Tech Stuff

Electronic/adaptive ride control: A brief overview of today’s systems

<p>Today&rsquo;s increasingly sophisticated electronic ride control systems take advantage of a variety of input sensors, including the ABS wheel speed sensors and steering angle sensor, in addition to the lateral and longitudinal pitch sensors and yaw rate sensor.</p>

Electronic stability control (commonly referred to as ESC) is designed to slow and control the vehicle from unwanted oversteer and understeer. An ESC system takes advantage of the existing ABS and traction control systems.

The system monitors individual wheel speed (providing data relative to any individual tire losing traction), engine speed, steering direction and the degree of lean and roll being experienced at any given time. The objective is to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle to avoid front-end push (understeer), tail wagging (oversteer) and loss of traction. In essence, these systems were developed to aid the typical driver in maintaining vehicle control to avoid an accident. Let’s face it: the majority of drivers do not possess the skills to control a vehicle in extreme maneuvers. These systems step in to provide an automatic aid to supplement the driver’s abilities.

Beginning with the 2012 model year, automakers began in earnest to produce sophisticated ride control systems that enhance vehicle safety. Whether you refer to these systems as active or adaptive suspension systems (or any of a number of other labels that the automakers decide to use), a variety of electronic-managed vehicle stability systems are becoming increasingly commonplace.

<p>Electronic stability control systems, using acquired sensor data, are able to apply and release individual wheel brakes in addition to managing engine speed and in certain vehicle applications, managing transmission gear selection, in order to maximize vehicle stability.</p>

In addition to, or as part of a stability control platform, shock dampers have become more sophisticated in terms of either damping control or self-leveling (or both) capabilities to control vehicle ride height through a range of vehicle speeds and road conditions.

Common examples feature small electric motors that are mounted to the top of the shock absorber rods. These electric motors (actuated by signals sent as a result of the monitoring data provided by various damping, pitch, steering angle and yaw sensors serve to turn the shock’s rods in order to adjust the shock’s valving (stiffer or softer) to accommodate current driving conditions. Other vehicle applications, found on many GM and European makes, employ a magnetic fluid approach wherein the magnetic-particle-laden hydraulic fluid changes viscosity depending on operating conditions.

Wear-related components are still key

The technological advancements in stability control currently in use and those coming down the road certainly contribute to vehicle control and accident avoidance, but all of the electronic techno-magic in the world can’t do its job properly if the vehicle’s tires are sub-standard. Electronic ride control and its attributes are dependent on the tire’s ability to provide the necessary degree of traction. If the tires can’t grip the road, the system can’t provide all of the intended benefits.

Regardless of whether or not your shop sells tires, inspect the vehicle’s tires for overall wear, uneven wear and age (dry rot and age-hardened tread compound. If Santa Claus’ reindeers can’t get off the ground, it doesn’t matter how many expensive toys are loaded on the sleigh...they aren’t going to be delivered. The same holds true for today’s vehicles equipped with electronic ride control. They may be adorned with innovative and complex systems, but if the tires aren’t up to the job, the customer won’t realize all of the benefits that these sophisticated systems are designed to provide.

The same holds true for various suspension system components such as springs, control arm bushings, lower ball joints, anti-sway bar links and bushings, etc. The vehicle may be equipped with electronic ride control system, but the condition of “traditional” wear-related components remains as critical as ever. Electronic ride control systems are management systems, and remain dependent on the condition of all wear-related chassis components.

Tags: Lexus  Mike Mavrigian 
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