6 Signs It’s Time to Get Your Shocks & Struts Replaced

mechanic fixing shocks & struts

Your vehicle’s suspension system is one of those things you don’t think about until there’s a problem — and it’s designed that way. The suspension system is a collection of components that work together to provide a smooth and comfortable ride by absorbing shocks and vibrations from the road. When everything is working, you don’t feel anything. But when something’s amiss, things get bumpy — literally. 

These critical components of your vehicle’s suspension system play a significant role in handling and safety. Driving with worn shocks and struts can be uncomfortable and unsafe, and can cause costly damage to your car’s entire suspension system. In this post, we’ll highlight six signs your car may give you when it’s time to replace your shocks and struts. 

What Are Shocks and Struts?

Shocks and struts are two separate components of a vehicle’s suspension system. They work together to absorb and dampen the impact of bumps and vibrations on the road. 

Shock absorbers (or shocks) are hydraulic or pneumatic devices that help control the movement of the suspension system. Their primary job is to absorb and dampen feedback from the road, keeping the tire firmly planted on the ground for maximum stability and control. You’ll find shocks mounted vertically behind your tires alongside a separately mounted spring. 

Struts comprise several different suspension parts, including a spring and shock absorber. You’ll find struts attached to the wheel. They help with shock absorption as well, but they also work to improve handling and stability by helping the tire stay in alignment. Struts are typically mounted horizontally, directly to the wheel. 

Most vehicles have struts mounted along the front axle and shocks in the back. However, some cars use separate shocks and springs instead of struts. 

6 Signs It’s Time to Get Your Shocks and Struts Replaced

When you take your car in for a preventative maintenance check, your technician should inspect your entire suspension system, including the shocks and struts. When to replace shocks and struts varies depending on use, conditions, and the car’s make and model. A good rule of thumb is about every 50,000 miles. 

Here are six signs that it may be time to replace your shocks and struts. 

1. Bottoming Out. When you back down an incline, like your driveway, and hear that sickening scrape of your rear end meeting the pavement, it’s time to hightail it to your mechanic to check your rear shocks. You might also notice bottoming out if you hear a thumping sound or feel your car hitting the ground when you drive over dips in the road. 

2. Excessive Bouncing. If you feel like you’re atop a bucking bronco even when driving on relatively smooth pavement, or your car continues to bounce after you drive over a dip, it may be a sign that the shocks and struts are reaching the end of their useful life. If you think your car is bouncier than usual but aren’t sure, you can test your theory by pushing down hard on your car’s bumper. When you let go, the car should bounce once and then stop. Any more, and you’ve likely got shock trouble. 

3. Uneven Tire Wear. Worn shocks and struts can affect your car’s alignment, causing uneven or strange wear patterns on your tires. Take your car to the shop if you notice cupping (or hollowed-out areas) on the treads. 

4. Leaking Fluid. When you check out your shocks and struts for signs of leaking, you may see a small amount of oil around the top part of the cylinder. That’s normal and is known as weepage. However, if you notice dripping or a large amount of oil running down the entire length of the cylinder, you’ve likely got a leak, and it’s time to call the mechanic.  

5. Car Nose Diving or Squatting. This is like bottoming out but in the front of your car. When you accelerate or brake hard, the front of your car should stay level. If you notice the nose of your vehicle dips down, that’s a sign of faulty front struts. 

6. Ride Issues. If you notice your car swaying or rocking, or it generally feels out of control, this can be a sign of worn shocks and struts.   

Dangers of Ignoring Shock and Strut Issues

Issues with your car’s suspension system make for an uncomfortable ride, but repairing worn shocks and struts is about more than comfort. It’s about safety. Here are some of the primary safety risks of driving with worn shocks and struts:

  • Poor handling. Worn shocks and struts can cause your vehicle to handle poorly, making it difficult to control, especially when turning or braking. 
  • Longer stopping time. Bad shocks and struts can increase your car’s braking distance, leading to rear-end collisions or other types of accidents. 
  • Reduced visibility. When riding in a bouncing car, it can be hard to pay close attention to the road and react to other cars, pedestrians or obstacles. 
  • Decreased stability. The bouncing, swaying and rocking may not feel like much at slow speeds in town, but if you’re in windy conditions or traveling at highway speeds, a lack of stability can lead to rollovers, skids and accidents. 

Replacing Your Shocks and Struts

You should have your shocks and struts checked every 12,000 miles or during your annual preventative maintenance visit. If you experience any of the above issues, bring your car in right away and have an experienced technician check it out. 

Shocks and Struts Replacement Cost

The cost of replacing shocks and struts can vary depending on the type of car you drive, the kind of shocks and struts you choose, and the cost of labor. The average cost to replace all four shocks and struts is between $400 to $1,110. 

You should always replace shocks and struts in pairs. If, for example, your car has front struts and rear shocks, never replace just the left front strut. While it is possible to replace only the shocks or struts in your vehicle, it’s advisable to replace all four at once. This way, you’re not riding with a mix of old and new suspension components, and you’ll have even wear across the board. 

After replacing your struts, you should also have an alignment check. This is because the suspension system and your vehicle’s alignment are closely related; changing one could affect the other. 

Your car’s suspension system is crucial for a smooth, safe ride. Paying attention to signs that it’s time to replace your shocks and struts ensures you’ll catch problems early before worn shocks and struts result in further damage to your vehicle or cause an accident. 

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