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Struts vs. shocks – What are the differences?

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Comparing the similarities and differences between struts vs. shocks can help you decide which option is best for your car, the pros and cons of each, and when to replace each one of these parts in your vehicle. 

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What is a shock?


When looking at the difference between shocks and struts in your vehicle, you need to know each component first. The shock absorber in your vehicle keeps the tires on the ground while driving on rough terrain and uneven roads. This mechanism allows you to maintain proper control of the vehicle and keep it from veering off of the road in tough conditions. Although struts and shocks are designed the same, they differ slightly.


The vehicle’s weight for a shock is on the link between two suspension parts, where it differs from the struts’ construction. This part between the two parts in the suspension features a cylinder. This cylinder is called the reserve tube and contains hydraulic fluid. As we know, hydraulic fluid is key to lubricating the internal engine system and the transmission to prevent overheating and excess friction.


When looking at struts vs. shocks, the shocks are constructed where the cylinder contains another cylinder, called the pressure cylinder. This pressure cylinder is a piston that travels and analyzes the flow of fluid between pistons, ensuring the engine’s fluid level is at the proper level for the engine to function at the right performance necessary to drive the car.


Although this mechanism might sound simple to some, various things can easily go wrong with a shock absorber. When comparing struts vs. shocks, there are different symptoms of failing struts and failing shocks, so we need to look at both.

What are struts?


Looking at struts vs. shocks, you will find many similarities in constructing both parts and the function. However, some differences are crucial to understanding when figuring out how to keep your vehicle best running at a high level. 


In a car with a strut-type of suspension, the struts are the shock absorbers of the car. In a vehicle that uses a different type of suspension, shocks are used to dampen the vibrations and keep a smooth ride. 


In this type of suspension, struts replace other kinds of shock absorbers, functioning to control the amount of bouncing in your car and preventing sudden stops from jerking your vehicle. Although shocks are standard, when looking at struts vs. shocks, you might find that more car owners choose struts instead of shocks, as they are cheaper to place in your vehicle. 


As soon as car owners notice a drop in their vehicle’s ride quality and feel an excess of bouncing while driving on uneven terrain, they will know it is time to replace the struts in their car. Although you have to change your struts every 50k miles, you should look at other parts of your suspension before immediately thinking you need to pay for a replacement. 

The difference between Struts vs. Shocks


When determining the differences between struts vs. shocks, you need to know each part’s function, its construction, and how they both work in your vehicle. Basically, both of these parts are designed to do the same job but do the same job in differing ways. Both the struts and shocks dampen and soften the spring’s movement in your vehicle and stop excess bouncing and vibrating in your vehicle when driving on uneven terrain.


Even though they function to do the same thing, you will find out that they contain vastly different parts when comparing struts vs. shocks. A shock can’t replace a strut and vise versa. 


  • Construction



The main difference when looking at struts vs. shocks is that a strut is built into the suspension system within your vehicle, while the shock is an additional part added to the car’s construction. Furthermore, a strut is a vital component of the car’s steering system and can affect the steering quality and efficiency. 


  • Angles



The strut is so vital to the suspension system directly related to your vehicle’s camber and caster angles. These angles are typically altered depending on the strut’s position, with this part providing a connection and pivot point for the steering system itself. Due to this importance, you will have to pay for a wheel alignment when dealing with the strut replacement. In this case, when comparing struts vs. shocks, struts will cost you much more out of pocket than the replacement of the shocks in your car. 


  • Handling


When analyzing the performance capabilities of struts vs. shocks, there are different benefits that each option has for your car and for you as a driver. One advantage that shock absorbers have over struts when comparing struts vs. shocks is the better handling and smoother driving possibilities. 


Since shocks are easier to use and provide a smooth ride without as much pressure and stress on the driver, they could be seen as more favorable and efficient for most car owners. 


  • Cost


Although shocks may provide better handling when comparing struts vs. shocks, struts have the upper hand of providing better value for what you pay for. If you are looking to save some money and reduce your spending costs when it comes to vehicle repairs and replacements, you might choose to go for struts instead of shocks. 

Symptoms of failing shocks and struts


Noticing these signs and symptoms of bad or failing shocks and struts can help you decide as to whether or not it is time to pay for a repair or replacement in your vehicle. 


  • Vibrations


If the piston seal inside the shocks is wearing down over time or has become damaged due to prolonged use, it might not be in the correct position. If the shock is not sitting in the right spot, it can allow fluid to flow past the valve. The flowing of fluid will lead to an incorrect fluid level and cause leaks, causing every bump in the road or uneven terrain to cause excessive vibration that you can feel in the steering wheel.


  • Swerving while braking


If the piston seal or the valve placed inside of the shock is breaking down over time, the fluid will flow at an uncontrollable level, causing a slight shift in steering or turn of the steering wheel to cause extreme piston movement. This can even apply to a light press on the brake pedal, as this motion will make the vehicle shift extremely hard to one side.


You might have noticed this extreme shift happening when your car swerves while driving. When you press on the brake pedal, the weight will cause your car to nose dive, making it lurch forward and dip down while braking. Despite differences between struts vs. shocks, nose-diving is extremely dangerous in either situation, leading to a hazardous situation on the road if other cars are involved.  


  • Less Efficient Braking


If you find that it is taking a long time to stop the car when you press on the brakes, this means that the shocks are slowly wearing down over time and are damaged. When comparing struts vs. shocks, both instances of damaged shocks or struts can cause the stopping distance to become severely increased in damage. This is due to the extra time the car must use to take up all of the piston rod lengths.


  • Uneven tire wear


Uneven tire wear and treads can usually be noticed by analyzing your tires during a wheel or tire change and feeling uneven while driving on flat roads. A worn shock is usually the culprit with this issue, as you will be unable to keep the tires firmly and evenly on the surface.


Both struts and shocks can become damaged to the point that a slight bounce can cause the vehicle to move unevenly over the road, leading to uneven tire wear. As the tire spins and rotates, there will be a specific contact area that comes in contact with the road more frequently than other parts, leading to a higher breakdown of the tire in that certain spot. 


  • Leaking fluid


When you visually inspect the seals surrounding the shaft in your shocks, you might notice that they do not look quite right. If this is the case, the shock will begin to leak fluid down the mechanism’s side and drip on to the ground. This high loss of fluid can reduce the ability of the shock to work correctly, helping you decide whether you should purchase struts vs. shocks. 


  • Cracked bushing


At each end of the shock, some points allow it to connect securely to the car. These attachments contain rubber bushings that function to keep the connection tight and sealed properly. If one of these bushings were to crack or break, you might hear a loud noise as your vehicle is driving over uneven terrain and speed bumps.


In this case, you might find that looking at the differences of struts vs. shocks can help you identify the root cause of the issue and find out how to diagnose and repair the cracked bushing before it gets any worse. 


  • Instability


While driving faster, like cruising down the highway, you might notice that your car feels unstable and could be shaking during use. If this is the case, your vehicle will constantly be moving up and down, leading to an uncomfortable ride that reduces your vehicle’s confidence. 


  • Tipping to One Side


Similar to the car nose-diving during braking and rolling unsteadily due to uneven tire wear, your vehicle can also succumb to “tipping” to one side during turns. When you are taking a sharp turn, such as after a stop sign or around a sharp curve on an off-ramp from the highway, you might notice that your vehicle will excessively lean to one side and feel wobbly while turning.

Struts vs. Shocks Replacements


When determining what kind of shock absorbers your car currently uses, you need to figure out if you should get the struts or shocks repaired or replaced. Make sure that when you are buying struts or shocks that you buy brand-name products so you can use reliable, consistent, and confidence-inspiring products that are long-lasting and durable. 


Although when comparing struts vs. shocks, you will be buying different products, you still need to keep in mind that you can choose what works best for you and your goal. If performance is your main concern, you can buy stiffer shocks and struts. However, if you prefer a comfortable and smooth ride, you might want other struts or shocks. 


When determining when or why you need a replacement, you might want to bring your car to a trusted mechanic or auto body shop so they can determine if struts are the main culprit as to why you have a bumpy ride or difficult steering. When looking at struts vs. shocks, both of these parts will require regular maintenance and checks to ensure they are working correctly.


Suppose the mechanic looks at your vehicle and notices that the struts are leaking or the bushings might have disconnected. In that case, this could produce excessive metal contact, leading to performance issues. 

Shocks and Struts Replacement cost


The average cost for a strut replacement generally runs between $450 and $900 to replace a pair. If you are just replacing a single strut, the repair price will come to between $130 and $300, while labor will cost you between $150 and $300 for the pair. 


If you are replacing shocks, you can expect to pay between $250 and $580 for a replacement of two shocks. Paying the labor price for this fix will cost you between $150 and $300 on average. 



When looking at the differences between struts vs. shocks, you might find that they are built differently, used differently, and placed in different vehicle positions. However, despite their differences, you will realize that when looking at struts vs. shocks that both of these mechanisms work like shock absorbers in your vehicle to maintain a smooth and comfortable ride. 

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