Compression springs, used extensively in diverse fields such as automotive, aerospace, construction, and medical, don't always hold up as expected. They can exhibit failures, including premature sagging - a common issue with automotive springs subjected to harsh conditions. By examining these failures, their root causes, and their effects, engineers can enhance their design process and spring selection. However, it should be recognized that even well-crafted springs can sometimes fail due to unforeseeable situations. In this piece, we'll break down the elements of compression spring failures to facilitate sound design decisions.

Symptoms and Causes of Spring Fatigue and Failure

Fatigue is a major cause of compression spring failures. Fatigue occurs when a spring continually experiences loads that surpass its intended limit. Manifestations of fatigue may include a decrease in spring force or a decline in spring rate. A specific instant of this occurrence is when the spring does not revert to its original length after the load is applied.

Consider a situational example where a spring intended for a 10 kg load is consistently subjected to a 15 kg load. This additional load instigates an extreme stress, gradually diminishing the spring's capacity, resulting in fatigue. There could be more factors influencing fatigue such as repeated exposure to high vibrations or elevated temperatures.

Further, the dimensional characteristics of the spring, for example, the wire diameter, can influence its resistance to fatigue. Springs made with thinner diameters face greater stress concentrations per volume unit and hence, are more prone to fatigue. To exemplify, a spring with a 2mm diameter handling a 10 kg load is likely to fail faster than a 4mm diameter spring under identical conditions, owing to the increased stress concentrations in the smaller spring. Both the design factors and working environment must be accounted for during spring design to prevent early onset of fatigue and failure.

Understanding Buckling and Deformation in Compression Springs

Compression springs may buckle or deform when the force exerted on them exceeds their design capacity. In the context of an automotive suspension system, an example of such a scenario would be when the vehicle hauls a load heavier than what the springs are designed to handle, possibly due to towing heavy equipment or transporting excessive cargo. This excess load can result in buckling or deformation of the springs.

The term 'buckling' in relation to compression springs describes a change in shape or a distortion that compromises the spring's capability to absorb and release energy. It's often linked to an inadequate length-to-diameter ratio in the spring's design. To illustrate this, a spring with an elevated length-to-diameter ratio may find it challenging to uniformly counterbalance compressive forces, causing it to shift away from its central axis when under load, subsequently triggering buckling.

The term 'deformation', contrastingly, points to an irreversible change in the size or shape of the spring, indicating that the stress applied surpassed the spring's threshold. Overstressing can happen even under normal load conditions when there are tiny flaws in the material's structure such as minuscule cracks or gaps. For instance, a minor defect in the material may progress into a substantial crack over time and with repeated use. This impairs the overall durability of the spring and makes it prone to deformation, even under typical load situations.

Recognizing Early Signs of Wear and Corrosion

Compression spring failure can result from wear and corrosion. These issues typically stem from prolonged exposure to harsh environments. Factors such as the presence of abrasive materials, corrosive substances, or adverse external elements, may compromise the spring's material strength.

Signs of wear may involve minor and gradual alterations to the spring's wire diameter or uneven wear along its length. As an example, a spring used in a high-vibration motor unit may show early indications of stress or small fractures, which can later lead to noticeable thinning or uneven wear. Regular check and monitoring of these indicators can help prevent serious failures.

Corrosion is generally discernible by rust marks or indentations on the spring surface. It occurs due to undesirable chemical reactions between the spring material and its environment, for instance, high humidity levels, exposure to saltwater, or the existence of acid substances. For example, a steel compression spring in a water vessel's equipment may develop corrosion due to constant contact with salty air and moisture. Employing corrosion-resistant materials can minimize the risk of this problem.


Engineers aiming for reliable and durable springs should be adept at identifying common compression spring failures. It's crucial to understand fatigue due to repeated stress over time. The capacity to spot buckling and deformation issues, resulting from load or design malfunctions, proves vital. Familiarity with wear and corrosion, often resulting from variable environmental conditions, is key. Armed with this understanding, engineers can create better spring designs, reducing machine downtime and enhancing performance, ultimately securing a good return on investment.