally, Make Sure Everything Runs Beautifully

Getting the most from your vehicle means keeping it in good shape, and the best way to do this is to drive carefully and follow the service schedule set by Chevy for your model. This includes routine inspections of your axles, suspension, brakes, and more to ensure everything is in good shape and to help you find an issue before it becomes a bigger problem. The last thing you want is to be driving around Cincinnati, hit the brakes, and find they don’t stop you as quickly as you need them to.

Here at McCluskey Chevrolet, our certified service center and technicians are ready to help you with everything you need to ensure your car, truck, or SUV keeps running well for you for a long time. Schedule a service appointment today and guarantee your vehicle is the best it can be.