Changing Ford Explorer Shocks

Contributed by drbob

Fronts are easy, since you can see all the bolts. You might want to raise the car a bit at the frame to give yourself a little room to work. Turning the steering helps a lot too.

Front shocks have a nut (or two) at the top, threaded on to the shock stud. If there are two nuts, they are tightened against each other to lock them on the shaft. Hold one while you loosen the other. There's a shock tool that has a little oval cutout in it to slide over the tip of the stud, but you likely won't need it, especially if you can grab just the tip with a small pair of vice-grips or something when you first loosen the top nut. After that, the nut will come off quite easily. This takes a 17mm (11/16") end wrench. The bottom has a nut that threads on a stud, with the shock. Take the nut off, and pull the shock towards you to remove. 18mm Wrench (not a common size...) for the lower nut.

If you can, spray a little penetrating fluid on any rusty hardware. Give it a day or two, with repeated applications, to at least loosen any rust holding things to together. There are a couple readers who have broken off that front lower stud, forcing a radius arm replacement ($ ouch!)

The rear shock has a bolt at the bottom, so you need to hold the nut while you turn the bolt. At the top, there are two small studs that extend through the steel crossbrace. These take a 13mm (1/2") wrench to remove. The top bolts are easiest if the spare tire is removed.

Neither the front or the rear requires that you take the wheels off, but jacking the front corners up slightly by the frame will give you some extra room. Turn the front wheels to the right to access the left side, and vice-versa. At the rear, you can *almost* sit up in there with the spare removed. Worst case is what I do-- a piece of all-terrain carpet for rolling in and out.

Inflate the spare to 40psi while you have it out. It will leak down to 30 by the time you need it on that lonely road late at night with no phone and no pump.

The gas shocks tend to be a bit of a chore to compress. Raising the car up by the frame will help a bit. If your new shocks come with the string holding them together, do everything you can to line the car up with the shocks rather than the other way around. Once the string is off, it's hell getting the darn things short enough to fit on compressed suspension.

If you have rust or corrosion on the mounting bolts, crawl under and spray them with penetrant now. That way you'll be able to get them loose when the new shocks arrive.

Commentary from kirlinla

You need to distinguish between smooth and soft. A ride can be very firm yet giving you the sensation of a smooth ride. It can also be a floaty ride, and give you the sensation of smoothness. A "flat" ride or balanced ride is also very important.

You do not want to mix brands front to rear. Each manufacturer valves their shocks to balance the ride quality with the front and rear springs. Having a Bilstein up front and a Rancho 9000 in the rear would probably give you a very uncomfortable ride. The old saying goes-generally-is you get what you pay for. Bilstein or Edelbrock are built of very high quality materials, and are specifically valved (tuned) to your vehicle. The Rancho 9000 and 5000 are not. They are valved to the "one size (valving) fits all" philosophy. They tend to be harsh, and over-damped. Your Monroe Magnum II's are nearly identical to OEM. Also, gas-pressurized shocks outperform cellular insert shocks (e.g. Rancho) by a long-margin. All off-road racing vehicles use gas-pressurized floating piston or with reservoir shocks. There is a reason. They do not foam/cavitate when exercised. Gas-monotube shocks are extremely sensitive to small inputs (e.g. there is virtually zero slop or lag in the system)

After you replace the shocks, you can also improve the ride by removing the bottom overload leaf on the rear of your Explorer to soften the spring rate. This will help eliminate the side to side rocking you get when going up/down a diagonal surface. It will drop your rear-end by about1/2" and reduce your load carrying ability a little, but it will dramatically improve the ride quality without any expense to you.


Comments from Branyan J.

I noticed under the shock section that a couple of people had replaced the Radius arm after breaking the lower front shock mount. I had the same problem on a late night. As I didn't want to replace the radius arm, (pretty big job) I went to Autozone and bought a universal mount. Using a disk grinder cut the old mount off, then drilled the radius arm to accept the new mount. Its important to center the new hole in the same location as the old "riveted" mount, which does go through the radius arm but cannot be removed any other way. removing the old mount and installing the new one took about one hour with a 4 1/2" disk grinder. Be sure you check the new mount and purchase the appropriate size bit if you don't have one. A little primer on the ground surfaces will prevent rust and clean the job up a bit. The mount was about $6, the bit $5 and a can of spray primer is $4.

Comments from Kevin H.

Taking the advice from Jeff M. on the Gabriel VST shocks, I bit the bullet and installed them. For $20 ea from Pep Boys, it's almost a no-brainer from an economical standpoint. And a quick drive around the block (~ 5 miles worth) has me very pleased sooooooo far.

One hint on installation- I was not able to line up either the front (fully extended as they came) or the rear (with the wire holding them compressed) regardless of jacking situation. In figuring out what to do, I came up with a neat scheme (Although I'm sure I'm no the first to do it this way, I didn't see anything like it here on this shock page). The following scheme works on both the front or rear. (Cut the wire retaining the rear shocks to let them extend out)

Place the lower end of each shock on the chassis leaving the other end free to swing an arc. Hand tighten the lower hardware. Compress the shock by hand and rotate the upper end to place it in its required position. The Gabriels did require a bit of force to compress, but I was able to get pretty good leverage. I'm not sure of the force required for the other brands. (You can test your new fronts before you open up the rears.) After they are compressed, you rotate the shock to allow the expansion to place it in position. The rate of expansion isn't too great, so I was able to "aim" the expanding shock and place it on the first try after I did the first one and caught the hang of it

From there, it's business as usual. Tighten all the hardware per specs and your off to the races. Don't forget to tighten the lower ones.

Comments from John B.

I was interested in the remarks and recommendations regarding shocks for the Explorer. I have a 1996 4 door V8 with about 70,000 miles. Whenever I would go over a speed bump , particularly on an angle, I would be tossed violently from side to side. Trying to eliminate this, I fell prey to the Edelbrock sales pitch. Incidentally, I'd like to know where the guy who was recommending Gabriels as a cheaper identical shock found Edelbrocks for $30 some dollars apiece. They seem to control the price at right around $75 per shock. I bought mine from Summit Racing at that price then got a minor factory rebate from Edelbrock.

I must say that I really feel like a victim of hype! I don't think they are one bit better than the factory shocks I took off and in some respects they are worse. They are no better going over speedbumps and when traveling on a freeway, there seems to be a feeling of softly bouncing up and down. I certainly would not advise anyone else to drop $300 on a set of shocks like I got.

I have thought of trying to improve the ride by going to HT tires instead of AT tires but interestingly, the owner's manual specifically warns against using anything other than an All Terrain tire. I have pointed this out to several tire dealers as well as the factory mechanics and no one has a logical explanation for this warning. My guess is that this is one of those paragraphs that the lawyers wrote. They probably have visions of someone going OFF ROAD and blowing an HT tire , thereby causing a wreck with subsequent bodily harm and we know who has the deep pockets on this one, don't we?

Moral: Don't assume that just because you're crazy enough to pay $300 for a set of shocks that they're going to live up to the hype.

Contributed by Bryan B.

Just replaced the stock shocks on a '98 Explorer Sport to a nice set of Billstein's and came up with some tips for changing the shocks front and year. They are very simple actually and I would recommend to everyone that does this change to consult a manual for the ride height adjustment on the front end. The Helm's manual that we have for the truck explains the process and is very easy to do. The reason that I mention checking this is because ours was 0.5 inches OVER spec. This problem is simply corrected by reducing the tension on the torsion bars EQUALLY on both sides. The next thing that I would recommend would be ratcheting box end wrenches, these nice pieces help reduce the time and effort to remove and install the shocks considerably. 

The fronts are very simple and with jacking the frame up and letting the suspension hang they slide right in, then just jack up the front member to meet the lower bolts. For any of those that have broken things trying to replace this, a tip for the future, clean the bolts and surrounding areas prior to removal and use penetrating lube or WD-40 in my case and they loosened right up. Also make sure that you use a METRIC wrench on everything, using a standard size that is close will either strip the bolt or break something because in most cases it won't even turn the fastener.

Now comes the tricky part, changing the rears. The easiest way to do this is to jack the frame up slightly and unbolt the bottom bolt first and then the top bolts. The spare may or may not be removed, depending on your size and how much time you want to spend cranking on the mechanism to lower it. The best way to install the new shock is to bolt the top bolts securly and let the bottom of the shock hang and rotate the body so that the hole lines up with the shock mount. Then using some blocks of wood or something strong that will fit under the back below the lower shock mount, grab a medium size crow-bar and wrap a rag or something that will prevent the surface of the crow-bar to contact the shock. Place the crow-bar over the wood or block of material and apply pressure in the upward direction at the base of the shock so you are pushing it towards the mount. Do this slowly and the shock will compress relatively easy. (I am not a body builder and I had no trouble getting the shock into the mount on the first try, it was also the first time I did it.) Then slip the bolt through and tighten. The whole process took me 1/2 hour for each side. Good luck

Contributed by Larry M.

This review is on the quality of the product, rather than the installation of the product.

I have a '96 2-wd 4-dr with 130k miles! Tires are the Michelin X Radial LT 235's (The stock Firestone's wore out at 70k). I bought the Gabriel Gas Ryder LT w/ VST for the front and rear at AutoZone for about $24 per shock. Installation took an hour (with a friend who has a shop garage at this home) with no problems.

My first ride with them was on a two lane road. I had high expectations and was a little disappointed. I still felt the bumps, etc. After a couple of miles, I noticed that the acceleration and handling had improved. It seemed that there was a little more grip when I stepped on the gas. When I got on the highway, there was a noticeable difference. The expansion joints didn't rattle the cabin. The ride at 65 mph was calm and quieter. The next thing that impressed me was the handling in the turns. I took an off ramp at 45 to 50 mph, and the Explorer stayed level and controllable.

Big test came when the wife said that she noticed a difference in the ride! Works for me! Overall, I am satisfied. It's not the ride of my parent's MB C200, but it's a better SUV ride. AutoZone had two shock choices: the Gas Ryder, or Sport ($6 cheaper). If anyone put the Sports on, please write a review (so I can get rid of my buyer's remorse!)

Jeff's Notes

The Net consensus on which particular shock to buy seems to be to go with the Edelbrocks or the Bilsteins. Some have mentioned Monroe Sensa-Traks but they seem to be falling out of favor. Finally, prices quoted here seem to be a bit unreliable.




Updated April 23, 2001

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