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When To Change Shocks

Shocks Edelbrock

Shock absorbers (and spindles) are one of those things on a car that people rarely think about and which always seem to take the blame when something in the suspension isn't quite right.

Like most components of your vehicle, shocks will eventually wear out and require replacement. Sometimes this will be sooner rather than later, but sometimes that replacement may not be fixing the actual problem either.

Because shock absorbers are built to be relatively free-moving in their range of movement and because they are subjected continually to varying amounts of stress, they are subject to failures. It should be noted, however, that a failing shock may be a sign of something more serious.

Warning Signs of Shock Failure - It's Rarely Sudden

When the shock absorbers on your car are about to go, it's rarely a sudden thing. Signs will have hinted at this for some time, but many drivers don't notice them because they are subtly building up over time. If you drive your car everyday, you can't be blamed if tiny changes building up to bigger ones don't really get noticed.

Watching for some warning signs is important, though, and can save money down the line. If the warning signs aren't there and the shock suddenly fails, it may be a sign of something else being wrong as well.

In general, shocks will likely need replacing every 30,000 miles or so if the vehicle is being driven on paved roads that are well maintained. Variables exist, of course, so that number is nowhere near absolute. Some who do a lot of highway driving at speeds over 55mph may notice longer intervals while those who drive in town or on rockier roads will definitely see a shorter span.

Regardless of the time frame, every maintenance interval or check (oil changes, fluid flushes, etc) which has the car off the ground should be taken as an opportunity to inspect the shock absorbers as well. Look for leaks and cracks and if they are found, replace the set quickly. Note that leaking fluid on shock absorbers may not necessarily be from the shocks themselves. Always check brake lines and other components near the shocks for leaks as well!

Astute drivers may notice a slow ebb in the responsiveness of the car as corners get more spongy-feeling and bumps become more bouncy and a little less controlled. As shocks wear, their ability to bounce back from compression (which happens on the inside of corners and when going over bumps) lessens and the vehicle depends more on its springs for support. Anytime these are being noted, the shocks should be replaced soon.

When Shocks Fail - And What That Might Mean

If shocks suddenly seem to just stop working, there's a good chance that either the shock suddenly just wore out or that something else has been wearing away at that shock and it finally had to give. In either case, it should be considered a warning sign of something more serious being a possibility.

When shocks fail, it will be obvious to everyone in the vehicle. When you hit a heavy bump, for instance, the shocks will bottom out quickly and a "thunk" or metal-on-metal smacking noise will be heard as the springs completely compress and the piston inside the shock smacks the top of the absorber. Likely the vehicle will "wiggle" as the springs return, giving a mushy feeling to the entire ride. If one shock on an axle fails, the other will soon go too and if one axle has absorber failure, the other will have it soon also. So ruined shocks on one axle should be replaced quickly or all four will have to be done.

Failure to replace ruined shocks immediately will mean likely problems with the rest of the suspension (such as those springs).

Suddenly failing shocks could be a sign of bigger problems. When inspecting the failed shocks at replacement, be sure to check the springs for cracks or breaks, check the axle connections for broken boots or pending failure, and to check the vehicle's alignment. All of these could be culprits in the early failure of shock absorbers.