Symptoms that your shocks and struts have gone bad

Shocks are most often used in the rear suspension of modern vehicles, in conjunction with coil springs, leaf springs, or torsion bar springs. They are typically easier to remove and replace than struts, due to their simplicity. They are simply a damper, without any attached springs.

Signs of a bad shock

When looking for symptoms of bad shocks, your first indicator will be that the car will tend to bounce after larger bumps in the road. It may also wallow from side to side when taking one or multiple corners in succession. Braking performance may also suffer because the bad shocks will allow the rear end of the car to lift excessively under breaking and then bounce back without control.

Another easy and effective way to check for bad shock absorbers is to do a visual inspection. If the shock is leaking fluid or has damage to the rod or to the cylinder you should typically replace the shock. The effective lifespan of most shock absorbers is in the neighborhood of 50,000 to 100,000 miles, or five to ten years, depending on the type and quality of roads you typically drive.

Signs of a bad strut

Struts are slightly more complicated than simple shocks because not only do they have the hydraulic damper you would find in a shock, but they also have an attached spring. Automakers often prefer struts for front suspension applications because they can package struts in a more compact area than an equivalent shock and spring combination, due to their combination of the shock absorber and spring in one package. The downside to struts is that they tend to be more expensive to purchase than shock absorbers.

Many of the symptoms of bad shocks translate directly to bad strut symptoms, but because struts tend to be at the front of the vehicle, the problems will manifest themselves slightly differently. A bad strut will allow the vehicle to dive forward under braking, the front end may bounce uncontrollably when going over depressions in the road, and steering response will be greatly affected because most of the weight of most vehicles sits on the front wheels, so the reduced damping will cause the vehicle to flop back and forth when undergoing turning maneuvers.

You can also complete a visual inspection of your struts to check for fluid leaking out of the damper or damage to the piston rod or cylinder. Any of these signs point to the need for a replacement strut. The lifespan of a strut damper will be similar to that of other shock absorber types, and some folks will reuse the springs from a strut while replacing just the damper portion.

Getting a replacement shock and strut

Person installing the bolts on a newly placed strut

Shocks are easy to replace, using basic mechanic hand tools and a Jack with jack stands. You must always replace both rear shock absorbers or front struts as a set because if one side of the vehicle is damping at a higher rate than the other side of the vehicle it can cause dangerous instability and lead to potential accidents.

Struts can be more complicated to replace if you decide to reuse the springs, but if you purchase a pre-loaded strut from AutoZone, it makes the replacement process easy because you don’t have to remove the loaded spring from the strut assembly. If you choose to purchase just the strut without the spring, you can use AutoZone’s Loan-A-Tool program to borrow a set of spring compressors that will help make the job safe and fun. Always be very cautious when using spring compressors on struts, since the springs carry a lot of force when compressed.

When it’s time to undergo a shock absorber or strut replacement on your vehicle, buy your shock and strut replacements at AutoZone. With quality pre-loaded struts, as well as shock absorbers for every make and model, we can help you do the job right. 


What happens when shocks and struts go bad?

You’ll notice increased stopping distances, reduced ability to maneuver the vehicle safely, especially at speed, and increased wear on other suspension components like springs.

What does a bad shock or strut sound like?

You may hear a knocking or clunking sound when traveling over road irregularities.

Is it OK to drive with bad shocks and struts?

Yes, but your car’s performance and your safety will be compromised by worn-out shocks and struts, so it’s important to replace them as soon as possible.

What do worn-out shocks feel like?

You may experience a “floppy” feeling with the vehicle since the shocks are not damping vehicle body motions correctly. You may also feel impact thuds as a result of the lack of damping in the suspension.

What do bad struts feel like?

Bouncy or floppy in corners, possible impacts when there are road imperfections.

How do you diagnose a bad strut?

You can perform the “bounce test”, but also be aware of performance issues like floppy driving responses and impact harshness. Use a visual inspection to determine if there is damage to the strut or fluid leaking from it.

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