Driving with your car’s shocks and/or struts worn is usually more than just a bad ride and a bad driving experience. It can also be dangerous as your car’s stopping distances increase and your car’s handling degrades, and it might behave differently than you expect it to.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to tell if something might be wrong with your shocks. The below signs can be a clear sign that you should take your car to your mechanic for an inspection and probably change your car’s shocks.
But first: how do shocks and struts work?
Shocks and struts have the following job: stabilizing your vehicle’s movements. They enhance the control and quality of the ride when you turn, brake, accelerate or get on uneven road surfaces.
Cars today use shocks, struts, or a combination of the two. The primary difference is that a shock is an independent component. At the same time, the strut combines the shock with other features in a single structural unit.
In short, shocks and struts stabilize your car and keep the tires in contact with the pavement. Without shocks, your vehicle would bounce down the road – and as funny as that might be, it is not safe.
How long do shocks last?
Most service manuals recommend replacing shock absorbers around 40.000 to 50.000 miles. Looking at them every six months or one year is a great idea. Not that they are too fragile or anything, but making sure everything looks ok is always a good plan – and looking at your shocks for leaks is really a 30-second job.
Depending on your driving style, the road conditions, and other factors, they can last much more. But generally speaking, after you pass the 40.000 miles marker, you should check them up every year.
Bad shocks symptoms
Here are the most common bad shocks symptoms. Keep an eye for them, and if you think you notice one of them, do get your shocks inspected by a mechanic.
note: obviously, on the below list, we’re talking about excesses. You wouldn’t expect your minivan not to lean a little on one side if you take a turn aggressively. It’s a freaking minivan, and you’re not Vettel. Calm down.
Take into account the normal behavior of your car, and pay attention because shocks wear over time, and that means it might not be ‘suddently noticeable’ – unless something has broken, and that can happen, but it’s not usually the case.
1. Vehicle tips to one side in turns
A vehicle with worn shocks can lean excessively onto one side when taking a sharp turn or an off-ramp. The car leans to the outside of the turn, and the whole car feels wobbly while taking the respective turn.
This behavior is usually easy to notice because you kind of feel like in a boat with all that wobbly-ness going around. Not a pleasant driving experience, and on very worn shocks, this can happen even at low speeds.
2. Your car’s nose dives hard when braking
If you find yourself needing to apply a hard brake and your nose dives more than expected, like worrying amounts – you’ll notice it! – you might need to take a look at those shocks.
This behavior can be tricky to spot as it is not that often that we do some hard braking. But you could do this on an empty road, in safety, to test if everything is ok.
3. The rear end of the car squats during acceleration
Just like above, but the opposite. If you accelerate aggressively and the back of your car squats – as in the front raises, and the back lowers itself, your shocks might be quite worn out.
Just like on the braking test, you can try this on an empty road and just floor it while paying attention to how your car’s body reacts.
4. Tire bouncing
After hitting a bump, if you feel the tire (or several) reacting… like bouncing excessively, it might indicate worn shocks. The shocks push the wheel into the ground against the spring. And a worn shock will not be able to successfully push the wheel to the ground – therefore, the bouncing can happen.
5. Clunking noise
Excessive clunking noises while driving over bumps and uneven surfaces might tell your something about your shocks. But if the clunking is metallic, this usually means that the mounting hardware is loose or worn.
As a rule, when replacing shocks or struts, installing new mounts and mounting hardware is always recommended.
In certain conditions, if the shocks really did break, you might hear some tapping noise, especially so when the bushing is cracked.
6. Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shocks or struts
This is the easiest telltale that your shocks are reaching their end of life. Leaking fluids on the exterior or the shocks or struts.
This is a sign that the seals have been broken, and the internal fluids that are required to keep the proper function of the shock are escaping.
7. Unusual and uneven tire wear
As the tire is not held firmly to the road by the worn shock, the tire tread wears in a wavy manner instead of evenly. This one might be harder to pick up sometimes, but it’s something to look out for.
8. General instability at high speed and on highway
So you’re driving at highway speeds and your vehicle never feels stable. It’s like it’s constantly moving up and down… kind of like a boat. This behavior might be subtle, but you’ll usually notice it as it won’t feel normal.
Replace your shocks and struts
When looking to replace your shocks, make sure you get some quality ones and remember there are choices: let your mechanic know if you prefer a stiffer or more comfort-oriented ride. Some brands offer stiffer shocks for better cornering and if that’s not your cup of tea, let your mechanic know!
After seeing how bad your car’s behavior can get with bad shocks, I guess the best way to end this article is with an advice: as soon as you think some of the above signs are present, take your car to a mechanic!
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