This paper proposes a theoretical model to interpret the heat generation mechanism and thermal failure of shock absorber. For a common structure of double-tube shock absorber, all frictions between two contacting components of shock absorber are calculated particularly. The heat generation mechanism and heat distribution can be explained with the theoretical model. Thermal failure is a recurrent malfunction for traditional shock absorbers, which leads to shorten the service lives of vehicle components. Heat generation experiments are accomplished to validate the thermal degeneration of shock absorber. So this study is meaningful to develop a new system of vibration attenuation with satisfying reliability, which is essential to improve the riding comfort and handling stability of vehicles.