There’s no question about it, a car is a very complex piece of machinery. It’s chock full of intricate parts and pieces. If even just one thing is off, it can affect the overall performance and safety of the vehicle. When it comes to a vehicle’s inner workings, some people are left mystified by all the different gizmos and gadget under the hood.
With that being said, it’s no wonder that most people don’t know that there’s a difference between shocks and struts. Many people use the words synonymously, which is understandable. Luckily, there are experts in the field that do know the difference. So, if your car is experiencing issues with any part of your vehicle suspension, they will be able to figure out what exactly is wrong and correct it accordingly.
While the words “shocks” and “struts” might get used interchangeably (especially since they perform similar functions as a part of a vehicle’s suspension system), the parts definitely cannot be. Fortunately, unless you’re a mechanic or work on cars for a hobby, there’s not too much need to know the difference. To be fair, they are both a part of your car’s suspension system and perform the same overall job for the most part. Your cars shocks and struts are designed specifically to regulate and control your automobile’s suspension system, which is what allows your ride to run smoother.
The main difference between shocks and struts lies in their design, their location, and their exact task for the vehicle. It’s important to understand that shocks and struts are similar in the fact that they are both dampers of sorts. So what exactly is a damper?
Example of a Damper
In order to understand what shocks and struts do, let’s first look at an example.
Imagine that you were to take a bouncy ball and throw it full force at the side of a wall. What is that ball going to do? That ball is going to come bouncing right back at you due to the fact that there’s no dampening object to prevent it from doing so. That kinetic energy your ball has gathered has allowed it to keep going and come back to you.
Now, say you took that same bouncy ball and threw into a lake. Do you think it would come bouncing right back to you? Nope. That’s because the water has “dampened” any kinetic energy and force that the ball had collected.
Essentially the water “absorbed the shock” the ball had and prevented it from being able to bounce back. Sorry about your ball by the way. Hopefully you didn’t like it too much or, if you did, you know how to swim! Now, moving on to the main differences between Shocks vs Struts.
Shock absorbers are an important part of the suspension system of your car. While they do not function to support the weight of your vehicle, they do help to make sure that your wheels stay firmly on the surface of the road at all times. They absorb the kinetic energy that is created any time you roll over a bump in the road. If your car or truck did not have shocks, your vehicle would be unsafe to drive as it would shake and shudder uncontrollably.
There are two main parts to a shock absorber: a coil and a piston. There is also hydraulic fluid inside the piston, so when you hit a pothole it starts a compression cycle. The piston will apply pressure to the coil and when it’s time for the coil to spring back the hydraulic fluid will slow it down. While you can still operate a vehicle without shocks, it’s highly recommended that you don’t as it will make for a very bumpy and dangerous ride.
Shock absorbers are nothing new. They have been around since at least the early 1900s and were first used inside carriages and trains as a solution after passengers complained of bumpy, painful rides when commuting from city to city. You could say that shocks increased the distances we could travel and changed the world in a way.
Technically a shock is just a shock absorber, whereas a strut is a shock absorber and then some, making it an important structural part of any vehicle. The strut actually supports the weight of car and ensures that both the suspension system as well as the steering system work properly.
Struts weren’t invented until the 1970s. They were created because the automakers wanted to find a way to make vehicles more efficient when it came to fuel usage. Struts, like shocks, also help with the suspension of your vehicle as well as the balance of the car.
Struts are typically used on the front of cars and are comprised of many different pieces. Generally speaking, there is actually a shock absorber inside the strut housing. There are other components as well including spring seats, a strut bearing, coil spring, and a steering knuckle. The coil spring helps support the vehicle’s weight, and is part of the “bounce” you feel when going over a bump. The coin springs help reduce and stabilize the suspension movement of your vehicle, making it an integral part of any vehicle.
If your car does contain struts, it cannot operate correctly without them as it helps with the actual steering of the vehicle. What the strut does, in essence, is give the body of your car stability simply by permitting the suspension to move as necessary, up and down, without too much effect on the body of the vehicle. Also, when comparing a strut to a shock absorber, a strut is smaller and lighter in weight, and is an important structural part of your vehicle.
The most common strut is the MacPherson Strut, although some car owners may prefer a quick strut, also known as a loaded strut, or coilover. A quick strut comes already pre-built, so it’s less work to install into a car, and therefore cheaper. Coilovers are very similar to struts, but are preassembled and are better suited for situations where adjusting the vehicle’s height is important, since they can be installed as a single unit compared to having to adjust the vehicle’s coil springs, mounts, and struts separately.
Another huge difference between shocks vs struts is the price tag that comes along with having to fix them. Getting your shocks repaired may cost you anywhere around $100 to $200, while the cost of changing your struts would be upwards of $800.
So, What Does My Vehicle Have?
Some cars use both struts and shocks, with one set of shocks on one axel and the struts on the other, but not all cars have struts. That may sound confusing but just know that you will find mostly all cars have shock absorbers. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to handle riding in your car! If an automobile does have both struts and shocks, they would work together to create a very smooth ride.
Usually, you can determine if your vehicle does contain shocks and/or struts by simply looking under the carriage of the car. Generally, if your automobile does contain shock absorbers, they will be found behind the tires and mounted in a vertical fashion. You’ll want to look for something that resembles a pump or a spring. Alternatively, if your car has struts, they would be mounted horizontally and would look like an addition to the wheel itself.
Do I Need New Shocks Or Struts? When Should I Replace My Shocks or Struts?
Now that you have an idea of the difference between shocks and struts, you may be wondering if your automobile requires replacing your shocks or struts. Depending on the way you drive your vehicle and whether it’s used for a lot of off-roading, highway driving, or just normal errand running, the choice can make a big difference. Generally speaking, shocks and struts should be checked up on after every 50,000 miles. You can also check your vehicle’s manual for its recommended maintenance schedule, which will give you a good idea of how often to replace your struts or shocks.
If you’ve lost your manual or just don’t want to spend hours looking for it, there are a few other ways to tell if your car needs to be inspected. One big giveaway that your shocks and struts may need replacing is if you begin experiencing excessive vibrations when driving or if you notice that your ride has begun feeling very “bouncy” while you’re driving.
You can also look out for these signs. If your vehicle begins doing any of the following unexpectedly, it’s time to take it in if it shows any of these symptoms of having bad struts or shocks:
- Your car starts swaying or swerving when changing lanes
- Your shocks or struts are leaking fluid
- It’s difficult to steer or there any noises when you’re turning the wheel
- You start to feel excessive bouncing when going over small holes in the road’s surface
- You experience a “nosedive” whenever you break
- High speeds cause your car to become uncontrollable, even when your wheel alignment is fine
Again, if you’re experiencing any one or more of these telltale signs, it’s time to take your car to a mechanic and have them diagnose the issue. It’s important not to drive your vehicle, or at limit your car’s usage, if you have bad struts or shocks. If your struts or shock absorbers aren’t working properly it will make your car very difficult to drive and it will be unsafe to operate your automobile on the road, not only for yourself, but the other drivers on the road, too.
Hopefully, this answered any and all questions you have regarding the difference between shock absorbers and struts. The most important thing for you to know is that when it is time to change either one you should do it ASAP because driving with that shocks or struts can lead to more damage to your vehicle and more costly repairs. Also, if you’re not familiar with vehicle repairs, do not attempt to change these yourself to save money on repairs. This is definitely a job that is better suited for a trained professional mechanic.
Interested in replacing your shocks by yourself? Check out our recommendations on the best shocks for trucks.