Should You Replace Front and Rear Shocks/ Struts at the Same Time?

Replacing the shock absorber and strut for a vehicle

Once your ride quality starts getting bumpy and it’s time for a strut replacement, you’ll have some questions. Your mechanic might suggest replacing all of your struts at once. Do you really have to?

There’s nothing forcing you to replace your front and rear shocks or struts at the same time. Typically, people do because they all wear down at the same rate. You will need to replace your shocks or struts in pairs, though: the front axle and rear axle need to be replaced at the same time.

In this article, I’ll tell you if you should replace your front and rear shocks or struts at the same time. I’ll also go into some detail about what a shock is, how it works, and why it matters.

What are Shocks and What Do They Do?

Shock absorbers, commonly called shocks, are hydraulic pieces of your car. Its main job is to absorb the impact of the road and keep your car from bouncing.

A new set of shocks will result in a smoother, more comfortable ride. It also gives you more control while you’re steering since wheel chatter won’t get in the way.

When Shocks are Working

Your shocks are always working. When you accelerate, decelerate, turn, or drive over an uneven road, your shocks work even harder.

Shocks vs Struts

Another component that works alongside shock absorbers is the strut. A strut is structural since it’s built into the chassis of your vehicle.

Struts are weight-bearing and much stronger than shocks. They’re usually made up of two parts: a spring and a shock absorber.

Car struts for a vehicle
Car struts

Your vehicle will either have a shock or a strut for each wheel — never both. Some modern cars have struts on the front two wheels and shocks on the rear two. Having shocks on both axles is pretty uncommon.

A strut includes a large spring, and a shock is just a piston.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll broadly talk about shocks or struts for the remainder of this piece, using the terms interchangeably. I know they’re completely different parts, but it’ll be easier to explain things this way.

Does Your Car Have Shocks or Struts?

Not sure which option your car uses? Take a look at your owner’s manual. The suspension should be outlined, and it should tell you which is used where.

If it doesn’t say, then take a look under the car. They’re found attached to the wheel. If the front two look different than the back two, then you have struts up front and shocks in the rear. If they all look the same, then it’s probably four struts.

Still not sure? Bring in an expert. You can show your car to a mechanic, technician, or a gearhead buddy and they’ll let you know pretty quickly.

Shock absorbers for a vehicle
Shock absorbers

Knowing When to Replace Your Shocks

A lot of people don’t know when it’s time to replace the struts. Here are some common symptoms that should cause you to replace them. These are signs of shocks going bad.

It’s Been Enough Miles

In general, you can expect to replace your shocks every 50,000 to 100,000 miles. These wear out slowly, so you won’t notice a dramatic change overnight.

If you’re a more aggressive driver or you often drive on really bumpy roads, then you can expect to change them even sooner.

The Ride is Rough

One of the easiest symptoms to spot is a super bumpy ride. If you hit a pothole and it feels like your car has a dope hydraulic system installed, bouncing you around like crazy, then you’re due for some new struts.

Another clear sign is feeling like you’re about to lose control when you hit a bump in the road. The shocks can’t absorb the impact, so your chassis doesn’t respond well.

Bad car strut pulled inspected up close

Fluid is Leaking

Since this system uses hydraulic fluid, you should check for a leak. If even a little bit of the fluid leaks, you can notice a huge shift in your performance, cornering, and ability to recover after a bump in the road.

This fluid leak would be directly under your tires when you’re parked.

Braking or Turning Feels Unstable

Nosedives when you brake or swaying through turns is a scary sensation. It’s the result of shocks that aren’t doing their job.

If turning starts feeling really unstable, then take a look at your shocks and see if you need to replace them.

Tread is Wearing Unevenly

Another job of the strut is to push your tires against the road at all times. It’s a really big deal. If your tires are unevenly wearing, it could be an indication that they aren’t being evenly pushed down, meaning your struts need to be replaced.

Worn out tire with exposed metal wire cord due to uneven tread

Instability at Highway Speeds

If your car wobbles and bounces when you’re going highway speeds, that could be another sign that your struts are ready for a replacement.

This is because the little bumps in the road are becoming more noticeable thanks to your higher speed. It could be subtle, but it should be noticeably different than what you’re used to.

Car Squats Through Acceleration

If you stomp on the gas pedal and your car assumes the Carolina Squat position, it’s time to look at your shocks. If you didn’t know, the Carolina Squat is when the rear of the vehicle is much lower than the front (it’s a common trend with bigger trucks — the owner has the front end lifted and rear end lowered).

The shocks aren’t standing up to the forces that come with sudden acceleration. A new set of shocks will never do this.

Can You Replace Car Shocks on Your Own?

Yes, you can replace car shocks on your own without going to a mechanic. I wouldn’t suggest trying this job on your own unless you have a nice jack stand to throw the car on. Otherwise, you’ll need at least two high-quality jack stands.

Keep in mind, this job requires a lot of disassembly and understanding of how your struts or shocks work. Although you can do it on your own, I would still suggest going to a shop for it (but that’s just my opinion).

Tools required to replace a bad worn out car strut

How Long Should the Replacement Take?

If you know what you’re doing, it’ll take about 3 hours per strut that you’re replacing. That works out to 12 hours for all four.

If you’re just replacing the springs on your struts, then the job will be a lot quicker.  

Should You Replace Front and Rear Shocks/ Struts at the Same Time?

Just like replacing your brakes or tires, you should replace your shocks in pairs. However, you don’t need to replace the front and rear shocks at the same time.

As long as you replace both fronts or both rears at the same time, you’ll be fine.

If you replace just one or three shocks, then you’ll notice a huge performance drop. Your handling and control will be significantly worse, and your vehicle will be more dangerous to drive.

Pro Tip: Start with Replacing Two and Go from There

I was talking to my mechanic who thankfully is a really honest mechanic. He suggested to me to start by replacing just my front shocks and go from there. It’s a lot cheaper and takes less time to replace two shocks instead of four.

He replaced the two, I drove a little and the ride still felt funny, so I took the car back in and he replaced the other two.

Replacing two car struts at a time

Sometimes, you can get away with just replacing the two. Rather than wasting money on all four, just do two and give it a test drive.

However, this is only the case if a mechanic determines that your rear shocks aren’t due for a replacement as well.

If you replace the front two and your ride feels really weird still, just have them replace the rear two as well. You might notice extra control in the front, but the rear feels like it’s swinging around more. This is normal to a certain degree.

It all comes down to the judgment of your mechanic and how bad your shocks are.

Consider an Alignment After Replacing Shocks

After replacing your shocks, you should strongly consider an alignment on your car. Shocks are part of the drivetrain of your vehicle. Replacing them might change the performance of your car so an alignment could be in order.

Getting a car alignment done at a car service workshop

What Is the Typical?

Most of the time, all four shocks will be replaced at the same time. When the front ones are worn enough to be replaced, typically the rear ones are as well.

Still, that doesn’t mean you’re forced to replace all four at the same time. It’s just a matter of which ones are worn.

Conclusion

I just covered information about your car’s struts and shocks. You don’t have to replace the front and rear ones at the same time, but people commonly do since they wear out at about the same rate. When in doubt, ask the mechanic. For more car questions answered, check out my site. I also have a list of products that will help every car owner.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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