Replacing your battery or brakes is considered regular vehicle upkeep, but you might be neglecting another important area to maintain – shocks and struts. If your ride is more than 10 years old or you often haul oversized loads, you’re probably in the market for a suspension upgrade. Driving around on worn out shocks or struts can not only make for an uncomfortable, bouncy ride for your passengers and cargo, but it can lead to unsafe vehicle handling and premature tire wear. You can keep your wheels rolling smoothly on the ground by adhering to simple truck, SUV and car maintenance tips.
Start With the Basics
Shocks and struts do the same thing in basically the same way. But, it’s important to note that you must install the correct type of shocks or struts in order for your vehicle to perform as it was intended.
Before getting started, you want to make sure you have a large, level work space and plenty of time to finish your project. Your car should be in park with the emergency break set. It’s also a good idea to slightly loosen the lug nuts before you jack up your ride since they can require a lot of pressure to break free. Always use the appropriate jack points which can be found in your vehicle owner’s manual. You’ll also want to place a jack stand under the vehicle. For even more security, you should chock the wheel on the opposite corner of the vehicle to prevent rolling.
The shocks or struts you purchase may or may not come with detailed instructions for installation. If they do, you should always adhere to those steps for the best results. Also, shocks and struts should only be replaced in pairs (both fronts at the same time, or both rears). Replacing your shocks also presents a great opportunity to check your brake pads, control arms and Axles & CV Shafts for torn boots and free play as you will have up-close access. Now that you’re properly prepped, we’re here to help with this general run-down of what your shocks installation should look like:
How to Install Shocks:
- Remove your first tire and locate the shock assembly. Most shocks attach from the axle or lower suspension.
- Your old shock should be held in place by two bolts. You’ll want to remove the horizontal, bottom one first using a ratchet on the nut and a backup wrench on the bolt head to keep it from spinning.
- You may need a long flat head screwdriver or pry bar to aid in freeing the shock from its perch.
- Always install new shocks along with new rubber bushings which should come pre-installed. Apply a thin coating to either side of the shock eyelets to ease fitting the new shock back in their mounts.
- Place the new shock in the vehicle by aligning both ends of the shock. For shocks with two bolts, it’s easier to install the top bolt first. Don’t tighten the bolts and nuts until both are in place. A rubber mallet or plastic dead blow hammer can be handy, tap gently on either end to work the new shock into position.
- Once you think you have the shock positioned properly in place, it can be handy to use an alignment dowel or drift pin through your mounting holes and through the shock eyelets to make sure the shock is aligned properly so your mounting hardware can be easily installed and you won’t damage any threads.
- Tighten all bolts and nuts to the appropriate torque specification (can be found online or in your vehicle’s service manual). Cut the retaining wire or plastic tie. Reinstall the wheel and tighten the lug nuts.
- Repeat these procedures for the other tires.
How to Install Struts:
A bit more complicated than shocks, struts installation has a few more steps and typically requires two less common tools – a spring compressor and a pass-through socket set. You can rent a spring compressor from your local AutoZone as part of their loan-a-tool program. Also, a pass-through socket set is often necessary, and allows you to insert a tool (in this example a long hex) to hold the strut rod stationary while loosening the top nut of the strut rod. Generally, the rubber strut mount bearing assembly at the upper end should also be changed along with the strut, and is purchased separately. Please make sure to follow the detailed instructions that accompany your strut purchase for the best results, but you can see the general steps below:
- On some vehicles, the disk brake caliper may need to be removed in order to gain clear access to the mounting bolts on the bottom end of the strut. It is also recommended to get the entire front end, or entire rear end off the ground (depending on which end you tackle first), especially for vehicles with sway bars, this can make removal easier as it relieves pressure from the sway bar which may otherwise work against you.
- Locate the strut, normally mounted to the steering knuckle. There are usually two bolts at the base of the strut assembly through what looks like a large compression clamp around the base of the strut. Remove these two lower mounting bolts.
- If you’re working on the front struts, pop your hood to access the upper strut mount hardware (typically three nuts). Remove the top three nuts. At this point the strut assembly should be loose and ready to remove from the vehicle. If the assembly is still too tight to remove, you will need to compress the spring while it’s still sitting above the knuckle. You’ll most likely notice a large nut in the center of the strut assembly, don’t remove this yet, it’s holding the spring to the strut mount bearing assembly and will be removed once the strut is freed from the vehicle as a complete unit.
- Use a pair of coil spring compressors to compress as many of the springs as possible and remove the spring. You may need to pry down the steering knuckle to remove the strut. While working with a spring compressor apply even pressure going side-to-side as you compress the spring. Avoid only tightening one side creating uneven pressure on the spring.
- Now that you have the spring under pressure, you can remove the top center nut on the strut rod. This may require the use of a pass through socket set and Allen key to keep the rod from spinning while you remove the top nut.
- Grab your new strut and transfer the spring and hardware on the new strut, being sure to align the end of the spring coil with the notch in the base plate. Align the strut bushing onto the shaft of the strut, with the notch in the top plate covering the other end of the spring. Tighten in place with the nut provided.
- Once the strut is assembled and the top center rod nut properly tightened to hold the spring in place, the coil spring compressors can be removed.
- Install the new strut by loosely attaching the upper end of the strut in place by placing the captive bolts on the mount through the holes in the vehicle’s body.
- Pry the control arm down and align the lower strut clamp with the steering knuckle. Attach the clamp to the steering knuckle with the same two bolts that were removed when taking the old one out.
- Now you can securely tighten the upper bolts as well. Reinstall the brake caliper if it was removed and pump up the brakes before driving.
- Reinstall the front wheel and tighten the lug nuts. Repeat these procedures for the other tires.
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