What Is a Shock Absorber and Why Is It Important?

What Is a Shock Absorber and Why Is It Important?

Shock absorbers have been around since the early 1900's. They’ve functioned in several different forms over the years. One of the earliest shocks used a simple two-arms-and-a-friction-disc setup. The most current shocks use a hydraulic piston.

The Shock Absorber’s Role

Honda shock absorber

Shock absorbers exist for two main reasons:

  1. To help keep the tires firmly planted on the ground during a bumpy ride.
  2. To keep passengers more comfortable.

Your tires are like donut shaped rubber balls - they like to bounce. Without shocks, your tires would keep bouncing after you hit a bump. This would be uncomfortable for you and your passengers. More importantly, if your tires are bouncing, the are not in contact with the road, and your vehicle doesn't have traction. Without traction, it's easy to lose control of your vehicle.

A modern shock absorber is a hydraulic piston in a metal tube situated behind each wheel. You have to remove the wheels to take a good look at your shocks, but the good news is that it’s easy to figure out if you’ve got a failing one. We’ll discuss the symptoms later, but first let’s clear up a common misunderstanding.

The Differences Between Shock Absorbers and Struts

While both shocks and struts are used to control and minimize the bouncing of wheels, they aren’t the same thing. Shocks and struts serve the same purpose, but they’re designed differently. Let’s go over the main differences between the two components:

  1. Struts are a structural part of the suspension system while shocks aren’t. Shocks only serve as a link between the suspension and the body of the vehicle.
  2. Struts use an integrated coil spring to support the weight of the vehicle. The hydraulic piston is located inside the coil spring. Because of this, struts are larger and heavier than shocks. Shocks do not support any weight.
  3. Struts are somewhat difficult to replace. To replace a strut, you’ll have to remove the entire strut and spring assembly, disassemble it, put the old spring onto the new strut, and then reinstall it in your suspension system. Special tools are required to remove the spring.
  4. Shock absorbers feature a simpler design and are much easier to replace. To remove and replace a shock usually only requires the removal of two or three bolts. The spring does not need to be removed.

Some vehicles use struts to control the front wheels, and shocks to control the rear wheels. So your vehicle may have both shocks and struts.

What Happens When the Shock Absorber Fails

Change shockA shock absorber repair on a 2008 Honda Civic EX. Image credit: Texas8th

The shock absorber is a part that’s often overlooked unless it malfunctions, and when that happens, it’s extremely noticeable. Common signs of a failing shock include:

  1. A longer stopping time.
  2. A vibrating steering wheel after hitting a bump.
  3. A tapping or rattling sound as the vehicle drives over bumps.
  4. Increased body lean in corners.
  5. Nose dive when braking hard.
  6. Uneven tire wear.
  7. Fluid running down from the side of the shock.
  8. The vehicle doesn't settle down as quickly as it used to after hitting a bump.
  9. The vehicle "bottoms out" the suspension when hitting a bump.

Worn out shocks can seriously jeopardize your safety. They make it:

  1. Harder to control your vehicle when you swerve in an emergency situation.
  2. Harder to stop, especially on bumpy surfaces.

Worn out shocks can also cause expensive repairs:

  1. The springs have to work much harder, and can wear out prematurely.
  2. Tires can develop flat spots if they bounce excessively.

Experts recommend replacing your shocks at about 50,000 miles because that’s when they usually start failing. Still, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for any symptoms that may occur so you can address the issue as soon as possible before it causes more expensive problems.

What to Do When Your Shock Absorber Fails

A broken shock should be replaced right away. For the sake of your vehicle's balance, your shocks should be replaced in pairs, even if the other shock is still in good condition. Luckily, OEM shock absorbers are pretty affordable when you order them from a reputable online seller like Honda Parts Online.

In the event that one of your shock absorbers fails, you will want to figure out whether to replace your shocks yourself or have a Honda dealer do it. This post goes into detail about what a DIY project would entail, along with a list of steps to replace your shock absorbers if you decide to go to the DIY route.

Do a search on your year and model here to see how much an OEM replacement shock absorber will cost you. Please contact us if you have any questions about replacing your shocks. Our team of experts will be happy to assist you!