Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2005   by Andrew Ross

Ride Control Discussion Should Focus on Safety

Perhaps the one enduring factor of the ride control market is that consumers know little about what it does, and less about the fact that it might need replacing.

They will likely be unfamiliar with the term ride control to begin with. They may only know about “shocks” and perhaps “struts,” but not what they do.

This reality is the first barrier that must be crossed in any conversation, either at your jobber store’s counter or at your trade customer’s.

There are a few key points to communicate, but it is important for those within the trade to remember a number of important facts as well.

The first is that inspection is often neglected. On average, ride control should be inspected every 20,000 km or so, putting it squarely into the once-a-year category.

Neglecting to inspect is not the fault of the consumer, but is a consequence of the fact that even those within the trade can forget that ride control is an important safety item.

Tests performed by USAC for Tenneco Automotive back in 1999 showed that even one degraded shock could lengthen a 100 kph stop by three metres on a dry, bumpy surface. With a full set of worn struts, European research showed that braking distance can be as much as six metres more.

The addition of traction and stability control technology or ABS will not deliver the driver from trouble, either. Tests showed that during evasive manoeuvres or emergency braking, the wheels lost contact with the road, reducing braking efficiency and driver control. In short, when the wheels are not in contact with the road, even intermittently, these safety technologies will actually extend stopping distances.

Paradoxically, poor car handling is the least common reason that shocks or struts are replaced. The most common reason is poor car ride. This very fact illustrates that the consumer is motivated to make a decision; the consumer needs to be educated in ride control.

It is extremely uncommon for consumers to request ride control replacement independently, except in cases where a performance upgrade might be sought after.

This makes inspection the trade’s most valuable tool. A test drive followed by a visual inspection can usually unearth any obvious ride control degradation.

It is also true that poor ride control can be obvious during a test drive by a trained technician. Because ride control tends to degrade very gradually, the car owner may not be aware of any change over time.

The technician should pay attention for signs of excessive body sway and for any front or rear end dipping during a test drive. He should also listen for pops, clicks, and clunks from the chassis that could signal ride control component wear.

If a vehicle has more than 80,000 km on it, but is still equipped with the original ride control, there is a high probability that it is worn.

In many cases, vehicles end up in the scrap yard with several hundred thousand kilometres on the odometer, but the original shocks and struts still in place.

Ride Control Talking Points

When discussing ride control with the car owner, technicians and counter staff should emphasize that ride control is about much more than just keeping a car’s ride smooth. Safety can be compromised with poor ride control, as tests have shown.

There are ample aids available from ride control manufacturers to assist in the discussion: countermats, brochures, point of sale materials, and web resources all can be very helpful.

Emphasize that a smooth ride is a result of effective ride control, keeping the vehicle in contact with the road and minimizing body movements. A rough ride means that tires are bouncing off bumps, the car is bouncing, and the driver’s ability to control the car is compromised.

For the performance customer, you may want to talk about how much time race teams spend on developing shocks that give them the right balance of control and bump absorption.

Customers may believe that shocks and struts support the weight of the car, thinking that if the car isn’t sagging, there is nothing wrong. Explain that springs do that job, but that they are an important part of the system too.

Explain that, in addition to safety issues, poor ride control can cause other components to wear more quickly. Over time this will also compromise safety, as well as cost money.

Once a customer has had the benefits of ride control replacement explained to them, it may be time to turn the conversation to the ride control options available.

There are a number of ride control options for virtually every car on the road: standard replacements, increased damping for cargo carrying and towing, increased smooth riding for certain customers, performance models, and adjustable models. Inform customers of the options and their benefits.

Getting to this point generally requires that the automotive professional, whether a counterperson or a technician, initiate the discussion in the first place.

There are a number of training resources available for the aftermarket. Many are available on the Internet, with additional resources available from your rep. Tenneco Automotive has paired its successful Monroe Ride Safe tours with ride control training sessions for the trade. Visit ArvinMeritor’s Light Vehicle Aftermarket University On-Line Training includes a course on ride control, with a test following course exercises. (Plus you get a certificate after successful completion!) Visit, click on “Training.” KYB’s Safety Center Program offers a wide range of training and support options. Visit


Top Safety Risks of Degraded Ride Control

* Reduced braking efficiency resulting in longer stopping distances.

* Reduced efficiency of Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESP).

* Increased risk of skidding in the wet.

* Aquaplaning at lower speeds.

* Less control when cornering or caught in a crosswind.

* Increased driver fatigue.

* Increased wear of tires and other suspension components.

* Uneven/oscillating headlight level, dazzling oncoming drivers.

* Increased passenger discomfort.

* Increased risk of snaking when towing.


Visual Inspection

A proper visual inspection includes:

* Check rubber bushing at each end of the shock/strut body to determine if any are cracked or missing;

* Inspect body and suspension rebound bumpers for cracks or evidence that they are compressed (indicating that the shock has been bottoming out);

* Look for signs of fluid leakage, indicating worn seals;

* Inspect springs for signs that the springs have been fully compressed (coil clash), leaving shiny wear points on the spring material where they touched, indicating that the suspension has been bottoming out;

* Look for cupping wear on the tires that could indicate poor ride control.

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