new shocks struts on a vehicle in a shop

Shocks vs Struts: How To Tell the Difference

Shock absorbers and struts provide stability to your car, steadying your tires and suspension in order to prevent jolts every time you accelerate or hit a rough patch in the road. Both of these features are vital to smooth steering and acceleration. Their internal structures are similar, but they work differently and take up a different position under vehicles. Below, you can learn the difference between shocks vs struts.

How Do Struts and Shocks Work?

Shock absorbers don’t support the weight of a vehicle, but they do control the movement of your suspension and springs to keep the wheels steady. They do this by taking the suspension’s kinetic energy and turning it into thermal energy that can be absorbed by the hydraulic fluid.

Shock absorbers generate resistance against the piston in response to the speed at which the suspension moves. Some are velocity-sensitive, which means that they adjust to driving conditions, counteracting the following:

  • Swaying
  • Bouncing movements
  •  Vehicle dive
  •  Squatting while accelerating

Struts can be found mostly on vehicles with front wheel drive and are a part of a suspension’s structure. This is one of the main difference between shocks vs struts because shocks are separate from the suspension system. The struts hold tires in place, keeping them aligned and supporting the spring.

Typical suspension systems have an upper ball joint and upper arm, but a strut takes the place of these two components, with the benefit of being more compact. By taking up this position, they allow the suspension assembly to move along with the vehicle as its direction changes. Struts support the weight of your vehicle using the coil spring, and a damping unit controls the movement of the suspension and the spring. The strut housing provides a rigid casing for these two internal parts.

Are Shocks and Struts Interchangeable?

Shocks and struts have some internal similarities and perform a similar function. Both make use of a piston to push against hydraulic fluid, which allows them to stabilize against your vehicle’s movement. Shock absorbers house a piston and piston rod, which push against the hydraulic fluid in the pressure tube. When the suspension moves, hydraulic fluid is pushed through holes in the piston in order to slow it down. Once it slows, the suspension and spring slow down as a result.

Struts also include the piston and piston rod to control the movement of the suspension and springs, by pushing the hydraulic fluid. The struts resist the up-and-down movement of the suspension and respond to speed by increasing or decreasing the amount of resistance generated.

Though they are similar, vehicles will only have one of these parts at each wheel, never both on one. Any replacement parts should match the original. Shocks cannot be replaced by struts.

When To Replace Shocks and Struts

For most drivers, failing shocks and struts become apparent when they change how it feels to drive a car. Once your shocks or struts stop effectively providing stability to your car, your ride gets much rougher. Roads suddenly seem much bumpier than before, and steering often becomes more difficult and less precise. Braking can also seem shakier than before. Visible leaking fluid is another sign they are worn out.

Because this feature controls so much about your tires, it can cause unusual patterns of tread or tires that seem to be wearing out faster than usual. Lots of driving can also cause them to wear out faster, and an inspection every 50,000 miles can help you identify old or damaged parts before they cause any issues.

Replacing Your Struts or Shocks in Mesa, AZ

Both shocks and struts are vital to controlling your car’s movement. For a smooth, comfortable ride, it’s important to have them inspected regularly. Make an appointment for a thorough inspection at Highline Car Care today.

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Image: Nixx Photography