Mechanically Speaking: Shocks and struts and safety

Give a gift of love this Christmas. Buy them a set of shocks or struts.

Winter is coming whether you want it or not. I used to get a lot more excited about winter (the ski thing) but now the cold thing is hard on my mechanic hands and feet. With winter comes the Christmas season, the season of giving. Are you stuck for a gift for a vehicle driving son or daughter? I have a great idea.

Give a gift of love. Buy them a set of shocks or struts. Install or have them installed before winter. Sounds a bit strange? Maybe a bit self serving. (I do like to sell suspension pieces.)

First, a little explanation is required. What do shocks and struts have to do with love? You love your kids and you want them to be safe. Shocks and struts are your vehicle’s dampeners. They are in charge of keeping the tires in contact with the road. Tires that are in contact with the road at all times will stop, start and turn with maximum traction. Maximum traction means maximum safety.

Worn dampeners (shocks or struts) are not always obvious. It is likely that when your vehicle reaches 100,000 kilometres that your dampeners are worn out. How can you tell? Not easy. The wear on your dampeners has likely been gradual. The best way to see what you are missing; test drive a new car. Feel how quickly it responds to braking and steering. Feel how smooth it rolls along. That is how new dampeners feel.

Sure a new car feels great. A new car is not in your Christmas budget though. Maybe a new set of shocks and/or struts is. Usually the kids’ vehicles are of an older vintage. They may not have all the latest safety features; antilock brakes and electronic stability and traction control, side and curtain airbags, lane departure warning system, etc. Those systems are awesome but they are not something that can be retrofitted to a vehicle at a reasonable cost.

Dampeners (shocks and/or struts) were made to be replaced. They can even in many cases be upgraded from the original. Replacing these units is one big step towards getting back that new car performance. That new car performance carries with it a step up closer to new car safety.

Severely worn dampeners are obvious. Come to a stop and your vehicle does not stop bouncing up and down like a bouncy ball. Driving around can make you seasick. Your vehicle handles like a big boat. All reactions are slow and full of jiggles.

Once pushed beyond severely worn, shocks and struts can become friction full and actually binding. Now instead of absorbing the road surface imperfections the vehicle simply pounds over bumps.

The ride is almost punishing.

If your kids have let their shocks/struts reach the severe state they have likely ruined a few more suspension components in the process. Only Christmas and a birthday will get them safely plying the roads again.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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