Potholes – Check Your Shock Absorbers
It is no secret that South African roads are deterioting at a rapid rate. The rainy season can cause further damage to roads creating more gaping holes and more damage to vehicles.
As we so well know, potholes come in all shapes and sizes and grow with the rains. So what can you do about this? Good shock absorbers can dampen the effect that potholes have on the suspension of your vehicle.
A shock absorber, as the name implies, is designed to “absorb” the shock that a vehicle is put under. Worn shock absorbers reduce the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. This could result in an accident or hamper the driver’s ability to avoid an emergency situation.
Potholes are not always visible. You may need to swerve at short notice and that’s when you need good shocks. Shock absorbers will keep your tyres on the road and help the car respond safely to any sudden steering changes. Worn shock absorbers can cause the wheels to lose contact with the road making it more difficult to avoid a pot hole.
When a unaligned or worn tyre, caused by a worn-out shock absorber hits a pothole, it does so at an angle causing further wheel mis-alignment. Worn shocks will also cause your tyre tread to wear quicker and unevenly so that the tyres have less grip when stopping or swerving.
Can a pothole damage your shocks? Yes they can if the shocks are coming to the end of their life cycle, usually around 80 000kms. A large pothole will more than likely damage even a new shock. But a shock in good condition will prevent damage to your suspension in those average-size potholes.
Good shock absorbers will safely handle potholes of up to about 5cm deep. Deeper than this you will need to be careful.
What happens to a shock absorber at the end of its life expectancy? New shock absorbers are filled with oil which hydraulically dampen the shock absorber and prevent the wheels from bouncing. Due to this action, tyre-to-road contact is maintained over bumps and undulations. This in turn allows control of the vehicle to be maintained.
Two main factors can affect the performance of shock absorbers; one is oil leaking through damage or age, and the other is overheating through rough conditions, overloading or many other causes.
Over-heating causes the oil to lose its viscosity i.e. to thin out. Air bubbles then form and mix with the oil. This severely detracts from the shock absorbers ability to work efficiently and will start bouncing.
One often hears people talking about “gas shock absorbers”. These are more sophisticated items with gas used to cool the oil. They can take far more punishment, and last far longer, but contrary to popular belief gas shock absorbers provide the same function as a conventional shock absorber rather than a softer ride or better comfort.
Remember that the springs provide the comfort and the shock absorber controls the spring’s action. Leaking shock absorbers lose oil and this destroys their ability to control road shock, resulting in dangerous wheel bounce.