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Hey, you're in the vehicle / car zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Cars / Trucks / Vans Category: Shock Absorbers

Maintenance Issues:

How to choose among various types of shock absorbers.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • Gas shock absorbers

  • Air shock absorbers

  • Overload shock absorbers

  • Heavy-duty shock absorbers

  • MacPherson shock absorbers


There are various types of shock absorbers for various types of vehicles and the intended uses of such vehicles.  These shock absorbers include the following: gas shock absorbers, air shock absorbers, overload shock absorbers, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and fuel-efficient MacPherson shock absorbers.  Though they are different in some obvious respects, contrary to a popular misconception, all of such shock absorbers, particularly those of gas and air, contain hydraulic fluid. Each vehicle has four shock absorbers, one being located in each of the four main corners of the vehicle's body frame.

Before going into the unique application of each type of shock absorber listed above, it is


important to have a general understanding of the function of a shock absorber.  First and foremost, while a shock absorber is called exactly that--a shock absorber--in actuality, it doesn't necessarily "absorb" shock, as the equipment directly responsible for absorbing shocks incurred from bumpy or otherwise uneven, rough driving are the springs of the vehicle.  The shock absorbers merely act to countervail and stabilize the the up-and-down movements of the springs, compressing and decompressing (extension of the shock absorber) in the stabilization process as is necessary.

In fact, as part of this compression-and-decompression process, the internal mechanical features of each shock absorber work in a systematic, mechanical fashion. Specifically, in compressing, the hydraulic fluid of each shock absorber is designed to move in three ways as the piston and its corresponding piston rod move down the internal shock pressure tube: i) Some of the fluid ends up in the top portion of the pressure tube by entering a valve of the piston therein; ii) Much of the rest of the fluid ends up in the reserve tube by entering another valve of the piston located at its base; and iii) The remaining fluid found in the pressure tube ultimately has the piston come to a stop.

Now, in decompressing (or, in other words, the mechanical extension of the shock absorber), the piston and its corresponding piston rod go in the opposite direction of the compression mode by moving up in the internal shock pressure tube, causing the hydraulic fluid of each shock absorber to move in two significant ways: i) Some of the fluid forcefully flows from the top of the pressure tube to its bottom via a piston valve; and ii) The rest of the fluid found in the reserve tube ultimately is channeled into the pressure tube.  Through this process, the pressure tube is filled with the hydraulic fluid, which enables the tube to stop the movement of the piston, mitigating and, in effect, lessening the impact of the movement of the springs.

The above is the general idea of the function of a shock absorber.

Now, as to the types of shock absorbers: gas shock absorbers, overload shock absorbers, air shock absorbers, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and MacPherson shock absorbers.

Gas shock absorbers.  These shock absorbers that contain nitrogen gas are specially designed for small cars as opposed to large vehicles.  The reason being is simple:  The hydraulic fluid, alone, when engaged in movement in the piston tube as a result of compression-decompression, can have a relatively shaky/bouncy effect on small cars; in large vehicles with good-working-order shock absorbers, such an effect is not usually an issue, and, hence, large vehicles do not necessarily have gas shock absorbers.  However, some large cars may be manufactured with gas shock absorbers in the first place with the idea that in the course of the respective lifetimes of these large vehicles, their respective suspensions will wear out and become less taut, and the gas of these shock absorbers will help make up the difference in stabilization as an alternative to having the suspensions serviced.  Otherwise, large vehicles usually have heavy-duty shock absorbers located up front, as noted below, instead of gas shock absorbers, though the stabilization effect is still relatively the same as that of these gas shock absorbers.

Overload shock absorbers.  These shock absorbers are found in large vehicles that are used to tow heavy payloads, such as trailers, etc.  They are installed in the back of the vehicle with coil springs around them, so as to bear the immediate impact of any payload; heavy-duty shock absorbers are located in the front.

Air shock absorbers.  These shock absorbers, like overload shock absorbers, are used by large vehicles with heavy payloads, such as trailers, too.  When carrying a heavy payload, the operator of the towing vehicle causes air to be injected into the compartments of the shocks to create the stabilization support needed for the move; when without a payload, the operator drives with the shock absorbers as regular shock absorbers defused of the previous air infusion.

Heavy-duty shock absorbers.  As noted earlier, heavy-duty shock absorbers are essentially an alternative to nitrogen gas shock absorbers.  These shock absorbers are unique in that they have larger compartments to store more fluid than other shock absorbers so as to effectively have the means to provide more stabilization at the expense of incurring a stiffer, more rigid driving experience.

MacPherson shock absorbers.  These shock absorbers, compared to the others, are strikingly unique:  Each MacPherson shock absorber is designed to include the shock absorber itself and the spring all as one piece, effectively eliminating the need of some suspension system mechanical parts.  In turn, the MacPherson shock absorbers have been known to increase fuel efficiency, reduce the net vehicle weight, and overall provide for more room underneath the car; the MacPherson shock absorbers are installed in the front of the vehicle as opposed to their being installed in the back as with regular shock absorbers.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team



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