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What Are Shocks and Struts?

Sep 3, 2021 ·

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The suspension system is an important part of a vehicle that helps improve handling by maximizing the friction between the tires and the road.

There are many different parts that make up the suspension system, and each plays a role in keeping the car in control and smoothing out the ride. Shocks and struts are two components that should be kept in good condition to ensure your suspension is working effectively.

Keep reading to learn more about struts versus shocks, what they do and how to know when to replace them.

What Are Struts?

Struts are considered a structural part of the suspension system. They are typically used on front-wheel-drive vehicles, although they are sometimes used on rear-wheel-drive vehicles as well.

A strut combines several suspension components into one assembly. The parts incorporated include shock absorbers and coil springs. The strut body connects to a steering knuckle attached to a lower control arm and ball joint, and struts replace the upper control arm.

Struts help dampen the movements of coil springs, which are used to support the weight of a vehicle and keep it handling properly over bumps, hills and other imperfections in the road. Along with helping improve control of the car, struts help the springs support vehicle weight.

What Are Shocks?

Also known as shock absorbers, shocks are parts that help control the rebound movement and impact of the springs and suspension on a vehicle. They are also responsible for ensuring the tires remain in contact with the surface of the road.

Shocks control the springs and suspension by turning kinetic energy into thermal energy that’s dissipated through hydraulic fluid. Key components of the shock absorber that help with this process include a piston, coil and hydraulic fluid.

When a car’s suspension is moving, hydraulic fluid is forced through holes in the piston. Only a small amount is let through, which slows the piston, affecting the movement of the springs and suspension.

The faster a suspension moves, the more resistance a shock absorber has. The effects include a reduced rate of bouncing on the road, swaying and brake diving.

Struts vs. Shocks

You may have heard the terms strut and shock used interchangeably, but it’s important to note that they are completely different parts. While they both have similar jobs of dampening the movement of a vehicle to help it maintain control on the road, they cannot be used interchangeably.

The main difference between the two lies in the fact that struts are a structural part of a vehicle’s suspension, while shocks are not. Many vehicles have shocks on one axle and struts on another, depending on what kind of suspension is present. While this is the case, not all vehicles have struts and may use separate springs and shocks in place of them.

You can tell whether your vehicle has struts or shocks by looking, checking your owner’s manual or asking a trained automotive technician (who can also tell you if they need to be replaced soon). You can also read below for some signs your shocks and struts might be wearing out.

When to Replace Shocks and Struts

A general rule of thumb is to replace your shocks or struts between 50,000 and 100,000 miles, but this can vary based on several factors, including the type of roads you regularly drive on.

These components will wear down over time, which means you might not notice any issues right away. However, there are some things you can be on the lookout for:

  • Increased bumpiness: The main job of shocks and struts is to improve handling, so if you notice that your car feels a lot bumpier or shakier on the road, it’s a good idea to get these components looked at.
  • Brake problems: Damaged struts and shocks can cause issues with other parts of your vehicle. Brake diving can feel like your car is lurching forward when you step on the brake pedal, which can be a sign of wear and tear.
  • Tire wear: Checking your tires often is important for many reasons, and their condition can point you in the direction of getting your shocks or struts looked at. Suspension damage can cause cups or scalloped dips in tire treads.
  • Leaks: Fluid leaking on the outside of your shocks or struts is another sign something might be wrong. A lack of fluid will prevent them from being able to absorb impacts and bumps.

Taking your vehicle to a trained auto tech can help you identify the source of any problems and allow you to replace your shocks or struts if needed!

Train on Suspension Systems at UTI

If you’d like to train for a hands-on career as an automotive technician, the Automotive Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) can help prepare you for the industry.1 You can learn skills in interactive labs that could be applied to an entry-level position.

Courses cover a range of topics, including “Vehicle Steering and Suspension Service and Repair.” You’ll learn about the parts of a suspension system, how to use hand tools for assembly and disassembly, and how to use alignment equipment.

Not only will your education benefit you in your career journey, you could also gain the knowledge and tools required to make repairs on your own vehicle! And the program is designed to be completed in just 51 weeks.7 Request more information today!

With classes starting every 3-6 weeks, no need to wait to start your career.
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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

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7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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