7 Symptoms Of Bad Shocks and Struts

Like most safety-critical chassis components, shocks and struts wear out so gradually over the course of normal operation that the negative effects – reduced steering precision, stopping performance and/or vehicle stability – might not be easily recognized in normal driving conditions.

The rate of wear depends on a wide range of variables, such as road and environmental conditions, your driving style, and vehicle load. Read on to learn the signs of bad shocks and struts.

How do Shocks and Struts Work?

Shocks and struts help stabilize your vehicle’s movements, enhancing control when you turn, brake, accelerate, or encounter uneven road surfaces. Today’s vehicles use shocks, struts or a combination of the two.

The basic difference is that a shock is an independent component, while the strut combines the shock and other features in a single structural unit. Both help to stabilize the vehicle and keep the tires in contact with the pavement. Without shocks, your vehicle would bounce down the road.

Signs Of Bad Shocks And Struts

How long can you expect your shocks or struts to last? That depends. Driving on rough or unpaved roads, towing a trailer or carrying heavy loads, can shorten their functional life. With heavy use, you could be looking to replace them at 40,000 or 50,000 miles or sooner. Under normal conditions, 75,000 to 90,000 miles might be reasonable.

Signs Of Bad Shocks And Struts

While many variables determine the life of your shocks or struts, experiencing any of these seven symptoms means it’s time for replacements.

#1. Nose Dive When Braking

Does it feel like the front end of your car dips quickly toward the ground when you hit your brakes? This is called nose dive and can indicate worn shocks and struts. It is dangerous because it can cause an increase in stopping distance.

#2. Bouncy Ride

Shocks and struts prevent your car from bouncing after hitting a pothole, speed bump, or just driving on a rough road. When these parts don’t work, the vehicle will bounce more than usual and cause an uncomfortable ride. This is one of the most significant signs that your shocks and struts need repair.

#3. Vehicle Rolls Or Sways When Cornering

Feeling like your vehicle is swaying or rolling when making a turn is not only annoying, it is unsettling because you can feel like you aren’t in control of your car.

As shocks wear, they can lose their ability to control the rate of weight transfer when going around corners; this may also result in increased steering input to navigate turns.

#4. Uneven Tire Wear

When your vehicle’s shocks and struts are worn out, the car can bounce, causing a reduction in road holding force.

This bouncing can also cause accelerated tire wear including cupping or scalloping of the tires (when pieces of rubber are gouged out of the tire).

#5. Rear Squat During Acceleration

Properly functioning shocks and struts stabilize suspension movement when accelerating. When your shocks and struts are going bad, the rear of your vehicle can squat excessively when you hit the gas pedal.

The vehicle’s momentum is transferred to the rear which causes the front end to rise, a factor in passenger motion sickness and unnecessarily high loading of the rear suspension components.

#6. Vibration In Steering Wheel

One common and noticeable sign that your shocks or struts are damaged is problems with your steering. Many will think it’s a power steering fluid issue, but you can rule that out with a quick check under the hood.

Unusual or noteworthy noises while turning the steering wheel are a sure sign that something is wrong with your vehicle. A stiff or slow steering response is another signal that something is not quite right. You may find it challenging to turn the wheel or even to change lanes.

#7. Unusual Noises

If you’re driving and hear clunking sounds when you hit a pothole or speed bump, there is likely a problem with the shocks and struts. Clunking sounds tend to mean that something is breaking, and getting your vehicle inspected as soon as possible is best.

#8. Leaking Fluid On the Exterior Of Shocks/Struts

If you notice excessive hydraulic fluid leaking from your shocks or struts, it can be a sign they’re wearing out. If the seals fail, then the fluid that is essential to the proper function of your shocks and struts is escaping.

What Will Happen If I Drive on Worn or Damaged Shocks and Struts?

It’s important to maintain contact with the road, especially when going over bumps or keeping up with highway traffic. Your vehicle’s suspension system, including shocks and struts, is great at that job when every part is working properly.

Over time, those parts will wear out. You might not even notice as it gradually degrades. When they’re not working properly, it can reduce your control and safety. It can also cause added wear to other parts of your vehicle, including your tires.

Replacing worn parts before they get bad can help keep your vehicle’s electronic systems and suspension working properly, extending your vehicle’s life — and keeping you safer on the road.

How to Inspect the Struts on Your Car

A few basic tests can help you determine whether a faulty strut mount or another suspension component is causing the issue.

A. Parked Level Test

Look at how your vehicle sits when parked. If the front appears to be sitting lower than it should, or if the front right end rests lower than the left or vice versa, it implies a failing strut.

You can also measure your vehicle’s suspension height from the top of the tire to the bottom of the fender wall. The right and left wheels shouldn’t have a substantial height difference.

B. Bounce Test

This is what you have to do:

  • Place your foot or knee on the bumper or hood of your car.
  • Push the vehicle down.
  • Take off your foot or knee abruptly and watch the car return to its original position. The vehicle should rise and stay there without bouncing much. If it keeps on bouncing, this indicates a strut problem.

If these elementary checks couldn’t help you decide if you need a new strut, get help from a professional.

C. Professional Diagnosis

Here are the steps a mechanic will follow to diagnose the worn struts:

  • Open the hood and locate the strut mounts.
  • Check if each strut mount is appropriately secured in its place and its nuts and bolts aren’t rusted.
  • Rotate the steering wheel from the lock-to-lock position and observe any unusual sound to check the upper strut mount bearing.
  • Raise the car using a hoist or jack.
  • Check the coil spring to ensure it’s not broken.
  • Look for cracks or damage in the rubber seat of the upper and lower strut mount into which the coil spring attaches.
  • Compress and release the coil spring to check excessive movement in the strut piston rod. If it exists, you may have a bad strut mount.
  • Inspect the piston cylinder for hydraulic fluid leaks or a blown strut.

Depending on the diagnosis, the mechanic may suggest a coil spring or strut mount replacement or swap the whole strut assembly with a new one. It’s best to replace struts as a pair. Combining an old and new strut can cause uneven tire wear and balancing issues with your vehicle.

Note: During a strut replacement, get the wheel assembly and other suspension parts inspected for issues like bearing noise, bad shocks (shock absorbers), etc.

How Much Does a Shock and Strut Replacement Cost?

The cost for replacement shocks and struts vary widely depending on year, make, and model of the vehicle with the actual shocks running $80-$250 per pair while struts can run $300-$760 per pair.

The labor costs should be anywhere between $100-$300 depending on the complexity of the job, and you will need an alignment after installing struts (but not shocks).

The difference in price between shocks usually reflects a difference in quality or anticipated demands of the part. As we talk about below, some vehicles require a lot from their shocks or struts and using a higher quality part can make a big difference for how those vehicles handle bumps and turns.

In many cases a strut assembly can be purchased which includes a new coil spring and top mount plate and cuts down on install time/labor costs, but they bring up the cost of parts by $50-$80 on average.

If you feel confident in your grease monkey skills you can attempt to install a strut assembly yourself with a jack, some sturdy blocks, and a good socket set in most cases since they are a ‘bolt-on’ part. This will save you the labor costs, just don’t forget the alignment afterward.