NASCAR crew chiefs can be called upon to solve a variety of steering and suspension problems at any point during a race.
Just ask Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs Steve Addington, Chad Johnston and Steve Letarte.
Through 32 races, they are locked in a three-way battle for the 2012 MOOG Problem Solver of the Year Award, an honor which recognizes the crew chiefs whose race setup and strategy help maximize their team's performance and whose race car posts the greatest improvement in average lap time during the second half of the race while finishing on the lead lap.
Crew chiefs know a good handling car is key to winning. Similarly to the 850-horsepower race cars circling the track on Sundays, your vehicle's safe drivability relies on its stopping, steering and stability components working together. One worn or failing part could compromise your safety.
Your car's suspension system is an intricate network of components designed to give you a smooth, stable ride. Since the suspension is ground zero when it comes to road abuse, the parts wear out and break.
Problems with your car's suspension usually exhibit symptoms like abnormal pops, clunks or squeaks, unusual tire wear patterns, steering wheel pull, or a side-to-side vibration of the front wheels.
The following are a few warning signs -- and causes -- that should alert you that your vehicle's suspension needs attention.
Pulling to one side while driving
Causes: Low or uneven tire pressure, uneven tire wear, bad alignment, worn or bad steering components, sticking brake caliper
Wheels wander and wiggle rapidly back and forth
Causes: Low or uneven tire pressure, one or more wheels out of balance, uneven or excessive tire wear, bad alignment, worn steering components
Bouncing or dipping over bumps or uneven roads
Causes: Worn shocks or struts, broken or slipped leaf spring
Steering seems to be slipping
Causes: Low power steering fluid, loose or worn power steering belt, bad power steering pump, leaking power steering rack, broken steering rack mounts
Wheel is hard to steer
Causes: Low power steering fluid, loose or worn power steering belt, bad power steering pump, leaking power steering rack
Steering wheel excessively vibrates at speed
Causes: Wheels out of balance, tires worn unevenly or excessively, loose wheel bolts, warped brake rotor
Loose or wandering steering
Causes: Power steering fluid low, worn strut bearings or ball joints, worn or broken tie rods or steering rack, broken steering rack mounts
Knocking over bumps
Causes: Worn shocks or struts, strut bearings or ball joints
Screeching when steering at low speeds
Causes: Low power steering fluid, loose or worn power steering belt
If you are experiencing steering or suspension problems or if you hear unusual noises when driving over bumps or dips in the road, see an automotive technician for a comprehensive steering and suspension inspection.
For more information regarding steering and suspension components, and to see which crew chief takes home the MOOG Problem Solver of the Year honor, visit moogproblemsolver.com.