How to Replace a Shock Absorber

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Chassis DIY
Shock absorbers, best replaced in pairs.

Did you know that while you’re driving there are a lot more bumps than you feel, all because of a few parts on your vehicle specifically designed to keep the vibrations at bay? These parts are called shock absorbers. They essentially do what the name implies, absorbing the shock from the road, but they also keep the springs from continuously bouncing up and down, which helps to keep your tires on the road. They do wear out after the constant dampening and should be replaced when this happens. You will most likely notice when they wear down, as your vehicle’s handling and overall feel will change. You can also get a general idea of when it’s time to change them based on the amount of miles you have put on your vehicle. Once you have hit around 75,000 miles, it’s time to start thinking about replacing your shock absorbers. How do you replace your shock absorbers, though?

Shock absorber lower bolt (circled in red). Notice good placement of the jack stand.

Shock absorber lower bolt (circled in red). Notice good placement of the jack stand.

 

  • Most cars nowadays have one of two different shock absorbers, the first being stand-alone shocks that attach to vehicle suspension and frame. The other shock absorber is a cartridge that is in the suspension strut. Some cars have both, struts in the front and stand-alone shocks in the back. The struts can be very difficult to replace yourself, as they include the removal of your suspension springs and the strut unit itself. If you are looking to replace your shock absorbers, check to see what kind you have first.
  • Unless you have a truck or SUV that has a lot of room to move under, you must remove your wheels. Doing this will help you determine whether you can replace the shock absorbers yourself or need a professional mechanic to do it, as you can see what kind of shock absorber is installed in your car. If it is a strut, it a few inches wide and 20 to 30 inches long, and is mounted long-ways behind the wheel hub and brake. The stand-alone shock is short, about 12 to 18 inches long, and has a welded ring positioned for a bolt to go through or a threaded rod attached to it.
  • Now that you have the right shock absorbers, make sure you have all the right tools to remove the nuts and bolts. The tools consist of: your basic wrenches, combination wrenches, a large flat-headed screwdriver, rust penetrant, your car jack and jack stands, and possibly vice grips. You will also need your replacement shock absorbers and possibly additional fasteners.
  • Follow all safety precautions as you jack up your car, and support it with the jack stand. Jack it up until the one wheel is off the ground and then remove the tire and wheel. Find the lower bolts and nuts that are attached to the shock absorber and detach them. There may be some rusting, so be sure to use your rust repellent if needed. You may use the jack to take the load of the lower suspension arm, if it has dropped or if there is still too much pressure on the bolt for it to come out. After this, remove the upper attachment, which might have the threaded end on the piston rod. To do this, hold the rod while loosening the nut. This will free the shock at both sides and can then be removed from its position.
  • The new one is now ready to be installed. Start by putting on any washers and rubber cushions that are needed for the threaded rod, and then attach the top section first. Do not tighten the hardware until the bottom part is ready too, which you will then begin doing as well. You will probably need to compress the shock to set in the mounting holes. Then, after securing the shock, tighten the fasteners. As you tighten the nut onto the rubber cushions, try to squeeze rubber about a quarter of an inch down and stop.

Do this for each shock, and you’re good to go! Getting your vehicle’s shock absorbers replaced is a great step towards making your car ride like it did when you bought it. So, when you feel it’s time to change them, follow these steps and you will be replacing your shock absorbers like a pro.

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