Shock absorbers help lessen the bumps you encounter while driving down the road. They do this by absorbing some of the energy created by driving across a rough patch of road, over speed bumps, or other road obstructions. The shock absorber compresses, dampening the energy generated. Sport shocks are designed for sporting drivers, improving handling and comfort. Before buying sport shocks, you need to learn about the different types, how they work, and when to replace them, in order to fully take advantage of all that they have to offer.
Part 1 of 2: When to replace your shocks
Knowing when to replace your current shock absorbers is just as important as knowing which shocks to use. Drivers who know their vehicle well should have a good idea when it is time to buy a new set of shocks. Those who don't should look for specific signs in the performance of their vehicle while driving: including excessive bouncing, rocking, drifting, or swaying.
Step 1: Recognizing signs of worn shocks while driving. You should look for specific signs when driving that indicate your vehicle's shocks need replacing.
Some of the common signs that your shocks are worn include:
- Swaying while changing lanes
- Drifting to the left or right when traveling at high speeds
- Rocking back and forth during stops
- Bouncing three or more times when going through an intersection
Step 2: Recognizing signs of worn shocks while parked. In addition to showing certain characteristics while driving, you can also inspect your vehicle for signs that you need to replace your shocks while parked.
A sure way to tell if your shocks are worn is to look for the following:
The vehicle bounces excessively after pushing down on one of the corners
Leaking oil around the shock seals
Note: Keep in mind that a slight oily film on the bottom of the shock is normal.
Part 2 of 2: Decide on the type of sport shocks you want
When trying to decide on which sport shocks to purchase, you have a few different types to choose from. Your choices range from coil-over or strut cartridges to oil based or gas-charged shocks. When choosing sport shocks for your vehicle, you should also keep in mind what height of shock you are looking for: sport shocks sometimes lower a vehicle's ground clearance.
Step 1: Determine what type of sport shocks you need. Sport shocks come in a selection of types, ranging from MacPherson struts, to coil-over shocks, to strut cartridges.
MacPherson struts are compatible with a wide variety of make and models of vehicles. The shock absorber connects to the ball joint which, in combination with the MacPherson suspension's more simplistic design, gives more room in the engine compartment. MacPherson shocks are less expensive than some other sport shock types.
A coil-over shock incorporates a shock absorber wrapped with a coil spring. This gives the shock absorber even more stiffness and support, as the jolts and bumps of the road have to compress the spring in addition to the shock.
A strut cartridge inserts into the strut housing, and contains everything the shock absorber needs to muffle the bumps of the road. An inexpensive option, a strut cartridge is easily replaced if it becomes damaged or worn.
Step 2: Determine whether you want oil-based or gas-charged shocks. When choosing a shock absorber for your vehicle, you must choose from the standard oil-based shock or the specially designed gas-charged shock absorber.
In the oil-based shock absorber, the cylinder is filled with hydraulic fluid that absorbs the pressure the vehicle places on the tube. The problem arises because of the air in the cylinder - up to ten percent - that foams as the load increases. This, in turn, reduces the damping power of the shock.
A gas-charged shock absorber contains nitrogen gas in one end. The nitrogen mixes with the hydraulic oil as the pressure increases, preventing foaming, and maintaining the absorbency of the shock.
Gas-charged shock absorbers are best if used to increase the stability, handling, and comfort of a vehicle, and work great for off-road applications. If your standard oil-filled shock absorbers give you no problems, then there is no need to switch.
Step 3: Determine which shock size you need. Another factor to keep in mind when choosing a sport shock is what effect it can have on the clearance of your vehicle.
Some sport shocks lower the clearance slightly, so you should make sure your vehicle will have enough clearance once installed. If you are unsure about your vehicle clearance levels, consult an expert mechanic for guidance.
Finding the right shocks for your vehicle is important. This process includes making sure you have the right type for your suspension system, the right height of shock to give you plenty of ground clearance, and whether you want oil-based or gas-charged shock absorbers. If you have reservations about replacing the shock absorbers in your vehicle, have one of our expert mechanics complete the job for you.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Buy Sport Shocks and was authored by Cheryl Knight.