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Notes From the Road

In for a Shock – Part Two, Trucks & SUVs
By Kevin Clemens

Air Springs
While not strictly part of a discussion about shock absorbers, air springs are a popular option on vehicles that carry heavy loads or pull heavy trailers. These are rubberized air bags or "helper springs" that usually mount alongside the shock absorber on a light truck's or SUV's live rear axle. When the air bag is uninflated, it has no effect on the vehicle's ride and handling. When a heavy load is placed in the vehicle, or a heavy trailer pushes the rear of the vehicle downward, air can be added to the air springs through a valve to bring the rear ride height back to normal. In doing so, the shock absorber will be in its normal operating range and won't be in danger of bottoming, and the vehicle will be more stable with the rear at its proper ride height. A variety of manufacturers make add-on air springs and some vehicle manufacturers even have air spring rear suspensions as standard equipment on their heavy-duty SUVs.
What Shocks to Buy
Obviously, with such a broad range of pickup trucks, light-duty and heavy-duty SUVs and even full-sized vans, there is no one "right" shock absorber for each type of vehicle. The following list might help.
Vehicle: Standard Pickup Truck
What to Buy: Original-Equipment Replacement Shocks
Vehicle: Raised Off-Road Pickup ("Lift Kit")
What to Buy: Longer-than-Standard Shocks, Monotube Gas Shocks
Vehicle: Lowered Street Pickup
What to Buy: Shorter-than-Standard Shocks
Vehicle: Off-road Racing Truck
What to Buy: External Reservoir Shocks
Vehicle: Light-Duty SUV
What to Buy: Original-Equipment Replacement Shocks
Vehicle: Heavy-Duty SUV
What to Buy: Heavy-Duty Shocks, Monotube Gas Shocks, Air Springs
Vehicle: Full-Size Van
What to Buy: Original-Equipment Replacement Shocks, Monotube Gas Shocks
The Right Choices
By making the right shock-absorber choices for your specific application, you will end up with a vehicle that rides well, handles properly and will wear out less quickly, even if you carry heavy loads or tow a heavy trailer. Your decision will come down to how you want to use your vehicle.
Kevin Clemens has both undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and has authored several patents. A former Product Public Relations Director for Michelin Tires and Technical Editor at "Automobile Magazine," Kevin writes for "European Car" and other publications when not competing in rallies in various parts of the world with his vintage automobiles

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