Shock absorbers play a pivotal role in dampening the oscillations of the springs in a car’s suspension system. Their primary purpose is to ensure that the car’s tires maintain contact with the road at all times, which in turn provides stable handling and a comfortable ride.
When the shocks are in good condition, they effectively absorb most of the impact from road irregularities such as bumps, potholes, and other imperfections. They control the movement of the suspension and chassis, making the ride feel smooth and controlled.
However, if your car’s shocks begin to wear out or fail, they can compromise the vehicle’s handling and even safety.
Here are some things to look for, if you want to try and diagnose bad shocks on your own car:
1. Rough ride
The most obvious sign is if the car rides rougher than usual. If every bump in the road causes excessive bouncing, or the car feels like it’s “floating”, your shocks might need replacing.
Excessive bouncing? If you drive over a bump or a pothole and the car continues to bounce multiple times afterward, rather than settling quickly, it’s a sign the shocks are not effectively dampening the spring’s oscillations. A car with worn-out shocks can bounce several times after hitting a bump, whereas a car with healthy shocks would bounce minimally and return to its normal state quickly.
What does floating mean? Some drivers describe the sensation as “floating” or “wallowing.” This can especially be felt when driving on wavy or undulating road surfaces. The car might feel like it’s floating over the crests and troughs rather than sticking firmly to the road. It’s hard to describe exactly, but most likely you’ll notice it or feel like the car is not driving normally when this happens.
2. Dips or nose dives when stopping
When shocks are worn, you might notice the front end of your car diving downward when braking moderately. This is a great way to tell as it is quite noticeable.
3. Uneven tire wear
Bad shocks can cause uneven or “cupped” tire wear. And by Cupping, I mean the scenario when the tire wears in a wavy pattern.
4. Leaking fluid
Shocks are filled with oil or a special fluid. If you see oily or greasy patches on the shock, it might be leaking, which indicates it’s time for a replacement. This is usually a sure-way to tell.
5. Mileage & replacement time
While shocks don’t have a strict mileage replacement requirement, many manufacturers recommend checking and possibly replacing them after 50,000 miles.
So you might want to keep that number in mind or even add visual inspecting the shocks to your car maintenance routine.
6. Swerving or excessive nose diving in wind
If your car sways or leans excessively in winds or when turning, it might indicate worn shocks. Now, this can be a tricky one, since it also depends on how much you drive on those roads or in a certain way and how accustomed are you to that specific car. But if you know the car and the road you’ll probably feel that something in wrong.
7. Visible damage
Obviously, but it has to be said, if you notice dents, cuts or other deformities… it’s not a great sign.
8. Strange noises
If you hear noises like clunking, banging, or rattling over bumps or during suspension movement, it might indicate a shock issue or related suspension problem.
Now, this could also be because another suspension part… but you shouldn’t hear such weird noises if everything is ok.
9. Instability at high speeds
If the car feels unstable or unsafe at high speeds, especially if you are accustomed to the vehicle and it used to be ‘more stable’… it might be a sign that your suspension system, including shocks, might not be in optimal condition.
10. The old push test
This is a classic test for shocks. With the car parked:
- Stand at the front or rear of the car.
- Push down on the car with all your weight, then release.
- The car should bounce up, then settle back into position. If it bounces multiple times, your shocks might be worn.
Conclusion and a warning
In conclusion, while a rough ride is uncomfortable, the concerns go beyond just comfort.
Worn shocks compromise the vehicle’s handling, safety, and the lifespan of other suspension components.
If you’re noticing any of these signs or are concerned about the state of your shocks, it’s a good idea to have them inspected by a mechanic. Checking them is usually not an expensive procedure. However, this article should help you figure things out by yourself most of the time.