‘It corners like it’s on rails’ is a phrase many a motoring journalist has wedged into a review. A car’s cornering abilities are the responsibility of a number of parts. There’s the steering, the brakes, the tyres and of course, the suspension. The latter part can be broken up into two elements.
There’s the spring and then there’s the shock absorber. The springs of a car generally last an age, though they can get tired if abused. However, the shock absorber’s life is considerably shorter. This is because it works harder, and with it, more frantically. After all, the word shock doesn’t conjure up images of something slow and steady, does it?
How, then, can you tell if your shock absorbers are on the way out? Here are four things to look for.
When you hit a bump, does the car crash and rattle as it does so? If it does, that could be a sign the shocks are dead. They’re there to stop that very thing from happening, so if they fail, all you have is the spring.
The spring supports the car, but it doesn’t serve to absorb anything. Crashing and banging means the shock has no resistance left, and therefore, it’s scrap.
You may need to take the wheel off for this, but it’s worth it. Have a look at the shock absorber and see if it’s wet. Obviously only do this when the car and the conditions are dry.
If the shock is wet, it could well mean the O-rings within it have failed, as with it, oil is able to escape. It’s the oil that provides the shock’s resistance, so without it, the shocks are useless. If you’re not sure, clean them up and then re-inspect after a could of hundred miles.
Stand by the front of the car, put your hands on the bonnet and push it down. Does the car rise up and stay there? That’s good, it means the shocks are working. Does the car wobble about like a jelly and take a while to settle down?
That means the car is only being supported by the springs, which are, well, springy. The shock keeps them in check. Without the shock, it’ll be wobble-city.
As we’ve suggested, the shocks and the springs are something of a double act. Without one, the other is nothing. This is very much the case when it comes to the car’s ride height. If your shock is functional, it should all be fine.
If it’s past its best though, and as such, the spring is left to do all the work, the car will sag. The springs can’t support the car’s weight all on their own.
Best way to check this is to look at cars of the same make or get the specifications from one of our guides.
This depends very much on the car. However, as a rule of thumb you can expect to be looking at around at least 1.5 hours of labour per shock absorber.
Rears are usually quicker, but in the case of the front you have to deal with driveshafts and so on, which make the job more complicated.
Then there’s the potential issue that may come in the guise of rusted and/or ceased nuts/bolts. A competent mechanic should be able to do the front shocks of most cars within three hours, maybe less.