Your car probably had quite a nice ride when it left the factory, but that will someday change. Over time, even normal driving will start to take its toll on your suspension system, a large component of which are the shocks. Though the term is sometime used to describe generic suspension parts, shock absorbers are a unique component that perform a specific job.
The good news is that it’s not hard to replace shocks yourself and not prohibitively expensive to pay someone else to do the work for you. Shock absorbers play an important role in your car’s safety and handling, so it’s important not to ignore a problem when you notice it.
Let’s get rolling.
What Are Shocks And How Do They Work?
Shocks, also known as shock absorbers, help give your car a smooth ride and keep the tires planted on the road where they belong. They work to control unwanted spring motion in the suspension system. This process is called dampening, through which the shocks slow the springs’ vibrations and the intensity of those vibrations. The energy from suspension movement is turned into heat energy that is then dissipated through hydraulic fluid.
Shocks contain oil and a piston. As the vehicle rolls over rough roads, the spring’s energy is transferred to the shock. The piston, which has tiny holes, allows a small amount of oil to pass through, which creates pressure and resistance to slow the springs’ movement. Today’s shocks are velocity-sensitive, which just means that they provide more resistance as the vehicle moves faster.
What’s the Difference Between Shocks and Struts?
Unlike shocks, struts are a major structural component of the suspension system. They replace the upper control arm and upper ball joint. Though they’re similar to shocks on the inside, they work to provide structural support to the suspension by holding the spring and keeping the tire aligned.
Shock Failure Symptoms, Causes, Issues
If your shocks are starting to go bad, you’ll notice a change in how your vehicle performs and drives. The most obvious sign is that the car’s ride goes downhill. As the shock fails, its ability to help keep your tires on the pavement is diminished, which can lead to a bumpy ride. You may also notice steering and braking changes or odd wear on tires.
Car Bible’s Glossary for Shocks
Alignment refers to the angles at which your tires meet the road. This is done with three main measurements: Camber, caster, and toe. Camber refers to the vertical angle of the wheels, caster refers to the angle of the wheel in relation to the direction of travel (imagine a chopper motorcycle with a steep front fork angle), and toe refers to the angles of the front wheels inward or outward.
Control arms work to control the wheels’ motion and connect the suspension to the car’s actual frame. They attach to the chassis and the hub.
The hub is the part of your vehicle where the wheels are actually anchored. They allow the wheels to turn and steer, and play a big role in both the braking and traction control systems.
The axle is the long cylinder that supports the vehicle’s weight and lets the wheels rotate. The hubs are connected to the ends of each axle to mount the wheels.
Your Questions, Our Answers on Shocks
Q. How Hard Is It To Install New Shocks Myself?
A. Almost any armchair mechanic can install new shocks with the right tools and workspace. It’s important that you have a strong jack and jackstands, and that you work on a flat surface. You’ll need to follow the maintenance manual for your particular vehicle make and model, but the process shouldn’t take more than an hour or so per side.
Q. Can I Drive With A Broken Shock?
A. No, you shouldn’t drive with a broken shock absorber. An uncomfortable ride is just the first problem you’ll have to deal with. Your car’s handling, steering, and braking will all be affected, and not for the better. A broken or failing shock can lead to safety and control issues as well, so it’s important to have it fixed as soon as possible.
Q. How Much Does It Cost To Have Shocks Replaced By A Pro?
A. It’s best to have all four shocks replaced at once if you can. That can cost up to $1,000 or more, depending on the vehicle. If that’s not a possibility for you, replacing two at a time is second-best, and should cost between $300 and $500.
Video on Shocks
Car Bible’s Favorite Shock Absorber-Related Products
It can be hard to determine which products are best for your vehicle, but we’re here to help. Car Bibles’editors have selected a handful of their favorite products to help you get started. These items are affordable, useful, and well-reviewed. They include the Pro-Lift Jack Stand, the Blackhawk Floor Jack, and Mechanix Work Gloves.
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