Bad shocks and struts are usually the sole reason why an old car does not have that new car feel on the road as it once did. The main problem here is that not many people realize that they have bad shocks and struts until problems become hard to ignore. Before realizing that there are in fact problems with worn-out shocks and struts, drivers might spend months and even years driving around with a car that is not driving as it should. We commonly see that with people who buy used cars. Most of them do not even realize how good their new “used” car would be if it had fresh shocks and struts. Shock absorbers and struts are one of the most important components of your car’s suspension and they play a big role in your safety on the road.
Here is everything you need to know about bad and worn-out shocks and struts!
What Causes Bad Shocks And Struts
Before we get into the symptoms of bad shock and struts, let’s take a quick look at why they fail in the first place. The amount of stress that shocks and struts take up on a daily basis eventually leads to wear and tear and loss of functionality. The more they lose their functionality, the worse is your ride quality and many people tend to just endure that long period of poor drive quality because very often shock and struts will not give out clear signs of damage until you are at a critical level of wear.
Here are the most common causes and reasons for bad shock and struts:
- Daily driving on poor roads
- Undiscovered leaks on struts
- Frequent heavy loads or trailers being driven with the car
- Road dirt, salt and moisture
- Frequent aggressive and sporty driving
- Long periods of a car standing parked
Symptoms and Signs of Bad Shocks And Struts
If you suspect that you are experiencing signs of bad shock and struts, here is the list of most common symptoms of worn-out shock and absorbers:
- Your car is bouncy and rides roughly
The most typical sign that something is wrong with your struts and shock is that the car generally feels like it isn’t taking on bumps and potholes as it once did. You feel every little bump, and you also feel like your car is bouncing up and down once you clear a bump.
- Uneven tire wear
We already talked about uneven tire wear on Lifeonfour, and worn-out shocks and struts are one of the most common culprits behind this issue. Observe your tires and measure the tread depth on the left and right sides of the tire. If there is a clear difference you might have suspension problems.
- Poor handling in tight corners
Your shock and struts play a big role in your car’s stability and handling. If a car has worn-out suspension, the front or back end of the car tends to pull out/drift as you drive through a sharp turn. Your car might also pull to the side that has poor shocks and struts. Additionally, you might also experience problems when turning and poor stability at highway speeds.
- Nose diving when coming to a stop
Worn-out shocks and struts greatly affect your car’s braking distance. And not only that, as the kinetic force of your car shifts forward as you brake, your car might actually take a serious nose dive as you come to a stop. This is a clear indication of a worn-out suspension. You might also notice that the front of the car rises and the back drops as you accelerate.
- Oil leaks
The easiest way to check for oil leaks on your shock is to turn your wheels completely to the left or to the right as you park your car. By doing that, you allow yourself more space for a visual inspection of your car’s shocks. If you see any oil on the shocks, you are due for a replacement.
- Weird noises
As you drive over bumps and over potholes, your shocks and struts may start making creaking and squeaking noises as they try to absorb the tough terrain. You can also hear a distinct hissing noise as you drive over a bump.
- Your car “bottoms down”
Your car is made to carry a certain amount of heavy loads and still provide the right amount of ride comfort. As your shocks and struts wear out, they do not provide the same amount of support. They reach the maximum compression point quicked which results in bottoming down and a hard hit to the car and the passengers.
How To Test If You Have Bad Shocks And Struts
If you notice any of the symptoms above on a regular basis, it is usually a good idea to have your shocks and struts professionally examined and tested. However, there is also a way to test your shocks at home, by hand.
How to test shocks and struts by hand at home
This test that we are about to describe is not 100% reliable, however, it does provide some useful insight before you take your car in for professional assessment.
You can test your shocks at home, by hand with a so-called “bounce test”. What you want to do is place both of your hands on the front hood or on the trunk in the back. After that, you push the hood or the trunk down with all your power and let go. If the car bounces more than twice to stabilize, it is clear that your shocks are not absorbing the force as they should.
You can also find a friend or a local with the exact same car that you have and ask them for a test drive. If their car feels way more solid and stable over bumps and in corners it is clear that you have some sort of suspension problems. Keep in mind that your friend’s car might also have a suspension problem which makes this test a bit unreliable.
Testing them in a workshop
Any mechanic that specializes in suspension work will have a certain testing device for shocks and struts. With the equipment they have, they will easily test the state of your suspension and determine which axle is causing you problems. Unless it is a manufacturing issue that caused a problem on one side of the car, make sure you replace both shocks and struts on the front or back axle simultaneously. Here is an awesome website by Monroe, showing how they test shock absorbers without actually removing them.
How Do They Work
Shock absorbers and struts play an important role in the car’s stability, comfort and safety rating. Together with the spring, they provide a steady connection between the suspension and the body of the car. They reduce the amount of vibration by compensating for bumps and potholes on the road. They also make sure that your car remains stable at highway speeds and in corners.
When driving over an obstacle, such as a speed bump on the road, the first thing that needs to be done is the spring to compress, but it must not be hindered by the strut, which also compresses during this time (compression stage). Then the spring decompresses again as quickly as possible, but in this phase, the movement must be slowed down by the strut decompressing (rebound stage). Depending on the conditions of the road, speed, and outside temperature, the oil and thus also the damping element can heat up to up to 120°C due to the thermal load.
What kind of shock and struts are most common?
Generally speaking, there are only two versions of gas pressure shocks and oil pressure shocks.
Oil pressure shocks used to be installed as standard. But they came with one serious disadvantage; the oil within the shock led to oil foaming as the shock compressed and decompressed. The longer the distance traveled, the more the damping force of the shock absorber decreased, since pressure differences built up in the shock itself. The result is lower shock-absorbing performance and, as a result, poorer traction of the car.
This problem does not exist with gas pressure shocks. In gas shocks, the nitrogen component prevents the damper oil from foaming, since the gas in the oil can no longer be released under the pressure of the nitrogen and no bubbles can form. Even under the highest loads or long driving times, oil foaming is impossible and the car doesn’t lose its drive quality and stability.
Can You Keep Driving With Bad Shocks And Struts? Is it Dangerous?
No! The only driving you should do with bad shock and struts is from your home and to your mechanic. Replace worn-out shock and struts as soon as possible. Not only will your car be much safer and more stable, but it will also feel as if it is new.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cost of replacement?
The cost of new shocks and struts greatly varies from car to car. It also depends on what kind of struts and shocks you choose as a replacement. You can get a pair of front shocks for as little as 150$ or you can spend up to 1000$. We recommend avoiding the cheapest brands and replicas. Labor costs also range between 100$ and 400$, depending on the car. Here is a little breakdown so you have an idea of the costs.
|Work/Labor and Material||Front shocks and struts||Rear shocks and struts|
|Both shocks and struts||150$-900$||60$-500$|
|Labor time and costs||1-2 hours/70-250$||1-2 hours/70-250$|
|Total cost||220$ – 1150$||130$ – 750$|
Do I have to replace shocks and struts on both sides of a car?
You do not have to, but it is highly recommended that you do. If one side of the car needs replacement shocks and struts, it is highly likely that the other side is bound to fail in a short period of time as well. Additionally, you want both sides of the car to provide the same amount of damping to ensure reliable stability and comfort.
How often do they need to be replaced?
The lifespan of shocks and struts greatly varies from car to car and it also heavily depends on how and where a car is being driven. Generally speaking, struts and shock should last anywhere from 60,000 miles to 120,000 miles (100-200,000 kilometers).
Can they cause steering problems?
Yes, they definitely can. Steering with bad shocks can feel vague, and spongy and you will be able to feel how the front or back wheels are skidding in corners as you start to lose stability due to bad shocks.
Can I get an alignment with bad struts?
You certainly can, but there is little to no sense in doing so. A wheel alignment is not cheap and as you eventually replace your bad struts, you will need to repeat the wheel alignment process. Save your money, and replace your bad struts before you go in for a wheel alignment.
Can they cause vibration at high speeds?
Yes, they can. Shocks and struts play a big part in the stability of your car at high speeds. Due to the high speed, you don’t even feel all the small bumps and holes in the road, but you do start feeling them as your shock and struts become worn out. One of those symptoms is vibrations at high speeds.
We hope you learned all that you needed about struts and shocks and why it is so important to keep them in perfect working order. This is the first in the series of articles that will be related to suspension problems. As your car reaches 60,000 miles or 100,000 kilometers, we recommend you have your shocks and struts regularly tested as the chances of them going bad highly increase as the car reaches higher mileage figures. We can’t stress enough just how much better it feels to drive a car with fresh shocks compared to driving a car with bad shocks and struts. Do not delay the replacement!