How Do Car Shock Absorbers Work?: A Crystal Clear Guide For Car Owners

In 2021 the global automotive shock absorbers market reached a value of $23.7 billion.

Car shock absorbers are subject to constant wear and tear as you drive, but need to be maintained to keep your car in good shape. Because of this, it’s important to understand how shock absorbers work, and how to tell when they’re failing.

For a guide on everything you need to know about shock absorbers, keep reading. 

What Are Car Shock Absorbers?

Shock absorbers are part of a car’s suspension system and their purpose is to minimize the vibrations your car experiences from the road. They do this by absorbing the shock that comes from uneven road surfaces.

By absorbing this shock they help protect your car, reducing the wear and tear it experiences. Shocks themselves do naturally wear down with time, so it is important to get them replaced when they are worn out to prevent further damage to your car.

How Do Car Shock Absorbers Work?

Shock absorbers are components that act as a cushion when your car drives over uneven surfaces. On a well-paved road, this is less of an issue, but plenty of roads have potholes and other damage that makes the surface less smooth.

Without shock absorbers in your car driving over even small potholes could cause damage and make driving a whole lot less comfortable.

A car is made up of “sprung mass” and “unsprung mass”. The sprung mass is everything that benefits from the suspension system such as the body, chassis, and engine. The unsprung mass is everything that doesn’t benefit from the suspension, which includes the wheels, the suspension itself, and various other components.

A car’s shock absorbers are an integral part of the suspension system that links the sprung and unsprung masses together. Generally, the smaller the ratio of unsprung matt to sprung mass, the more comfortable a vehicle is to drive. This is why larger vehicles feel smoother on the road.

Types of Shock Absorbers

All shock absorbers serve the same purpose, but there are different types available. The type used in a car depends on the design of both the vehicle and the suspension system.

Most shock absorbers fall into one of three categories.

Conventional Telescopic Shock Absorbers

The most basic shock absorbers you’ll find. They are relatively cheap making them cost-effective for manufacturers as well as car enthusiasts.

These are suitable for both front and back suspension, and at failure it’s more common to replace these rather than repair them.

Strut-Type Shock Absorbers

Strut-type shock absorbers are generally used with larger vehicles, so they are built to be more rugged and robust. They replace a part of the suspension system and can be used at both the front and rear of your car.

Strut-based suspension systems are available in two forms. “Sealed units” are designed to be replaced when they wear out and “repairable units” can be fixed with new replacement strut cartridges.

Spring Seat Shocks

These share characteristics of both strut-type and telescopic shock absorbers. They’re a suspension unit and damping device in one but are not generally designed to handle large loads. Spring seat shocks are sealed, so need fully replacing when they wear out.

When They Fail

Shock absorbers wear down as you drive, and eventually they will fail. If you keep driving after this it will make your ride incredibly uncomfortable, but even worse it could cause significant damage to your car.

This is because the shocks coming from the road are no longer being properly absorbed, and various other components of your car that aren’t designed to handle them will be subject to the extra vibrations.

Signs of Worn Down Shock Absorbers

To avoid long-lasting damage you want to know when your shocks have worn down. This way you can get them repaired or replaced as needed. There are several signs of worn shocks that you should look out for.


Sometimes bad shock absorbers will leak oil. Check around the shocks for any signs of a leak. This requires an immediate replacement.

Usually, if one shock absorber has reached this point the others won’t be far off, so it may be best to get them all replaced at once.

Uneven Tires

Faulty shock absorbers will affect how your tires connect with the road and may make them wear unevenly. If you notice uneven wear or bald spots you should see a mechanic immediately, as driving with bad tires can lead to fines or points on your license.


If driving starts to feel bumpier, or you are feeling more vibrations this is probably due to worn shock absorbers. Vibrations through your steering wheel are a very clear sign of this.

Weak Braking

While driving you’ll also notice this very easily. While there are several other causes, damaged shock absorbers are one of the leading reasons a car will take longer to stop.


Another thing you’ll notice while driving is your car may swerve or lurch forward when braking. This can be quite dangerous, especially in bad weather, so you should have your car looked at as soon as you notice this.

Knocking Noise

If the rubber bushings at the end of your shock absorbers crack, the absorber will become destabilized. On top of functional issues, this will create a knocking or tapping sound when going over an uneven surface such as a pothole.

What to Do About Worn Shock Absorbers

The first thing to do if you think your car shock absorbers have failed is to see a professional mechanic. They will be able to diagnose the issue and advise you of what to do next.

You may either need to buy new shock absorbers or have the faulty one(s) repaired, depending on the type of shock absorbers your car has.

If you’re interested in more automotive articles check out some of our other blog posts.

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