Your cars shock absorbers have one job to do – and a critical job at that. Shock absorbers might not be the most exciting part of a car, but along with tyres and brakes they are important elements of the safety of a vehicle. They are hidden beneath a car’s wheel arches, so unlike tyres, are not easy to check regularly for visible signs of damage and wear.
The role of the shock absorber is to keep the car’s tyres in permanent contact with the road, helping to provide optimum grip, when cornering and braking. Shock absorbers are part of the suspension, so if the shocks are worn, the vehicle’s ride and comfort is compromised.
If your car seems to shake, rattle and roll when you go over bumps in the road, and you can detect a discernible difference in their performance – it’s likely time to have them replaced. Other times it’s not as easy to detect – but some things to watch out for include: tyres that are unevenly worn-out, oil leaks or stains on the exterior surface of the shock or strut. Some other less obvious signs to keep an eye out for include a vibrating steering wheel (have your brake repair or checked at the same times as steering shudder may also be indicative of warped brake discs or failing brakes, unusual squeaking noises when driving as well as a “bouncing” or dramatic stop when slowing down your vehicle to stationary.
Increased braking efficiency resulting in shorter stopping distances
Improved efficiency of Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESP)
Decreased risk of skidding in wet conditions or “aqua-planing”
Aquaplaning becomes less of an issue (always remember a car can aqua-plane in the smallest amount of water with irresponsible driving techniques)
Better control when cornering or caught in a cross wind
Higher driver alertness and improved response to braking
Far less wear on tyres and other suspension components
Rectification of possible oscillating headlight levels – a very dangerous issue which can cause dazzle to on-coming drivers due to your car being “bumpy” when driving
Increased passenger comfort
In South Africa it is estimated that 50% of cars older than five years on the road have worn shock absorbers, but drivers don’t know this because they gradually adjust their driving to compensate for the extra roll or bounce.
“A worn shock will reduce the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. In an emergency, there could be an accident that otherwise could have been avoided,” says Sean Staley, Gabriel brand manager at Control Instruments.
Staley says the average age of vehicles in South Africa is more than 12 years, and shocks become less effective after about three years.
“Worn shocks wont keep your wheels glued to the road, no matter how new your tyres are.”
“A worn shock absorber will cause the tyre to bounce creating worn or bald spots,” says Staley.
“In an emergency situation, applying brakes can make the tyre to loose contact with the road, increasing the chance of an accident.”
Braking on wet roads, even with good tyres, will cause tyres to bounce and loose grip. The vehicle will skid more easily in the wet. In strong cross winds, there is less control when cornering and the efficiency of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and the vehicle’s electronic stability control (ESP) capabilities are reduced.
Worn shocks will also cause suspension wear. Excessive spring movement on the vehicle will make the vehicle more difficult to handle.”