Magnetic Ride: How Does it Work?

Magnetic Ride Control. Does that ever sound like a cool name? Especially when GM shortens it to Magneride. Say what you want about the company, they’ve always been experts at invoking an emotional response with their products and features. Some of the German automakers could take a page from that book because no matter how much you abbreviate it Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe does not sound cool. This one’s so good that it’s used by Audi, Ferrari, and even arch-enemy Ford. But how does Magnetic Ride Control work?

Magneride was launched on the Cadillac Seville STS way back in 2002. This was back when Cadillac first really started going after the Germans and pitching that car as a real sports sedan. For a brand that’s was long the standard for how a car should ride, Cadillac had to be careful. They needed to improve handling and reduce roll while keeping the plush ride that their existing buyers needed.

So they used an all-new system of magnetic shocks. Sure, it sounds like something from the future (monorail, anyone?). And, ok, maybe it was from the future. But really it was quite simple.

Surprisingly, they’re not much different from conventional shocks. They have a body, shaft, are filled with fluid, and metal shims with precisely drilled holes that work as valves to control how quickly the piston can move up and down. That’s how they control body motion.

They even use a hydraulic fluid that’s almost the same as conventional shocks. Almost. There’s one key difference in that fluid. Particles of iron suspended in the oil.

It’s called magnetorheological fluid, which is a big word for saying that it’s affected by magnets.

There are electromagnetic coils are mounted in the piston that travels up and down in the shock. Leave the magnets off by not applying an electric charge and the fluid acts like a normal hydraulic fluid. Turn the magnets on by applying a charge and the magic happens.

The magnetic field causes the iron particles to align and create a structure in the fluid. That increases the viscosity of the shock oil. Instantly. Changing the strength of the field changes how much more viscous the fluid is.

Viscosity is, essentially, the thickness of the fluid. More viscous fluid flows through the piston with more resistance. It makes the shock stiffer. So if you stiffen the fluid, you stiffen the shocks. That’s how it reduces roll. With the charge off, it can still ride Cadillac smooth.

The current generation of the tech has a second electromagnetic coil. That lets the system go back from firm to soft more quickly. That’s due to an eddy current. Which can be described as a residual magnetic charge in the system. The newer version uses two electromagnetic coils wound in opposite directions. So each one cancels out the other’s eddy current. Instasoft.

It takes more than just a fancy shock to make the car handle better, though. That takes some computers. And sensors. They detect movement in the wheels. If there’s roll, or a sharp bump, or if the driver is throwing the car into a corner, the computer knows and tells the shocks to respond accordingly. Ranging from full soft to Nurburgring-ready firm.

So that’s how a pretty cool new technology can be combined with one that’s nearly as old as the car itself to make a ride that’s truly revolutionary. One that can handle a three-row SUV loaded with passengers or the latest exotic on a racecourse.