Words by Andrew Middleton, images supplied
Simon Vella – the man behind suspension brand Tough Dog’s research and development programme – came all the way from Australia’s Outback to tell us Saffers about foam shocks, and why they’re the business. Here goes…
We all know what a shock absorber does. How it works is also rather simple. A spring (whether it be air, leaf or coil) takes the weight of the vehicle, and the shock stops it from bouncing by converting kinetic energy to heat, using pistons and valves. Imagine a coffee plunger, and you already understand the basics. How a shock absorber takes the heat, adds another dimension to the story. A 4×4’s suspension needs to absorb punishment from a variety of terrains, from tarmac driving with no load, to corrugated dirt tracks with a full load.
Shocks must also provide a comfortable ride for many neglectful years without being serviced, while being submerged in water, covered in dust and bashed by stones. There’s little doubt that the shock absorber is the most overlooked part of any 4×4, and this is why aftermarket manufacturers exist. After all, power is nothing without control.
When a vehicle is released to the public, it’s naturally designed with compromise in mind. You wouldn’t buy a new bakkie for half a million bucks if the ride quality of its heavy-duty springs rattled your teeth; yet you still expect it to carry everything but the kitchen sink on your camping trips into the mountains. The suspension on most leisure bakkies is designed with comfort and roadholding in mind. It’s been designed to suit a standard vehicle. Add a bull bar, canopy, roof-rack, half a ton of camping gear, plus a full load of passengers, and your vehicle’s dynamics will change, as the suspension has to cope with more weight than it was designed for.
The problem is often highlighted by people who fit large, heavy bull bars with a winch hanging far beyond the front wheels, causing sagging, bottoming-out and dangerous understeer. Another issue with stock suspension is the fact that every production vehicle is built to a price – there are very few exceptions – and suspension components are among the hidden zones where a saving can be made. By comparison, aftermarket suspension manufacturers have more room to build the best, and to offer customers a kit that suits a variety of needs and budgets.