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How to Know if Shock Absorbers are Worn

Posted by Switch Suspension on

The shock absorbers on your car or truck have a pretty important role to play in your suspension. They control the up and down movement of the vehicle, and provide comfort to your ride. Without them, all sorts of things can go south on you real quick, and you can even get into an accident as a result.

But let’s start with the basics: How do you know if your shock absorbers are worn out? Let’s take it step by step.

Push it.

The most obvious and simple way to do it is to give the car a push. Stand next to the corner where you think you’re having the problem. Push down on the top of the fender or bed, and then let go. See how many times it rebounds up and down. A vehicle with working shocks won’t bounce very much — not more than a few cycles — and each bounce will be less than the one prior. But if not, or it keeps moving up and down no matter what, you’ve got a blown shock.

Go for a (safe) drive.

Take the car or truck on a quiet drive around your block. When you get up to around 20 mph, hit the brakes. Does the front end dive down severely when you do? What about when you accelerate? Does the rear end squat like crazy? Both things are indications of worn or busted shock absorbers.

Listen for noises.

Another thing to try on your drive is to listen for any weird noises. Keep an ear out for a clunk, bang, rattle or some noise you don’t normally hear whenever you hit a bump. Open the window and stick your head out a bit to check. If it sounds abnormal, you’ve probably got a problem.

Feel the road.

Still driving? Good (although we hope you’re not reading this and driving). Does your steering wheel shake like crazy when you hit a bump? If your shock absorbers aren’t functioning correctly, the coil won’t absorb the bump enough, and can cause bump steer, shaking the steering wheel.

The same rule applies if you go into a corner and the car dips to the side. If it’s leaning more than usual, something is wrong, and it’s probably the shock absorber.

What do you do about it?

The obvious answer is to replace the shock absorbers, but we don’t mean to be glib about it. Shocks are an important part of the suspension, and if they’re not working right, you’ll have problems with your comfort and your stopping distances. And if you can’t stop, well that’s not going to be a fun time for you and everyone involved.

Replacing shocks can be difficult or it can be easy, it all depends on what you’re driving. If it’s an older vehicle, the shocks and coil springs are likely separate assemblies, which means you can replace the shocks on their own. If you’ve got a new vehicle though, you might have a strut, and that’s a whole other thing.

Struts are shock absorbers that are mated with the coil springs in one assembly. As a result the whole thing is under pressure, so it takes specialized tools to separate the two. Can you do the job at home on your own? Sure. But you’ll need a spring compressor to do it correctly, and you’ll want to get an alignment afterwards, too.

Don’t freak out, but fix it. Soon.

That’s the takeaway here. If your shock absorbers are worn you need to replace them as soon as possible. It’s the safest thing for you and everyone that drives near you, so take the time to make it happen.