Unit 12
Automotive Chassis and Body

The automotive chassis provides the strength necessary to support a vehicle’s components and the payload placed upon it. The suspension system contains the springs, shock absorbers, and other components that allow the vehicle to pass over uneven terrain without an excessive amount of shock reaching the passengers or cargo. The steering mechanism is an integral portion of the chassis, as it provides the operator with a means of controlling the direction of travel. The tires grip the road surface to provide good traction that enables the vehicle to accelerate, brake, and make turns without skidding. Working in conjunction with the suspension, the tires absorb most of the shocks caused by road irregularities. The body of the vehicle encloses the mechanical components and passenger compartment. It is made of relatively light sheet metal or composite plastics. The components which make up the chassis are held together in proper relation to each other by the frame. In this chapter we will discuss the operational characteristics and components of the automotive chassis and body.

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to do the following:

  1. Understand the function, construction, and types of frames used on wheeled vehicles.
  2. Identify automotive suspension components, their functions, and maintenance requirements.
  3. Identify the major components of a steering system.
  4. Understand the operating principles of steering systems.
  5. Understand the differences between the linkage and rack and pinion type steering.
  6. Understand the operation of power steering.
  7. Understand service and repair procedures for manual and rack and pinion type steering mechanisms.
  8. Identify the procedures for servicing power steering belts, hoses, and fluid.
  9. Identify the characteristics and basic construction of a tire.
  10. Understand tire and wheel sizes.
  11. Understand tire ratings and the different types of wheels.
  12. Identify the parts of driving and non-driving hubs and wheel-bearing assemblies.
  13. Understand how to diagnose common tire, wheel, and wheel-bearing problems.
  14. Understand tire inflation and rotation procedures.
  15. Understand static and dynamic wheel balance.
  16. Understand the different methods for balancing tires and wheels.
  17. Understand wheel-bearing service.
  18. Understand the procedures for maintaining tires, wheels, and wheel bearings.
  19. Understand the purpose of each wheel alignment setting.
  20. Identify the different types of equipment used during wheel alignment service.
  21. Understand the procedures for repairing and refinishing automotive bodies.

12.1 Frames

The separate frame and body type of vehicle construction is the most common technique used when producing most full-sized and cargo vehicles. In this type of construction, the frame and the vehicle body are made separately, and each is a complete unit by itself. The frame is designed to support the weight of the body and absorb all of the loads imposed by the terrain, suspension system, engine, drive train, and steering system. The body merely contains and, in some cases, protects the cargo. The body generally is bolted to the frame at a few points to allow for flexure of the frame and to distribute the loads to the intended load-carrying members. The components of this type of frame are the side members, the cross members, and the gusset plates (Figure 12-1).


Figure 12-1 — Typical frame design.

The side members, or rails, are the heaviest part of the frame. The side members are shaped to accommodate the body and support the weight. They are narrow toward the front of the vehicle to permit a shorter turning radius for the wheels, and then widen under the main part of the body where the body is secured to the frame. Trucks and trailers commonly have frames with straight side members to accommodate several designs of bodies and to give the vehicle added strength to withstand heavier loads.

The cross members are fixed to the side members to prevent weaving and twisting of the frame. The number, size, and arrangement of the cross members depend on the type of vehicle for which the frame was designed. Usually, a front cross member supports the radiator and the front of the engine. The rear cross members furnish support for the fuel tanks and rear trunk on passenger cars and the tow bar connections for trucks. Additional cross members are added to the frame to support the rear of the engine or power train components.

The gusset plates are angular pieces of metal used for additional reinforcement on heavy-duty truck frames.

With this type of frame construction, the body structure only needs to be strong and rigid enough to contain the weight of the cargo and resist any dynamic loads associated with cargo handling and cargo movement during vehicle operation and to absorb shocks and vibrations transferred from the frame. In some cases, particularly under severe operating conditions, the body structure may be subjected to some torsional loads that are not absorbed completely by the frame. This basically applies to heavy truck and not passenger vehicles. In a typical passenger vehicle, the frame supplies approximately 37 percent of the torsional rigidity and approximately 34 percent of the bending rigidity; the balance is supplied by the body structure. The most important advantages of the separate body and frame construction are as follows:

Frame members serve as supports to which springs, independent suspensions, radiators, or transmissions may be attached. Additional brackets, outriggers, and engine supports are added for the mounting of running boards, longitudinal springs, bumpers, engines, towing blocks, shock absorbers, gas tanks, and spare tires.

Integrated Frame and Body (Monocoque)

The integrated frame and body type of construction, also referred to as unitized construction, combines the frame and body into a single, one-piece structure (Figure 12-2). This is done by welding the components together, by forming or casting the entire structure as one piece, or by combining these techniques. Simply by welding a body to a conventional frame, however, does not constitute an integral frame and body construction. In a truly integrated structure, the entire frame-body unit is treated as a load-carrying member that reacts to all loads experienced by the vehicle-road loads as well as cargo loads.


Figure 12-2 — Integrated frame and body.

Integrated-type bodies for wheeled vehicles are fabricated by welding preformed metal panels together. The panels are preformed in various load-bearing shapes that are located and oriented so as to result in a uniformly stressed structure. Some portions of

the integrated structure resemble frame-like components, while others resemble body- like panels. This is not surprising, because the structure must perform the functions of both of these elements.

An integrated frame and body type construction allows an increase in the amount of noise transmitted into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. However, this disadvantage is negated by the following advantages:

Truck Frame (Ladder)

The truck frame allows for different types of truck beds or enclosures to be attached to the frame (Figure 12-3). For larger trucks, the frames are simple, rugged, and constructed from channel iron. The side rails are parallel to each other at standardized widths to permit the mounting of stock transmissions, transfer cases, rear axles, and other similar components. Trucks that are to be used as prime movers have an additional reinforcement of the side rails and rear cross members to compensate for the added towing stresses.


Figure 12-3 — Truck frame (ladder).

Frame Maintenance

Frames require little, if any, maintenance. However, if the frame is bent enough to cause misalignment of the vehicle or cause faulty steering, the vehicle should be removed from service. Drilling the frame and fish plating can temporarily repair small cracks in the frame side rails. Care should be exercised when performing this task, as the frame can be weakened. The frame of the vehicle should not be welded by gas or arc welding unless specified by the manufacturer. The heat removes temper from the metal, and, if cooled too quickly, causes the metal to crystallize. Minor bends can be removed by the use of hydraulic jacks, bars, and clamps.

Test your Knowledge

1. What is the function of the cross members in a frame assembly?

A. Reduce vibration.
B. Add extra strength at the joints.
C. Prevent weaving and twisting of the frame.
D. Support the payload of the vehicle.