When it comes to car maintenance, keeping your shocks and struts in proper working order is equally as important as maintaining your engine. After all, your suspension system is responsible for absorbing every bump in the road you come across while ensuring your car handles smoothly, consistently, and safely. A faulty shock or strut will not only make your suspension feel rough and jarring, but it can also lead to unsafe and unpredictable handling characteristics.
What’s the Difference Between Shocks and Struts?
While the terms are often used interchangeably, shocks and struts have a slightly different function and design. Shocks are standalone components consisting of a hydraulic dampening system fitted into a tubular assembly. Struts are essentially shocks that also incorporate the mounting assembly which structurally connects the shock into your car’s suspension and chassis.
A strut integrates all of the necessary mounting hardware and structural braces into a single unit. With a shock, all of the chassis bracings is mounted externally to the shock assembly. Many cars use strut systems in their front suspensions for their space-saving design while using conventional shock designs in the rear, where there is more room to mount external braces.
What Is the Function of Your Shocks and Struts?
Your car sits atop four coil springs that allow the chassis, body, and everything inside to bounce up and down when you go over bumps. However, if your suspension consisted only of coil springs, your car would ride like a pogo stick. The springs would compress and rebound uncontrollably, bouncing your car around as you drove down the road.
Your shocks and struts counteract the bouncy nature of your spring-loaded suspension with hydraulic dampening circuits. The circuits are filled with shock fluid that essentially braces your springs against the weight of your car. The hydraulic resistance within the circuits absorbs the movement of your car as it tries to bounce up and down, smoothing out the ride.
Ideally, the dampening behavior leaves you with a smooth ride that absorbs bumps while keeping your car as flat and controlled as possible when you’re maneuvering around the road.
How Do Bad Shocks and Struts Affect Your Car’s Performance?
As you can probably imagine, your shocks and struts take a lot of abuse from being constantly hammered against the road. As your shock fluid, seals, and dampening circuits become worn out, your suspension increasingly loses its ability to dampen your springs as they compress and rebound.
As a result, your car will start to ride harshly, while feeling more vague and imprecise when cornering. Large bumps and potholes will be more likely to throw your car off balance, and your steering will likely feel much less precise when changing lanes at highway speeds.
A set of healthy shocks and struts is imperative to ensure that your car delivers the consistent handling performance and comfort it was designed to offer.
Three Telltale Signs that Your Shocks and Struts Are Going Bad
You can diagnose some of the most common issues with your shocks and struts by simply going for a drive and paying close attention to how your suspension feels and sounds.
- Harsh Compression
Worn-out shocks and struts can’t properly absorb and dampen the impact of big impacts. Your suspension will feel like it’s harsh or bottoming out as your shocks start to fail.
- Springy Rebound
Likewise, your shocks and struts can’t properly absorb and dampen the sharp rebound of your coil springs after hitting a big bump. Your car will start to feel like it’s bouncing down the road on bumpy or uneven roadways.
- Squeaks, Creaks, and Clunks
Your shocks and struts are designed to produce the minimum amount of internal friction possible. That helps ensure that they can actuate plushly and silently. As the shock seals and fluid wear down over time, your suspension tends to develop squeaks, clunks, and other unusual noises due to internal shock components coming into contact as the suspension actuates.
Don’t Neglect Your Shock and Strut Maintenance
If your car feels like it’s riding rough, or if you’re hearing any unusual squeaks or clunks ring out when you hit a bump, have your car inspected and repaired by a reputable suspension repair shop as soon as possible.