Piston Slap: A Somewhat Shocking Update

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

In a previous Piston Slap, David Holzman and I discussed:

DH: Are old car reviews doomed to vastly underrate the cars relative to how they drove when new—unless they’ve recently been overhauled?

SM: Yes. I talked to the owner of the 1996 Explorer I reviewed, mentioning the correlation between a terrible ride and 13-year-old shocks. He’s less than thrilled with the idea, even though he hates the ride. So who in their right mind proactively replaces shocks on an old car?

And now, an update:

This Explorer got an upgrade from original Motorcraft shocks to a set of five (yes, five) new dampers from Bilstein. So what changed since the original review?

Everything. The narrow-body SUV got a serious boost in cornering confidence and ride comfort. There’s less lateral head bobbing and body roll, near elimination of suspension crashing, axle tramping and a far smoother ride. Credit some change to Bilstein’s well-known performance improvements over OEM parts, but most from the addition of a fresh set of shocks. Any shocks.

Now the $5000 Explorer rides 70 percent-ish as well as a $30,000 CUV. Maybe better, as it still feels like a beefy body-on-frame, V8 powered towing machine with some balls, not an uninspiring station wagon on stilts that does nothing especially well.

So yes, your old ride wants a new set of shocks, even if you think you can do without.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Jun 20, 2009

    My Accord is 10 years old and has 160k. I got it when it was 4.5 years old and 67k. I doubt that the shocks have ever been replaced, although I don't know that, but the thing feels solid over bumps, in hard corners, etc, and if I try to bounce the back of the car, I can't. I will say that probably at least 2/3 of the driving has been on smooth highways or smooth country roads, but it does get its share of bad Boston area roads. Could the shocks really be in such good shape after all this time? Or would I be shocked at the wonder of it all if I replaced them?

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Jun 20, 2009
    David Holzman : if I try to bounce the back of the car, I can’t. That means the shocks are toast. Just like the Explorer. It's supposed to bounce once, not zero times.
  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Jun 20, 2009

    David Holtzman: dump 'em...Yes, you will be amazed at the difference. At 160K, they are long gone...Good news for you is that Accords have very good aftermarket choices...If you are more a comfort guy than handling, Monroe Quick struts are a fast and easy way to go. No need to use a spring compressor; the whole unit, spring and all, is changed out. At 160K, your springs are probably tired. If you are into dynamics in your ride, go for performance struts. With them, you probably could get away with reusing the springs - they are not your weak link at this point. If I recall correctly, the Honda spring is rather compact coil, diameter wise. Compressing them can be a bit of work with garden variety spring compressors.

  • Vvk Vvk on Jun 22, 2009

    I change shocks on all my family cars every 60k miles regardless of their condition. By 60k they are ALL worn out. Worn shocks affect other suspension components, so by ensuring I always have well functioning dampers I reduce my overall maintenance costs in the long term.