Most car owners know that oil needs to be changed regularly and that brakes need to be replaced as they age, but your car's suspension is a major wear component as well. It is easy to ignore suspension problems as they tend to develop slowly and almost imperceptibly, but a suspension refresh is one of a handful of maintenance items that you can do on your car that will make it feel brand new again. Of course, having a little knowledge about how your car's suspension works will help you to get this job done while also saving time and money.
Shocks? Struts? Aren't They the Same Thing?
Many people will use the terms "shocks" and "struts" interchangeably, but they're actually very different components. Both shocks and struts act as dampers, absorbing impacts and preventing your springs from endlessly bouncing whenever you drive on uneven road surfaces. Struts, which refer to MacPherson struts on most vehicles, are load bearing suspension components which also affect the vehicle's alignment since they keep the wheels in place.
The important thing to understand is that your vehicle will have either shocks or struts on each, but never both on a single wheel. Depending on the particular make and model of your vehicle, you may have struts on the front wheels and shocks on the back wheels.
How Long Do They Last?
The lifetime of shocks or struts depends heavily on a large number of factors, including the kinds of roads that you drive over and the types of shocks or struts themselves. In general, these components will last longer if you do mostly highway driving or if your commute only involves very smooth well-maintained roads. If you take your car down uneven streets or spend a lot of time on broken (or non-existent) pavement, then expect them to wear considerably faster.
Under normal circumstances, shocks and struts last about 50,000 miles. You may or may not notice decreased performance as a result, however. If your dampers are completely blown out then you may feel much more sway or notice much more bounce, but the symptoms can be subtle when these components are just beginning to fail. At 50,000 miles, it's time to start having your car's suspension checked regularly by a professional. If they seem like they're still in good shape, continue to check about once per year or every 10,000 miles.
What About the Springs?
Now that you know the difference between shocks and struts and when they should be checked for replacement, you may also be wondering about your springs. Springs are what actually absorb road impacts while also keeping your car at the correct height. It is fairly uncommon for the springs on modern cars to weaken and sag as they would in older models, so often springs do not require attention unless they fail entirely. If you are having your shocks or struts replaced, it generally isn't necessary to replace the springs alongside them.
Contact an auto repair shop to learn more.