Safety Strut Shock absorber maker brings oversized mobile to Charleston on car fitness promotional tour

The Monroe ShockMobile, launched two years ago, made its first stop in the Charleston area Wednesday. The auto parts maker built a 10-foot-tall reproduction of a shock absorber to anchor the specialty vehicle’s appearance.

It’s apt to raise an eyebrow, maybe elicit a “what the ...” when first seeing the oversized vehicle that Kyle Keech and John Willey are maneuvering across the Southeast, including into Charleston this week.

Motorists strain to take photos when passing in traffic. Once stopped, visitors pepper the college-aged driver/navigators with quips:

• “Will that fit on my car?”

• “How do I get one on my truck?”

• “What a shock” — or the juiced up corollary, “That’s shocking!”

Viewers reactions are understandable. They’re witnessing the Monroe “ShockMobile,” not quite a movie Transformer but a yellow-and-black paneled Ford Escape SUV hauling a similarly colored Monroe OESpectrum shock absorber reproduction on wheels. The LED lighted roadcraft stands 10 feet tall, measures 25 feet in length and weighs 2,500 pounds.

“People love it,” Keech said.

Monroe debuted the giant suspension-part lookalike in 2014, and the ShockMobile made its way around the Northeast and upper Midwest in two separate trips. Encouraged, the company lengthened the Mobile Tour durations from three to five weeks and mapped the present late spring-early summer Southern route from Richmond, Va., to Jacksonville, Fla. Following a week break, the final end-of-summer trek passes through the Rust Belt to Oklahoma, Willey said.

Vehicle in tow, Willey and Keech stop in pre-determined cities and towns — they visited Myrtle Beach and spent Tuesday night there before motoring to Charleston the next morning. The ShockMobile visits auto parts stores that sell Monroe products such as O’Reilly and Parks in the Charleston area. They also drop in at area car shows and at special events, such as the Charleston Battery soccer match Wednesday night and monster truck rides at Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Monroe, a division of global conglomerate Tenneco, produces shocks and struts — both critical components to a car’s suspension.

According to Motorweek.org, “A shock absorber on an automobile does one thing and one thing only, keeps the car from bouncing.” In contrast, “Struts are a structural part of the suspension system ... (to) give us a place to mount the coil spring, and the spring is what maintains the height of the vehicle.”

The ShockMobile bears the manufacturer’s advertising slogan: “Everything Gets Old. Even Your Shocks.” But it’s other verbiage — “Inspect Your Shocks at 50,000 miles” — that characterizes Monroe’s chief reason for the tour.

“Our main goal is safety,” Keech explained. The souped-up mobile has proven effective at attracting interest and then getting the word out about caring for shocks and struts. “It’s a conversation piece, definitely eye-catching,” he said.

Monroe emphasizes the importance of what it calls the “safety triangle” — steering, stopping and stability. The trio of auto processes all should be working properly for a car to be safe. One important step is to check shocks and/or struts every 50,000 miles, according to Monroe. Motorists can sync the 50,000 mile shocks inspections with other maintenance visits such as installing new brake pads, Keech notes.

The ShockMobile mobile tour is an internship for both driver/navigators. Willey, in his first year with the vehicle, attends the University of Toledo where he majors in business marketing and professional sales. Keech, who goes to Michigan State, went through a “pretty prolonged interview process” in 2014 and is in his second year as brand ambassador and media relations specialist.

“I love talking with people and meeting new people,” Keech said.

While on the road, the pair manage to keep up to speed on social media. For more, visit @MonroeShocks, Facebook.com/MonroeShocks or #ShockMobile and #EverythingGetsOld on Twitter.

Neither motorist had been as far South as the Carolinas and acknowledged being surprised at the close to 100 degree heat in Charleston. Otherwise, the trip has gone well, they agree.

Maybe the best company endorsement for Monroe’s products is the ShockMobile itself. Asked whether they’ve faced any problems with the shocks, Keech said, “We have not.” And the brand? “Monroe.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.