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Joe’s Garage: The shocking truth about shocks


Shock absorbers are one of the most important parts on your vehicle. However, most people think there are strictly used for keeping a nice, cushy ride, and maintaining stability while making a turn. While that’s a portion of the story, it’s just the opening sentence.

Shock absorbers can be critical in safe driving, as you always want to plant those tires on the ground and keep your car from bouncing. What happens is, when you hit the brakes and have a bad shock, the tires can actually leave the ground. It could be as much as an inch or two. Every second your tire is not on the road can lead to an accident as you can lose as much as 100 feet in stopping power in a high speed situation. Plus, when you are driving, going through curves and stuff like that, all four tires should be gripping the road. You don’t want the car skipping like a rock over water; you need to take care of those shocks.

How do you know if you have to replace a shock absorber? The biggest one is if you hit a pothole and hear a big, teeth-grinding crash inside the compartment of your vehicle, that’s when a shock absorber completely blows out, the worst case scenario. Also, if you see oil leaking down the side of the shock or strut, or if there is uneven tire wear, a shock may be getting ready to let go.

Be careful. If your shock absorber is starting to go bad, you could really start having problems with the rest of your suspension as well. You’ll have to inspect the ball joints, tie rods, wheel hubs, etc., because a shock absorbers’ name is literal – it absorbs shock. The energy that comes from banging the car, it’s shot onto the shock absorber. If it’s not performing properly, all of that energy is going to be disbursed throughout the car. That’s really bad news if one of those other parts break while you’re driving, it could cause a major accident.

Now, when you go to purchase a new shock, there are three major brands in the United States that people primarily use; Monroe, KYD and Gabriel. Monroe is a softer, cushier ride. Gabriel is more of a performance, stiffer ride. Some people with sports cars, younger people, like the ride of the KYD because it’s a stiffer shock still. The Gabriels are sort of in between, a little stiffer, and not as cushy as the Monroe. You have other brands such as Bilstein, whose shocks and struts are mostly put on German cars, only fitting those vehicles in certain instances.

In some cases, mostly modern vehicles, they engineered a more sophisticated electronic shock. These are products that can adjust to your ride as you drive, depending on the vehicle. Also, on some shocks, there are no aftermarket replacements, so you have to get original equipment from the dealer or major supplier AC Delco. No matter your circumstances, make sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish ride-wise.

The bottom line is this… for the safety of you and your family, please take care of your shocks.