Struts vs. Shocks: What’s the Difference?

Struts vs Shocks

Struts vs. Shocks is a common debate among vehicle owners. Usually, people use the two terms interchangeably because they don’t know the difference between the two. In this article, I’ll help you understand how one is different from the other. 

But to begin, we will look at how struts and shocks help make your ride a smooth experience. Every time you go over a pothole, rough patch, or speed bump, you have the struts or shocks to thank for a smooth passing. 

It is not without a reason that these two vital parts of a vehicle are often discussed together. They both help keep the ride safe and sturdy so that you can go over any road obstructions with ease. Let’s get right into the similarities and the differences between the two!

What Struts and Shocks Both Do!

If we are getting into the shocks vs. struts discussion, then you must understand the similar functions they offer. Both of them are a crucial part of any vehicle’s suspension system. They help keep the car in balance and the tires in firm contact with the road. 

Lack of firm contact with the road leads to poor handling, braking, and steering, significantly hampering the ride quality. Some of the vital functions that both Struts and Shocks perform include: 

  • Keeping excessive tire and body movement in control
  • Reduce vehicle roll, sway and bounce
  • Keep brake dive and acceleration squat to a minimum
  • Help maintain consistent braking and handling
  • Aids wheel alignment maintenance
  • Keeps the tires and other suspension components safe from excessive wear and tear

Important: you must know that most cars either have struts or shocks. Vehicles that have both usually have struts in the front end and shock absorbers in the rear end!

What Are Shocks?

In terms of design, a shock absorber is designed to act slightly stiffer than a strut. The stiffness is required to help other suspension components easily absorb the road shocks. There are two common types of shock absorbers on the market:

Monotube Shock Absorbers

Monotube shock absorbers are the most common type of shock used in vehicles. It is a steel tube that houses a piston and rod. As your vehicle goes over a bump, the piston moves, and the gas compresses it for a dampened and smoother transition. 

Twin Tube Shock Absorbers

This is the second most common type of shock absorber used in cars. In terms of design, it is made from two tubes instead of one. As your vehicle goes over a bump, the fluid transfers from one tube to another in an attempt to absorb the shock. We have a complete article explaining the difference between monotube and twin tube shock absorbers, check it out!

Shock Absorber Components

Shock absorbers are based on the hydraulic pump mechanism. The piston at the end of the piston rod pushes the hydraulic fluid inside the tube as the car goes over a bump. 

Here are the key shock absorber parts listed down:

  • Shock Absorber Bush
  • Shock Absorber Piston Rod
  • Shock Absorber Cylinder:
  • Shock absorber Bolts
  • Shock Absorber Oil and Gas
  • Shock Absorber Springs
shock absorber parts

What are struts?

Struts are integrated into the suspension system of the vehicle. They work as shock dampers as well as a support between the vehicle body and the wheels. They assist the up and down movement of the vehicle as well as help connect several parts of the suspension. You can drive a car without shock absorbers, but if your car has struts, you cannot drive without them since they are a structural part of the suspension.  

Strut Components

A typical strut has a damping unit housed inside a strut housing. It helps provide structural support for the suspension system as well as control the suspension and spring movement. The bottom part of the strut is attached to the steering knuckle.  

Here are the key Strut assembly parts listed down:

strut assembly parts

Difference Between Shocks and Struts

Coming to the real deal, the differences in shocks and struts are far greater than the similarities in their functions. All vehicles we see on the road today come with a suspension system with either shocks or struts working as vital components. 

The main difference between the two lies in their design and functions. While a shock absorber is designed to limit the vertical movement of the vehicle, a strut, on the other hand, supports the vehicle at its height and cargo, maintains alignment angles, ensures that the steering system works properly, and to absorbs road oscillations transmitted through the tires and shock absorbers.

This is the reason why cars have both struts and shocks. They work together in harmony, that being said, ensures a smooth and less-harsh every day ride for you.

Does My Vehicle Have Shocks or Struts?

There will be many occasions where you would want to know whether your car has struts or shocks. 

But how can you know? The first place to look for is the vehicle manual which has all the information about the components that are inside. If you, for some reason, cannot access the vehicle manually, you can always look under the vehicle itself. 

Visually, shocks are installed vertically and resemble a pneumatic pump. 

On the other hand, struts can be spotted easily as the shock assembly is fitted around a helical shaped metal coil spring making it look as a one unit.

have a look under your car if you have shocks or struts

Should I Use a Shock or Strut in My Car?

Like all other mechanical parts of a vehicle,struts and shocks are supposed to wear out over time. As a result, you will have to get them replaced. 

Usually this time comes after the car has been driven for 30,000 t0 75,000 miles. However, it also depends on the quality of the strut/shock and driving conditions. 

But what should you use for your vehicle? Technically, you should always go for what the manufacturer has recommended. Whatever type has been specified by the manufacturer is what’s best for your specific make and model of the vehicle. 

If your manufacturer has used struts, then you cannot use shock absorbers in place of them. More importantly, you must always replace struts or shocks in pairs. For instance, if you are replacing the front struts, replace them both, and the same goes for the rear. 

Do You Feel Something Is Wrong With Your Struts or Shocks?

If you even slightly feel that something might be wrong with your struts or shock absorbers, get it to inspect ASAP. It is a great risk for your safety as well as the vehicle’s. A malfunction could occur either due to a leaking shock absorber or a damaged strut. 

Suspension is what keeps the car balanced and in your control. If the major components of the suspension are malfunctioning, it could lead to a severe accident. That’s why proper and consistent maintenance is advised to any car owner!

deteriorated and leaking strut

Conclusion

All in all, struts vs. shock is not a debate to be won by either. If your driving conditions, car type, model and make require you to use a shock, it is always recommended to go for that option. 

If it’s the other way around, struts are what you should go for. Manufacturers know better which is the more suitable option. 

For your understanding, I hope this article explains how each works and what the differences are.