Tech Corner: Selecting Shock Absorbers, Preference and Priority

Tech Corner - IntermediateShock absorbers are one of the most important components of an automobile. Their purpose is simple: keep the vehicle’s springs under control and keep the tires on the ground. Without them, stability and control would go out the window and you’d be left bouncing around the road. A well-dampened suspension system ensures your safety, by securing handling, cornering, and ride quality. It can even improve gas mileage.

When Is It Time For New Shock Absorbers?

Depending on how hard you drive your vehicle, shock absorbers aren’t something that will need to be replaced often. Cars.com reports that it isn’t unusual for shocks to “last 10 years before needing to be replaced on a vehicle that has lived most of its life on smooth pavement.” The trick is to not wait for your shocks to fail, but rather make their maintenance a part of your routine.

As shock absorbers begin to wear, you will notice certain symptoms. Longer stopping distances upon braking, bouncing or swaying while driving, uneven wear patterns on tires, or a nosedive sensation at stops are all signs that it’s time to upgrade. Driving around on poor shocks is not only dangerous but uncomfortable. Ride quality suffers greatly and you run the risk of wearing out other parts faster than usual as well.

What Should I Replace Them With?

In regards to a daily driver, we understand that high quality shock absorbers might not be in your budget. Before jumping into any decisions, consider what it is you’re really looking for. Many daily drivers are dual purpose vehicles, now. And if that project car you’ve spent every weekend fixing is also your everyday ride, you may want to invest in something of a higher quality. Similarly, if your daily driver doubles as your weekend expedition rig, you’ll want to find shock absorbers that can handle rough off-road terrain but also offer a comfortable street ride quality.

Weigh the options and ask yourself: how much comfort are you willing to sacrifice in the name of performance? How much time are you willing to spend adjusting the shocks to achieve the ride quality you’re after? This applies to anyone looking for a high quality shock, not just those with extracurricular activities on the agenda.

Generally speaking, a softer spring keeps more contact with the ground, providing more comfort, especially over bumps and depressions. A stiffer spring will help reduce body roll and lean, offering better handling and consistent ride height. Because factors like speed, road quality, and budget will affect your purchasing decision, you’ll likely have to do some research beforehand and weigh several options.

What About Purpose-Built Vehicles?

Purpose-oriented vehicles usually require less compromises than their daily driving counterparts. Because they are built with one intended function, there is often a particular type of shock absorber that is recommended.

Track Vehicles

For track racing, tuning and adjustments are a huge part of the experience. Regardless of the application specifics, a large amount of time is spent dialing in variables to help cut down on run times—and shock absorbers should be a part of that. Having the ability to play with compression and rebound between runs is a great way to hone in on the sweet spot that will really get that ride going. Therefore, picking up fully adjustable shock absorbers is your best bet. Coil overs let you play with ride height as well, allowing them to function similar to a precision tool.

Of course, the ends need to justify the means. So, being mindful of the budget you have to work with is just as important. At the end of the day, investing in as much control as you can safely afford is always a green light. Some particular names to keep an eye out for when shopping for performance shocks are QA1, KYB, Bilstein and Monroe.

Off-Road Machines

On the other side of the spectrum are truck and Jeep enthusiasts. Often, this camp puts some serious wear and tear on their shock absorbers. And because those shocks get knocked around so much, structural integrity should never be sacrificed. The rapid compression and rebound cycle that these shocks endure on extended rough terrain can cause them to overheat, creating for scary ride of bouncy unsecured handling. This is where remote-reservoir shocks come into play. They use an external reservoir to increase fluid capacity and lower the temperature of the fluid inside. While more expensive, they are often easy to rebuild if they do fail, and they tend to last longer than traditional shocks. On a typical application, they’re beneficial but not demanded. However, in faster and heavier applications where they’ll be abused all day long, you should consider the upgrade. For the best off-road experience it’s worth equipping Fox, Bilstein, Old Man Emu or Fabtech shocks to your rig. 

Purpose-built Jeeps with Rancho products.

So, What’s the Verdict?

Any shock absorbers you pick off the shelf are going to do their most basic job: stabilize suspension and keep those tires on the ground. How well they do that job depends on your personal preferences and priorities. What’s too stiff for one person may feel soft to another. An off-road capable rig that only sees mud on the weekends but travels highways Monday through Friday will need to make some compromises. And a hard run, oft-used, purpose-built vehicle will demand parts that stand up to its abuse.

No one can tell you what the perfect product choice will be, because no two people really drive the same vehicle. Take into consideration all the variables, do your homework, and try it out for yourself.

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