Your ride control system is one of the most important parts of your car—it keeps you safe and comfortable when you’re going over difficult terrain, and protects the rest of the car from damage if you hit a rough patch of road. However, your ride control can wear out over time, and that can cause major problems for your vehicle. It can be difficult to determine if your vehicle may have weak struts or shocks, as they wear slowly over time. This makes it difficult for drivers to identify issues prior to deterioration such as irregular wear patterns on your tires, or additional suspension wear.
How do you know if you need new suspension components? It's wise to check the suspension regularly, which can be done by checking for movement in the wheels of the vehicle, while the vehicle is on a lift. If you hear any strange noises, notice a harsh ride, or your vehicle drifts to one side or another, you may want to get it checked as soon as possible. Here’s how to know when you may need to replace part of your suspension system such as shocks and/or struts.
Shocks vs. Struts
First of all, it’s important to know the difference between your shocks and your struts. These two components of your ride control work together to create a smoother driving experience. When you hit a bump, the suspension prevents that jolt from being transferred into your vehicle, generally using large springs or special struts. However, if these springs were the only component of your suspension, then your vehicle would bob up and down quite a bit after hitting a bump. Shocks absorb the energy from these springs, preventing the rest of the vehicle from bouncing around.
How do you know if you need a new suspension? Generally, the most obvious sign is a rougher ride than you’re used to. If you can feel every bump in the road, it’s probably time to get your suspension checked. Another potential sign of trouble is if your vehicle is getting harder to turn and starts to drift or pull when you go around corners. This is a sign that your suspension isn’t counteracting the centrifugal force of the turn, one of the things it’s been designed to do.
On the other hand, there are a number of warning signs that your shocks have exhausted their life cycle, even if your suspension is okay. If your ride is especially bouncy, then it means that your shocks are no longer absorbing the force of a bump. Another sign of trouble is if your car dips forward while stopping—the nose might drop lower as you hit the brakes, increasing your stopping time.
How to Check
Unfortunately, since many suspension problems develop gradually, you might have a hard time determining whether you have suspension problems. One way to check for trouble is to do a visual examination of your system. If the shocks look oily or the suspension looks bent, you should take your car into a mechanic. Another option is to do the bounce test; rock your car back and forth for a bit and watch how it moves. If it keeps rocking after you let go, your shock absorbers might be going bad. Contact a service center for help with ride control problems.