When and How to Replace Shocks and Struts

When and How to Replace Shocks and Struts

Last Updated May 31, 2022 | Meghan Drummond
Contents

Shocks and struts help keep your car stable while accelerating, braking, turning, or even just driving over rough roads. Without these suspension components, you’d have a much bumpier ride. You’d also have to change your tires more often due to wear and tear.

There are a lot of differences between shocks and struts that make them non-interchangeable. One commonality is that they both need to be replaced. For most drivers, replacements are necessary every 50,000 miles, give or take.

Signs of Bad Shocks or Struts

Some cars’ shocks or struts will wear out much sooner. When this happens, it’s usually pretty noticeable. Here are some of the warning signs to look out for:

Bumpy Ride - Without a dampener, your car’s springs aren’t going to be as contained. That means driving over a bumpy road will feel a lot rougher. You may also feel your tire “bouncing” for a while after a bump.

Hard to Steer - Cars with bad shocks or struts tend to be much harder to steer. If you feel like you need to insist a little more than usual with your steering wheel, that might be the reason.

Front End Dives while Braking - If your car’s front end has a noticeable dip when you brake, your front struts may be toast.

Rear Squats During Acceleration - Bad shocks can make your vehicle “squat” in the rear when you hit the gas.

Body Roll - If your car tips to either side while you’re turning, that’s also a sign of worn out shocks or struts.

Abnormal Tire Wear - When tires bounce too much, they get weird wear patterns. “Cupping” is a specific wear pattern associated with bad shocks or struts.

Noisy Ride - Bad shocks and struts can cause a lot of squeaking and other strange noises. While a lot of car parts cause noise as they wear out, shocks and struts will get worse on rough terrain.

Some cars also have shocks or struts that last longer than 50,000 miles. If you’re not getting any of these symptoms, you don’t need to replace your shocks and struts just because you hit 50,000 miles. If they’re still functioning, your shocks and struts are fine.

A Quick Shock/Strut Test

An easy at-home test for your shocks and struts is to walk around your vehicle and push each corner towards the ground. If they “bounce” then your shock absorbers aren’t performing adequately. This is an informal test, but it is a good indicator.

What Makes Shocks and Struts Wear Out Sooner?

If you’re not quite getting 50,000 miles out of your shocks and struts, then there are a few common culprits. Bumpier roads put more stress on your shocks and struts. This is just because they’re doing more work to try to keep the ride smooth. Poor road conditions are why you need your shocks and struts, but they can also make them break down faster.

The other major cause of shocks and struts going bad early is damage. Damage can be caused by large rocks, road salt, or bottoming out on curbs or speed bumps. Heavier loads will also cause additional strain.

How To Select New Shocks and Struts

When it’s time to replace your shocks and struts, there are a few features to look for to pick the best set for you.

Sets vs Singles

If you’ve had a shock or strut damaged, then it may make sense to replace just that one. But most of the time, you’ll want to replace your shocks and struts in groups. At the very least, you should do pairs (shocks for the rear, struts for the front). But most experts advise replacing all four at the same time.

Replacing all four means your shock absorption should be balanced. Having a brand new set of struts and a still-functional-but-not-for-long pair of shocks can cause unpredictable handling. It’s also just less comfortable and hard to keep track of.

Fortunately, many companies package all four shock absorbers together.

Stiffness

A stiff suspension is great for performance driving, but may leave your rear a little sore on long trips. Most people prefer a softer shock absorber for their daily driver.

If you’re the type of person who uses the same car on your commute as on track days, then you’ll want to seriously consider adjustable shocks and struts.

Adjustability

With adjustable struts and shocks, you can change the softness setting of your shock absorbers easily. This is a perfect solution for people who use their car for multiple purposes. It’s also great for people who think they want a firm ride, but aren’t sure if it’ll be the right fit for them.

Using a screw driver to select between four options

How To Replace Shocks and Struts

Once you’ve selected your new shocks and struts, it’s time to install them. If you’re doing all four, it should take you about three to four hours, depending on your setup and expertise.

For our example we’ve shown the process of installing adjustable Koni shocks on an SN95 Mustang. Most vehicles with front struts and rear shocks will be very similar.

Tools:

  • ½” Impact Gun
  • ½” Ratchet
  • Extensions
  • 15 mm Shallow Socket
  • 15 mm Deep Socket
  • 19 mm Deep Socket
  • 21 mm Deep Socket
  • 24 mm Deep Socket
  • 13/16 Deep Socket
  • 18 mm Wrench
  • Pry Bar
  • Safety Glasses

Front Strut Installation

  1. Lift your car (using a lift or jack and jack stands) and remove the wheel.
  2. Removing lug nuts to take wheel off

  3. Use the jack under the control arm to support the coil spring.
  4. Using lift to raise control arm

  5. Under your hood, you’ll see a shock tower. Your strut is connected to this with a large nut. Remove this.
  6. A large nut on top of the shock tower

  7. Remove the retaining nut that holds the bracket for the ABS system.
  8. This nut holds the bracket for the ABS system in place

  9. With the bracket out of the way, you should be able to see the bolts that hold the strut to the spindle. Remove the bolts and nuts.
  10. Unbolting strut from wheel spindle

  11. With the bolts removed from the tower and spindle, the strut should be able to come free.
  12. Pulling Strut free

  13. Remove Dust Boot Before discarding the removed strut, remove the dust boot and rubber seal.
  14. Taking the dust boot off of the original strut

  15. Place the rubber seal and dust boot you just removed onto the new strut.
  16. Placing rubber seal and dust boot onto new strut

  17. Guide the new strut into place the same way you removed the original.
  18. Threading new strut into location where old strut was removed

  19. Use the strut tower nut to help hold the new strut in location. Only hand tighten for now.
  20. Nut placed on top of strut tower

  21. Reconnect the bolts that hold the strut to the spindle.
  22. Placing bolts back in location

  23. With everything in place, use the impact gun to tighten the spindle bolts.
  24. Using impact gun to tighten bolts

  25. Place the ABS bracket in its location over the spindle bolts.
  26. Putting bracket back in place

  27. Use an impact gun to tighten down the strut tower nut with the washers in place.
  28. Using impact gun to tighten the strut tower bolt

  29. Lower the jack from the control arm and put the wheel back on. Repeat this process on the other side.
  30. Putting wheel back onto spindle

Rear Shock Replacement

Replacing the rear shocks is even easier than replacing the front struts. So, if you’ve made it this far, you’re actually more than halfway done.

  1. To access the top of the shock, you’ll need to remove the side panel in the trunk.
  2. Pulling away side panel to access shock bolt in trunk

  3. Remove the nut at the top of the shock.
  4. The top of the shock tower in the trunk

  5. Remove the bolt that secures the lower shock to your rear housing.
  6. Removing bolt that connects shock to rear housing

  7. Remove the shock from its location. With both bolts removed, it should be loose.
  8. Pulling the shock free from its location

  9. Place a metal washer and then a bushing on top of the new shock.
  10. Placing a metal washer and bushing on top of new shock

  11. If the shock is adjustable, make sure the control is facing towards the center. That'll make it easier to adjust when you need to.
  12. New shock in location with adjustment dial facing inward

  13. Put the lower bolt and nut back into place.
  14. Tightening lower bolt on shock

  15. Make sure the top of the bushing is visible through the floor. If it isn’t, use a jack to push it up and make it visible. Install the upper bushing and metal washer. Then, place the nut at the top of the shock back into location and tighten.
  16. Adding nut to top of shock tower

  17. Put the side panel and rug back into place. Repeat this process on the other side.
  18. Putting side panel back inside of trunk

Enjoy Your New Struts and Shocks

With your struts and shocks replaced, your shock absorption should be improved. This will lead to a more stable ride. If you upgraded to adjustable shocks and struts, you may need to play with the settings a little to find your sweet spot.

As with all modifications, take your car for a spin around the block. That way you can get a feel for the change in handling and also show off your hard work.

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About the Author

Meghan is a Classic Mustang geek with a soft spot for four-eyed Foxes. She has over 300 in-depth articles to her credit that have been cited by some of the top news sites in the US. Read full bio →

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.

When and How to Replace Shocks and Struts

Your shocks and struts are designed to absorb shocks for 50,000 miles. But depending on how you drive, you may get a little more or less than that. Here’s how to tell if your shocks and struts are worn out and how to replace them on your own.