Magnetic Shock Absorbers Stiff? Here’s What To Do

Magnetic Shock Absorbers Stiff? Here’s What To Do

Troy Hammond
11 minute read

Magnetic shock absorbers are part of an active suspension system that uses electronically-controlled fluids to adjust their resistance. These fluids are officially called magnetorheological fluids but are often referred to as simply “magnetic oil.

Often found on larger GM vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon, these shock absorbers offer drivers a comfortable ride and premier braking and handling performance. However, many drivers have reported excessively stiff magnetic shock absorbers on their vehicles and poor performance as a result. In this article, we explore how these systems work, why they can become stiff, and what you can do about it if that happens.

How Do Magnetic Shock Absorbers Work?

In simple terms, these adaptive suspensions can provide more or less resistance as needed to accommodate changes in road surfaces or weight distribution. For example, magnetic shocks can soften when a vehicle travels over rough terrain to create a smoother ride. They can also stiffen when road surfaces and driving conditions remain consistent to allow for better handling and performance.

Here’s a breakdown of how magnetic shocks work:

  • Ride height sensors take constant readings at each wheel.
  • The sensors report changes in ride height to a specialized computer called a suspension control module or electronic control module (ECM).
  • Using the ride height readings, the ECM determines which magnetic shock absorbers need to provide more or less resistance and how much.
  • The ECM instructs the shocks on what, if any, adjustments need to be made.
  • Electric coils in the shock absorbers generate a magnetic field that causes the magnetic oil inside to become more or less viscous to provide the correct amount of give and resistance needed.

This cycle continues constantly while your vehicle is on. When working properly, magnetic suspensions provide a ride that offers the ideal spring rate for whatever situation a driver encounters.

Stiff Magnetic Shock Absorbers

Magnetic shock absorbers, however, don’t always work properly. Like most components on cars, they tend to wear down over time. 

One of the more common issues with fault magnetic shocks is when they become too stiff or lock up completely. When this happens, they will no longer provide an ideal ride. Instead, overly rigid shocks can result in a car that’s uncomfortable and even unsafe to drive.

How To Tell If Your Magnetic Shocks Are Too Stiff

It can be difficult to tell how stiff is too stiff when it comes to magnetic shock absorbers – especially if the change has been gradual. But there are a few indicators that your shocks aren’t providing as much give as they should. These include:

  • Warning light: If your magnetic suspension is overly rigid, it may trigger a suspension warning light on your dash panel. However, diagnostic systems tend to catch these issues only after they’ve become relatively severe.
  • Bumpy ride: Magnetic shocks in working condition give drivers a dream-like ride. When they’re too stiff, however, they don’t absorb as much feedback from the road. This will result in you feeling more bumps and dips while you’re driving.
  • Poor handling: When a magnetic suspension is too stiff, it won’t do as good a job of distributing the weight and force of handling your vehicle. If your car feels like it’s swaying while cornering, for example, it could be due to faulty shocks.
  • No “bounce” at standstill: You should be able to push your vehicle down while it is stopped and have it pop back into place. But if you can’t easily push an end of your vehicle down, it could be because the shocks have locked and are too stiff.
  • Long stopping: Your suspension is what absorbs a large portion of the force of stopping your vehicle. Active magnetic suspensions soften to help bring a car to a stop quickly and safely. If you notice that it’s taking you longer to stop than usual and your brakes are in good shape, a stiff suspension is a likely cause.

Magnetic Shock Absorbers Locking Up

When magnetic suspension issues become severe, the shocks can lock up entirely and fail to provide any damping for the vehicle. This is often the result of stiff suspension problems going untreated.

Locked magnetic shock absorbers are a serious problem. Some drivers have described it as feeling like driving a wagon, feeling every bump in the road at full force – often to the point of being unbearable and not just uncomfortable.

But a lack of damping means a drastic reduction in handling and stopping ability. This makes the vehicle dangerous to operate and substantially increases the risk of a collision or a rollover. When your magnetic shocks lock up, you essentially no longer have a suspension.

Common Reasons for Stiff or Locked-Up Magnetic Shocks

Since they involve moving parts and electronics, there are dozens of things that can go wrong with magnetic suspensions. However, several issues are far more common than others. These include:

  • Electrical fault: Whether due to damaged wires, a blown fuse, or other causes, electrical issues are a frequent source of stiff magnetic shock absorbers.
  • Sensor error: Ride height sensors tend to wear out over time. When they do, they can give faulty readings to the ECM that can result in locked-up shocks.
  • Fluid leaks: Magnetic shocks can start to leak fluid as seals and gaskets wear out or become misaligned. This can cause them to provide too much resistance as the system tries to correct itself.
  • Wear and tear: All shock absorbers wear out eventually, but magnetic shocks can sometimes wear out more quickly than other types like standard coilovers. When these components start to break down, there will be a noticeable drop in performance quality.

How To Find Out Why Magnetic Shock Absorbers are Stiff

An auto technician can easily identify the reason why your magnetic suspension is too rigid – for a hefty labor fee. If you can determine the source of the problem for yourself, you can get a better idea of what you’ll need to do to fix the issue and how much it may cost you.

The following steps will help you rule out easy and cheap repairs before looking for problems that are more difficult and complex to fix.

  • Use an OBD II scanner: An OBD II scanner can read error codes from your car’s diagnostic system. If you have a warning light for your magnetic suspension, the scanner may be able to give you a precise reason for the fault. They are a good tool to keep around and not terribly expensive, but most auto parts shops will let you use one for free.
  • Check fuses: Blown fuses are one of the more common reasons for stiff, locked-up magnetic shocks. Use your owner’s manual to find the corresponding fuse or fuses for your suspension and look for any that are blown out.
  • Check wires and connections: Your ECM connects to both your ride height sensors and the magnetic shock assemblies. Check each connection point to look for loose connections or disconnected clips. Also, follow along the wires to look for damaged or severed wiring.
  • Look for leaks: If you haven’t found an electrical source for your stiff magnetic shocks, the problem may be due to a fluid leak. Inspect the bottoms of your strut assemblies and adjacent components to see if any magnetic oil has gathered or dripped anywhere.

How To Fix Stiff Magnetic Shock Absorbers

If you’re lucky, the source of your problem will be as simple as a blown fuse or loose wiring harness. Fixing these problems is quick, easy, and cheap. However, if your problem is more serious – such as a leaking or locked magnetic shock absorber – you’ll have some decisions to make. 

Should I Repair or Replace Stiff Magnetic Shocks?

In some cases, you can repair magnetic shocks. For example, if a leak in the assembly is caused by a misaligned or worn-out gasket, replacing that gasket may be all that’s needed to repair it. 

But in many cases, it may not be cost-effective or even possible to fix a stiff magnetic shock absorber. The older your car is and the more miles it has on it, the more likely it is that you’ll need to replace your shocks. If your magnetic shocks are locking up, fixing them simply won’t be an option.

Also worth considering is that any magnetic shock assembly problem, no matter how small, can be a sign that it is nearing the end of its lifetime. So while you can sometimes fix smaller issues for less than it would cost to replace your shocks, you’ll still need to replace them at some point – likely in the near future. That means that the money you spend on repairs would essentially go to waste. Replacing magnetic shocks when problems start is often cheaper in the long run.

Options For Replacing Stiff Magnetic Shock Absorbers

When it comes time to replace your magnetic suspension components, you’ll have options. Which option is best for you depends entirely on your budget, preferences, and mechanical skills.

Replace Magnetic Suspension Components at the Dealership

The dealership service center is the first place many people turn for auto repairs. Dealerships use brand-certified technicians and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts to complete the work.

While this can offer peace of mind for some people, it is almost always the most expensive option. Dealership shop labor tends to be more expensive than independent facilities, but it’s the OEM parts that really drive up the cost. 

Just one OEM magnetic shock absorber can cost well over $1,000. Experts advise that you replace shocks in pairs or even all at once for safety and performance. That means you could spend upwards of $10,000 in some cases to replace all four magnetic shock absorbers after including labor fees.

Find Replacement Magnetic Shock Parts For Yourself

Thankfully, OEM parts aren’t your only option. You can now find high-quality magnetic shock absorber replacements from third-party manufacturers. When bought from a reputable provider like Strutmasters, these can provide a similar or even superior fit and performance compared to OEM shocks.

And they do so at a much more reasonable price. Strutmasters magnetic shock replacement kits are almost always far cheaper than OEM parts. In many cases, a kit that replaces all four shocks can cost about the same as just one OEM magnetic strut assembly.

Choosing your own parts also lets you choose your own repair center. Your neighborhood mechanic likely has better rates, an easier schedule, and may not be as likely to try to sell you on additional products and services compared to the dealership. 

Can You Replace Your Own Magnetic Suspension?

You can replace your broken suspension with a Strutmasters magnetic shock absorber replacement kit – even if you don’t consider yourself especially handy. In addition to being engineered for performance, fit, and durability, Strutmasters kits are also designed to be easy to install. They require no modifications to your vehicle and come pre-assembled for your convenience.

If you want to DIY your magnetic shock absorber replacement, all you need is a standard set of wrenches, a safe and secure way to lift your vehicle, and about an hour per wheel. Every Strutmasters kit comes with detailed installation instructions. Some of the more popular kits even have video tutorials on the Strutmasters YouTube channel to help.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable doing the installation yourself, the pre-assembled design makes replacing the shocks on your car simple and quick for any mechanic. That means fewer shop hours on your repair bill in addition to using less expensive parts.

Strutmasters: The Best Fix For Stiff Magnetic Shock Absorbers

Replacing your stiff magnetic shock absorbers with Strutmasters replacement kits and components is the best option for many people in many situations. Backed by more than 20 years of suspension industry and manufacturing experience, they offer long-lasting performance at a fraction of the cost of fixing your suspension at the dealership. 

Recommended Solutions

You’ll also get industry-best customer support from our Suspension Experts based in our Roxboro, North Carolina headquarters. Whether you need help finding the right magnetic shocks for your vehicle, help installing your replacements, or anything in between, the Strutmasters team is here to help. You can reach us live at 833-399-3319 from 8 AM to 9 PM Monday through Friday and 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday. You can also use our chat assistant on the bottom right hand side of this web page 24/7. 

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