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In my last trip to the shop, the mechanics told me that I should replace my shock absorbers. When I inquired as to why, I don't feel that they were very clear with their answer, like they normally are.

So my question is, what are the symptoms that I need to be on the look out for to know when to replace my shock absorbers? Are there any tests that I can do?

FYI - My car just recently passed 74K miles if that helps anything.

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A simple test that you can perform in your own driveway is:

  1. For each corner of the car, push down hard several times (the car should be bouncing visibly up and down)
  2. When pushed down, release and watch
  3. The car should bounce upwards (above the normal resting point) and then immediately settle at the resting point. Additional bouncing indicates worn or faulty shock absorbers.
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+1 In a performance car you will also be able to feel the car get less safe on corners when he suspension is getting old and loose. –  Rory Alsop Jul 31 '12 at 7:06
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It sounds like the mechanic is citing the maintenance schedule rather than a particular symptom. 74K miles is a good long way for a set of shocks and, while it's great that you aren't currently worried about their state, the vehicle will begin to suffer as they eventually fail. Here's a previous question that describes some of the rebounding that will occur after bumps. Before I replaced the struts in my wife's car, it was very annoying to drive around on and off-ramps: you would turn the wheel, hold a steady speed but the car's suspension would keep bouncing and never really settle down.

In my answer to that question, I listed a few things that you can easily check:

  1. Insufficient damping (the bouncing continues and the suspension feels mushy).
  2. Noisy motion (scraping sound when going over a larger bounce at slow speeds).
  3. Leaking oil.
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