What you should know about shock absorbers

If your shock absorbers are leaking, then it is time to change them. File Photo

What you need to know:

I am sure you have heard this before. “Your shocks are blown and need replacing.” You are quoted some astronomical price and you immediately ask yourself, “How important are these things ... do I really need to replace them?” These are good questions that deserve attention, Joseph Kato explains.

Many people have at one point or another wondered what role is played by shock absorbers on a vehicle. This is especially true for new drivers.

Bruhan Mukisa, the director of Banapo Auto Garage, on Kiwempe Road in Kansanga explains.
He defines shock absorbers as hydraulic devices that help to control the impact and reverberation of vehicle’s springs and suspensions.

The role of shock absorbers is to ensure that the vehicle’s tyres remain in interaction with the road surface at all times which ensure control and braking components of the car.

Mukisa summarises the common problems of shock absorbers as follows; “rear shock absorbers can leak causing the rear end of the car to feel ‘loose’ and bouncy on bumps. leakage, noise and unsteadiness on the road.
“The car shocks have a problem once you see some oil or grease leaking. Damaged shock absorbers produce a lot of noise especially when the car hits a bumpy road. The car can become unstable and will veer off the road,” Mukisa explains.


Some of the factors that cause damage to shock absorbers include overloading, reckless driving and bad roads.
Geoffrey Wanjala, a senior mechanic at Good Life Motor Garage in Namuwongo, says shock absorbers will enhance or break your driving experience.

There are three major types of shock absorbers; electrical shock absorbers, coiled and uncoiled shock absorbers. Electrical shock absorbers are found in vehicles such as Prados, BMWs and Range Rovers. Electrical shock absorbers elevate the vehicle in potholed roads. The driver simply presses a button to lift the vehicle high when driving through bad roads.
The coiled and uncoiled help to keep the vehicle firm on the road.

What they do

Shock absorbers are as vital as the vehicle steering system, tyres and brakes, all of which do not function properly when driving with worn shock absorbers.

Shock absorbers control the up and down motion of the vehicle’s wheels. When the wheels pass over bumps or dips, it is handled mostly by the springs.

Tell-tale sign for worn-out shocks
The significant sign for worn-out shock absorbers include; increased wear of tyres and other suspension components, increased risk of sliding, less control when cornering or when caught in a cross wind, reduced efficiency of anti-lock, reduced braking efficiency resulting in longer stopping distances and increased passenger discomfort.
He says that damaged shock absorbers make a lot of unpleasant noise especially when the tyres hit potholes.
Coiled and uncoiled shock absorbers produce oil and gas respectively.

“Non-electric shock absorbers are filled with oil, which hydraulically dampen the suspension and prevent the wheels from bouncing. Due to this component, tyre to road contact is upheld over bumps and waves. This in turn allows control of the vehicle to be maintained,” he explains.

Did you know?
The shock absorbers in your car aid in ride control by keeping the car manageable during regular driving. They do this by keeping the tyres down on the road and not allowing them to bounce after hitting a bump. This allows for ease of making turns and handling. An oil leak through damage or wear can affect the performance of a shock absorber.
According to Auto Zone vehicle website, other symptoms of damaged shock absorbers may involve vibration of the steering wheel which is usually caused by extra movement of the suspension.

Other signs of damaged shocks may include difficulty in controlling the car’s movements especially on bridges, cliffs and narrow roads which puts you and passengers at risk.
This can make the car swerve uncontrollably, and especially at higher speeds.

Considerations for replacing shocks

Mukisa says before buying new shock absorbers, you must know the type your car uses.
He says, “know the quality you want. For example, there are shock absorbers produced by car companies such as KYB, Dynamic and Simco. Of all these types, KYB are the most expensive and reliable car spare part producers. “When buying a second hand shocks, the driver needs to be very observant. A genuine shock absorber automatically pushes out fast when pushed inside.

“Besides, the buyer should make an agreement with the seller spelling out the possible options in case the one he has taken does not serve the purpose,” Mukisa notes.

Wanjala emphasises that motorists replacing a spare part should seek advice from a mechanic.
This would save you from incurring losses as a result of buying fake spare parts. It also helps one from being cheated by unscrupulous spare part dealers. The prices for shock absorbers vary depending on the brand and type of the vehicle.

However, “do not use shock abosrbers simply because the price is pocket-friendly. Because that may translate into an uncomfortable ride on your vehicle because they make the vehicle uncomfortable on the road. Once you notice unusual noise in your shocks. See an expert as fast as you can to avoid being crushed by your vehicle,” says Wanjala.

When to replace shock absorbers

When driving, a vehicle’s shocks are always in use. Like many other car components, overtime this continuous use will lead to general wear and tear and they will lose their ability to function properly.
There are signs you need new shocks that are right under your nose. Once you know them you will be able to determine if you need to take your vehicle to the garage. Here are some clues.

Longer stopping distance
Having worn shock absorbers on your vehicle can increase your stopping distance by up to 20 per cent. As you increase your travelling speed this will also increase the distance it takes your vehicle to completely stop. This 20 per cent extra distance can be enough to cause a fatal incident and should be attended to as soon as possible.

Swerving and nose-dives
Does your car dip or swerve under braking? If so you need to have your shock absorbers checked. If you do dip or swerve under braking, it decreases your control over the car which can be very dangerous in wet weather.

Are you getting vibrations through the steering wheel as you’re driving along? If your shocks are working properly they should keep your tyres in optimal contact with the road and there shouldn’t be any vibrations. If this problem occurs you need to be cautious, at high speeds the vibrations can be more intense and decreasing overall control of the vehicle.

Car sliding and veering
Do you have to correct car sliding or veering across the road in mild winds? This is a tell-tale sign of worn shocks and can be easily fixed with a shock replacement.

Rocking & rattling

If your vehicle rattles and rocks over bumps, railway tracks and uneven surfaces it is highly likely your shocks are heavily worn. Along with an unpleasant ride this rocking and rolling can be putting unwanted pressure on other car components and should be seen to as soon as possible.

Uneven tyre wear
Can you see bald patches or uneven wear on your tyres? This usually means your tyres don’t have optimal contact with the road, which can be caused by worn shocks. This will have an affect on car control and tyre grip and both should be checked and replaced.

How to maintain your shock absorbers

As a part of your car care routine, you can check your shock absorbers by simply pushing the car up and down really hard.

The car should ‘bounce’ when it is pressed downwards and stop when it returns up. If it continues bouncing or does not easily go downward when pressed and doesn’t return to the upwards position and stop, your car will need to go to a professional for car repair and replacement of the shock absorbers.

Another thing you should do is simply get under your car and visually inspect the cars shock absorbers, take note of any leakage, or any dents or breakage.

If your car has a fluid based suspension system, it may be easier and much cheaper to have the car repair experts identify and repair the shock absorbers and fluids.

If you have a mechanical shock absorber system, it may require a little more expense and car care. The auto mechanic can diagnose and repair accurately; though shock absorbers can be replaced by any “backyard mechanic” it is ill advised to attempt replacement yourself.

Each wheel of your car is equipped with a shock absorber (also know simply as ‘shocks’). Rarely seen or even thought of by most drivers, the shock absorbers play a critical role in preserving your cars’ safety.

Safety first
Cheap or poor condition shocks can result in tyres wearing out quickly, a need for braking earlier, and a possibility of not being able to brake fast enough in the event of an auto accident, you also run the risk of hydroplaning or sliding on wet or icy roadways.

Replacing your cars’ shock absorbers, and inspecting them monthly or when necessary, will save you much more than money. It could also save a life.

Both Mukisa and Wanjala agree that one can maintain shock absorbers by avoiding overloading and driving recklessly.
Keep checking your shock absorbers so as to detect the problem in time and consult a mechanic as soon as you see signs such as leakage of oil, gas.

When it comes to shock absorbers, do not “cut corners”.
Proper functioning of these parts is essential to the handling and cornering of your vehicle, making for safer driving conditions.

Things to look out for

• Leaks on the housing
• Dents on the shock or strut body
• Worn rubber mounting bushings
• Pitted piston rods
• Crushed rubber bumpers from “bottoming out”
• Abnormal wear on tyres (high and low spots)


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