How to Diagnose a Failing Shock Absorber

Like all the moving parts on your car, your shocks wear out over time. Worn shock absorbers can jeopardize your safety and cause early failure of other parts. For instance, worn shocks may cause:

  • The front of your car to "dive" more when stopping. Diving makes the car take longer to stop.
  • Poor handling when swerving to avoid an unexpected obstacle on the road or another car.
  • Your tires may develop flat spots from excessive bouncing.
  • Extra strain on your springs. They may wear out prematurely.

The good news is that a failing shock absorber is easy to diagnose. We’ll show you how.

Failing shock absorber

Image Credit: nukem384

The Most Common Symptoms of a Worn Shock Absorber

Bad shocks can be easy to overlook if you don’t know what to look for. That’s why every car owner should be aware of the most common symptoms:

  • Increased stopping time.
  • Uneven tire wear.
  • The vehicle bouncing more than usual.
  • The steering wheel vibrating after hitting a bump.
  • Increased body lean in corners.
  • Nose dive when braking hard.
  • A floating sensation after coming off of a rise in a highway.

The above symptoms are clear indicators that something’s wrong with one or more of your shock absorbers. But, you still need to figure out which shocks are bad.

Diagnosing a Worn Shock Absorber

The easiest way to diagnose this issue is to perform the bounce test:

  1. Put your car in park.
  2. Push down one corner of your car as hard as you can and then let go in one swift motion.
  3. Watch the car’s reaction carefully.
  4. Repeat with the remaining three corners of your car.

If your car doesn’t bounce at all, then your shocks are still in good shape. If it bounces once, then one of your shocks is starting to fail. If it bounces more than two times, then one of your shocks is definitely worn and needs replacement.

Another easy way to diagnose a worn shock is to visually inspect it. For the front shocks, it helps to turn the wheels all the way to the right or left so you can see the shock better. Look for oil leaking out of the shock. If you see signs of leakage, the shock is bad. A shock can go bad without leaking, so absence of leakage does not mean your shocks are good.

Sometimes just one shock will be bad. A shock can fail from hitting large pothole even when they have low mileage. Even when just one shock is bad, experts recommend replacing shocks in pairs to maintain balanced handling.

If one or more of your shocks are bad, you can look into replacing them at home. It is a pretty easy job. Here’s a handy tutorial that will show you how to replace them safely and effectively.