Shocks vs. Struts: What’s the Difference?

Vehicles are one of the essential inventions in the technological age, which ushered us into the 20th century. When looking at the car, you cannot help but be amazed by the several parts it is made of that work in harmony for it to run. With the elements as the central area of interest, the debate looms on shocks vs. struts.

Aside from the engine, the axle part is essential as it is the initiator of the vehicle’s motion. When the focus is on the axle and wheel region, you cannot overlook the suspension part. The suspension consists of the shock absorber, struts, the springs, the tire, and its pressure for smooth handling when on roads.

We are going to focus on the important elements of the car suspension unit, the struts, and shock absorber. Both function in an almost similar manner in absorbing shocks and maintaining vehicle balance. They are set on all wheels of the car for an even distribution of stability. The two are, most of the time, confused for the other. Let us look at each of the components to understand them and their role in the car.


The shock absorber is a hydraulic system that functions by absorbing and reducing kinetic energy during movement. The impact of the wheel on the surface has the action of generates force whose impact can be a lot for the chassis of the car. Here is where the shock absorber comes to play and absorbs much of the impact and oscillates the rest.

The shocks also ensure that the vehicle’s wheels are always in contact with the road. They also prevent the wheels from bouncing off the road surface, which may topple the car in severe cases. ( Amazon Link )


How Do Shock Absorbers Work?

To understand how shock absorbers work, you need first to understand their structure. The part consists of a cylinder filled with oil and a piston that moves through the tube.

In case of impact, the piston moves through the cylinder and pushes the oil through a system of tiny holes and valves. For the oil to move, the kinetic energy from the motions gets converted to heat energy. As only a little amount of oil is let into the holes, the piston slows down, subsequently slowing down the suspension motion.

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Types of Shock Absorbers

There are several types of dampers that you can come across, each using different mechanisms to contribute to the strength of the vehicle’s suspension system. The following are various types of shocks.

Twin Tube Design

The twin-tube design is one of the most common dampers you can come across with their use spread from trucks to passenger cars. Just as their name implies, it consists of two tubes, the outer shell and the inner shell where the piston moves. Under the twin-tube design, there are further subcategories, as evident below.

The Basic Twin Tube Damper

The basic twin tube’s build consists of two tubes, the inner tube referred to as the pressure tube and the reserve tube, which is the outer tube. At its base is the base valve or compression valve that allows the hydraulic fluid to move from the orifices as it initiates the conversion of kinetic energy to heat energy.

Gas Charged Twin Tube

The gas-charged twin-tube shock absorber is similar in design to the basic twin-tube shock, though with some modifications. It comes to sort out the issue of foaming of the hydraulic fluid in the case of overheating.  To curb the problem of foaming, a low-pressure charge of nitrogen gas is added to the reserve tube. It features in many modern vehicles and new age damper systems.

Positive Sensitive Damping Shocks

The positive, sensitive damping shocks are an advancement of the basic twin-tube damper, which also features the low-pressure nitrogen gas. The pressure chamber features grooves that allow for the free movement of the piston in the comfort zone and restricted movement in irregular road surfaces. The concept of this shock absorber allows manufacturers to craft dampers specific to car type, weight, and also the type of terrain.

Acceleration Sensitive Dumping

The acceleration of sensitive dumping is the next improvement stage in shock absorber development.  Its properties see it work in response to individual changes in response to bumps and variations of terrain to ensure a smooth ride. The focus point in effecting these changes was on the compression valve and helped achieve depreciated pitch when braking or rolls when turning.

Monotube Shocks

Monotube shocks consist of one tube, the pressure tube, where it has two pistons, the working piston, and the dividing piston. The monotube shocks lack the base valves; instead, the piston takes charge of the control during compression and extension.

The other thing is that you can place it on either side, upside down or right side up and will work correctly.

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On to the other side of the shocks vs. struts debates, we shift focus to struts.  Struts are components of the vehicle’s suspension system and help out in achieving the balance of the car.  The struts also offer support of the vehicle and absorption of shocks courtesy of impacts due to road irregularity. The strut is kind of versatile as it achieves these functions, which are the designation of other car parts.


Components Of A Strut

The strut system consists of two parts, a spring, and a shock absorber. Depending on the make and use of the automobile, the configuration of the spring and shock absorber may vary. At times the shock absorber is below the spring or at times; the spring coils around the cylindrical shell of the damper.

Together they work to ensure the integrity of the suspension system, especially on rough terrain. Despite the name shock absorber, the absorption side is mainly tackled by the spring courtesy of its recoiling motion. The shock absorber prevents the continuous up and down bouncing off the car after hitting bumps.

Due to the duties, it has in maintaining the car suspension system, the strut is usually more robust as compared to the sole shock absorber. They are generally long-lasting, though you need to keep an eye on them in case of wear and tear. If the struts get beat, you need to replace them promptly.

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Types Of Struts

Car struts are not much variable, but some may differ slightly in structure. Below are some of the standard struts you may come along.

Macpherson Strut

The Macpherson strut is a component of most modern vehicle suspension systems and uses the upper part of the telescopic damper as its top steering point. This type of strut uses the wishbone with its stability boosted by a secondary link.

It is commonly used for front wheels taking on a triangular design. Two parts are prominent in the Macpherson strut system, the radius rod, and the control arm. The triangular shape assumed, is at the bottom of the suspension system in most cases.

The control arm places the wheel in a lateral position while the radius controls its movement. The two components integrate into one piece with a stabilizing bar as the secondary link for the chassis and the suspension system.

The spring and shock absorbing unit, the essential component of the strut system, is placed vertically to the strut. An enclosed cylinder, which locks to the top of the hub, contains the damper unit. A wide collar at the top accommodates the coil, as the damper unit runs across it and fastens to the chassis.

What Are Loaded Struts?

Loaded struts look at their packaging. These types of struts come already assembled and are ready for installation. Some quarters refer to them as quick struts.

Quick struts vs. struts? Quick struts are the better option as they provide minimal work when fixing it onto your car. Monroe shocks stock this type of struts, and you can contact them if you want this part for your vehicle.

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We cannot end the shocks vs. struts conversation without touching on coilovers. It leads onto another debate, shocks vs. struts vs. coilovers, which to opt for? Coilovers are more into the shock absorber category and features the damper encircled with a spring. They are mostly used on a double-wishbone suspension system featuring prominently in the motorsport scene.

shocks vs struts vs coilovers

The main components of the Coilover unit are the spring and the shock absorber. The two parts are separately manufactured then assembled into one. They are adjustable, and you can tune them to fit the dynamics brought over by weight and the nature of the surface.


The spring prevents the bottoming out of the chassis and also reduces the chance of rollovers, especially during turning or braking. It also comes in handy in curbing driving when the car is decelerating and squatting during acceleration.

What Is The Difference Between Shocks And Struts?

As earlier hinted, struts and shocks are confusing to many, and you may wrongly use the two terms interchangeably in referring to different parts of a vehicle’s suspension unit. The two differ widely, the common thing between them being their role in the suspension system.

Shocks Vs. Struts

Structure And Use

The standout difference between the shock absorber and the strut is that the strut is a structural component of the vehicle while the damper is not. Structurally, they are also quite different. The shock absorber is like an oil pump and takes on a cylindrical appearance. Inside the cylindrical chamber, there is the oil or hydraulic fluid that works following laws of resistance to maintain vehicle balance over bumpy surfaces.

The strut, on the other hand, as structural components, has the damping unit, which is another name for the shock absorber. It also has a coil that goes around the tubular frame of the absorber. On use, the strut maintains the stability of the vehicle by providing support. The strut system also allows the car to respond to the driver’s move initiation on the steering wheel.

Struts are mostly placed on the front wheels though, in some car models, they can also support the rear wheels. Shock absorbers support both the front wheels. It is not uncommon to have the shocks struts suspension combo, where the front wheels are on struts and the rear on the damping unit

Shocks And Struts Cost

When it comes to cost, there is also a clear difference between the two. The absorbers cost between $100 to $200 depending on the retailer and make per piece. The price is quite low when compared to that of struts, which is somewhere between $700 and $780 per set, including installation.

Serving Time

The serving period of both struts and shock absorbers is relative with several factors coming to play, such as the road surface, vehicle activity, and car make. On smooth surfaces, you may even go up over six years before needing a replacement of either of the suspension components.

However, pundits in the automobile industry recommend a check-up of the systems for every 50000 miles for shocks and 60000-100000 miles for the strut system.

Shocks and Struts: What’s the difference? ( YouTube Video)

Frequently Asked Questions

Question:  Are struts the same as shocks?

Answer:  No, they are two different components, each with its specific function. Shock absorbers reduce vibrations on hitting uneven surfaces, while struts maintain the stability of the vehicle and are integral structural components of the car.

Question:  What are the signs of bad shocks?

Answer: Bad shocks are adverse for the overall integrity of your car and can spell hazards. Be on the lookout for the following signs, which alert you of a case of poor shocks.

  • Dripping fluid on the exterior of the shock absorber cylinder.
  • Instability when accelerating.
  • Slanting of the car to one side.
  • Unusual wear and tear of the tires.
  • Try the bouncing test to check on the condition of the dampers of your car’s strut unit. Push the hood down, and it should come to rest immediately. If it bounces almost four times, then it has an issue with the shocks.
  • Car veering or winding unusually. It may be accompanied by rocking or rattling sounds, especially when you are on a smooth surface like the highway.
  • Delayed stopping points and instability of the steering system. Learn More by Clicking hear

Question: Do cars have both shocks and struts?

Answer:  Some cars have both shocks and struts as part of their suspension unit. You may come across a situation where the front wheels have the strut while rear wheels are on shocks or vice versa. The only way to tell is by looking at the shape. Shocks look like a pump and may have a spring. Struts, on the other hand, have a slanting appearance and seem to be part of the wheel.

Question: How much does it cost to replace shocks and struts?

Answer: The cost of replacing shocks and struts depends on a lot of factors such as the type and the manufacturer. The average prices stand at $150 apiece for a shock absorber and $750 for a strut, including installation costs.

Question: Is it ok to drive with bad shocks?

Answer: Driving with w shocks is dangerous as it may cause accidents due to instability. It also leads to the damage of parts such as wheels.

Question: When to replace shocks and struts?

Answer: You need to have your shocks and struts after a period of 50000 miles and up to 100000 miles, respectively. Have a qualified hand check it out to see whether they need replacement.

Question: Do bad struts make noise?

Answer: In case you have bad struts, rattling or rocking sound can be one indicator of the problem.

Shocks Vs. Struts

Final Word

The car suspension system is one of its crucial components. Among the elements of this system are the struts and the shock absorbers. Many confuse them to be the same; however, they are not. They differ both structurally and functionally, though they complement each other.

Coupled together, they help in maintaining the vehicle’s stability and absorb impact, especially on rough roads. Always ensure that they are in the right condition for a smooth session while hitting different kinds of road surfaces.

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