What are shock absorbers

25 February 2019 / Lindleys Autocentres

Every car is made up of mechanical components that all work together to ensure you have a smooth journey whilst staying safe on the road. When damages occur or a part becomes worn out in certain areas of a vehicle, it will have a knock-on effect on the overall performance of a car and its drivability.

Shock absorbers are the fundamental part that helps control the movement of the vehicle’s springs and suspension whilst keeping your tyres on the ground at all times. Essentially, they work hard to ensure your tyres are the only part of your vehicle that makes contact with the road's surface as you drive.

What they do in more detail

Shock absorbers are typically mounted alongside (if not inside) the springs at each corner of the vehicle. Unlike their name suggests, shock absorbers do not directly absorb the shocks (impact) of the rough road surfaces. Shock absorbers are basically an oil pump that helps absorb the movement of your car’s springs and suspension.  As the springs compress and release, the shock absorber restrains this movement to prevent your vehicle from uncontrollably bouncing.

In more technical terms, shock absorbers are a hydraulic fluid (oil) pump that takes the kinetic energy of your suspension and converts it to thermal energy.  Whenever your vehicle’s suspension moves up and down, the hydraulic fluid is pushed into tiny holes within the piston. Now, for those of you who are unaware of what this means, the piston, which is attached to the end of the piston rod (and is located inside the shock absorber), works against the hydraulic fluid. When the piston moves, a small amount of oil is let through the piston, which slows down the movement of the springs and suspension.  

So, in other words, the faster the suspension system moves, the more resistance shock absorbers provide. The energy created through the movement of the springs is converted to heat energy by the shock absorber.

The types of shock absorbers

Shock absorbers can differ depending on the suspension design and the type of vehicle. The first and most common type is the twin-tube shock absorber. Often being the least expensive, it consists of two tubes - an outer shock body with a cylinder inside of it where the piston lives. The mono-tube shock absorbers is a single tube with more exposure meaning as the piston travels within the tube, heat escapes more efficiently. The gas-filled mono-tube shocks have a chamber of nitrogen above the oil chamber. This prevents any bubble or foam forming in the oil.  The external reservoir shocks are high-performance shock absorbers that are typically used for racing applications.

When to replace shock absorbers

Like with most car components, shock absorbers do wear down over time. For those of you who live in areas with rough road conditions, there is a higher chance your shocks will wear down quicker than those who frequently drive on smooth roads.

As there are many indicators that could suggest your shock absorbers are worn out, we’ve made it simple to understand with our list below that shows you:

  • Excessive bouncing during car rides

  • Vehicle’s body rocking when turning

  • Nose-diving when braking the vehicle

  • Leaking fluid from your shock absorber

  • Noticeable tyre shaking/vibration when hitting bumps

With that said, if any suspension components are worn out or damaged, it is best to get them repaired or replaced as soon as you notice any issues. Problems with your suspension system can decrease the safety aspect of your vehicle. If you believe your vehicle needs to be checked by a professional mechanic, please feel free to contact us or book an online service today.


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