8 Signs Your Car Has Bad Front Shocks!

Most people realize that front shock absorbers are essential to the car. But many do not understand just how vitally important shocks in good working order allow you to keep the vehicle under control when driving.

Driving a car with a single bad or both bad front shocks could potentially be dangerous. So being aware of the signs and symptoms, you can successfully self-diagnose a faulty one. Even if that does mean you’ve now got to spend some hard-earned cash on a repair.

8 Different Symptoms of a Bad Front Shocks

Uneven front tire wear

Uneven or excessive front tire wear on one or both front tires, specifically on the outer edges, isn’t always a wheel alignment issue. One specific tire wear that can show up with worn shock absorbers is several flat spots around the whole tread circumference. This is a sign that the tire is not making good permanent contact with the road as the car and weight on the tire bounce because of a bad shock absorber.

Fluid leaking

Shock absorbers contain and use hydraulic fluid to stabilize and absorb bumps in the road. Fluid leaks may be noticed as a few spots on the floor by the wheel, or if you’re under the car, fluid might be weeping down the shock absorber. It’s important to check this properly and not assume it is hydraulic fluid from the shock absorber. Other liquids can leak, which can be found near the front wheels, such as brake and power steering fluid.

Unusual noises

A creaking or knocking noise when going over bumps from the front of the car may indicate that the front shock absorbers’ internals has failed. If the shock absorber has leaked all of its fluid, you may also hear loud clunks when going over large bumps in the road, which could be the rod inside the shock or the coil spring bottoming out.

Car rolls or sways when turning

The function of the shock absorber is to dampen the movement of the suspension when turning, which gives you, as the driver, better control of the vehicle. When a shock absorber is worn, it fails to control the up-and-down motion of the suspension during cornering, and the vehicle’s body tends to lean excessively to one side (the side with the failed shock). You may have heard someone refer to a car handling like a boat that didn’t before; this can usually be traced to a worn shock absorber.

Unsteady during braking

Shock absorbers help the tires maintain contact with the road surface, ensuring consistent and controlled weight transfer during braking. When the shocks have failed, it’s common to experience symptoms such as the vehicle nose-diving or bouncing excessively when the brakes are applied. This is because the worn shock absorbers struggle to absorb the energy generated during braking.

Car pulls to one side when accelerating

Shock absorbers maintain proper alignment and balance of the vehicle when accelerating. When one of the shock absorbers is bad, it can result in an uneven distribution of weight and cause the car to pull to one side. This occurs because the weakened shock absorber on one side cannot effectively dampen the forces acting on it when accelerating.

Excessive bouncing over bumps

As the shock absorbers work by dampening the vertical movements of the suspension, when shock absorbers wear out, they can no longer absorb and dissipate the energy generated by driving over bumps. So the car can continuously bounce a few times after going over even the most minor bumps in the road.

Steering wheel vibrations

When shock absorbers are causing vibrations, it is usually more of a shake than a vibration, particularly when driving over rough or uneven terrain. This is because they don’t effectively dampen the vibrations and bumps in the road, so they are transmitted straight from the road to the steering wheel. Not to be confused with steering wheel vibrations felt at higher speeds caused by wheel balance issues.

How to Check if a Front Shock Is Bad

There are two ways to confirm you have a bad front shock without having to remove them from the car; one is to visually inspect the shocks. You need to look for any signs the shocks are leaking fluid. Providing the front springs are in good condition with the car jacked up. You might need to remove the front wheels and push the bump stops further up the shocks piston. You can then get a good look around the seal where the piston enters the shock absorber housing. If it appears damp or it’s evident the hydraulic fluid inside has leaked, it needs replacing.

The other check you can perform is a bounce test. This is one of the simplest forms of checking either the shocks. It involves parking the car on a level surface, going to a front corner, pressing down, and releasing the vehicle; the car should immediately bounce up and stabilize. Both front sides of the vehicle should be an even rebound. However, if one of the front shocks is bad, the car will visibly bounce a couple of times before stabilizing.

signs front shock absorbers are worn

What Causes Front Shock Absorbers to Fail

Apart from the apparent damage caused by a car crash or big impact to the side of the shock absorber. When a shock absorber fails, the fluid is leaking or has leaked, and there is nothing to force the piston back out of the shock absorber housing. A shock absorber moves the piston into the shock absorber housing, which tries to compress the hydraulic fluid. The fluid then pushes the piston back out of the housing. This all happens over every tiny bump or vibration when driving.

There are a couple of reasons for front shock absorbers to leak fluid. Number one is the rubber dust boot that covers the piston, and the foam bump stop deteriorates. The dust boots’ job is to stop dirt from being forced into the shock absorber housing, destroying the seals. If the dust boots get damaged or deteriorate with age, dirt gets stuck on the piston or scratched, destroying the seal. The fluid then weeps from the seal; whenever you drive over a bump and the piston retracts into its housing, more fluid leaks.

The other is when the shock absorber internals are weak, and the seals are already on their way out. Driving over a large pothole or a heavy impact like driving off a curb causes the piston to retract into the housing too forcefully, and the piston seal blows out. The fluid immediately leaks from the shock absorber.

How Long Do Front Shocks Last

Putting an exact time frame on front shock absorbers is tricky because it all depends on the driving conditions and then the condition of other supporting components. In one vehicle, a shock absorber may only last 20,000 miles because the road conditions aren’t excellent, full of potholes, and a dirty, dusty environment. But in another, they last 100,000+ miles because the road conditions are near perfect.

For these reasons, if you put an average life span on front shock absorbers, you should expect to get between 50,000 – 100,000 miles or 5 to 8 years approximately.

Is It Safe to Drive With Bad Front Shock Absorbers?

It depends on how bad they are when assessing if you can or should drive a car with worn shock absorbers. For example, if they have only just started to leak the fluid, you may be able to drive the car for quite some time before there are any major issues. However, if the shock absorber has completely leaked all its fluid and the car drives like a boat, you should avoid driving it.

One serious issue with driving on a bad shock absorber is the increased pressure on the coil spring. This can cause the spring to snap at any moment, and driving on a broken coil spring is dangerous. The issue with driving on worn front shocks with the coil springs intact is that the car will have increased stopping distances; controlling the vehicle through corners and at high speeds can be challenging.

Replacing the Front Shocks

In an ideal world, you should always front shock absorbers in pairs. A brand-new shock absorber paired with a worn one can cause the car to pull to one side and handle unusually. It’s just because of a difference in performance between old and new. No amount of correcting the wheel alignment will solve that issue.

One thing to point out is if you’re undertaking the repair yourself. You must only do this with the correct tools. Unless you buy the whole shock absorber, top mount, and coil spring already pre-built, you must remove the coil springs from the shock absorber.

Removing the coil spring from the shock absorber can only be done using a coil spring compression tool.

The coil springs are kept under such high tension that failing to use a coil spring compression tool will result in broken limbs and damage to anything near the shock absorber when it shoots off. Equally, refitting the coil spring requires the same high pressure, which is unsafe without the right tools.

Final Thoughts

To summarise, you should now be able to notice the signs you may have a worn front shock absorber. The next step is to perform a visual inspection and bounce test, as detailed in this article, to confirm a faulty front shock. If you discover an issue, do not attempt to replace a front shock absorber without the proper tools. Instead, taking the vehicle to a mechanic with the right tools for this type of job would be wise.

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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