We’ve all seen the movies where a car goes bouncing down the road. But in reality, if you start to feel your car bounce, you know you have a problem. It could be a sign your shock absorbers are worn out.
What is a shock absorber?
A shock absorber is an integral part of a car’s suspension system. The shock absorber was designed to absorb the compression and rebound of the springs. They are created to take away the bounce and spring motion produced as your car moves.
Shock absorbers keep your tires connected to the road, so you experience a smooth ride.
As your car moves, you hit a variety of things in the road – bumps, dips, even fast-acting swerves to avoid large items. Your car’s suspension system reacts to your controls, which in turn moves energy to the tires, so they continue to connect with the road and absorb this energy. Shock absorbers dampen the movement of the springs, turning kinetic energy into thermal energy (or heat energy.) Thermal heat is dissipated into hydraulic fluid.
Shock absorbers exist within a cylinder controlled by a piston that moves as the vehicle’s suspension system operates. Small amounts of fluid are released from the piston head, which helps slow down the suspension movement, further controlling the rebound of the springs. The faster the springs move, the more resistance a shock absorber provides.
That’s what shock absorbers do when they work correctly. Over time, they start to wear down.
How do you know if your shocks are bad on your car?
Most drivers rely on their senses to tell them when something is wrong with their cars. Paying attention can mean the difference between a minor repair and a major overhaul. When you hear, smell, or feel something that seems not quite right, it’s better to bring your vehicle in to a mechanic and have them check it out right away.
All of your vehicle’s systems offer various warning signs, including faulty shock absorbers. As you’re driving, you may notice any one of these items:
The vehicle bounce
Now that you know how shock absorbers work, it’s fairly easy to understand why your car would bounce when they no longer work well. Shock absorbers work together with the springs attached to your car’s suspension system. If the shock absorbers aren’t working the way they should, it allows more action from the springs. And that is going to cause you to feel more bounce from your car. If the shock absorbers aren’t there to alleviate the resistance, the energy will move into your tires, producing an uncomfortable ride.
A metallic sound
As a suspension system wears down, it produces a telltale sound of metal to metal contact. If shocks and bushings can no longer support the strut, the result will cause a knocking sound you’ll hear either from the front or rear wheels.
Diving or squatting as you start and stop
Shock absorbers help your vehicle stabilize as you pull away from stop signs and traffic lights, and control the movement as you brake and come to a stop. If the mechanics of the shock absorber can’t handle the weight of the vehicle during this action, you’ll find the front end diving down or the rear of the vehicle squatting during this process.
In a similar movement to diving and squatting, a body roll takes place as you bring your vehicle through turns. As the shocks start to go bad, you’ll feel your car leaning more into every turn you make. Over time, this can present safety issues, so it’s important to take action and correct the problem as soon as possible.
How long do shock absorbers last on a car?
Just like other parts of your car, finding an answer to how long shock absorbers last depends on a variety of things.
Most manufacturers will give you a ballpark number. You may see things like “10 year guarantee. ” That is subjective at best. A delivery van that puts on hundreds of miles a week will clearly need new shock absorbers long before a car that sits in the garage most days because the owner is retired.
Mileage or time frame is a starting point, but it also depends on how you drive.
It also depends on the roads you drive on regularly. Smooth highway miles are different than rural gravel roads. Lots of stops and starts can wear down the mechanics of the shock absorber long before a car that mostly drives on the highway.
Then there are also considerations around road conditions. Driving in the heat of the summer is different than driving on roads filled with mag-chloride, ice, snow, and salt. Chemicals can always play a part in how long various components will last.
Do shock absorbers need any maintenance?
All vehicles have four shock absorbers (or a strut/shock absorber combination) at each wheel. The good news is that your shock absorbers don’t require scheduled maintenance like other parts in your vehicle. This doesn’t mean they never need replacing.
Shock absorbers do fail over time. And replacing your shock absorbers is one of the more common replacements you’ll make keeping your vehicle safe and in good working condition.
But there’s another reason many people upgrade from factory-grade shock absorbers: ride quality. People often come in and state their luxury car is suddenly driving like a truck. That’s a sign you need new shock absorbers. Your ride will be smoother. It can also make a vehicle corner and brake like when it was new.
When a shock absorber goes bad, it’s not necessary to replace them all at one time. However, it’s usually recommended to replace them in pairs – both front or both rear. This is because new shocks will absorb more of the road bumps than the old. If you were to replace only one, there would be an unevenness from side to side. This could quickly cause other problems within your vehicle.
Are you ready for a smooth ride? If you’re tired of feeling every bump in the road, it might be time for new shock absorbers.