Shocks And Struts: How to Tell if Your Shocks or Struts Are Bad

The suspension system is an important part of a car that helps improve handling by maximizing the friction between the tires and the road.

There are many different parts that make up the suspension system, and each plays a role in keeping the car in control and smoothing out the ride. Shocks and struts are two components that should be kept in good condition to ensure your suspension is working effectively.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between shocks vs. struts, what they do within your car’s suspension system and how to know when to replace them.

What Are Shocks?

Also known as shock absorbers, shocks are parts that help control the rebound movement and impact of the springs and suspension on a vehicle. They are also responsible for ensuring the tires remain in contact with the surface of the road.

Shocks control the springs and suspension by turning kinetic energy into thermal energy that’s dissipated through hydraulic fluid. Key components of the shock absorber that help with this process include a piston, coil and hydraulic fluid.

When a car’s suspension is moving, hydraulic fluid is forced through holes in the piston. Only a small amount is let through, which slows the piston, affecting the movement of the springs and suspension.

The faster a suspension moves, the more resistance a shock absorber has. The effects include a reduced rate of bouncing on the road, swaying and brake diving.

What Are Struts?

Struts are considered a structural part of the suspension system. They are typically used on front-wheel-drive vehicles, although they can sometimes be used on rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

A strut combines several suspension components into one assembly. The parts incorporated include shock absorbers and coil springs.

The strut body connects to a steering knuckle attached to a lower control arm and ball joint, and struts replace the upper control arm.

Struts help dampen the movements of coil springs, which are used to support the weight of a vehicle and keep it handling properly over bumps, hills and other imperfections in the road. Along with helping improve control of the car, struts help the springs support vehicle weight.

Shocks And Struts

How Do Shocks And Struts Work?

Shock absorbers and struts help stabilize your vehicle’s movements and improve control when turning, braking, accelerating or on rough road surfaces. Today’s vehicles use shock absorbers, struts, or a combination of both.

The fundamental difference is that a damper is a separate component, while the strut combines the damper and other features into a single assembly. Both help stabilizes the vehicle and keeps the tires in contact with the road. Without shock absorbers, your vehicle would bounce down the road.

How long can you expect your shock absorbers or struts to last? That depends. Driving on rough or unpaved roads, towing a trailer, or carrying heavy loads can shorten their lifespan.

If used heavily, you might try replacing them after 40,000 or 50,000 miles or sooner. Under normal conditions, 75,000 to 90,000 miles might be reasonable.

Why Shocks And Struts Are Essential?

Shocks and struts are essential components of a vehicle’s suspension system. They play a critical role in ensuring safety, comfort, and overall performance. Here’s why shocks and struts are so crucial to your ride.

#1. Stability And Control.

When you’re cruising down the road, you want to feel in control. Shocks and struts help keep your vehicle stable, absorbing the bumps and jolts so you can stay firmly planted on the pavement. That means better handling, especially when navigating tight turns or sudden stops.

#2. Tire Wear And Traction.

Ever notice your tires wearing unevenly? Worn-out shocks and struts could be the culprit. By smoothing out the ride, these components help ensure your tires wear evenly and grip the road better. That means safer driving and potentially longer-lasting tires.

#3. Comfortable Cruising.

Who doesn’t love a smooth ride? Shocks and struts make it happen. They minimize the bumps and vibrations that make your drive less enjoyable, allowing you to cruise in comfort.

#4. Handling And Safety.

Your vehicle’s handling and safety go hand in hand. Shocks and struts play a crucial role here, too. They help you steer with precision, maintain stability in tricky situations, and stop safely when you need to.

Without them, your ride could feel shaky, handling could suffer, and safety could be compromised.

Does my vehicle have shocks or struts?

Every wheel has either a strut or a shock. They come in pairs; If you have a shock on the left rear wheel, you also have a shock on the right rear wheel. However, your vehicle may have shock absorbers on one axle and struts on the other axle.

In fact, most modern vehicles have struts on the front axle and shock on the rear axle. They may have struts on both axles, but it’s rare to have only shock absorbers.

There are 3 easy ways to find out if your vehicle has shock absorbers or struts.

  • Consult your user manual. The owner’s manual should contain information about the suspension setup for your specific model.
  • Look under the car. As long as you know what you’re looking for, you should be able to see if your vehicle has shock absorbers or struts associated with each wheel.
  • Ask a technician. Ask your technician for the next vehicle service! You can identify what component(s) your vehicle has and – bonus! – They can also let you know if the shock absorbers/struts will need to be replaced soon.

Symptoms of Bad Shocks and Struts

While shocks and struts wear out gradually, your vehicle may give you some signs that there is something wrong with its ride control components.

Worn shocks and struts can have a detrimental effect on steering, stopping and the stability of your vehicle.

If your vehicle is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with your service provider for a Safety Triangle Inspection of your suspension system.

#1. Nose Dive When Braking.

Does it feel like the front end of your car dips quickly toward the ground when you hit your brakes?

This is called nose dive and can indicate worn shocks and struts. It is dangerous because it can cause an increase in stopping distance.

#2. Bouncy Ride.

Excessive bouncing when you hit a bump can be a signal that your shocks and struts aren’t working effectively.

Your vehicle should settle after hitting a bump and not continue to bounce. Worn shocks and struts aren’t able to effectively absorb road impacts and soften the bump.

#3. Vehicle Rolls Or Sways When Cornering.

Feeling like your vehicle is swaying or rolling when making a turn is not only annoying, it is unsettling because you can feel like you aren’t in control of your car.

As shocks wear, they can lose their ability to control the rate of weight transfer when going around corners; this may also result in increased steering input to navigate turns.

#4. Uneven Tire Wear.

When your vehicle’s shocks and struts are worn out, the car can bounce, causing a reduction in road-holding force.

This bouncing can also cause accelerated tire wear including cupping or scalloping of the tires (when pieces of rubber are gouged out of the tire).

#5. Rear Squat During Acceleration.

Properly functioning shocks and struts stabilize suspension movement when accelerating. When your shocks and struts are going bad, the rear of your vehicle can squat excessively when you hit the gas pedal.

The vehicle’s momentum is transferred to the rear which causes the front end to rise, a factor in passenger motion sickness and unnecessarily high loading of the rear suspension components.

#6. Vibration In Steering Wheel.

It is natural to experience a little vibration in your steering wheel when driving over a bumpy road.

If you experience similar vibrations on smooth roads, your shocks, struts, or steering stabilizer may be worn.

#7. Unusual Noises.

When shocks and struts are worn out you may hear a clunking or knocking sound. This sound is caused by metal-to-metal contact when the shock or strut bottoms out when hitting a bump.

In addition, these noises could be a result in worn shock or strut mounting components.

#8. Leaking Fluid On Exterior Of Shocks/Struts

If you notice excessive hydraulic fluid leaking from your shocks or struts, it can be a sign they’re wearing out.

If the seals fail, then the fluid that is essential to the proper function of your shocks and struts is escaping.

What Will Happen If I Drive on Worn or Damaged Shocks and Struts

Staying in contact with the road is important, especially when going over bumps or keeping up with highway traffic. Your vehicle’s suspension system, including shock absorbers and/or struts, is excellent for this task if every part is working properly.

Over time, these parts wear out. You might not even notice it as it gradually breaks down. If they are not working properly, it can affect your control and safety. It can also cause additional wear and tear on other parts of your vehicle, including your tires.

Replacing worn parts before they go bad can help keep your vehicle’s electronic systems and suspension working properly, extend the life of your vehicle – and keep you safer on the road.

How Long Do Shocks/Struts Last?

This depends on many factors. You can think of shock absorbers or struts like tennis shoes. If you only wear them on the weekends to go to the mall, they will last a lot longer than someone who wears them every day, skateboards, and uses their shoes as brakes quite often!

This means your shocks or struts will last longer if you drive fewer miles, drive on nice smooth roads, don’t drive like speed racers and don’t carry a lot of weight in your vehicle.

On average, if your car has been babysat, you can expect your shock absorbers/struts to last around 10 years. If you’ve really used your car as a workhorse, 5 years is probably all you can expect. This means that for the average rider, 7 or 8 years is the maximum life expectancy of most shock absorbers and struts.