What is a shock absorber?

shock absorber

A shock absorber is a key part of the vehicle’s suspension system, and helps to shield you and your passengers from the discomfort of bumps and potholes in the road, while ensuring that the car handles safely.

Shock absorbers are hydraulic dampers that absorb the energy created by bumps in the road while driving, safely controlling the movement of the wheels and preventing the car from bouncing as it travels over uneven surfaces.

These clever devices work by converting the kinetic energy received from a shock into heat, which is then allowed to dissipate. Rear ‘shocks’ operate with your car’s springs to give a more comfortable ride and ensure the vehicle handles precisely and safely, regardless of the condition of the road surface.

How long do shock absorbers last?

A quality pair of shock absorbers should last for around five years, but a shock absorber's life is dependent on your style of driving, how often the car is used and how hard it is driven.

Rear shocks wear faster if the vehicle is frequently used to carry heavy loads or multiple passengers in the back. Plus, the rate of wear will also be influenced by the state of the roads; surfaces riddled with craters, potholes and speed bumps will eventually lead to premature wear and possible failure of the shocks.

Can I drive with a broken shock absorber?

Car with a broken shock absorber

Yes you can – in fact you may already unknowingly be driving with a broken shock absorber – but we recommend you get new shocks fitted as soon as possible.

There are several signs that your rear shocks are worn or failing: you may find that the car is more susceptible to crosswinds or handles badly when cornering. You could experience bouncing or stiffness from your car’s suspension, braking performance can decrease, and uneven tyre wear can be evident. While uneven tyre wear can be caused by other factors such as poor wheel alignment, it’s worth inspecting the condition of rear front shocks a couple of times a year.

Can shock absorbers be rebuilt?

Some companies provide a shock absorber refurbishing service, where the bushings, seals, piston(s) and oil are replaced, but we strongly recommend that you replace your old shocks with new units, and replace them in pairs so the car's handling can be optimised. If you replace just one shock absorber there's a chance that the vehicle may not behave properly when braking hard or during other sudden manoeuvres, and tyre wear may be uneven, despite having had the suspension geometry realigned.

How to check rear shock absorbers?

There is a simple test that can be carried out to determine if your rear shocks (and also the front shock absorbers) are up to scratch: with the vehicle parked on a hard, level surface, push down hard in turn on each wing, taking care to spread your weight and avoid damaging a body panel. A functional shock absorber will quickly compress and rebound – but a shock that’s worn or failed may bounce several times before it settles.

Even if the shock passes the bounce test, carry out a visual inspection. Working in the rear wheel arch section, use a torch and look up deep along the length of the shock absorber for signs of oil leaks – a tell-tale sign that replacement may be needed.

The following video focuses on rear shock absorber fitting. For front shock absorbers, please head to this page: Front shock absorber replacement

How to fit rear shock absorbers?

Wondering how to change a shock absorber? Watch this video to see how it's done

A very brief summary of the task:

  1. Loosen the rear wheel bolts
  2. Put the car in gear, chock the front wheels, jack up the car's rear and support it on axle stands.
  3. Remove the wheel
  4. Remove the shock absorber top mounting nut/bolt(s).
  5. Loosen and remove the mounting bolt(s) at the bottom of the shock absorber.
  6. Remove the shock absorber from the wheel arch.
  7. Fitting is a reverse of removal, making sure you tighten the mounting nut/bolt(s) to the specified torque rating.
  8. Note: You may be required to compress and remove the coil spring (as shown in this video).

What tools do I need to change a shock absorber?

  • Trolley jack
  • Axle stands
  • Sockets and spanner
  • Torque wrench
  • Coil spring compressor (if necessary)

Parts you will need

  • Rear shock absorbers – note that shock absorbers should be renewed in pairs, to maintain good handling

How much are shock absorbers for a car?

The price of a shock absorber will depend on whether you source it from a main dealer's part department (usually the most expensive way) or buy from a car parts store such as Halfords, Euro Car Parts, GSF Car Parts and the like. Wherever you get yours from, make sure it's a new part and not used – we strongly advise against buying used shock absorbers.

Shock absorbers £60-£250
Garage fee savings £100-£200