Article > Chassis (Suspension/Steering)

Thirteen Ride Control Tips


Most people (70 percent) think the primary function of shocks and struts is to provide a comfortable ride, so replacement is seen as a low priority.
By Gene Markel

1. The customer will not be happy if he brought the car in for a knocking noise, was sold a couple hundred dollars worth of struts and or ball joints, etc., and the noise is still there. He takes the car elsewhere and the knocking noise is fixed with a couple of $20 sway bar bushings. Despite how bad the parts are, that guy is going to think he got beat. It’s important to address the complaint.

2. A weak shock absorber, for example, that does little to dampen bumps will increase feedback through the steering linkage to the driver. The driver may think he has a steering problem when, in fact, the real problem is poor ride control. When bad shocks allow tires to leave the road, you obviously can’t control the vehicle properly. The driver won’t be able to steer, brake or control the vehicle. Furthermore, bad shocks create uneven tire wear and excessive wear on other suspension components.

3. Most people (70 percent) think the primary function of shocks and struts is to provide a comfortable ride, so replacement is seen as a low priority. Only 21 percent of the people surveyed by a leading shock manufacturer knew that new shocks and struts can improve handling and ride control.

4. If the protective rubber boot that seals the shaft is torn, cracked or leaks, road splash and dirt can enter the strut and accelerate wear. If the boot has failed, the joint is doomed to a premature death.

5. If a customer is really serious about improving the handling characteristics of his vehicle, you can recommend a performance handling kit that includes stiffer or adjustable shocks/struts, stiffer (or lowered) springs, a stiffer sway bar and stiffer suspension bushings.

6. After seven to 10 years of service, many of these older systems start to develop leaks that allow air to escape from the system. The same thing can happen to plastic air lines. Wiring connectors, solenoids, compressors and height sensors are also vulnerable to corrosion and vibration, which, over time, may lead to failures that disrupt the normal operation of the air ride system.

7. Do a simple bounce test. A bounce test can be used to visually demonstrate the lack of resistance in badly worn dampers. Push down on one corner of the vehicle and rock the suspension several times, then release it. Repeat the test at each corner of the vehicle. Good dampers should stop the motion within a bounce or two. Weak ones won’t.

8. If brake lines have to be opened to disconnect them
from the struts during strut replacement (cutting the brake line mounting ear can sometimes make this unnecessary), you’ll have to bleed the brakes afterward.

9. Don’t reuse the bearing plates unless they are in perfect condition. Pay close attention to the condition of the upper bearing plates. These support the weight of the vehicle, and are often in poor condition. A bad bearing plate can cause steering stiffness, noise and poor steering return (memory steer).

10. Inspect the tires. Uneven wear or toe wear would tell you the wheels are out of alignment. Uneven surface wear across the face of the tire can indicate weak ride control components. One sign is tire cupping as a result of improper tire balancing or improper damping force in the shock absorber. Also, tires may have inside or outside excessive edge wear from improper wheel alignment. This should also prompt you to suspect things like worn tie rod ends, collapsed control arm bushings or maybe a bent strut or spindle.

11. When installing a new cartridge in a rebuildable strut, about 3-ounce (a shot glass full) of ATF must be poured into the strut housing to aid heat transfer from the cartridge.

12. When installing a new cartridge in a rebuildable strut, follow the installation instructions regarding the use of spacers or washers under the body nut on rebuildable struts. Differences in height among replacement cartridges make the use of such spacers necessary.

13. Shock absorbers affect weight transfer from side to side when cornering and from front to back when braking or accelerating. When shock absorbers are worn, the weight transfer is excessive. This can overload the front tires while the rear tires lose grip, and go from sticking to sliding, causing brake lock-up and loss of control of the vehicle. Tire adhesion is critical to safety and handling, especially in sudden avoidance maneuvers.
  Previous Comments
avatar   toof   star   4/10/2010   1:39 PM

I agree with all of you.What I don't understand is when guys come in and ask for the cheapest shock for their "work" truck.Why would you put anything cheap on a vehicle which you rely on for you livelyhood?Honestly I wish we didn't even offer a "cheap" brand.I think if we only sold the best and top quality we would see far less comebacks.Just like the other day.A guy came in and asked for the cheapest brakes for his work truck.I quoted him our $15 set and sold them to him.As he left I noticed he was towing a goose-neck trailer.Now that is scarry!

avatar   b   star   3/31/2010   3:05 PM

not all women are the same heavy duty should mean that you need heavy duty parts. As a women myself and have been in the automotive aftermarket for 18 years I bet you can understand trying to sell parts to some of these people.

avatar   WILL   star   3/16/2010   8:09 AM

Ed, I know exactly what you mean. I've had guys with Cobras and Z28's want the cheapest shock made. When I explain why car makers used Bilstein, they act like your talking down to them. Any truck bigger than a 10/150 series, I quote Reflex and Rancho and Magnums. Most guys understand the need to go that route. Women don't seem to get that the heavier the vehicle, the "heavier duty" shock you need for load compensation. Let them complain later, we tried to explain it but some people never listen or learn.

avatar   Ed   star   3/15/2010   3:00 PM

Will, I second that notion. The other day I had a young woman call me, wanting shocks for her 03 Ford F-350 Super Duty. I started my sentence with, "As heavy as that truck is and the typical loads it may see.." and recommended the Monroe Gas Magnums and then the Reflex. She asked me if I had any that were cheaper, I again stressed my point about that truck and informed her I had cheaper shocks, but they were probably going to make the truck ride worse than it is now and quoted her the $16.99 Gas-Matics. She then asked if I had any cheaper than that. I about wanted to reach across the phone and strangle her.

That reminded me of a customer who came in with a vehicle that came OE equipped with Bilsteins and only wanted the $16.99 Gas-Matics. He came back a week later and said those were the worst shocks he had ever bought and I challenged him to find a $17 shock that could do better than that.

avatar   Will   star   3/15/2010   1:58 PM

Nothing better than seeing an old car go bouncing done the road like it has "hydraulics" on it. Shocks help maintain ride height as well. Some people don't care about their safety or that of others. To them it's about money. I'd rather spend the money, not get seasick from the motion bad shocks/struts create. I usually recommend swaybar links and bushings with a shock/strut job also. Your already in the right spot when you replace the shocks/stuts, whats an extra 20-30 minutes of time to tighten up the front end and back end.

avatar   Tad H.   star   3/12/2010   4:49 PM

Exactly. When I worked at Sears, I had a couple "techs" tell me that some new shocks were bad because they wouldn't extend on their own. High pressure gas charged shocks are the only type that are supposed to extend with any significant force, and unless you know for sure that the shocks are designed like that (like KYB Gas-A-Justs and Monroe Reflex Monotubes), you can't use that test to determine if shocks are good or not.

avatar   Ed   star   3/11/2010   2:07 PM

14. Just because the shock or strut, fresh out of the box does not return to extended length with enough force to impale someone, does not mean it is defective. A lot of "mechanics" will do this test, take a shock/strut out of a box, collapse it and watch how slowly it comes back to extended length. I've even had shock/strut races where three or four were compared at the same time. They seem to forget about all that sprung mass of the vehicle that pulls on the shock/strut to it's extended length.

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