Seven Symptoms of Bad Shock Absorbers

Symptoms of bad shock absorbers include nose-diving when braking, a shaky steering wheel, and unevenly worn tires. Bad shock absorbers can cause difficulty controlling the vehicle, which can lead to an accident. It's important to have your shock absorbers replaced when they wear out to make sure your car is safe on the road.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Jan 15, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • Your vehicle’s shocks provide stability and keep you in control of your vehicle. 
  • Common symptoms of bad shocks include noise diving when breaking, rocking back when accelerating, shaky steering wheel, swerving and sliding, and more. 
  • Things to look out for when inspecting your shock absorption system include cracked or worn shock absorber bushings and oil leaks from your shock absorber.

Have you ever felt like there was a mini earthquake shaking your car? Do you feel like you have less control over your steering at high speeds? Does your car take a swan dive when you hit the brake pedal?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might have a bad shock absorber. 

Your vehicle’s shocks do much more than just smooth out your ride. They provide stability and keep you in control of your vehicle. If they aren’t functioning properly, your car could be difficult and even unsafe to drive. Fortunately, they are not among the most expensive car repairs, so it’s affordable to get them fixed.

To help you avoid those frightening situations, let’s start by going over what exactly your shock absorbers are. Then we’ll identify seven common symptoms of damaged or worn shock absorbers so you can figure out if they’re the culprit behind your car’s stability issues.

Before you learn more about bad shock absorbers, take a moment to see what you could be saving on your auto insurance. Enter your ZIP code now for free quotes from top auto insurance companies.

What are the signs of bad shock absorbers?

There are several ways to identify bad shocks, many of which you’ll notice while driving. If you’ve been driving the same car for a while, you’re probably pretty familiar with the general “feel” of how your car drives. Any changes like the ones listed below could be an indication that you need to have your vehicle’s suspension or shocks checked.

#1 – Nose Diving When Braking

When you press the brake pedal, your car should steadily slow down without noticeably diving or rocking forward. If it feels like the front end of your car points toward the ground when you brake, your shocks may not be properly controlling the weight of your car. 

Unless you’re nosediving precariously close to the edge of a cliff, you don’t need to worry that your car might flip forward. Excessive forward shifting won’t cause your car to tip over, but it can still affect your driving in potentially dangerous ways. 

A nosedive can cause momentary loss of control over your steering or lengthen your stopping distance, resulting in rear-end collisions. This rocking can also turn into swerving or slipping, particularly in bad weather. 

#2 – Rocking Back When Accelerating

As the third rule of physics states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Not only can a car with worn-out shocks dive forward when braking, but it can also rock back when you hit the gas. While some degree of movement is normal, your car shouldn’t react like you just put the pedal to the metal if you’re gently accelerating.

If your shocks are worn out, the momentum of your car moving forward is transferred to the back of the vehicle rather than distributed evenly. Like a boat bobbing on the water, the front end of your car might hitch up while the back end “squats.”

If your shocks were healthy, on the other hand, they’d have no problem supporting the weight and force of your car as you accelerate from a full stop.

#3 – Shaky Steering Wheel

One of the scarier symptoms of bad shock absorbers is a shaky steering wheel. It can be very unnerving when the very thing you’re using to control your car starts trembling in your hands.

It’s normal to experience some shakiness when driving over uneven terrains, such as a gravel road. But everything should stabilize when you’re back on a smooth surface. If your steering wheel continues to shake or vibrate, you most likely have an issue with your shocks.

In addition to making drivers nervous, shaky steering wheels can be particularly dangerous at higher speeds. The faster you go, the more intense the vibrations can be. This can affect your control over your steering and potentially cause swerving or drifting.

#4 – Swerving and Sliding

Does your car have a mind of its own in regards to steering? Unless you’ve somehow entered the magical world of Pixar’s Cars, this should not be the case.

Vehicles with worn down shock absorbers are particularly prone to:

  • Swerving on uneven road surfaces
  • Drifting between lanes
  • Veering in side winds
  • Jerking when braking or accelerating
  • Instability at highway speeds
  • Leaning or slipping on turns

All of these motions are sometimes described as a “body roll.” If you know your car well, you’ll know if it starts exhibiting these behaviors. Driving can feel significantly different with worn-down shocks.

As we mentioned earlier, bad shocks and rainy weather are a very bad mix. Hydroplaning is doubly scary when you don’t have good control over your car’s steering.

#5 – Slow Stopping

Dysfunctional shocks won’t be able to give you the slow, gradual stop you’re used to. Slowing down and coming to a complete stop might take longer than you think it should or are used to, leaving you over the stop line or, worse yet, bumped up against someone’s back-end. 

In addition to not reacting how you expect in terms of stopping distance or time, your car might struggle to stop smoothly, even shaking or swerving slightly as you decelerate.

The combination of nose-diving when braking, longer stopping distances, and less stable reactions to slowing down can make the transition between moving and stopping dangerous, particularly at high speeds.

#6 – Unevenly Worn Tires

If your shocks aren’t performing as they should be, they won’t be able to keep your tires on the ground evenly. You will likely feel a bouncing and a shifting as you drive along.

This will result in patchy, unevenly distributed wear on your tires, including excessive wear in certain areas. In order to do their job, tires need to uniformly touch the road. Having bouncy, unevenly worn tires puts you at higher risk for hydroplaning on wet roads or suddenly finding yourself with a flat tire.

#7 – Rattling Noises

All of the shaking and shifting from a car with bad shocks will cause some serious noise. As you drive, you’ll likely hear rattling noises that get louder with increased speed and bumpier roads. If the shifts, shakes, dips, and dives don’t tip you off, then the noise certainly will.

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Why does having bad shocks matter so much?

Shock absorbers largely influence the stability of the car, including your steering, braking, acceleration, and overall driving performance.

If you’re in a scenario where you need to slam on your breaks and stop immediately, such as to prevent an accident, any and all of these factors can cause your car to react unexpectedly. 

When your well-being and the well-being of those around you are in question, you have to be able to trust your car. That means steering, braking, and accelerating with ease and consistency—and that means having high-performing shock absorbers. 

What should I do if I have bad shocks?

If you notice anything on our list, from one through to seven, you’ll want to check things out before the condition deteriorates any further.

#1 – Take a Closer Look

If you’re comfortable and familiar with your car’s moving parts, perform a visual inspection of your shock absorption system. Keep an eye out for:

  • Cracked or worn shock absorber bushings, as these are exposed to the elements and might incur the most damage
  • Oil leaks from your shock absorber, usually on the shock itself or in the surrounding areas

#2 – Take It to the Professionals

Because they’re such an important part of your car, you may want to seek the advice of a professional mechanic or repair shop. They’ll be able to accurately diagnose any issues that could be affecting your suspension, including damage to your shocks. 

They can also advise you on how to resolve the issue and whether repair or replacement will be a necessary next step. 

Unfortunately, car insurance doesn’t cover repairs. Even with mechanical breakdown insurance, worn shocks are considered wear-and-tear, and not covered.

What are shock absorbers?

Shock absorbers are hydraulic piston devices that stabilize your car in motion to help you keep control of your steering and braking. They provide resistance against the rebound movement of your vehicle’s suspension and springs.

Quite simply, their job is in their name: they absorb shock. 

Here’s everything your shocks take care of:

  • Lessening the blow of a bumpy road 
  • Dampening vibrations
  • Keeping your tires in even contact with the road surface
  • Adjusting to bad road conditions to keep your ride smooth

As your car moves over uneven terrain, your wheels move up and down over obstacles. Without shocks, you would feel every bump, swerve every time your wheels were at different heights, and struggle to keep in control of your car all the way along.

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Signs of Bad Shock Absorbers: The Bottom Line

If you have bad shocks, it’s important to have them repaired or replaced immediately to avoid serious mishaps on the road, from frighteningly close calls that leave you shaken up to full-on collisions that skyrocket your insurance prices. 

Even if your car handles well, it’s still important that you’re protected from damage and emergencies. The best way to keep yourself financially protected is with an auto insurance policy. Not only is it mandated by law in almost all 50 states, but auto insurance also gives you a financial safety net in the event of a collision or emergency that leaves you needing repairs.

Now that you know how to spot bad shock absorbers, see what you could be saving on auto insurance. Enter your ZIP code below for free auto insurance quotes from top companies.

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