Complete Guide for Buying Shocks & Struts

DIY auto repair - man changing his shocks & struts

When your shocks or struts wear out, you’ll notice a difference in ride quality. You’ll feel the bounce as you drive down the street, and you may lose some control of the steering. Without shocks and struts, your wheels would bounce freely as they make contact with the road, springing the body of your car up and down like a bouncy house on wheels. While this sounds fun, it is dangerous. It’s important to replace worn shocks and struts before the driving worsens and becomes unsafe.

So where do you start? There are so many different options to choose from it can get confusing out there. This is a guide to help you make sense of the different kinds available so that finding the right one for your vehicle can be easier and a little stress free. But first, in case you didn’t know, it’s important to understand the difference between a shock and a strut.

The Difference Between Shocks and Struts

new shock replacement part
Shock

A shock and strut’s main function is similar: they absorb energy from the road’s impact on the wheels. This is where the term shock absorber comes from, and this is what keeps your car from turning into a trampoline when you want to go to the store. Shocks and struts work in tandem with a type of spring suspension, which can come in three forms: coil, leaf, or torsion bar. Vehicles—usually trucks—that have a leaf or torsion bar suspension will typically come with shocks. Coil spring suspension systems can have either a shock or a strut depending on the system’s design.

new strut replacement part with coil spring
Strut with Coil Spring

A shock looks different from a strut, and both exist for different reasons. Some suspension systems were designed to have, for example, a strut support the wheel knuckle. Struts are an integral part that other parts rely on to function. Shocks can usually be removed without affecting another part.

Read more about the difference between shocks and struts.

Read about how to test your shocks or struts.

What Kind of Shocks Do I Need?

The suspension system of your car and the kind of vehicle you have will determine the kind of shocks you’ll need. All suspension systems have two parts: a dampener (shock or strut) and a way of supporting the body off of the ground to maintain ride height, and this can be achieved with a spring suspension—coil, leaf, or torsion bar—or an air suspension system.

Air Suspension

If you have an air suspension system, you’ll need to replace the entire assembly. If you want to replace the entire air suspension, you can buy a conversion kit.

Spring Suspension

If you have a spring suspension system, you’ll need to find out what kind of shock you have.

Coil Spring over the Shock

Replace a coil-over shock one of the same kind—otherwise there will be nothing supporting the body. And just purchasing a shock absorber with a spring isn’t enough. It also needs to have the same spring rate as the original or the spring will be ineffective and your vehicle’s body will have no support.

Heavy Duty

Shocks made for heavy duty or commercial vehicles will be different from shocks made for passenger cars. They’ll have a larger reserve tube and will be thicker in size. It just depends on the type of vehicle you have and if the shock is compatible with it. If you’re looking for struts that can support heavy loads on light duty trucks, you can also shocks find for that. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

Auto-Adjust

If your vehicle is equipped with an auto-adjust or automatic leveling feature, you’ll want to find a shock that can adapt to that. These are usually used to distribute the weight evenly.

Gas

Almost all shocks use some form of gas and oil to absorb the kinetic energy from the wheel. You’ll want to make sure the new shock is compatible with your vehicle, and you can do this by locating the OEM part number to learn about the kind of shock you have. Terms like monotube and twin-tube will describe a type of shock, but to make it easy, monotubes and adjustable shocks are more for performance, but monotube shocks can come as original equipment on some vehicles.

What Kind of Struts Do I Need?

Since struts are usually on vehicles with coil spring suspension, and the coil is usually attached to the strut, you’ll most likely need to replace the entire assembly. There are many struts that come with pre-assembled springs, so that all you need to do is remove the old strut and install the new assembly without having to disassemble the coil spring on the old strut and reassemble it on the new one.

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