A good set of shock absorbers are the second most significant change you can make to a stock car, tires with the proper alignment is the most significant. Without the proper shock absorbers on your performance vehicle, you will have less control and the car will glide, or float, all over the track.
Some limited-production performance cars like the Miata Sport and Camaro 1LE come with factory equipped, high-quality shocks, most cars are sold with only commercial-grade shocks.
Performance car enthusiasts need a good set of shocks if they want the best control possible, which is a given. The basic feeling that the car makers have is, that the non-enthusiasts will neither notice nor care about this level of performance, so why bother putting anything but commercial-grade shock absorbers on cars.
Why do performance shocks cost more?
The reason that, even though they look pretty much alike, performance shocks cost more money is that the performance shock is much stiffer. With this increased stiffness comes a requirement for less internal leakage, or bypass. For the regular drive, internal leakage is preferred because it offers a softer ride.
In an inexpensive shock, the advantageous internal leakage is caused by using cheaper parts, like o-rings instead of actual piston wipers, is used as part of the softer damping characteristics desired in the regular driver’s shock.
This is why the base cost of commercial grade shocks cost less than performance shocks, because of the lower quality of parts reducing the need for accurate tolerances.
Typically when a set of shocks are at the end of their lifespan, the rod seal will fail (hopefully wearing out slowly) and the shock absorber fluid will leak out. This lessens the dampening characteristics of the shocks and may even cause air to get into the shock which will then act as a spring. These issues cause wheel hop, uncontrolled porpoising and excessive body roll. This is all very dangerous and can lead to a collision.
Choosing the right shock
For those who are modifying their cars to be more competitive in a weekend racing environment, or who are installing stiffer springs, sways and shocks to make the car corner better on the street, it is very important to match the components carefully when modifying the suspension of a car.
Not only does the shock have to control wheel motion and body sway, but it has an important influence in controlling the dive and squat of the car during braking and acceleration.
Performance shocks are just one of several different parts that lead to a well tuned performance vehicle. This is why it’s important to make sure you match your shocks to the rest of the suspension.