Braking into a pothole – how to do this properly

Imagine you are driving along a nice smooth highway. You drive over a hill, and suddenly see a giant pothole just a few feet ahead. You brake as hard as you can, and you manage to slow down your car significantly, before its front wheels hit the pothole. BUM! BOOOM! BAH! Immediately, you feel there is something wrong with your car. Slowly you pull over to the shoulder and take a look at your front wheels. Hmm, looks like your front suspension is damaged...

While you are waiting for help, you watch another car, exactly like yours, same make and model and year, approaching this pothole. Its driver is braking, too. Surprisingly, you hear the sound of reved up engine just before his car hits the pothole. His car got shaken, but you do not hear any really bad sound. Look, this guy is not stopping to check his suspension - his suspension is just fine, and he is continuing his trip!

Was his car stronger than yours? No. Did he drive slower than you? Probably not, may be even faster. May be he just did not notice his suspension is broken? No. This driver knows physics of braking.

It is really easy concept to grasp. Your cars weight is distributed about evenly between front and rear axles. But when you slow down or accelerate, this weight distribution changes. When you are braking, the front axle is getting more weight, and when you are accelerating, the rear axle is getting more load. You probably noticed, that your car tilts forward, when you are braking, and tilts backwards, when you are accelerating. It does not seem like a big deal at the first glance, but it is a big deal for your suspension. The front axle load when braking can easily be two times more then when accelerating, or even more than that! And this directly translates to the load your suspension has to handle.

So, the correct sequence to follow in such a situation would be:

1. Brake as hard as you can up to the last moment. If you have a manual transmission, consider shifting one or even several gears down, to have the maximum possible torque on your wheels available for step 3.
2. Stop braking when you have just enough time to complete step 3, before your front wheel(s) hit the pothole.
3. Push your gas pedal all the way down to the floor, so you hit the pothole while heavily accelerating.

This method allows you to easily drive over deep and wide potholes without any damage to your suspension. On smaller obstacles you probably dont need to push the gas all the way to the floor, and the key point is to stop braking just before the obstacle to transfer the weight out of front wheels. This way you use the laws of physics to your advantage, and your suspension will serve you happily for a long time.

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