Sometimes it’s the slow demise of the simplest parts on a pickup that make the biggest difference in performance and efficiency; worn-out shocks are one of those parts
by Bruce W. Smith
If you are putting 20,000 or more miles a year on your pickup, and it’s a couple years old, chances are pretty good the shocks are shot. It’s a simple fact of life.
What escapes most vehicle owners is shocks wear out very slowly, so these critical component’s inability to control the suspension is rarely noticed until they break or fall off.
However, shocks, like tires, give warning signs long before they fall off. You just need to know the signs of shock failure.
Signs of worn-out shocks can present themselves as the truck wallowing in corners or swaying when towing, continued bouncing after driving through a dip, clunking when the truck hits a pothole, as well as cupped or scalloped tire wear.
You can also let the odometer be your shock replacement gauge:
“As a general rule of thumb, OEM hydraulic twin-tube shocks only last about 15,000 to 20,000 miles when used in a work truck environment (towing, hauling heavier loads, off-road/off-pavement use),” says Shane Casad, Bilstein of America, who specializes in pickup suspension setups.
According to Casad and other shock experts, low-pressure gas-filled OE shocks, like those found under most of the factory “off-road” pickup suspension packages, are good for 25,000-35,000 miles.
After that shocks are just along for the ride.
Worn-out shocks no longer control the vehicle when a big dip in the road swallows it up, nor do they quickly steady the wobbles, bounces and shakes after crossing the railroad tracks or when a trailer is on the hitch.
Bad shocks also contribute to accelerated and uneven tire wear, and hasten the wear of the front suspension from ball joints to A-arms and CV joints.
So don’t be quick to blame the “new” tires if they seem to wear faster than normal — or your truck just doesn’t seem to ride like “it used to.”
The fix is easy: replace the shock/struts with new ones.
But before you call the local parts house or your pickup dealer consider the ROI between cheap shocks, OEM replacements, and high-end off-road shocks.
Spend $100 on four cheap shocks and an hour or more in shop labor for R&R and you’ll be doing it all over again in 1-2 years.
Spending $400 on good off-road shocks takes the same labor time. But those new shocks are probably going to last the “life” of the truck this time around because their robust internal and external construction also helps them withstand the hard knocks of being under a work truck.