In this article, you’ll learn how to know if your shock absorbers are bad.
Shock absorbers are a very important part of your car’s suspension and if they don’t function properly it can impact the overall driving safety.
All of the symptoms you’ll read about are easy to notice and don’t demand any special car knowledge.
You just need to pay some attention and spare a little bit of your time.
Besides this article, you can also watch our video dedicated to this same topic on our YouTube channel.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHOCK ABSORBERS
Just a few words about the importance of shock absorbers.
They have the role of absorbing (together with the springs) all of the bumps on the road and providing a comfortable ride. Without them, the ride would be much like a horse and carriage.
But more importantly than comfort, they have a huge role in the stability of the car and in braking distance.
For instance, if the front shock absorbers are bad, the car will lean too much forward when braking. This has a sort of pendulum effect and puts more weight than normal on the front of the car. This then causes a longer braking distance than normal.
Also, if the shock absorber can’t hold the wheel to the ground properly, every bump on the road means a strong jolt, loss of contact with the road, and a possible loss of control.
This should be a reason enough to know if your shock absorbers are bad.
For more detailed information about the shock absorber, read a great article from Wikipedia.
HOW TO KNOW THE SHOCK ABSORBERS ARE BAD?
1. THE RIDE IS BUMPY
The first telltale sign is a change in the driving comfort.
At first, you’ll notice every bump or hole as a small jolt while later as it gets worse you’ll notice every little hole as it will feel like a big impact.
This symptom is especially noticeable over a speed bump. If you notice a strong jolt and the car jumps when going over it, instead of making a mild transition you should check the shock absorbers.
2. THUMPING NOISE FROM THE UNDERCARRIAGE
Accompanied by the bumpy ride, will be unusual sounds from the cars undercarriage.
In most cases, the sound will be a thumping one.
At first, it will be present only when you go over a bump while in the later phases of the problem, the thimping may be present even while driving on flat surfaces.
This sound may be accompanied by a mild squeaking sound also coming from the bad shock absorbers.
3. THE CAR IS UNSTABLE WHEN DRIVING
Instead of the usual stable and calm handling, the car may feel unstable and jittery.
This is mainly because the bad shock absorbers can’t hold the tire to the ground properly. Essentially the wheel bounces all the time when driving.
At first, it will be barely noticeable, while later the car may be all over the road, especially on more damaged and bumpy sections.
So, how to know if the shock absorbers are bad? The car will feel like you’re riding a horse on the rodeo.
4. UNEVEN CLEARANCE BETWEEN THE WHEELS AND WHEEL ARCHES
When the shock absorbers are really bad, you’ll easily notice a difference in the clearances of the wheels and wheel arches.
Seldom do shock absorbers totally malfunction altogether. They usually go in pairs, front or rear. This is not a rule, but rather a common situation.
Because of this, you’ll notice that the car doesn’t have its normal stance when parked on a leveled surface.
It may be lower on one or two wheels and the easiest way to notice this is by the clearance between the wheel and wheel arches.
Simply put, the car will look like it’s either kneeling or its nose is pointed to the ground
5. THE CAR SWAYS TOO MUCH
Here’s one more way how to know if your shock absorbers are bad.
Sway the car up and down and from side to side. For front shock absorbers, press on the top of the fender and sway it as much as you can.
For the rear shocks, find a convenient place to hold the car (like the roof carrier for instance, or just open the boot) and do the same. Sway the car up and down or side to side.
If there is a weak resistance when swaying, if you can hear a distinctive sound of leaking liquid coming from the shock absorbers, and if the car continues swaying after you’ve stopped, there might be a problem.
When the shock absorbers are good, the swaying should be minimal and there is a significant resistance when you try to sway the car.
6. OIL TRACES ON THE SHOCK ABSORBERS
The last and definitive symptom of a bad shock absorber is traces of oil on it or around it.
When the shock absorber is damaged and on its last legs, it tends to leak oil. First only a very small amount but towards the end, it almost loses all the oil.
So, look into the wheel arch of your car and take a good look around the shock absorber.
If you see traces or a huge oil stain on the piston, spring, shock absorber housing, or wheel arch plastic around it, the shocks should be replaced.
So, how to know if your shock absorbers are bad? Listen, notice, and finally take a look.
The problem usually happens in this order: first, there is a change in the ride quality and stability, then there are noises from the undercarriage, and then you should make an inspection.
As with other car problems, a key factor is noticing the problem on time.
Luckily all of these symptoms of a bad shock absorber appear gradually and it usually takes a couple of months for them to get to the critical phase.
Best not to wait till it gets to that point and replace them on time. After all, it’s a matter of safety.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com