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Worn shock absorbers: Know the signs

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Bouncing, vibrations and jolts are not part of a normal driving experience. So, if your car has earned the nickname “shake, rattle and roll”, it may be time to have its shock absorbers checked.

Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), explains that shock absorbers are a critical component of a vehicle’s suspension system.

“Shocks play a crucial role in providing a smooth and comfortable ride, enhancing vehicle stability and, most importantly, ensuring safety on the road,” he says. “There are many tell-tale signs when it comes to worn shocks, but one of the biggest is uneven wear on your tyres.”

This occurs, Premlall further explains, because worn shocks can’t keep your tyres firmly on the road and it causes cupping in the tyres. Cupping is when the tread moves from high to low in random spots.

“Tyres are designed to perform as the manufacturer intended when the tread is in continuous contact with the road surface when driving. Cupped tyres interrupt this consistency because the patches create uneven high and low points of the tread that don’t allow continuous contact with the road.

“The danger of this is not only the likelihood of a flat or that you will have to replace your tyres sooner than expected, but cupping caused by worn shocks can cause the car to aquaplane. When this happens the tyres lose grip on a road surface and instead travels on a film of water sitting on top of the road surface. Hydroplaning dramatically reduces your ability to steer and brake.”

TEPA’s other 5 red flags to look out for when it comes to shock absorbers:

1.            Excessive vibration of the steering wheel: If this is constant, on uneven and smooth road surfaces, there may be a serious problem with your shocks. It is not advisable to ignore this as at higher speeds these vibrations could become worse and cause you to lose control of the car.

2.            Delayed braking: Worn shocks can increase your braking distance and nobody wants to find this out in the few seconds when it matters most.

3.            Car veering in wind: You should not have to “correct” your car on the road, even in gusty weather. Worn shocks can, however, create unsteadiness.

4.            Shake, rattle and roll syndrome: This could point to worn shocks since shocks are responsible for controlling the impact and vibration of a vehicle’s suspension. Worn shocks will not be able to soften any blows you could encounter on the road. A shaky, rattling car is not only uncomfortable but can put unnecessary strain on other components and lead to even bigger problems.

5.            Swerving and dipping when braking: If the front of your car dips when you brake or swerve, worn shocks could be the culprit. This is particularly dangerous in wet weather.

Premlall says that by prioritising shock absorber maintenance, motorists can ensure a safer and smoother driving experience while prolonging the lifespan of other suspension components. Motorists should also be mindful to have suspension components like shocks checked after having hit a large pothole, as this may have caused latent damage that could result in an unpredictable catastrophic failure.

“Regular inspections by an accredited fitment centre are essential to identify signs of shock absorber wear, leakage or damage. If any abnormalities are noticed, the shock absorbers should be inspected and repaired or replaced.

“Another important guideline is to always follow the manufacturer recommendations for your vehicle. Consult the owner manual for specific maintenance guidelines and recommended replacement intervals for shock absorbers, as well as instructions for inspections, servicing and replacement to ensure proper functioning.

“When in doubt or if you are experiencing significant issues, consult a trained technician at an accredited fitment centre for a comprehensive inspection of the shock absorbers. They can accurately assess the condition and provide appropriate recommendations for maintenance or replacement.”

Feel free to call on an accredited TEPA fitment centre for a full diagnosis on the health of your shock absorbers. Go to www.tepa.org.za to find an outlet near you.

Vishal
Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA)