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Shocks or worse?

I have a 97 Ford Ranger with 81k on it that I drove very little the last four years but now need it to commute on a freeway.

Driving on the freeway has highlighted something I had noticed on other roads, but didn’t seem particularly troublesome at 40 mph - when I am steering left of right following corners if there are any bumps in the road the truck noticeably and somewhat frighteningly jumps (or perhaps to say ‘shimmy’ is more accurate) around the road.

I want to believe this is only shocks that need to be replaced in part because I only want the truck to get me through another year or two, but am I right?

Maybe. But I’ll bet there’s more to it than that. I wouldn’t drive it except to get it to a good front end/alignment shop for a full once over.

Any thoughts on what “more to it than that” might be? I would love to go to the mechanic tomorrow better informed than I am now - thanks in advance!

The key items would be wheel bearings, ball joints, and tie rods.

Could be any of a dozen things. The cheapest would be a tire problem. You can try swapping the tires front for rear and taking the vehicle for a SHORT test drive. If the problem goes away or changes substantially, you will possibly end up buying a tire or two. If the problem doesn’t change, you really need to get a competent mechanic to check the front suspension. There are an amazing number of problems on a car that you can get away with ignoring, but front end problems aren’t one of them. Too much chance of a front wheel coming off or of the steering failing. You really do not want that to happen at freeway speeds.