6 Symptoms of Bad Shock Absorbers, Location & Replacement Cost

Shock Absorber

When you travel on a bumpy road, it’s the shock absorbers keeping the ride smooth. When the vehicle suffers from bad shock absorbers, the journey is anything but enjoyable.

Most shock absorbers will last for 50,000 miles unless they have been used in extreme conditions. It’s vital that you get a bad shock absorber replaced at the first sign of trouble.

Here are six symptoms that something might be wrong with the shock absorbers or other suspension components. 

Symptoms of Bad Shock Absorbers

  1. Vibrations
  2. Nose-diving or swerving during braking
  3. Uneven tire wear
  4. Longer stopping times
  5. Cracked bushings
  6. Fluid leaks

Let’s take a closer look at each bad shock absorber symptom in-depth.

Vibrations

Drive Car E1614206004661

When the piston seal or valves in the shock begin to wear out, it will not sit properly. This defect allows fluid to flow past those seals or valves. 

What you are left with is a rough ride every time you hit a bump. You should be able to feel the vibrations occurring as you hold onto the steering wheel. 

Nose-Diving or Swerving During Braking

Car Nose Dive Braking

As that fluid makes it’s way uncontrolled past the piston seal or valves, you are going to suffer from other handling issues. 

The slightest steering motion or brake application can lead to monumental movement inside the cylinder. If you decide to take a left turn, you might notice the weight becomes harder to manage, requiring further driver input to stay on the road.

Additionally, when braking, the car will want to go farther than what’s expected, leading to a nose-dive.

Uneven Tire Wear

Uneven Tire Wear

The worn shock makes it more difficult to keep your tires on the road. What you are left with is a bouncing motion with every surface imperfection the vehicle finds. 

The area of the tire that touches the road will wear normally, but the rest of the tire will not. This leads to uneven tire tread, which creates further handling issues. 

You can replace the tires, but the same problem will occur until you get the suspension fixed. 

Longer Stopping Times

Not only will the car respond funny when you brake, but it can take longer to stop. Stopping distance could be increased by up to 20%, which makes a big difference if you are trying to avoid an accident.

If you have yearly car inspections in your country, you may also fail the brake test there.

Cracked Bushings

A visual inspection can often reveal problems with the shock absorbers. Each shock contains points at the ends where it is bolted to your car. At these attachment points, you will notice rubber bushings.

When the shock starts to fail, the rubber bushings often crack. They can also break out, which causes a tapping noise any time that the vehicle travels over a bump or imperfection. 

Fluid Leaks

If the seals that surround the shaft of the shock start to leak, you will notice fluid along the side of the shock body running towards the pavement. 

Any time that fluid is lost, the shock performance is diminished. It will not function the same way as when it was filled with fluid. You can expect handling issues, as described above. 

The Function of Shock Absorbers

Shock Absorbers

Shock absorbers have two main purposes. First, shocks control the movement of the suspension and springs for a smooth ride. The shocks also ensure the car’s tires remain in complete contract with the road. 

Considering the tire is the only part of a vehicle that touches the ground, it’s vital that the shock absorbers do their job properly. 

Shock absorbers don’t support the weight of a vehicle. Instead, shock absorbers take kinetic energy from the suspension’s movement and convert it into thermal energy or heat.

Think of the shock absorber as an oil pump. There’s a piston that’s attached to a piston rod. It works against hydraulic fluid inside the tube of pressure.

When the suspension moves up and down, hydraulic fluid is forced through tiny holes located in the piston. These orifices can’t allow a lot of fluid through, so the piston is slowed down. This action reduces the suspension and spring movement. 

The reason why shock absorbers adjust automatically to various conditions is because of the suspension speed. The faster it moves, the more resistance the shocks provide. 

Shock Absorber Location

Shock Absorber

The shock absorbers are located at every wheel of the vehicle. Because each wheel experiences its own movements, shock absorbers are required in every corner of the vehicle.

The shock is one part of a larger system, known as the suspension. Shock absorbers contain a slim, cylindrical shape linked to both axles. The springs are near or sometimes surrounding the shock absorbers, which are connected to the wheel through the hub.

Shock absorbers work like a strut, which has its own type of shock, frame and spring. This suspension part is meant to hold the vehicle’s weight, unlike the shocks. 

Shock Absorber Replacement Cost

The average shock absorber replacement cost is between $250 and $600 for a pair, depending on the car model and labor costs. Labor costs between $150 and $300, while one shock absorber can cost $50 to $150. 

If you must have all four shock absorbers replaced, you would multiply these estimates by two. 

However, the cost can go much higher for some vehicles, especially luxury brands such as BMW, Lexus, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. You will also pay more for shock absorbers on sports cars or models that use advanced shock assemblies. 

If you are mechanically inclined, you can avoid paying the labor costs for replacement and do it yourself instead. You will only need a few common tools and a few hours of time.

Written by: Magnus Sellén

Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.