How Do Shock Absorbers Work?

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A shock absorber works to stop the unpleasant oscillations that occur on cars, trains, buses and other vehicles. Find out how shock absorbers work with tips from a math and science teacher in this free video on shock absorbers.

Part of the Video Series: How Things Work
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Video Transcript

Hello, I'm Steve Jones, and I'm going to tell you a little about, how shock absorbers work. And why they're needed, which is more important. In the past, all vehicles, any vehicle, whether it's a stage coach, or a train, or whatever, had to have springs. The purpose of a spring was, when the wheel hit something uneven, it stopped the people inside the vehicle, being hit by a sudden shock. But the problem with springs, is that they don't just absorb that shock, they produce what's called an oscillation. And the oscillation means that the vehicle goes up and down, and up and down, and up and down, in a very unpleasant way, and for quite a long time. So, you can imagine traveling in a stage coach wasn't very pleasant on a rough road, and it made people sick. In the twentieth century, with the speeds increasing, the, it was necessary to devise something which would stop this oscillation occurring. The oscillation was the dangerous thing. So, what they did is, they produced the thing called a shock absorber, which damped the oscillation. In other words, it would oscillate, and then very soon, it would come back to it's original position. So, the vehicle would jump up when it hit a bump, and then it would rock back, and then come to a stop. And if it was a level road, with just one bump, after less than a second, it would be traveling normally again. To do this, the shock absorber is constructed in this way. Basically, it's a cylinder. Here an empty cylinder, filled with oil. The piston at the bottom, when some shock hits it, the piston moves upwards, into this space, pushing oil out into a reservoir. When the, when the force is released, the oil returns to the reservoir, but quite slowly. So, instead of suddenly going up and down, this reduces the tendency. This stores the energy, which has been produced by hitting whatever bump you hit, and it stores that energy and releases it gradually. So, it means that the oscillation is now a damped oscillation. It in fact, stops this continuous oscillation, which was so difficult in the past. So, on all of the vehicles you will travel on, whether it's a rail, a train, whether it's a coach, or whether it's a bus or a car, there will always be a shock absorber on each wheel. And that shock absorber will make your journey very much more pleasant.

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