2 Common Questions on Shock Absorber Replacement and Inspection Answered

All cars have one or more shock absorbers (or struts – basically a shock within a coil spring, but it does the same thing) installed on each wheel. Shocks absorb energy created by going through rough terrain so that your car handles better; without them, every time you hit a bump, for instance, the car would bounce several times because of the mechanical energy created by this movement.

Like other auto parts, shocks can wear out or break and will require repair and replacement. This article highlights the most common challenges motorists face that relate to maintenance, repair, and replacement of car shocks. Read to learn more.

1. Should I replace my shocks in pairs?

Whether or not you should replace shocks as a pair depends on circumstances leading to the damage of one shock. Ideally, shocks should be replaced altogether, but common practice is to replace in parallel pairs (either front or back tyres) to reduce costs.

If the shocks are worn out, for instance, it is likely that all four shocks will need replacement soon, so that replacing just the one that has given up is simply postponing a problem you'll have to deal with. In addition, a new shock has different damping rates from an old one, and the disparity creates an imbalance that may be dangerous for your car.

If you're replacing a broken (but not worn) shock, such as individual shocks damaged during an accident, whether or not you need to replace them as a pair depends on the condition of the other shock. If the other shock is still in good condition, you may be able to replace one without impacting your handling ability.

2. How can I tell whether my shock absorbers work optimally?

If you ask, underbody car inspection can be carried out during your regular car service visit, and this is advisable at least once a year (more often once your shocks are older). Mileage isn't a very good indicator to follow because how fast shock absorbers wear depends on the terrain you drive in more than the mileage. However, there are easy things you can do to routinely confirm that your shocks work properly.

For example, watch how your vehicle behaves when you drive down your regular road. If it bounces too much or handles worse than usual, it means your shocks are deteriorating. You can also carry out the 'bounce test': press down the corner of the front bumper (close to one of the wheels) and watch how it bounces back. Ideally, it should only bounce once and then stop, even if you bounce it several times manually. Bouncing more than once is a sign of worn shocks. Repeat this exercise for all of the tyres.

A visual inspection can also point out a suspension/shock problem. From a level surface, confirm that the vehicle is balanced, i.e., one side isn't lower than the other. Also, uneven wearing on the tyres could indicate a problem with the shocks, particularly feathering or cupping of the tyres. Visit a tyre shop to rule out tyre pressure and alignment as possible culprits, and then schedule professional underbody inspection to make sure your shocks work properly.