Improve Handling, Tire Wear With New Shock Absorbers

bumpy road
bumpy road

Sometimes drivers can sense their vehicle is not behaving properly. Do you feel every bump? Does the vehicle float or act “mushy” when negotiating a turn?

The culprit may be your vehicle’s shock absorbers, especially for vehicles which have logged more than 100,000 miles.

“Their main purpose in life is to absorb energy, to smooth out the ride,” said Tony Molla, vice president at the Automotive Service Association and former certified mechanic. “Shock absorbers also play a part in the way a car handles on the road.

“If shocks need replacement, the vehicle may feel mushy or sloppy going through a corner. It should be steady and crisp throughout a turn. That’s why shock absorbers are considered an important part of vehicle safety.”

Molla recommended drivers check their owners operating manual for replacement recommendations.

“It depends a lot on driving conditions,” Molla said. “Someone who drives over potholes and gravelly roads may need to have shock absorbers replaced more frequently than another driver who commutes to an office by freeway.”

Molla uses the odometer reading as his rule of thumb. If it clicks near 1000,000 miles, he recommends having shock absorbers inspected and possibly replaced.

“Watch for signs you may need replacement earlier,” Molla pointed out.

For example, drivers who encounter a lot of potholes and curbs or gravely roads may need replacement early. Look for tell-tale signs such as mushy ride around corners and a rough ride over bumps and uneven roadways.

Driving concerns may not show up until families encounter windy mountain roads on a summer vacation.

“Shock absorbers are a safety component,” Molla said. “Thoroughly inspect shock absorbers and steering-related components before heading out on the open road. Problems with shock absorbers also may indicate issues with tires and steering components.”

How do you know it’s time to replace shock absorbers?

According to Molla, the most obvious sign is high mileage. Have shock absorbers inspected when your vehicle reaches 100,000 miles.

For severely worn shock absorbers, your vehicle may have exhibited a “long rebound” when it hits a bump. That is, it may “float” for a second or two then rock up and down.

Unusual tire wear also may signal time for shock absorber replacement. Check with your local repair shop if you notice unusual tread wear patterns on one or more tires.

Also, replace shock absorbers showing signs of leaking.

Are there different types of shock absorber replacements?

“There are all kinds of high tech suspension systems,” Molla said, referring to those used for sports vehicles as well as tricked out cars. “Generally, we recommend replacement with parts that meet or exceed original equipment.

Should they be replaced two at a time?

“Shock absorbers are replaced in pairs--either front or rear. If you have more than 130,000 miles on your car, I would recommend you replace all four shocks.”

Replace shock absorbers in pairs, never singly. Drivers of older, high mileage vehicles should consider replacing all four shock absorbers at the same time.

How do driving habits change the lifespan of shock absorbers?

Extreme driving conditions, like off-road excursions, can wear out suspension components more quickly due to the heavy use.

Driving roads with uneven surfaces such as gravel or potholes generally decreases shock absorber lifespan.

What kinds of problems may be caused by not replacing shocks?

According to Molla, drivers risk losing control of vehicles with severely worn shock absorbers. For instance, the vehicle is not as responsive to turns.