How often should shock absorbers be changed?

Written by sam n. austin
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Few vehicle owners are happy with the idea of driving a car that has faulty brakes or bald, frayed tires. But many are not aware that struts and shock absorbers can be just as critical to a vehicle's safety performance.

"A vehicle's brake system may be complex, but braking is not. When you step on the brake pedal, if your vehicle doesn't stop the way you expect it to, you'll notice," said Duane Allington, mechanic and lube technician at Chevrolet in Spring, TX. "The challenge is that with struts and shocks, the effects of wear can be so gradual that you miss them until they become a very big problem, and a potential safety issue."

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Prevention

Rather than waiting until costly problems arise, vehicle owners can head them off by replacing worn out shock absorbers and struts when their performance begins to degrade measurably.

Depending on the owner's driving style and habits, the type of vehicle, and road conditions that the vehicles experiences, performance decreases can begin to emerge with original equipment gas-charged shocks and struts at 50,000 miles.

Insight

However, because so many factors can contribute to wear on struts and shock absorbers, vehicle owners should be alert to problems that may emerge before a specific mileage point.

Many of the problems caused by worn shocks and struts are easy to spot when you know what to look for. According to a consumer information pamphlet produced by the Federal Trade Commission, worn shock absorbers can contribute to vehicles performing poorly when cornering.

Symptoms

"It can feel like the vehicle is swaying or leaning more than it used to or more than it should," said Allington. "When you brake, you may also notice that your vehicle rocks forward in a nose dive. A little bit of a dip is fine, but you'll know when it's a problem."

Shocks and struts can wear out more quickly under poor road conditions. Driving on unpaved roads, paved roads with potholes or bumps, or driving on uneven surfaces can accelerate shock and strut wear.

"Shocks and struts don't absorb the bumps in the road," said Allington. "The vehicle's springs do that. What shock absorbers do is soak up the bounce from the springs. Without shock absorbers, the springs would cause your vehicle to bounce up and down and prevent the tires from being in contact with the road."

Safety

When shocks and struts fail to perform as they should, braking a vehicle can cause the vehicle's weight to transfer to the front wheels. Without equal distribution of weight across all wheels, the effectiveness of brakes diminishes and braking distances increases.

Wear

Because shocks and struts absorb the bounce produced by a vehicle's springs and keep the vehicle's tires on the road, poor shock and strut performance may also result in uneven wear on tires. "You may see cupping on one more tires," said Allington.

By changing a vehicle's shocks and struts at 50,000 miles, vehicle owners can limit the adverse effects of worn shocks and struts on their vehicle's overall steering, stopping and stability.

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