Is Your Shock or Strut Bad?
The shock absorbers on your vehicle help damp the small vibrations you experience while driving and control the rebound of the coil springs after hitting a big bump or pot hole. So when the shocks are damaged or worn down then you feel more of those vibrations and your vehicle bounces after a speed bump or dip in the road. If you have bad shocks (or struts) they have to be replaced to restore the vibration and bounce control aspects of your vehicle. This article will detail some of the symptoms of bad shocks and struts, why they go bad, and replacement options as well as how to extend the life of your shocks.
Difference Between Shocks and Struts
While shocks and struts both help damp coil spring rebound, one big difference is that the strut helps support the weight of the vehicle while shocks do not. You may think you have a good idea of what these parts look like, but the difference between a “strut” and a “strut assembly” is a big one (especially if you are trying to order a part without the benefit of a picture). A shock can look similar to a strut depending on the make and model of the vehicle so before we go further, lets cover the basics of what we mean when we say shocks and struts.
An automotive shock absorber is a self-contained unit that uses a piston, fluid, and gas to absorb vibration and limit the up and down movement of a vehicle after a bump by controlling the ‘bounce’ of the coil springs.
A strut is a shock that is part of an assembly (usually including a coil spring) that supports the vehicle’s weight and maintains wheel alignment in addition to controlling spring movement and absorbing vibration.
Symptoms of Bad Shocks and Struts
As with most suspension component problems, when the shocks have gone bad or the struts are damaged you will notice things like unusual noises and increased vibration, but there are some other symptoms that are specific to bad struts and shocks. Most of these symptoms by themselves could point to problems with other suspension components such as the control arms or sway bar, but if you notice several of these signs then taking a closer look at your shocks or struts would be a good idea. As always, a trusted mechanic is going to be the best way to diagnose a problem with your vehicle, but these symptoms can give you a better idea of what to expect.
If you notice excessive vibration in the vehicle the shocks or struts can be the culprit.
A possible sign of many problems including worn or damaged shocks or struts.
Excessive Body Roll
If you notice your vehicle ‘rolling’ or leaning more to the outside during a turn, a loss of stiffness in the shocks can be the cause.
When you have to brake suddenly the front of the vehicle aggressively goes down and the rear goes up.
The reverse of diving. When you hammer the accelerator the rear of the vehicle goes down and the front rises.
The coil springs act like pogo sticks and your vehicle continues to bounce a few times after a bump or a drop.
Uneven Tire Wear
If the shocks are too mushy then you can notice some uneven wear patterns on your tires.
Shocks can have some seepage, but if you notice the whole shock is covered in fresh fluid after a drive then it should be checked.
Reasons Shocks and Struts Fail
Shocks are a wear and tear component of a vehicle’s suspension so if you own a vehicle long enough then you will need to replace them at some point. That said, there are some factors that can accelerate the wear and tear on shocks and struts.
Normal Wear – Shocks have a rough job and even daily driving on highways and interstates demand a lot from shock absorbers. The piston rod is engaged hundreds of times even during a short commute, the internal seals have friction with every compression, and the shock fluid cycles hot and cold with every drive causing a slow chemical breakdown.
Rough Terrain – On well maintained roads the shocks still see a lot of action, but a vehicle that commutes over pasture or uneven roads, is going to be extra tough on the shocks. Sudden changes in the driving surface engage the shocks faster and more aggressively, increasing the fluid heat and strain on the rod and internal components. The more frequent and intense the bounces that your vehicle experiences the faster your shocks are going to wear out.
Towing or Hauling – The heavier a vehicle the more the coil springs compress to cushion the weight and this makes the shock absorbers work harder to control the compression and extension of the springs. Vehicles weigh a lot by themselves but if you add a trailer or a load of something heavy then the shocks are putting in overtime and might clock out early.
Worn Suspension Components – A vehicle’s suspension is made up of several parts and when one is not working correctly the rest of the system gets a little more stressed. In most cases the shock runs between the control arm and the frame so if the control arm is shifting out of alignment every time you turn or hit a bump then the shock is forced to move in a way that was not intended. This can wear down the piston rod, or even bend it in extreme cases, and cause damage to the valving and seals.
How to Extend Shock Life
Even though shocks and struts will eventually wear out there are ways of extending their lifespan, or at least not cutting it short. Getting an alignment will ensure that your wheels and suspension are all in line and functioning properly and this will help reduce unnecessary strain on the shocks or struts.
- Get a Routine Wheel Alignment
- Check your Suspension Components
- Replace Rubber Suspension Components with Polyurethane
When other suspension components like the control arm bushings or ball joints are worn or damaged you can notice an increase the rate of wear on other suspension parts. If the control arm is not secured to the frame and wheel hub then the shocks can shift out of alignment when driving and the resulting stress can be detrimental to the shocks.
Another, more preemptive option for preserving your shocks and struts is switching from rubber to polyurethane suspension bushings. Since poly bushings hold alignment for suspension parts much better than rubber, and have a longer effective lifespan, your shocks will not be shifting around and enduring undue stress.
Need a Replacement?
If you do find yourself at the point where the shocks or struts are showing signs of wear or damage then getting a good replacement is a top priority for ride quality and the health of your vehicle. Monroe is a great option for replacing your shocks and struts since they supply the OE parts for a lot of vehicle manufacturers in the first place. Besides OE replacements they also offer premium aftermarket shocks and struts for use in fleet, heavy-duty, or emergency service vehicles with features that those applications demand. They have an enormous amount of makes and models covered with their exceptional parts so odds are they have just what you need.