How Shock Absorbers Work

A guide to shock absorbers

Nobody likes arriving at their destination feeling uncomfortable, caused by either numbness as the result of a long journey or through pain as a result of an uneven ride. In the case of the latter it may be down to the suspension system in your car and one of the main components, the shock absorbers.

These key parts that look like springs with a solid bar through the centre, compress and release  as the car goes over the road surface to ensure that the weight is kept in the centre at all times. Doing this ensures a smoother and more comfortable ride, but over time the shock absorbers – like other key suspension and steering parts – can wear and show signs of damage.

Along with ensuring that the bumps and unevenness in the road are ironed out as best as possible, the role of the shock absorber is to keep the car’s wheels in contact with the surface at all times, helping the car to brake, accelerate and turn sufficiently.

The Scientific Part: How shock absorbers work

In the simplest form, shock absorbers work by taking on the impact caused by bumps in the road such as drains, tree roots and potholes. In more complicated terms, the shock absorbers take the kinetic energy of the suspension system and convert this into thermal energy which is then released into the atmosphere.

To break this down a bit, the shock absorbers are similar to oil pumps in many ways. A piston is attached to the end of a piston rod and works against the hydraulic fluid in the pressure tube. As the suspension moves up and down when it comes across an uneven surface, the hydraulic fluid is forced through tiny holes in the piston.

These holes are so small that only a tiny amount of fluid is allowed through, slowing the piston down and this in turn slows the movement of the suspension system. The faster the suspension system moves – as a result of sharper bumps or faster speeds at the time of impact for example – the more resistance the shock absorbers provide.

How can I tell if my shock absorbers have worn?

As mentioned, your shock absorbers are forced to work every time you go out in your car even if you don’t go over a particularly uneven section of road.

Due to constant use they are prone to wearing and even damage caused by particularly bad bumps or when you accidentally hit a kerb..

One of the most obvious ways of telling if your shock absorbers have worn and might need to be replaced is if you notice the car drifting as you try and turn. While the car will still go around the corner, you might feel a bit of resistance as the affected area tries to pull the car in the opposite direction.

Alternatively, you might notice one tyre, or those on one side or at the front or back specifically, have worn unevenly. This could be a sign that the shock absorbers have worn forcing that tyre to work harder than it would normally and, as a result, the tread has worn down far quicker than the other tyres.

Worn shock absorbers can also affect your braking. According to research, worn shocks can result in a 20% increase in braking distances, so if you notice that it might be taking you longer to come to a stop in the same conditions, at the same speed, as before; it may be time to change your shocks for your safety and that of other road users.

Can I upgrade my shock absorbers?

A lot of people look to upgrade their shock absorbers, and their whole suspension system in some cases in favour of performance suspension parts. A performance shock absorber kit is specifically designed to help your car to react in a more ‘sporty’ way. This might mean that the ride is slightly more rigid, but it is far more responsive.

If you don’t want to go for a performance option, then we have a range of different shock absorbers that can be purchased for all makes and models to give you a much smoother ride.

For more information on the right shock absorbers or performance suspension kits for you and your car, get in touch with one of the experts at Euro Car Parts.