How to Inspect Your Shock Absorbers
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How to Inspect Your Shock Absorbers

A proper shocks in your car can be the difference between a confident, enjoyable driving experience and a hard-to-handle, stressful one. The suspension in your car does more than just smooth out those bumps you drive over day after day. Your car’s suspension is also critical to safe operation, preventing excessive sway and bounce when turning, and maintaining your traction with the road surface.

If your car rides rougher than it once did, the shock absorbers may be to blame. Shock absorbers are designed to absorb the bumps and knocks of the road for a smooth, stable ride. You can check to see if they’re worn and need replaced.

Method 1 of 3: Do a visual inspection of your car

Step 1: Look at front of car. Look at your car by standing along the front. Make sure it’s on a level surface and check to see if one side appears lower than the other.

 

Step 2: Push down on front of car. Push down on the front of the car and watch it move as you quickly release your hold.

  • If it has a lot of bounce, it indicates the possibility of worn shocks.
  • When you do the bounce test, the shocks don’t pass if your car bounces more than one and a half times.
  • That means after you compress your car’s suspension down, it shouldn’t bounce more than up, then down, then back up to its resting position.
  • Continue this check on all four corners of the car to test all of the shock absorbers.

Step 3: Inspect your tires.

  • Notice uneven tread wear which indicates the shock absorbers may be worn.
  • This includes patchy spots of wear rather than wearing on one side or the other.

Step 4: Inspect your shock absorbers for leaks.

  • Drive your car onto ramps and secure it in place.
  • Warning: Always put your car in park and set the parking brake when your vehicle is on ramps.
  • Crawl underneath and look at the shock absorbers.
  • If you see oil drips leaking from them, it indicates they are no longer working correctly and need to be replaced.
  • Sweating, or just a small amount of fluid around the fluid-filled cylinder, is normal to see.

Method 2 of 3: Measure your car

If you have the specifications for your car from your owner’s manual, you can measure the height on the front of the vehicle.

Step 1: Make sure your car is on a level surface.

 

Step 2: Measure each side of the car at the front.

  • Measure to the bottom of the wheel opening. You need to measure to a fixed point on the car.

Step 3: Compare the measurements side to side.

  • If the two sides differ by more than half an inch, you may need your shocks replaced.
  • Note: The measurement can also indicate other suspension related problems such as a broken spring or even uneven weight disbursement in the vehicle. Don’t use the measure test solely to check your shock absorbers.
  • Tip: If your investigation indicates worn shock absorbers or if you’re not comfortable checking them on your own, ask a trusted mechanic such as YourMechanic to look at them for you.

Shock absorbers may wear out sooner when you travel over rough terrain, rough roads, or even over potholes frequently. Expect to replace them approximately every 50,000 miles.

Method 3 of 3: Check for bent shock absorbers

If you travel rough roads on a frequent basis, if you enjoy off-roading, or if you’ve potentially hit a curb with your wheel, there’s a chance you’ve bent your shock absorber. A bent shock absorber won’t rebound as much as it should, or maybe not at all. It leads to a harsh ride and unstable cornering.

Step 1: Inspect your shock absorbers’ hydraulic cylinder.

  • Check for dents and kinks on the cylinder itself.
  • A bent or dented cylinder will restrict the internal fluid from travelling as it should or may prevent the piston from moving up and down freely inside.

Step 2: Visually inspect the piston rod if it is exposed.

  • Some shocks have the chrome piston rod exposed. If yours is, check for a bend in the shaft or a wrinkle in the metal that would indicate a bend.

Step 3: Check the shock for proper movement manually.

  • Remove the shock absorber from the vehicle.
  • Press the shock absorber piston down. You’ll need to use your body weight to compress it.
  • If the shock doesn’t compress fully, it may be damaged internally or bent.
  • When released, the shock should extend out to its full length.
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