Have you started noticing a change in the way your car drives?
Maybe it’s taking longer to come to a complete stop. Maybe your car seems to sway more, side to side, even when it’s a still day. Maybe your car seems to bounce more, bottoming out occasionally when you head through a dip in the road.
What’s wrong with your car?
What are shocks and struts?
Depending on what vehicle you drive, you’ll find it uses shocks, struts, or a combination of the two. The purpose of shocks and struts is to stabilize your car. Every time you push down on the pedal to accelerate, hit the brake pedal to slow and stop, or turn the steering wheel to control your movements, it’s the shocks and struts that ensure your movement is stable, and doesn’t spin or roll your car. If the shocks and struts are working properly, you won’t feel the bumps in the road. Instead, it will be a smooth ride.
Your shocks and struts are designed to last anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 miles. However, those are general guidelines based on all the cars on the road today. The vehicle you drive comes with its own set of guidelines; consult your owner’s manual for more specific ranges. It also depends on your driving patterns. Someone who drives in city traffic every day, just a few miles of stop and go driving, will have different results than a performance vehicle that drives up and down the mountain all the time.
And while you might not pay much attention to them when your vehicle is operating correctly, you’ll definitely notice when the shocks and struts are starting to fail. They:
- Provide you with a comfortable ride
- Controls the body movement your vehicle makes
- Provides your vehicle with stability throughout acceleration, turns, and stops
- Keeps your tires well grounded to the road
- Prevents uneven tread wear on your tires
Keep in mind that today’s vehicles are technology driven units where all parts work together. That’s to technology, a lot of the parts work together through automation, with each piece relying on the other to provide a smooth ride. When one part weakens or fails, it impacts every other part in the system.
What’s the difference between shocks and struts?
If you look in your owner’s manual, you’ll discover your vehicle has either shocks, struts, or both. What’s the difference?
A shock and a strut do essentially the same thing. They control movement of the spring, and stop the bouncing of your car. Yet even though they perform the same task, they aren’t the same part. You could never replace a shock with a strut or vice versa. Your car will be built either with a shock or a strut at each wheel, never both. This is how the suspension system is controlled, and it must remain intact for proper function.
The main difference is in function. A strut is built into the structure of the suspension system. A shock isn’t.
A strut is a pivotal point of the steering system, greatly impacting the alignment of the vehicle. Because of this, if your car uses struts, you’ll always need an alignment when replacing struts. This is also why struts are usually more expensive than shocks, because they are an integral part of your vehicle.
While people will often say “shocks and struts” as if they are interchangeable, clearly they aren’t. But to add to the confusion, some vehicles use both – struts in the front and shocks on the rear.
How do you know if your shocks are bad on your car?
Like every part of your vehicle, your shocks and struts won’t go bad without warning signs. Here are three of the biggest things you’ll notice if your vehicle is in need of new shocks or struts.
A bouncy ride. If your car uses shocks, the shock absorbers and the coil spring are mounted separately to your vehicle. If your car uses struts, the coil spring and shock absorber are combined.
In either case, it’s the shock absorbers that take the abuse from the road, and provide you with a smooth ride. As these wear out, they will be looser, not able to absorb as much of the road as you drive it, giving you a more noticeable ride. That bounce isn’t your imagination; it’s your vehicle’s way of telling you something is wrong.
Leaking fluid. Inside your shocks or struts is a piston and hydraulic fluid. When everything is working as it should, this is a self-contained unit. The piston pushes against the hydraulic fluid, which absorbs the force. Over time, parts wear down, and small leaks can occur. While small amounts aren’t necessarily a problem, if you notice the hydraulic fluid either on the shock or strut itself, or on the road, it’s time to have one of our mechanics check out the system. It could be a sign your car isn’t working the way it should.
Tire tread. When was the last time you paid attention to the tread on your tires? As shocks and struts go bad, they can cause uneven tire wear. Every time you hit something in the road, it impacts the rubber of the tire. And if one portion is hitting the ground more than others, you’ll start to see it in the wear.
This is sometimes referred to as scalloping or cupping. Look for smooth spots in uneven placement. These parts have been scraped off as it connects more with the road.
I think it’s my shocks and struts, now what?
After reading this article, are you convinced it’s your shocks and struts? What’s next?
Your best course of action is to schedule a maintenance visit with one of our mechanics right away.
Our best advice is to select a high quality, brand name product. And ask questions about your final selection. This isn’t one size fits all. Some shocks are built a little stiffer for performance, while others are designed to give you a more comfortable ride. The only way a mechanic can make the best recommendation is if they understand how you drive.
It’s important to replace all parts as they wear. You can’t put off a repair, hoping it won’t change. Every mile you put on a worn out part only increases its chance of failure.
Are you in the market for new shocks and struts?