The Best Way To Drive Over A Speed Bump According To A Suspension Engineer (Me)

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If you’ve spent any time driving a car these days you will no doubt have encountered them, probably cursed them, and maybe even damaged your car on them. I’m talking about your and my favorite road feature, the speed bump. Or as the English call them, the sleeping policeman (a bit morbid if you ask me, but hey, they invented the language so I suppose they can call it what they want).

These speed-reduction devices seem to be popping up in more and more places these days, and if you live in India, they are absolutely everywhere — even in the middle of highways. In the U.S. and pretty much everywhere, residential areas seem to be the favorite places for them to breed; their rate of multiplication tends to match that of local residents.

In my years of driving I’ve noticed different ways people cross these dreaded things and I’ve boiled those methods down to three strategies:

1. Slow down and turn just before the bump to cross over diagonally
2. Maintain speed, and power through
3. Lower your speed and drive over slowly.

Let’s talk about each of these and then I’ll let you know which “speed bumper” I am and why.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die

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Let’s first talk about diagonal speed bump crossers. These are the folks who approach a speed bump and then at the last minute turn the wheel sharply so the car drives diagonally over the bump. Each wheel hits the bump separately and the car pitches sideways as each wheel goes over. If you had any coffee in your cupholder it has now drenched your center console. Or your passenger just whacked their head against the door glass and is now cursing you instead of the speed bump.

As each wheel drives over the speed bump it wants to lift the car. But the other three wheels are still on level ground and they don’t want to be picked up. Even though the suspension is designed to isolate the sheetmetal from the forces coming from the road, those forces still go into the body via the springs and dampers. This means the body of the car is fighting with the other three wheels as it tries to push down on some and lift the others. The result is that the body wants to twist out of shape and the only reason it doesn’t is because of the welds that hold it together and the stiffness of the metal it is made of.

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If you’ve ever jacked up a corner of an older car you may have noticed it can be hard to open the doors. It’s the same thing. The body has been twisted out of its normal shape and the doors are now jammed shut. Put the car down and everything is fine again because the twist is gone. In the meantime, the welds of the body have been stressed and it is possible for some of them to just give up and pop open. What is more likely to happen, though, is that as the body is trying to twist, other parts that are connected to it — like the dashboard, or the seats, or the headliner — are also being asked to twist and the clips and bolts holding those things in place aren’t nearly as strong as a weld. Do this enough times and those little fasteners will start to loosen and create nasty squeaks and rattles.

The same twisting is also happening in your suspension. Much of the suspension doesn’t really care about this but most cars these days come equipped with anti-roll bars front and rear and these bars connect the left and right side suspension systems.

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When one wheel goes up, the anti-roll bar has to twist, which stresses the bar itself but more importantly, it stresses the rubber bushings that hold the bar in place.

Damn the Torpedoes. Full Speed Ahead!

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Some people believe when it comes to speed bumps that the accelerator is their best friend. The faster you go the less you feel them – Must be good, right? Well, not exactly. When your suspension comes up to a speed bump, it has to move up and out of the way to cross it. The faster you go, the faster the suspension has to get out of the way. This causes very high stresses in all the parts that make up the suspension and can seriously reduce the life of those parts, especially the dampers.

Dampers work by forcing hydraulic fluid through many tiny holes as the wheels move up and down. The movement of this fluid is how a damper absorbs energy, turning it into heat and slowing down the motion of the suspension. To get a better understanding of how a damper works, imagine jumping on a sealed plastic bottle filled with water. The fluid doesn’t compress, so — aside from the bottle changing shape a bit, your landing is going to feel really stiff. Now imagine poking a small hole in the bottle. When you jump on it, you’ll squeeze water through that hole and you’ll feel less resistance than with a sealed bottle. As you increase that hole size (or add more holes), the “damping” becomes less and less, and the bottle feels softer when you stomp on it — in other words, the bottle displaces more for a given input. If you remove the lid entirely or add a bunch of holes, and jump on the bottle, you’ll experience basically no damping — in other words, nothing will be there to resist your motion towards the ground.

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Without dampers, your car would hit a bump, the springs would compress, and that potential energy in that now-compressed spring would push the wheel down (and thus, the body up), this would then stretch the spring, and that potential energy in a stretched spring would pull the wheel up (and to a lesser extent pull the body down). The spring is pushing and pulling the wheel/body, sending the car bouncing up and down along the road like a pogo stick, because there’s nothing to absorb that energy and turn it into heat. You may have seen older cars with worn out shocks bounce as they drive down the road; it’s a wonder those drivers don’t get seasick.

To get a feel for how driving fast over bumps could affect shock life, let’s continue our water bottle analogy. If the bottle only has a small hole and you stomp on it, what is likely to happen to that hole? If you guessed it would get bigger or just rip open, you are right. The same thing can happen to the damper but in this case it is the rubber seals keeping the hydraulic fluid inside that might rip open. Again, the faster you drive over the speed bump, the faster the damper has to move, and the more pressure you build up. The result is a greater chance that something will burst.

So for those who like to drive fast over speed bumps, you may not be feeling the bump, but your suspension sure is.

Slow and Steady Wins The Race

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The last type of speed bumper is the one that slows down to a crawl and drives over the bump two wheels at a time. This method keeps the suspension in its more or less normal position because the body has time to move up with the bump. Since two wheels are going over the bump at the same time, neither the suspension nor the body is being asked to twist and since it is all happening slowly, the dampers don’t have to move and force fluid through those tiny holes at high speed.

By now I’m sure you’ve already guessed which type of speed bumper I am. I cringe every time I see someone fly over speed bumps at high speed. As a dynamics engineer, I can’t help but feel for the poor suspension being abused like that. And as someone who absolutely hates squeaks and rattles, I just can’t bring myself to cross them diagonally. Slow and Steady wins the race, in my book. Yes, this may seem like the obvious answer, but I figured I’d walk you through my thought process; it was just something I had to get off my chest.

So, which type of speed bumper are you? Cross my Heart and Hope to Die? Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead? Or Slow and Steady Wins the Race? Let’s discuss.

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109 Responses

  1. One biggest thing I’ve come to realise is to be off the brake pedal when you enter the bump. If you have the brake pedal pressed it compresses the front springs and makes the bump worse.
    Drive, brake until the bump, release just before.

  2. I’ve always wondered if speed *humps* actually produce the same traffic-calming effect as speed bumps, but with less of the vehicle wear/tear and fewer people like me slowing everything down to creep over them?

    (Even my very-slightly lowered Mustang with a very small rake always means slow n steady over the bumps otherwise the midpipe scrapping is like fingers on a $&%! chalkboard)

  3. In the UK there’s so little consistency between different speed bumps (“sleeping policemen” as a phrase is rarely used now), that you pretty much have to pick a different approach for each one.
    In just one city (Bristol) we have; narrow and tall ones (definitely the hardest on your suspension). Long (about 6 feet) ones that don’t go all the way to the kerbs, entire raised junctions, narrow individual ones on each side of a road that you can usually get a wheel on each side of, and everything in between. We’ve also got some cobbled streets which inspire you to slow down if only to stop the rattling.

  4. I used to have a car that was just too low, if there was a gap I aimed the lowest exhaust flange at the gap. Sometimes I turned around in a cloud of vaporized tire and found another way. The dumbest one I tried was stopping, loading the torque converter, launching hard enough to lift the fronts off the road, and leaving exhaust tip shavings on the bump. Only did that once.

  5. I believe Her Majesty’s Constabulary (at least the specially trained drivers) use the diagonal method, at speed, the rationale being only one wheel moves at a time. Also, not their car so they don’t care.

    However the one correct approach to speed bumps is to travel in a hydro pneumatically suspended Citroen, as you won’t feel them at all. Even at 40 mph…..

  6. My speed depends on the vehicle. I try to match speed with the suspension to provide a reasonable rate of suspension lift. Slow in my old truck (’64 F100), a bit faster in my ’91 F350 with camper, and faster still in my ’21 Prius, then slower in my spouse’s ’22 Rav4.
    Regardless, never as slow as some folks crawl over them at a snail’s pace.

  7. I used to be a “punch it chewie” kind of speed bump driver because I had a Rebadged 96 Ranger. Solid axle in the back and Twin-I-beam up front(popular in Baja trucks for their simplicity and strength) combined with my stupidly soft suspension (lowest GVWR available for 96) meant I could blast speed bumps at 40 and hardly feel them. That being said, I dare not pass 20 in my current ride. A 90s sport sedan and 90s compact truck have very different ride heights and spring rates funnily enough lmfao.

  8. Option 4: Drive over the speedbumps without reducing speed in a Citroen with a hydropneumatic suspension. 🙂
    I’ve tried this in a BX, it’s crazy, you can barely feel them.

  9. Makes sense about the diagonal method, I had never thought of that. It seems like sometimes in very low cars it results in less scraping and horribleness to do the diagonal thing, but I’m going to default to straight on from now on.

  10. The apartment complex I once lived in had these massive speed bumps with long empty stretches between them. Being younger and dumber then we were driving quickly between them in a strange game of chicken.

    I didn’t slow down enough over first one and bottomed out the middle of the car. I tried to slow down way in advance of the second set and the brake drops to the floor with no resistance followed by an unhelpful dash light illuminating. Using the e-brake we slow down enough before the second bump to avoid more damage. I had managed to tear open the brake line.

    Couple months later a friend goes over one of them in his Volvo diagonally oh so slowly. We go up and then down, down, all thew way to the ground as the front suspension breaks and the car lands beached on the speed bump with the wheel sticking out of the well horizontally.

  11. It bugs me that as more SUVs and CUVs hit the roads, speed humps get taller, further penalizing anyone who still chooses to drive a car. Our 1999 Prius got pounded on the speed humps at my former job. The SUVs didn’t even slow down. *sigh*

  12. For most around me, I run the right wheels off of the bump( where the rain gutter on the road would be) and just the left wheels go over. keeps the car from trying to force the oil pan into the bump itself.

  13. A road near me has speed humps which are meant to drive over at a reasonable speed (the signs say 20 mph, but my testing says 30 is still okay). Despite the signs, every time I drive down that road there is always that person who comes nearly to a complete stop to drive over the humps. Usually this person is driving a large SUV.

  14. It never fails, I’m following a Jeep/ 4×4 or lifted pickup whatever. Obviously heavily modified to take on anything off-road can dish out. But when they approach a speedbump or even a mild looking driveway ramp, they slow down to .5 mph and take 30 seconds for their vehicle to cross that threshold. I dont get it.

    1. Was about to post this same thing. Drives me crazy. Look at me in my Prius, made it over the speed bump without changing my approach angle and going 2 mph. While guy in the lifted 4Runner ahead of me treated it like he is scaling some obstacle at Moab.

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