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Complete Guide to Your Vehicle’s Shocks

Damaged rear car shock absorber & springWithout shocks or struts in your car, you’d be in for quite the bumpy ride. Luckily, vehicle manufacturers put them in your car as part of the suspension system, not only for your comfort on the road but most importantly, to ensure your tires remain in contact with the road. You might be surprised to know that shocks are not what support the weight of your vehicle. Instead, shocks take the motive energy of your suspension and convert it to thermal energy, which is then made to dissipate through hydraulic fluid. At Sun Devil Auto, we get lots of questions about the suspension system and how struts and shocks work including how often to replace shocks on a car. Follow along as we answer frequently asked questions about a vehicle’s shocks and struts.

1 – What are shocks?

Also known as shock absorbers, shocks are basically an oil pump situated between the frame and wheels of a car. Its primary responsibility is to control the movement of spring and suspension. When the vehicle comes across a bump in the road, causing the spring to coil and uncoil, the energy from that spring transfers to the shock.

2 – How do shocks work?

A piston is affixed to the end of a piston rod, creating resistance against hydraulic fluid in the pressure tube. As the suspension moves up and down, a small amount of hydraulic fluid is pushed through orifices within the piston called valves. This process slows down the piston, reducing spring and suspension movement.

3 – What do shocks do?

Shocks adjust to road conditions reducing the rate of roll or sway, bounce, brake dive and the acceleration stoop. The degree of resistance a shock creates depends completely on the speed of the suspension and the amount and size of orifices in the piston. Vehicles today are velocity-sensitive hydraulic dampening devices, which means the faster the suspension travels, the more resistance the shock will deliver.

4 – What is the difference between shocks and struts?

The strut is actually a key structural component of the suspension system. Vehicles that use struts don’t have upper control arms and upper ball joints used in many of the past suspension systems. Struts are designed to take a bigger load and sometimes less space because they are normally integrated with the coil spring. Similar to shocks, the strut provides resistance to control spring and suspension movement while also providing structural support for the vehicle’s suspension by supporting the spring, and keeping tires aligned.

5 – What are performance shocks?

The performance shock uses different valving to support harder driving. Some performance shock absorbers are wrapped in a coil spring and are also called “coilovers,”. While factory shocks are less expensive and made for comfort, there are superior products to improve your vehicle’s handling. Performance coilovers are beneficial in that they help maintain ride quality, while greatly improving vehicle handling.

6 – How often should shocks be replaced?

Manufacturers of struts and shocks typically recommend replacement every 50,000 miles. At that point, your shocks have likely oscillated 88 million times. Still, this could vary based on your driving habits. If you travel over bumpy and poor road conditions often, you should expect to replace them sooner than the average short-distance driver.

7 – How can I tell if my car needs new shocks?

You can tell if your car needs shocks if you notice a change in performance. Here are common warning signs that it’s time to replace shocks or struts:

  • Poor steering response.
  • Vehicle bounces considerably while driving.
  • Unstable braking.
  • Stiff steering.
  • Leaning or swaying while turning or lane changes.
  • Poor tire tread.

Sometimes the symptoms above don’t surface until the damage is already done. It’s imperative your shocks and struts are inspected visually every 6-months or at every oil change.

8 – What should a visual inspection include?

Ideally, you should have a qualified technician that knows what indicators to look for in worn shocks or struts. Most often the technician performing the inspection is looking for signs of an oil leak and irregular tire tread wear. Over time suspension parts will begin to break down and begin to leak fluid from the top side. The technician will also keep an eye out for corrosion, worn or broken mounts, and bushings in and around the suspension components.

9 – Why does the technician check my tires?

When your car’s struts or shocks are in poor condition, they are no longer able to help stabilize the vehicle. This forces the weight of the vehicle down onto the wheels resulting in uneven tread wear.

10 – Where can I get my shocks inspected?

Sun Devil Auto, of course! We include an inspection of struts and shocks with every oil change service as part of the multi-point inspection. Our ASE Certified Technicians understand the complexity suspension systems in both modern and older cars. If you’ve noticed bouncing or swaying or any other symptom synonymous with worn shocks or struts, give us call for a visual inspection today. You deserve a safe and comfortable ride, and we’ll help you get there.