Often Forgotten: Shocks and Struts
By Amanda Bowman
Have you ever been driving down a particularly bumpy road with so many jumps and potholes that you wondered how you’re not flying off the street, doing some crazy acrobatic flips? You’re a regular motorist, after all, not a daredevil!
Do you know what pieces of equipment you have to thank for not turning into Evel Knievel every time you hit a rough patch in the road? Those would be your shocks and struts.
But what do shock and struts do, exactly?
“Shocks and struts dampen the normal harshness of general road conditions when you’re driving,” said Mitch Schneider, owner of Schneider Auto Repair in Simi Valley, California. “They absorb the shock of either hitting a pothole or bump while driving. Their primary function is to keep the tire in contact with the road.”
Shocks and struts aren’t something that immediately come to mind when you think of car maintenance, but they should be. Your shocks and struts are integral parts of your vehicle that need some TLC like any other major component of your car.
Worn shocks and struts can lead to numerous issues with your vehicle.
“Worn shocks and struts are commonly overlooked by both the shop and the motorist,” said Joseph Henmueller, director of Administration, Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association/Motorist Assurance Program (AMRA/MAP). “You could have brand new brakes and tires and they wouldn’t be as effective if you have worn shocks and struts, because the car won’t stop if the tires aren’t in constant contact with the road.”
Not being able to stop as quickly and increasing your car’s stopping time can both be attributed to worn shocks and struts, but so can a decrease in your comfort level and other safety issues.
“It’s important to keep your shocks and struts in good condition because of comfort issues – how comfortable it is to drive the car and how much the body moves on the suspension,” Schneider said/ “How well you’re able to control the vehicle is another issue. You lose a certain amount of side-to-side and front-to-back control as the weight shifts on the vehicle. Stop distance is increased as shocks wear.”
There’s typically no visual evidence of your shocks and struts being warn or in need of replacing.
“Visually, you can’t tell the shock is worn unless it’s been damaged,” Henmueller said. “You used to be able to visually inspect a shock because they would leak. However, the technology and construction of today’s shocks are so good that they don’t visibly leak. It’s an old way of thinking. Shocks wear subtly. They deteriorate and degrade very slowly over time.”
Though you more than likely won’t be able to see if your shocks and struts are worn visually, there are a few tests you can do – or ask your technician to do – to check their quality.
“Accelerating quickly and seeing how much the back of the vehicle moves is one,” Schneider said. “Another test would be stopping quickly and seeing how much the front of the vehicle moves. Turning from side to side and seeing how much sway, or yaw, is involved – how much the body moves on the suspension and how much you’re thrown around in the passenger compartment- is also a good test.”
Both Schneider and Henmueller agree that, on average, shocks and struts begin to deteriorate at about 50,000 miles (80,500 km).
“By the time the vehicle has reached 50,000 miles (80,500 km), the performance of the shocks and struts has degraded enough that it will start to affect things like tire wear, stopping distance and overall road handling, such as how well the car responds when you’re changing lanes at high speeds,” Henmueller said.
The way your car performs is affected if you continue to neglect your shocks and struts/
“When you get between 60,000 and 100,000 miles (96,500-161,000 km), those shocks and struts have generally lost their new-car performance capability.”
Shocks and struts aren’t the cheapest components to replace on your car, but it’s still critically important that you do replace them when needed.
“The cost to replace a set of shocks or struts is typically less than the cost of a set of good tires,” Henmueller said. “It’s going to depend on the car. For example it’ll be much cheaper to replace them on a Dodge minivan than on an Infiniti Sedan.”
From the quality of performance to safety reasons, it’s vital to keep your shocks and struts in top condition. If your car has more than 50,000 miles, you should have an automotive technician take a look at them during your next oil change or tire rotation. Though replacing your shocks and struts might be an unexpected expense, it will be well worth the money.
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