If you live in an area with particularly rough roads or if you just like the idea of a smoother, more comfortable ride, then you might be looking for ways you can improve your car’s ride quality. There are a lot of factors that go into how smoothly your car, truck or SUV drives on the road, some of which you have more control over than others.
The biggest factors in what determines your ride quality are tires, wheels and suspension and we’ll take a look at all three.
Here’s how you can improve the ride quality of your car:
1. Avoid bigger wheels if you want a smoother ride
As a general rule, bigger wheels result in a rougher ride. Switching to a smaller wheel and a thicker tire can give you a smoother ride without any major modifications to your car. However, if you go too crazy and change your wheel size too much, it can cause some problems. When changing the car’s original wheels and tires, the general rule of thumb is that you can go up or down by one inch. For example, if your car is currently riding on 17-in wheels, you can reduce the size to 16 inches. If you’re looking for a bigger wheel which can provide better handling, you can go up to an 18-in wheel.
It’s not recommended that you go much more than plus or minus one inch, as the car’s suspension and springs were designed around the original wheel/tire setup. Too radical of a change may lead to handling issues as well as suspension damage. Similarly, many brake calipers and rotors are designed with very little clearance between the components and the wheel. For example, going from an 18-in wheel to a 16- or 15-in wheel probably won’t work, as the wheel won’t fit over the brakes.
If you’re shopping for a new car, tire size is something to keep in mind. Base models of cars usually have the smallest tire/wheel combo, while top-of-the-line trims often have bigger, nicer-looking wheels. Many times, a sport package option will increase both tire size and the suspension’s stiffness. If you’re not an enthusiast driver, you’ll probably be happier with the stock setup. If the trim you like comes with bigger wheels and you don’t like the ride, you can usually ask the dealer to equip the car with different wheels; they’ll know which wheels will fit and which won’t. Keep in mind that Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) wheels will be far more expensive than most aftermarket wheels.
2. Choose the right tires
Not all tires are created equal. Performance tires are usually made with softer compounds that increase traction but also increase road noise and reduce tire life. A touring tire is designed for the way most of us drive our cars, namely on highways and around town at speeds no greater than 75 to 80 miles per hour. Touring tires ride a bit softer, last much longer and can even help improve fuel economy.
There are sub-categories of tires that get more specific from there which can blend together some of the advantages of touring tires and performance tires into one tire that can give you the perks of both. If you live in a snowy climate, we recommend using snow tires in the winter specifically designed for cold weather for greatly improved traction keeping you safe on snowy roads.
Another thing to keep in mind is the quality of the tire. If you’re just getting the cheapest tire you can find, you might be sacrificing some comfort in your ride quality. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to get quality tires, but it’s usually worth it to do some shopping around to find the best value rather than just whatever is cheapest. This is where a dealership or a trustworthy tire shop can help you make the right purchase for your car.
3. Change your suspension parts
Your suspension plays a big role in how your car rides, but changing your suspension is a little more complicated than changing your wheels and tires. A good place to start with suspension is to consider changing out the shocks and/or struts of your car. Shocks and struts are two different types of suspension parts that essentially do the same thing; they absorb bumps in the road and prevent your car from being too bouncy over bumps. The difference between them is that a strut is a more structurally integral part of your car than a shock. Whether your car uses shocks or struts or both depends on your car, but a common setup for a front-wheel drive car or crossover is struts in front and shocks in back.
These parts wear out over time just like any other part of your car that wears out like tires. If it’s been a while since your struts or shocks have been changed or if you can’t remember the last time you got new ones, a new set can greatly improve your ride quality compared to your old, worn-out ones. If your car feels too bouncy when driving on a rough road, it’s usually a sign that your shocks or struts are worn out. You could go with the OEM shocks or struts from the manufacturer of your car or you could shop around for aftermarket suspension parts designed for touring which could result in the smoother ride you’re looking for.
Whatever you do, make sure you’re replacing your shocks or struts in pairs if you’re going to replace them at all. Either replace both of the rears, both of the fronts, or all four. If you replace just one and not the other on the opposite side, you’ll have an uneven ride and uneven wear on the parts.
Another part of your suspension that can impact your ride quality or just make an annoying noise when worn out is the sway bar and some of the parts attached to it. It’s rare that the sway bar itself needs to be replaced, but there are bushings and end links holding it in place that can wear out. The sway bar does what it sounds like; it prevents your car from swaying or rolling too much by providing a brace underneath the car between the wheels. When the parts holding it in place wear out, the sway bar can’t do its job as effectively and you experience more body roll.
4. Make sure your car is the right height
This might sound strange, but the height of the car is another factor in your ride quality. This is especially true when dealing with cars with air suspension. If you have leaky air springs or a damaged air pump, it can make your car sag too low to the road. If you’ve noticed your car is a different height than usual and there’s less space between the body and the wheels, it’s likely a sign of damaged suspension.
Vehicle height is something you should keep in mind when shopping for a new car as well. Generally, the more flush a car’s body is with the wheels, the stiffer the suspension is going to be so the car doesn’t bottom out when going over bumps. It might make the car look cool, but looking cool comes at the price of a stiffer ride. This is a plus for enthusiasts who want sharp handling, but not so much for drivers prioritizing comfort.
How do I make these upgrades?
Changing wheels and suspension parts are jobs that a lot of you shadetree mechanics are capable of doing yourself which is a good way to save some coin, but for most drivers, it’s best to go to a professional. If you go to a dealer or a shop that you trust and tell them you’re thinking about making some changes to improve your ride quality, they can point you in the right direction and make recommendations based on your specific car. Now that you’re armed with some information on what can make your ride smoother, you’re better equipped to make the right changes to your car that work for your budget.
More Tire Related Articles:
- Buying Tires: We Use Tire Rack for the First Time
- Tire Safety: Maintaining Tires Will Be Easy in the Future
- Checking the Date Code on Your Tires Could Save Your Life
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.