WHAT THE HECK IS A…Sway Bar?

To know what the heck a sway bar IS, we must first explore what the heck a sway bar IS NOT. A sway bar is not:

  1. An establishment that sells alcohol on a ship at sea
  2. Part of the pendulum in a grandfather clock
  3. The hottest night club in Chattanooga, Tennessee
  4. A solid version of those wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men

It’s a hoppin’ place!

So…what the heck is it then?

A sway bar is a part of many vehicles’ suspensions that helps distribute weight more evenly among the tires during a turn, thus making the vehicles easier to handle. Other names for it include: anti-sway bar, anti-roll bar, and stabilizer bar.

How Does It Do That Thing It Does?

First, sway bars run the same direction as the wheel axles, connecting the back wheel suspensions to each other and the front wheel suspensions to each other via sway bar links. Secondly, they are strong and inflexible, but can be twisted…much like some people’s political views (Oooohhhh he just went there!).

This is a sway bar attached at the two front wheel suspensions of a vehicle by sway bar links. It’s attached to the frame with bushings.

According to physics, when a vehicle makes a turn, there is more weight transferred to the side of the vehicle on the outside of the turn, which causes the side of the vehicle on the inside of the turn to lift a little (or a lot if it’s a sharp, fast turn). That doesn’t make much sense to me when I think about it, but I am no physicist. Then I think about it again, and it makes a tiny bit of sense. Then I think about macaroni and cheese. I’m hungry. My thoughts notwithstanding, that’s how it is.

Let’s say you’re driving straight and you need to make a right turn. Did you say it, or was I the only one? Fine. Whatever. So, you turn your wheel to the right. That actually shifts more weight to the left side of your vehicle from the right side. The right side wants to lift off the ground.

  • Without a sway bar:
    • The left wheels will be compressed by the weight shift, and the right wheels will lift off of the road, giving the driver less control of the turn because only two of the wheels will have grip on the road. If that turn is sharp, and taken at a fast speed, the vehicle could roll over.
  • With a sway bar:
    • The left wheels will be compressed by the weight shift, and the sway bar twists to distribute that weight to also compress the right wheels, giving the driver more control of the turn because all of the wheels will have grip on the road.

Here’s a play-by-play example of how a sway bar works during a right turn:

Signs That Trouble Is A-Brewin’

Here are some things for which to watch and listen regarding your sway bar(s):

  • Vehicle is sporadically handling rough
  • Vehicle leans a lot more during turns
  • Rattling, clunking, and/or clinking under the vehicle, especially while turning or going over bumps
  • Sway bar is not attached to the suspension and/or frame of the vehicle

One of the most common sway bar issues is broken or damaged sway bar links and bushings. If you experience any of the above situations, the best thing to do is to take it to your local, trusted mechanic. Suspensions and the like can get pretty complicated and need to be calibrated to each vehicle to ensure safety and that the vehicle can handle the way the driver wants it to.

 

So, there you have it. Now you know what the heck a sway bar is NOT, what it IS, and learned that I am hungry for macaroni and cheese.*

 

*I love macaroni and cheese so much that I had a macaroni and cheese bar** at my wedding reception.

**A mac-n-cheese bar is not similar to a sway bar.

 

 

Tell me what other automotive parts baffle you. I’ll tell you what the heck they are!

Written by Ben Scharff

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