Replacing Car Shocks

Driving on busted shock absorbers is neither safe nor comfortable, so when the oil starts leaking and the car never stops bobbing like a toy boat in a bath, then it's time to deal with replacing those shocks. As with all vehicle maintenance projects, you might want to have the task carried out by a professional mechanic. However, if you're feeling confident in your own abilities, it's certainly a task you can carry out in your home garage.

First, you'll want to consider what kind of shocks to install. Essentially, you have two choices: stick with the original equipment installed by the manufacturer or upgrade to aftermarket shock absorbers. If you barely know what a shock absorber is, then the former choice likely suits you best -- as does taking your vehicle to a professional mechanic. However, many car enthusiasts choose to upgrade, trading in their old shocks for models offering improved vehicle performance or longer part life. Whichever route you choose, you can expect to spend between $20 and a $120 on each new shock. Just make sure your new shocks match up with your vehicle's make, model and year, because this is definitely not a situation where "one size fits all."

To replace your shocks, you'll need access to your vehicle's underbody -- and this means elevating your vehicle on safety stands and possibly removing the wheels as well. Then, you'll need to find the shock mountings and loosen the mounting hardware. Typically, you can spin the mounting hardware off with a socket wrench. If the shocks are electric, then you'll need to unplug it. If the piston rod spins when you're trying to remove the upper mount, then you'll want to anchor it in place with vice grips. If your shocks are mounted on studs, then you'll need to remove the nuts from the stud mounting.

Once you've pried the old shocks the rest of the way out, it's time to fasten on the new ones -- which typically come with brand-new lower mounting bolts. You might need to bleed air out of new shocks to ensure smooth operation. To do this, simply hold the shock in an upright position (as if it were installed), extend it, then turn it upside down and compress it. A few repetitions should do the trick. If you're installing adjustable shocks, Popular Mechanics magazine suggests starting out at the "soft" or "normal" setting.

Finally, all you have to do is follow installation instructions for your new shocks, making sure to apply thread-locking compounds to the studs to ensure stability. Once everything is installed tightly, your shocks are good for another 50,000 miles (80,467 kilometers).

Explore the links on the next page to learn even more about your vehicle's suspension system.