Don’t you just love the Colorado roads right now? When the snow clears away for a day or two, you still feel like you’re off-roading it down the highway. It’s a game of “how to avoid the potholes”, and all-too-often, the potholes win.
When you hit one, you cringe. You can feel the impact ripple through you and your vehicle. This can take its toll on how well your car handles.
A car’s suspension system is designed to hold up the weight of the vehicle, and absorb the impact of the road while providing the occupants a smooth ride. One of the critical components of the suspension system are shocks and struts.
Both shocks and struts curb a car’s tendency to bounce while moving. Every time you start, stop, turn corners, or hit bumps in the road, it’s shocks and struts that create a smooth riding experience.
What are shocks and struts? What’s the difference?
Before we talk about possible problems with your vehicle’s shocks and struts, it’s important to understand what they are.
In many cases, the terms shocks and struts are used interchangeably, but they do provide two separate functions.
As a part of the suspension system, every vehicle has a combination of springs, and either shocks or struts. Springs are what support the weight of the vehicle to cushion the ride. This prevents the car’s passengers from experiencing harsh jolts as it rides on rough and uneven roads.
Shocks, also known as shock absorbers, do what their name implies: they absorb the shock of the road. Shocks aren’t a crucial piece of the suspension system; you could, in theory, remove them and still be able to drive. However, they are built into a vehicle to provide comfort and stability no matter what the conditions of the road are like.
Struts are an integral part of a vehicle’s suspension system. They play a key role in absorbing the roughness of the road. MacPherson struts are the most common struts on today’s vehicles. They combine the spring and strut together into one serviceable part. However, depending on the vehicle you drive, the two might be separate. In that case, the strut acts as a connecting point between the spring and the vehicle.
How do I know if my shocks and struts are bad?
Like other parts of your vehicle, shocks and struts have warning signs that they are failing. But they aren’t components you’ll replace on a regular basis. They are engineered to last anywhere from 50,000 to 90,000 miles or more, depending on how you drive.
Still, you can’t miss the signs that your shocks and struts are starting to fail. Have you experienced any of these signs?
Nose diving – this is probably one of the easiest signs to recognize; you’ll see this portrayed on television a lot. Cars stay level because of shocks and struts. If they aren’t working the way they are designed, every time you step on the brake pedal, your car will dip forward, with the nose diving towards the pavement in the process. There is also the possibility of the rear of your car bouncing down when you accelerate; this is known as squats.
Bouncing – the shocks and struts absorb the roughness of the road. However, if you notice your car bouncing up and down with each bump and you can feel it in the way you move up and down in your seat, your shocks and struts have a problem that should be serviced as soon as possible.
Tire bouncing – if the shocks and struts aren’t absorbing the impact of the road, the tires can take on the stress. If they aren’t connecting with the pavement as designed, they can wear before their time.
Fluid leaks – shocks and struts contain hydraulic fluid. As they wear, they can start leaking. If you notice what looks like a leak by your tires, bring it in to be serviced as soon as you can.
Handling problems – pay attention to the way your car handles no matter what the road conditions are. This will help you determine when things start to go wrong. Problems with shocks and struts can make your car shift from side to side even when the weather isn’t there to affect it. You should never feel a swaying motion as you drive.
Can I test for bad shocks and struts?
Still not sure if it’s your shocks and struts going bad? Luckily, there is a test you can perform to determine if your shocks and struts are in good working condition. It’s called the bounce test, and it works like this.
Move to the front or rear of your car. Push down as hard as you can, and then pull your hands away. If your car doesn’t bounce, your shocks and struts are fine. A bounce suggests that the shocks and struts are starting to wear, or a problem already exists. This is your sign that it’s time to get your vehicle serviced and have your shocks and struts replaced.
Your suspension system needs regular maintenance too
As a frequent driver, you’re probably in the habit of basic maintenance items. You bring it in for an oil change every few months or 5,000 miles, whichever comes first. You wash it and add windshield washer fluid seasonally. You get new tires as the tread wears down.
Even if your vehicle isn’t showing any signs that the shocks and struts are going bad, it’s a good idea to have one of our mechanics evaluate your suspension system on an annual basis. This of it as cheap insurance to ensure your car is in good working order, and will keep you and your car’s occupants safe and secure, ready to enjoy the ride.
Shocks and struts are not the same, and are not interchangeable components of your vehicle. Whether they are structurally integrated together or are separate parts, it’s important to have both in good working condition to have a safe ride.
Are your shocks and struts in good condition?