Are Your Shocks Leaking? Here’s Why!

You’re a fan of car hiking, and the next time you go summer car camping, you discover that your car isn’t moving as gracefully as it used to. Then, you visit a mechanic, and he says something about shocks or struts leaking. Don’t fret!

Shocks leaking are very common recurrences when it comes to cars developing faults. Subsequently, if discovered early, leaking shock absorbers need only a replacement. Otherwise, a whole new issue surfaces. To prevent this, we need to know how to detect leaking shocks and notice the changes in car performance.

What are shocks/struts, and when are they said to be leaking?

Shocks and struts, used interchangeably, though not entirely the same, are part of an automobile suspension system. The suspension system consists of the steering system, the car wheels, shock absorbers, and coil-over springs or leaf springs. It primarily keeps the wheels on the ground and longitudinal to the control arm and shock/strut.

Shock absorbers function as hydraulic pumps. It is a cylinder with a piston and built-in valves filled with a viscous fluid called hydraulic fluid or oil. As your car moves along a terrain, the piston moves up and down the cylinder, exerting pressure on the hydraulic fluid. The mechanical up and down motion of the piston produces kinetic energy. With the hydraulic fluid acting as a medium, this energy is transferred to the motor to dissipate heat to the environment. A leaking shock, however, is simply one with its hydraulic fluid oozing out.

It is important to note that the shock absorber doesn’t absorb the shock from the car wheels running over a bump. Instead, it absorbs the energy in the coil-over springs and dissipates it to the environment. The car springs are better for absorbing the shock but are not suitable for dispersion.

Shock absorbers or struts are present on all four wheels of a vehicle. Trucks, trailers, vans, and other types of automobiles all have a shock absorber or a strut. It’s an essential component that contributes to the overall performance of the car movement.

What causes leaky shocks?

When driving, you go over bumps and waves, potholes and depressions. All this impact on a moving automobile is cushioned or dampened by the shock absorbers or struts, giving us a comfortable ride.

However, a leaking shock could cause the steering system to rattle, causing some imbalance of the wheels, making your car feel like it’s floating.

Leaking shocks can be caused by driving on roads full of potholes and debris getting around the seals, causing them to break.

01. Mud and dirt roads: dirt and mud particles that get inside the components of the car suspension system can damage oil seals and cause them to leak.

02. Uneven terrains: Roads full of potholes increasingly decrease the lifespan of a shock/strut. The continuous forceful motion of the piston against the hydraulic fluid could increase leakage. Or even worse, the bolts to hold the shocks are displaced, and the wheels spin out of their socket. And based on driving habits, shocks could wear out faster, more or less.

03. Worn out or broken seals: wear and tear of the suspension system could cause the seal to become worn out and brittle. The good news is that worn-out or damaged seals can be replaced, which is cheaper than replacing the shock absorber.

However, getting your shocks checked out every six months is advisable. This is to be warned in comfortable circumstances and to avoid any surprise problems. It’s easier to replace parts of a shock than to replace the whole component.

How do you identify a leaking shock?

To check for a leaking shock, check alongside the shock and on the ground for any signs of oil.

The shock absorber and struts are usually found at the back of the wheels. It is mounted between the body and the car wheels, connected through the steering knuckle or the lower control arm. A shock absorber is a cylindrical metal tube that reduces the spring movements in a car.

However, a strut is a hydraulic component made up of the shock absorber and the car spring. In this case, the spring and shock absorber are built together.

Can you fix a leaking shock?

Well, if you’re an automobile mechanic or have comprehensive knowledge about shocks, it is possible to fix a shock absorber. Nevertheless, if you don’t know so much about shock absorbers, it’s advisable to see a mechanic who can advise if the shock absorbers need replacement or not.

A leaking shock does not inherently mean the shock is damaged. It is normal to see some oil seeping along the strut shaft. But, the color and quantity of oil could indicate that the strut has developed some faults.

However, if the oil present is all over the strut boot, this could signify a broken oil seal or a torn-out piston rod. Both components should be changed.

Can you drive a car with a leaking shock absorber?

As mentioned, a minimal seepage in a shock absorber from time to time is acceptable. This happens because the oil seals are not completely sealed, and pressure from the piston applied to the hydraulic fluid countless times would eventually provoke small leaks.

In this case, you’re good to drive the car. Otherwise, the shocks should be checked promptly. The primary function of hydraulic fluid is to transfer energy, but it also serves as a lubricant and reduces friction between movable parts. Reduction in this fluid due to leakage would mean increased friction between the movable piston and the cylinder tube.

This action speaks for the knocking sound we hear when our cars climb out potholes, it wears out the strut fastest. With a worn-out strut, the steering system could swerve the vehicle hard even with the slightest movement. This is especially dangerous with a moving car on a highway or down a steep hill.

Also, a worn-out strut could potentially harm the wheels. A faulty shock absorber transfers its energy load to the car wheels. You could get a busted tire and an uncomfortable driving experience. Eventually, leaking shocks should be repaired.

How long will a leaking shock last?

In optimal conditions, the average life expectancy of a new shock absorber is about four years. In good road conditions, and depending on the driving style, it could last longer, even up to 8 years. A good shock absorber should take up to 60,000 to 80,000 miles in terms of distance traveled.

On the other hand, a leaking shock or strut could have a shorter lifespan. The seeping fluid eventually lessens the effectiveness of the strut. The rate at which the hydraulic fluid depletes depends on the size of the seal tear.

Accompanied by the rapid wear and tear due to increased friction between its components, traveling along bad terrain for many miles can cut the lifespan of even a good shock absorber by half. A leaking shock should be checked out carefully before deciding to drive.

Do I need to replace my struts if they’re leaking?

Not all leaks immediately indicate an evident fault, though the quantity and appearance could say otherwise. If the oil leaks all over the dust boot and forms a thick coating with dust and debris present, it must be replaced.

Even so, if the oil appears as a thin coat barely visible, the strut should be further checked out. A bouncing test could be carried out in which you firmly push down on the bonnet or trunk of the car. The car should settle down after one rebound; if it doesn’t, you know your strut is getting worn out.

A similar drive test over a bump can also be done, and if the moves rebound multiple times over a bump, the struts are faulty. Also, you might want to check for dents to the strut from stones or rocks on rocky paths. Excessive rusting event there is no leaking signifies that your strut needs a replacement.

Furthermore, in a four-wheel vehicle, replacing all its four struts could cost a large sum of money. It depends on how loaded you are. Repairment is also not a good choice. A strut assembly comprises smaller components, which can be changed should it become damaged. The broken seals, piston rod, or dust boot can all be changed when needed. Repairs also cost less and might save you some money.

A good strut makes a comfortable riding experience; it increases traction between the car wheels and the road and improves car handling and roll control. Unfortunately, shock absorbers or struts wear out over time. Some average manufacturers recommend that you replace or repair your strut for every 20,000 miles.

The absence of leaks in your strut or shocks doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in good condition. However, regular driving tests where you observe shaking steering, excessive nose-diving, and excessive bottom diving could keep you informed about the effectiveness of your struts.

What happens if I don’t replace my leaking shocks?

While the car might be driveable, driving around with one or multiple leaking shocks will result in further damage to your car’s suspension system. Furthermore, your car will become less stable when driving around corners and over bumps and potholes, causing you to lose control.

Driving with a leaking shock absorber is not recommended, and you should consider replacing it as soon as possible.

In summary

The takeaway from this article should be that driving with a leaking shock absorber is never a good idea. There are cheaper alternatives than buying a new shock absorber, though they come with a risk. Repairing a shock absorber will probably not last as long as a new one.

To prolong the life of your shocks, ensure they are clean and perform a visual inspection whenever possible. As soon as you notice hydraulic fluid leaks, ensure you take the car to your local repair shop to have it inspected. Replacing a seal is not expensive and can prevent you from any hefty repair bills down the line.