Steering and Suspension: This system takes more wear and tear than even your brakes and merits just as much attention for safety.
Unlike brakes, when you are driving, your steering is constantly used, and because it supports the weight of your car on the wheels, your suspension system is always at work, even when your car is not being driven. Steering and suspension together must be kept in safe working condition to pass Virginia State Inspection each year.
All cars have either shocks or struts (or a combination) which support the weight of your vehicle along with your tires. Your tires are attached to your vehicle via hub/wheel bearing assemblies. Ball joints (uppers and lowers, left and right) are attached to the hub bearing and are what allow your wheel to turn left and right and travel up and down over uneven surfaces during driving. They are the pinpoint support for the weight of your vehicle and are one of the most frequently replaced safety items on a car. (You can compare your ball joints to hip sockets on a human. They are utterly essential to mobility.) If they break, the tire does not roll.
Tie rods (inners and outers, left and right) are also attached to the hub bearing and connect it to the steering wheel. Although not load bearing like ball joints, they also control steering and are susceptible to wear and failure. (You might imagine these as the bones that attach limbs to your body. You must have them to direct and steer your hands and feet when moving.) Without the function of your tie rods, your car can’t turn.
Along with tires, shocks and struts, these components—the wheel/ hub bearings, ball joints, and tie rods—work together to support your vehicle during driving and allow you to safely steer and maneuver your car. Over time they will naturally wear out or fail for many reasons including lack of maintenance, number of miles driven, quality of parts installed, and impact road conditions. Potholes, speed bumps, rough terrain and curb hopping don’t just knock your car out of alignment—they also break or shorten the life of your steering and suspension parts.
As these parts BEGIN to wear out, they loosen and develop “play” within the steering and suspension system. This play greatly expedites failure since it allows room for parts to move freely and pound against each other during use. Just as with any loosely packed cargo, if there is room, damage is more likely during movement, and these parts are always moving as you drive your car. DANGER: If any of these key components break while you are driving, a complete loss of steering occurs. In turn, that severely impacts braking ability with potentially catastrophic consequences. For this reason, excessive play in these system parts is a common cause of state inspection failure.