As a car or truck owner, you’ve probably been told at some point that you need new shocks or struts. The first time you heard it, you may not have known the difference between the two. You may have asked, but were told that they’re the same. Well, there is a difference between the two, so let’s clear up the confusion.
Both shocks and struts are part of a car or truck’s suspension system. And they both work together with a spring to make your car ride smoother. The spring absorbs the impact of bumps in the road as you drive, and the shock or strut then absorbs the bouncing of the spring to keep your car or truck from bouncing up and down uncontrollably while you drive. There is usually one shock or strut for each wheel on a vehicle. Some vehicles have four shocks, some have two shocks and two struts, and some have four struts.
A shock is a long, tube-shaped metal piston filled with gas, fluid, or both. Shocks are used when a car or truck has a fixed axle connecting the wheels. With shocks, the springs that absorb the bumps and jolts of driving down the road are called leaf springs. Leaf springs are strips of curved metal that are stacked on top of each other to form a long bow that bolts to the frame and axle of the vehicle. It’s the shock’s job to manage the recoil of the leaf spring, give you a comfortable, stable ride and allow your car or truck to handle better by making sure that the wheels don’t jump up off the road. Without shocks, you could not control your car or truck because one or more of the wheels would almost always be off the ground. Shocks serve purely as suspension parts.
Struts, on the other hand, are part of both the suspension and steering systems on a car or truck. A strut is also a tube-shaped metal piston, but it has a coil spring wrapped around one end. Instead of relying on a leaf spring bolted to the axle and frame of the car or truck, a strut is a shock and spring in one assembly. This makes struts more expensive than shocks. There are a lot of different parts to a strut: the spring, the strut body (also called a shock absorber), and the strut mount. Each of these parts can be replaced individually, but struts also come in complete strut assemblies that are easier to install.
Struts are also connected to the car or truck’s steering system. The outer tie rod end connects to it, and the strut itself is partly responsible for moving the wheels when the driver turns the steering wheel. When you get an alignment on a car or truck that has struts, a lot of the adjustments that are made involve the strut. Because the strut helps you steer your vehicle, you need to have a wheel alignment done every time you replace your struts. Learn more about wheel alignment in our “Wheel Alignment Explained” blog article.
Shock and Strut Maintenance
Maintaining your shocks and struts is important for keeping your vehicle safe and performing like new. Shocks and struts help your vehicle stop sooner when you apply the brakes, and they increase its cornering ability. Have your shocks and struts checked by a professional service technician every 12,000-20,000 miles, or with every fourth oil change. You should also replace your shocks and struts every 50,000-100,000 miles to make sure that your vehicle stops and handles like it should.