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# 1he Helical Spring

## 1heory and Calculation in the

Context o the Automobile
Suspension System
CIV 205 1erm Project
Harris \ong
January 12, 1998
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
1
Introduction 2
General 1heory of the Helical Spring 3
Superpositioning of Shearing Stresses 4
Lnergy Method 6
Applying 1heory to the Automobile Suspension System 9
Bump Impact at Significant Speed J2
Conclusions JS
References J7
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
2
Introduction
1he suspension o an automobile is a complex system. Not only does it hae to support the
entire ehicle and its occupants statically, but also it has to withstand dynamic loads that come rom
accelerating, braking and cornering, road ariations and imperections. lurthermore, eerything,
rom the rigid support control members to the lexible tires and een the seats in an automobile,
eects the oerall eel that is perceied by the ehicles occupants.
1his CIV 205 project aims to address one o the most important components o the
automobile suspension-the helical spring. \ith some justiied simpliications, the analysis o the
helical spring is a tractable task. Although the helical coil, spring is not the only kind o spring
ound in automobile suspension systems, it is by ar the most prealent among passenger cars, and
its role is crucial in maintaining the drieability o cars so equipped with helical springs.
Because o the large number o assumptions required or the analysis o the helical spring,
they will not be listed in a speciic section. Instead, they will be mentioned together with the analysis,
wheneer necessary.
Ater the discussion o background theory is complete, two examples will be gien. 1he irst
will show how one can ealuate a car with one axle resting on a bump. 1he other will take into
account impact loading, or example, when a wheel hits a similar bump while the car is in motion.
1he results rom these two cases will be then be compared.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
3
General Theory of the Helical Spring
As the helical spring is essentially a twisted bar,
the characteristics o the helical spring can be analyzed
by taking a section o the helical spring shown in ligure
1, and analyzing the section as a straight circular bar in
torsion. Since the helical automotie spring is used as a
compression and support member, one can assume that
should also be considered, but they will not be the
coered in this project. It is assumed that the spring
compresses only in the direction o its axis, with the
spring seats holding the ends in place.
\ith the aboe assumption o an axially loaded
spring, ligure 1 shows the orces and moments on a
section o the spring. A simpliied iew is shown by
ligure 2, where the load l is balanced internally by a
shearing orce V and a torque 1 to compensate or the
act that l is not applied through the section in
consideration. lor the purposes o clarity, the uppercase
letters R and D will reer to the radius and diameter o
the coil, respectiely, while the lowercase letters r and d
Figure 1. Spring element with forces and
moments. (Benham).
Figure 2. Simplified free body diagram
showing a direct shear V and a torque T due
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
4
will reer to the radius and diameter o the spring element, respectiely. Although springs o non-
circular cross-sections exist, only the common, circular cross-section springs will be considered.
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1he simplest analysis o the helical spring requires some urther
assumptions. lirst, the coils o the spring are assumed to lie in a plane nearly
perpendicular to the axis o the spring such that the angle in ligure 1 is small.
1his assumption allows the section taken or analysis to be nearly ertical,
eliminating the need to consider an axial orce and a bending moment at the section
taken through the spring. Also, any changes in coil radius are ignored. 1hus, there
are only two stress contributors, one is the result o the applied orce l, and the
other is a 1orque 1 that exists because load is collinear with the axis o the coil. By superposition,
the two stresses sum and result in the irst line o Lquations 1. At this point, it should be noted that
the irst term o Lquations 1 the stress due to the shearing orce V, is assumed to be acting
uniormly oer the cross-section. Note that this aeraging results in
2
r
F

## term or the direct shearing

stress. In reality, a better approximation would come rom using the expression
It
VQ
and inding Q
to the neutral axis and using t as the diameter o the spring element. Howeer, because most texts
appear to use the simpliied expression
2
r
F

## , I will retain this simpliication. Since FR T = , r c = ,

2
r A = and
2
4
r
J

= , Lquations 1 is simpliied, giing the shearing stress on a spring element as
the bottom line o Lquations 1. As the size o the spring element becomes small with respect to the
coil such that R r << ,, the irst term in the parentheses direct shear, becomes inconsequential.
Howeer, when the two radii become comparable, the irst term, due to 1orque 1, cannot be

+ =
+ =
+ =
+ =
1
2
2
2
2
3
3 2
2 2
R
r
r
FR
r
FR
r
F
r
FRr
r
F
J
Tc
A
F

Equations 1.
Shearing stress
as a sum of the
direct shear and
torsion.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
5
neglected because it is also a signiicant contributor o the total shearing stress. Neertheless, a
useul equation or the maximum shearing stress does come out o the aboe analysis i a stress
concentration actor, K, is used instead o including the irst term o the last line o Lquations 1.
1he result is Lquation 2, where the actor K scales the shearing stress appropriately as a unction o
the ratio o the radii, compensating or the neglect o the direct shearing term. ligure 3 shows how
K aries with the spring element and coil size. \ahl
proposes that ligure 3 has, as its goerning equation,
Lquation 3. 1he general ormula or the maximum
shearing, Lquation 2, along with the correction actor K,
will be used or uture calculations o shearing stress. Note
that the correction actor still does not consider the change
in radius between the innermost part o the spring element and
the outermost part. In reality, stresses will be higher in the
inner section o the cross-sectional element, as shown in ligure 4.
3
2
r
FR
K

=
r
R
r
R
r
R
K
615 . 0
4 4
1 4
+

=
Equation 2.
General
formula for
shear stress
using
correction
factor.
Equation 3.
Correction
factor as a
function of coil
and spring
K
Figure 3. Correction factor K as
a function of the ratio of radii,
R/r. (Popov)
Figure 4. Distribution of shearing stress
over a spring elements cross-sectional
area. (Wahl)
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
6
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Although the aboe analysis based on superpositioning can be used to determine the
delection o a loaded helical spring, and thus its spring rate, an energy balance method is also simple
and allows one to see the eects i the coil angle is signiicant and cannot be neglected. In this
analysis, a standard co-ordinate system see ligure 1, is used, and a bending moment in addition to
the torsion should be taken into account. Howeer, changes in coil radii across the spring element
are still considered. lrom ligure 1, the torsion 1 or cos FR M
x
= , and the bending moment
sin FR M
y
= , while 0 =
z
M . Beore continuing, one should note that the work done in delecting
a spring by axial loading, torsion and bending, they are deried in Lquations 4a, 4b and 4c, where U
is the strain energy and u is the strain energy density by olume,. Lquations 4b or torsion is
analogous to Lquations 4a or axial loading, and Lquations 4c or bending can be seen as an
AE
L F
U
E A
F
dV
E
U
udV dU
u
dV
dU
E E
u
E
d E d
L
d
A
F
u
u
V
U
F U
k d k Fd U
L
2
2 2
2 2
2
2
1
2
1
2
0
2
2
2
2
2
1
2
1
0 0 0
1 1
2
1
0 0
1 1 1
1 1
=
= =
=

= =
= = = =

=
= = =

( )
GJ
L T
U
dx dA
GJ
T
dV
GJ
T
dV
G
U
udV dU
u
dV
dU
G G
u
G
d G d u
u
V
U
T U
k d k Td U
L
2
2 2 2
2 2
2
2
1
2
1
2
0
2
2
2
2
2 2
2
2
2
1
2
1
0 0
1 1
2
1
0 0
1 1
1 1
=
= = =
=

= =
= = =

=
= = =

( )
EI
L M
U
dx dA y
EI
M
dV
EI
y M
dV
E
U
L
2
2 2 2
2
0
2
2
2
2
2 2
2
=
= = =

## Equations 4a. Energy

Equations 4b. Energy
due to torsion.
Equations 4c. Energy
due to bending.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
7
n R
Gr
Gr
n FR
F F
S
3
4
4
3
4 4
= = =

## By energy conseration, the energy imparted to the spring by

the axial loading is equal to that caused by the torsion and bending,
and this equality orms the irst line o Lquations 5. lurther
substitution rom Lquations 4 completes the deriation or spring
delection due to an axial load. Using
2
4
r
J

= ,
4
4
r
I

= and
sec 2 nR L = , where n is the number o coils gies the useul
equation or delection, Lquations 6. Note that when the spring is
closely coiled is small,, the simpliied equation shown as Lquation
is accurate.
I Lquation or delection and Lquation 3 or shearing stress
are compared, the shearing stress can be expressed as a unction o the
displacement, the modulus o rigidity, and the spring and coil
dimensions, as shown in Lquations 8. 1his equation is useul as one
can check whether a certain spring can be allowed to undergo a certain
delection without ailure. Comparing Lquations and Lquation 8
now, an expression or can be cast in terms o . 1his is shown as
Lquation 9.
Also o use in the automotie
industry is the stiness actor, S, or a
gien spring. 1his is simply the amount
o orce needed to create a unit o
Equation 6. Deflection of a
substitution of moments of
inertia.
Equations 5. Energy
balance and deflection
( ) ( )

+ =

+ =
+ =
+ =
+ =
EI GJ
L FR
EI GJ
L R F
F
EI
L FR
GJ
L FR
F
EI
L M
GJ
L T
F
U U U
bending torsion axial

2 2
2
2 2 2 2
2 2
2 2
sin cos
sin cos
2
2
1
2
sin
2
cos
2
1
2 2
2
1

+ =
E G r
n FR

2 2
4
3
sin 2 cos sec 4
4
3
4
Gr
n FR
=
n R
Gr
K
n FR
Gr
r
FRK
Gr
n FR
r
FR
K
2
3
4
3
4
3
3
2
4
2
4
2

=
=
=
=
Gr
R n
K
r
FR
K
Gr
n FR
2
3
4
3
2 1
2 1
4

=
=
=
Equation 7. Deflection
Equations 8.
Shear stress
based on
deflection.
Equations 9.
Deflection
based on
shear stress.
Equation 10. Spring
stiffness.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
8
delection and thus has the dimensions o orce oer length. Lquation 10 shows the deriation o
the stiness actor.
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results is an incremental stress, . 1ypically, this loading is characterized by
the elocity o the incoming load, . In order to ind express in terms o
, \ahl irst deines a surge wae elocity,
s
, its equation is deined as
shown in Lquation 11. 1his is the speed at which a wae is propagated
through the spring. 1he propagation takes a inite time, t, to trael through
the spring, causing an incremental delection, , and both are shown in
Lquations 12. Setting equal to in Lquations 9 and soling or gies
the incremental stress due to impact loading Lquations 13,. In summary, the
incremental delection and stress equations 12, and (13) should be
2
G
R
r
v
s
=
G r
n R
v
G
R
r
Rn
v
v
Rn
v t v
v
Rn
t
s
s

2 2
2
2
2
2
2
= =
= =
=
G Kv
Gr
R n
K G r
n R
v
Gr
R n
K
G r
n R
v

2
2 1 2 2
2 1
2 2
2 2
2
2
=
=
=
=
=
Equation 11.
Surge wave
speed of a
spring.
Equations 12. Time for
surge wave to
propagate through
spring and the resultant
incremental deflection.
Equations 13.
Incremental stress
due to impact
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
9
Applying Theory to the Automobile Suspension System
Haing deried equations or the maximum shearing stress o a spring, the delection under
load and spring stiness, the automotie suspension can be considered in more detail. Because the
tires and chassis contribute also to the oerall delection o the wheels, ormally, these should also
be taken in consideration. Howeer, Gillespie points out that the spring rate o a tire is many times
greater than that o the typical automotie suspension helical spring, and because the tire and spring
are in series, using the stiness o the spring alone can approximate the spring rate o the ehicle.
Another error in the simpliication o the suspension system is that, in most cases, the load caused
by a bump is not directly inline with the springs coil axis. Consequently, the axial load, l, seen by
the spring is oten not the load that the bump causes directly, other suspension members such as the
control arm act as a leer arm.
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As mentioned in the introduction, I hae designed an example o a statically loaded ront
axle. 1hroughout the examples, an eort has been made to keep all numbers geometry, size, etc.,
representatie o those ound on a passenger automobile.
A suspension designer wishes to reduce unsprung weight o a ehicle by replacing a
ehicles ront steel helical springs with aluminum alloy springs without changing the
spring stiness, the coil diameter D ~ 14 cm, or the number o coils per spring.
1he ehicle weighs 1500 kg, with 60 o its weight resting oer its ront wheels
statically. Assume that the helix angle is 8 or less such that Lquation 2 can be used
with adequate accuracy. Help determine i this change should be allowed and i it is
beneicial by perorming the ollowing calculations:
a, Determine the weight oer each ront wheel that has to be supported by the
springs.
wheel
N
wheels
axle
axle kg
N
kg
4415
2
60 . 0 81 . 9
1500 Weight
l front whee
= =
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
10
b, Determine the spring element radius or the current design i the spring stiness
is
m
N
S 20000 = . Use GPa G
steel
77 = .
c, Using Lquations 3 or the correction actor, calculate the maximum shearing
stress o the steel spring i the ront axle lies oer a bump 8 cm high and that the
car raises by 4 cm when resting oer the bump such that the delection rom a
car at rest is 4 cm,. Also determine the actor o saety or the shearing stress,
assuming that the ultimate stress in shear or the steel is 900 MPa.
Comment: lor the aboe representatie automotie suspension spring, the
correction actor is important as it raises the shearing stress by about
15.
bump
is the shearing stress due to the 4 cm o delection
caused by the bump, while
static
is the shearing stress rom the
weight supported by a ront wheel without the existence o the
bump. 1he total shearing stress is the sum o both these alues.
d, lind the mass o a steel spring by irst calculating the spring olume and using
3
7860
m
kg
steel
= .
( )
mm
Pa
m
m
N
G
n SR
r
n R
Gr
S
31 . 7
10 77
8 07 . 0 20000 4
4
4
4
1
9
3
4
1
3
3
4
=

=
=
( )
( ) ( )
( )
( )
32 . 1
2 . 684
900
.
2 . 684 2 . 579 0 . 105
2 . 579
10 31 . 7
07 . 0 4415 2
15 . 1
2
0 . 105
10 31 . 7
07 . 0 04 . 0 08 . 0 20000 2
15 . 1
2 2
15 . 1
10 31 . 7
07 . 0
615 . 0
4
10 31 . 7
07 . 0
4
1
10 31 . 7
07 . 0
4
615 . 0
4 4
1 4
3
3
3
3
3
3 3
3 3
3
= = =
= + = + =
=

= =
=

= = =
=

= +

MPa
MPa
S F
MPa MPa MPa
MPa
m
m N
r
FR
K
MPa
m
m m m
m
N
r
R S
K
r
FR
K
m
m
m
m
m
m
r
R
r
R
r
R
K
ultimate
static bump
static
bump

( )( )
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
kg m
m m
m
kg
m
nR r AL V m
69 . 4
8 sec 07 . 0 8 2 10 31 . 7 7860
sec 2
2
3
3
2
=
=
= = =

The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
11
Comment: 1he 8 angle is arbitrary and will aect the mass calculated. 1o
determine the angle exactly, more will need to be known about the
geometry o the suspension system. lurthermore, the angle will ary
with loading. 1he choice o 8 allows the deried ormulas to be used
with conidence o moderate accuracy.
e, lor aluminum alloy, recalculate the spring element radius necessary to maintain
the same stiness, using GPa G
Al
26 = .
Comment: Due to the reduced modulus o rigidity or aluminum, a larger spring
element is necessary to maintain the original stiness o 20000 N,m.
, Recalculate the correction actor, maximum shearing stress and the new actor o
saety when aluminum alloy is used.
Comment: Due to the increased spring element radius, the correction actor has
also increased. More importantly, the aboe calculations show that
the DOXPLQXPLVXQDEOHWRPHHWWKHRULJLQDOVSHFLILFDWLRQVRIVSULQJVWLIIQHVVDQG
JHRPHWU\ ZLWKRXW IDLOXUH, and that aluminum is not a iable option. It
would be necessary to modiy the coils geometry in order to both
retain the stiness and be o suicient strength.
( )
mm
Pa
m
m
N
G
n SR
r
n R
Gr
S
59 . 9
10 26
8 07 . 0 20000 4
4
4
4
1
9
3
4
1
3
3
4
=

=
=
( )
( ) ( )
( )
( )
76 . 0
2 . 316
240
.
2 . 316 7 . 267 5 . 48
7 . 267
10 59 . 9
07 . 0 4415 2
20 . 1
2
5 . 48
10 59 . 9
07 . 0 04 . 0 08 . 0 20000 2
20 . 1
2 2
20 . 1
10 59 . 9
07 . 0
615 . 0
4
10 59 . 9
07 . 0
4
1
10 59 . 9
07 . 0
4
615 . 0
4 4
1 4
3
3
3
3
3
3 3
3 3
3
= = =
= + = + =
=

= =
=

= = =
=

= +

MPa
MPa
S F
MPa MPa MPa
MPa
m m
m N
r
FR
K
MPa
m
m m m
m
N
r
R S
K
r
FR
K
m
m
m
m
m
m
r
R
r
R
r
R
K
ultimate
static bump
static
bump

The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
12
, Lstimate the percentage reduction in spring weight, i any, using
3
2770
m
kg
Al
= .
Comment: 1he aboe shows that i the aluminum were able to support the load,
there would be a signiicant weight saings.
%XPS,PSDFWDW6LJQLILFDQW6SHHG
\hen the load is not static but dynamic, such as when the bump is hit while the ehicle is in
motion, there exists an incremental shearing stress due to the impact loading. 1he ollowing example
Consider the preious example. Now, the designer wishes to determine the
maximum speed at which a similar bump one that raises the axle 4 cm, can be
approached without spring ailure by shear. Use the same properties or steel.
a, Determine how much incremental impact shearing stress, , can be applied i a
minimum actor o saety o 1.1 is prescribed.
Comment: 1he incremental stress due to impact loading limits the speed at
which the car can be drien oer the bump.
( )( )
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
% 6 . 60 % 100 1 %
84 . 2
8 sec 07 . 0 8 2 10 59 . 9 2770
sec 2
2
3
3
2
=

=
=
=
= = =

steel
Al steel
reduction
Al
Al
Al
m
m m
kg m
m m
m
kg
m
nR r AL V m

MPa MPa
MPa
S F
S F
S F
ultimate
ultimate
ultimate
impact
0 . 134 2 . 684
1 . 1
900
.
.
.
= =
=
= +
=

The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
13
b, Using Lquations 12, determine
spring
, the maximum aerage speed at which
the spring can be allowed to delect or the calculated earlier.
Comment: In this part o the example, a rearrangement o Lquations 12 is used
to determine the maximum speed at which the spring can be
delected in order to meet the actor o saety requirement.
c, Using ligure 5, determine the maximum speed at
which the car can be drien. 1ake the radius o the
wheel,tire combination, r
wheel
to be 0.3 m and
the eectie height o the bump the necessary
delection,, h, to be 0.04 m. 1ake the width o the
bump to be 0.10 m.
Comment: Seeral assumptions were made in this step. lirst, the calculated alue
o
spring
, the maximum aerage speed o spring delection was used
to determine the speed o the car. It is likely that the absolute
maximum spring delection speed is signiicantly higher,
oerestimating the cars highest permissible speed. 1he aboe
ormula is deried by equating the time needed or the 0.04 m
delection to the time needed or the car and wheel to trael hal the
width o the bump. Hence, the width o the bump also aects the
solution.
One assumption that may not be entirely appropriate is the neglect o the shock absorbers.
Most shock absorbers hae gases at a low enough pressure so that they do not proide any
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
mph
h
km
s
m
v
m
m
m m m
s
m
m
w
h r r v
h
d v
v
d
v h
v
d
h
t
h
v
car
wheel wheel spring
spring
car
car
car
spring
4 . 37 2 . 60 7 . 16
04 . 0
2
1 . 0
04 . 0 3 . 0 3 . 0 35 . 3
04 . 0
2
2
1
2 2
2
1
2 2
= = =

+
=

+
=

= = =
s
m
Pa
m
kg
Pa
G K
v
G Kv
spring
spring
35 . 3
10 77 7860 2 15 . 1
10 0 . 134
2
2
9
3
6
=

=
=

v
car
h'
r
r-h
v
spring
w
Figure 5. Schematic of wheel
traveling over bump at speed.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
14
supporting or springing eect when the cars wheels are not delected. Howeer, in this case, the
wheel is delected quickly, and the shocks will hae a stiening eect, increasing the oerall spring
rate. Neertheless, this example shows that impact loading needs to be considered in spring design.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
15
Conclusions
1his project has coered seeral aspects o the helical spring in the context o an
automobiles suspension. lirst, internal orces and torsion were used to derie the shearing stress o
a loaded spring. It was noted that the shearing stress is a result o a direct shear and torsion, and that
it is common to use only the torsional stress component explicitly, while a correction actor is used
to take care o the direct shear. An energy method analysis ollowed, and using the internal energy
due to axial loading, torsion and bending, an expression or delection was written in terms o the
axial load. 1his was simpliied assuming that the helix inclination angle was small. Manipulations and
comparisons o these equations allowed the determination o the shearing stress and delection in
terms o other ariables as well as a ormula or spring stiness. Assuming that a surge wae
propagated through the spring, expressions or incremental delection and incremental shear stress
were deried or the case o impact loading where the elocity o the impact with respect to the
spring is known.
lollowing the theoretical analysis were two examples, showing static loading and impact
loading. In the irst example, a switch to aluminum meant that it was impossible to keep the coil
dimensions unchanged i the spring stiness were to be held constant een though a signiicant
weight saing could come rom the use o aluminum. 1he second example showed that impact
loading limited the maximum speed at which a car can be drien oer a bump due to the
incremental stress and delection.
linally, it should be noted that this project coers only the basics o the helical spring. In
most calculations, seeral assumptions were made. 1hey included that the helix angle be small and
that the shear stresses be distributed eenly oer the spring elements cross-section in essence
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
16
lurthermore, other dynamic eects such as resonance and spring clashing were not discussed in this
report, and so neither was the act that the spring is not the only energy absorbing deice in the
automobile`s suspension system.
Despite ignoring the aboe actors, the leel o analysis appeared to generate answers in the
correct order o magnitude. Howeer, it appears that the internal shearing stresses calculated were
rather high. Perhaps the analysis led to an oerestimation o the internal shearing stresses. Also likely
is that the material property data were not ully representatie o those used as automotie
suspension springs. 1he real materials used are likely laboriously treated to allow or large delections
without signiicant creeping, atiguing or ailure. Neertheless, the theory coered and the
calculations perormed appear to hae been suicient or a preliminary analysis o the helical spring
in a car suspension.
The Helical Spring: Theory and Calculation in the Context of the Automobile Suspension System
Harris Yong
17
References
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Cernica, J. N. 6WUHQJWKRI0DWHULDOV New \ork: Holt, Reinhart, and \inston, 19.
De\ol, J. 1. 0HFKDQLFVRI0DWHULDOV New \ork: McGraw-Hill, 1992.
Gillespie, 1. D. )XQGDPHQWDOVRI9HKLFOH'\QDPLFV \arrendale: Society o Automotie Lngineers, 1992.
Popo, L. P. (QJLQHHULQJ0HFKDQLFVRI6ROLGV Lnglewood Clis: Prentice Hall, 1990.
\ahl, A. M. 0HFKDQLFDO6SULQJV New \ork: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963.