It happens gradually — almost too slowly to notice — but cars can become a bit less precise or bumpier over time. If this happens to your vehicle, it’s likely time for new shock absorbers.
Despite their name, shock absorbers do more than just counteracting bumps. They’re a key part of your vehicle’s suspension that helps to keep swaying, diving and squatting under control too.
Replacing shocks is a bit more involved than simply getting a new set of whatever came with the car, so here we’ll discuss some points to keep in mind when you’re looking to replace a worn set.
1. Replace All Four
Sure, you can buy just two shocks (or one, for that matter), but for the best results, you’ll want to buy and install four brand-new ones if you know even one is due for replacement. A uniform set can help you get consistent responses to road inputs for a more even ride, and it’s always more economical to do a job in one trip to the garage rather than splitting it over two or more trips.
If you hear creaking or rattling noises from outside the cabin when you accelerate, brake, and cruise over bumps, check the strut mounts or shock mounts. This may be a job for a pro, as the parts that can fail — rubber gasket peeling away from the metal, bearing gone bad, corrosion — are inside the mount.
There’s good news and bad news about replacing strut mounts or shock mounts: The good news is that the parts are fairly inexpensive, but the bad news is that it’s a dirty job with a good amount of disassembly involved, which means higher labor costs. People without the proper space, tools or know-how will need professional help.
3. Check the Shock Bumpers or Bump Stops
These are the little cushions that keep your shock absorbers from connecting with the chassis or body of your car when road conditions get rough. If the components are cracked, broken or otherwise deteriorating, they won’t provide the maximum absorption your vehicle needs. Neglecting them could mean spending money on shocks and mounts but still getting a nasty surprise when you take a big bump or go off-roading.
If you’re an experienced DIYer, a basic shock absorber replacement is something you can likely accomplish with tools you already have on hand in one afternoon. Be sure to follow the same basic procedures you would in any DIY situation that involves working under your vehicle, such as securing jack stands, ensuring plenty of light, keeping your tools within easy reach and adhering to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Remember, you’re working on safety equipment for your vehicle — not just some nice-to-have modification — so don’t cut corners.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on shock absorbers and your vehicle’s suspension, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.