By Brandon Baldwin
Shocks and struts: they put a damper on your ride, but believe me, you’ll like it.
I’m going to refer to both shocks and struts as just shocks for the sake of wordiness here. They both dampen the same way. A shock is basically an oil pump. It’s not rotational, it’s bidirectional: up and down in your car. It’s there to dampen the bounce rate of the vehicle. Without shocks, your car would continue to bounce up and down after any bump or uneven surface in the road. It’s there not only for a comfortable ride but safety too. If you have ever seen a car with no shocks or completely worn out shocks, you may have even noticed the tire will bounce off the road surface. Consider that when the tire is in the air, it no longer can stop the car. This means that shocks in poor condition will increase your stopping distance. Don’t we want to stop in a shorter distance? Of course we use different shocks for different conditions and different types of vehicles. For example, the shock used on light, off-road vehicle would be expected to have long travel and increasing dampening with increased shock rod depression (the shock compresses). On the other hand, if you had a 1-ton truck you would have shorter travel with greater dampening all the time. Greater loads will overcome shock pressure easier, therefore, you need a heavier duty shock with more weight. In addition, some will install heavier duty shocks on performance vehicles that perform in a straight line. Remember earlier that we talked about traction? The shifting of weight can work to your advantage by use of the right shocks for the application you intend your car to be in. For example, shocks that are too stiff may not allow enough weight transfer to the rear wheels, therefore, giving up traction.
It’s amazing how much improvement in ride quality is noticed with new struts or shocks. Old shocks are typically unnoticed as a problem as the driver doesn’t notice as they wear slowly. It’s like the frog story in the pot of water: put a frog in a pot of water that is on the stove and slowly increase the heat: he will never get out because he doesn’t notice the slow increase. Just as most drivers don’t notice the decline of their own shocks, until they fail completely. But, once they have new ones installed, the car often rides like new again.