What’s the Difference Between Shocks and Struts?

The difference between shocks and struts is that a strut is more complex and has a few more jobs than a shock, like assisting with steering.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Shocks and struts are both crucial components of a car’s suspension system, but they have some key differences. While both help with shock absorption, a strut is more complex and has a few more jobs, like assisting with steering.
While shocks and struts have similarities and are often used interchangeably in conversation, they’re two very different kinds of parts, and you can’t replace one with the other. 
So what are the major differences between shocks and struts?
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Struts vs. shocks: what’s the difference?

Before getting into the differences between shocks and struts, let’s look at what they have in common.
While they’re completely different parts, a shock and a strut both have the same essential function on a vehicle. They’re both a key part of shock absorption on a vehicle’s suspension system, which:
  • Regulates body and tire movement
  • Reduces bouncing
  • Maintains wheel alignment
  • Controls handling and braking

What is a shock?

A shock controls spring and suspension movement using hydraulic components. Essentially, it works as a shock absorber. If one of your tires were to dip into a pothole, a shock will respond to make the ride less jolting.
To do that, the pressurized hydraulic fluid and piston work against each other to create resistance, which helps slow down suspension system movement and absorb the shock.
Contrary to popular belief, a shock doesn’t actually help support vehicle weight. Still, a good quality shock will help manage the stress your vehicle experiences on the road, and as a result, reduce
wear and tear
on other parts of your vehicle.

Components of a shock

The components of a shock typically include:
  • Piston: Works against pressurized hydraulic fluid 
  • Hydraulic fluid: When pressurized, helps with bouncing resistance
  • Coil/spring: Allows for up-and-down movement in response to road conditions and helps shocks support vehicle weight (which the shocks themselves do not do)

What is a strut?

A strut is more complex than a shock, and as such, it’s usually more expensive. A strut also works as a shock absorber with the help of hydraulic fluid.
Unlike a shock, however, a strut does help support vehicle weight. A strut also plays a crucial role in a vehicle’s steering system and affects vehicle alignment

Components of a strut

Struts compact a number of key suspension parts into one. What they consist of can vary depending on the type of strut, but components generally include:
  • Coil spring: Helps support vehicle weight and responds to bumps in the road
  • Shock absorbers: Absorb impact from various road irregularities, like bumps or potholes
  • Strut bearing: Functions as a pivot point for front strut assemblies
  • Spring seats: Helps contain the top portion of spring and strut assembly
  • Steering knuckle: Functions as a pivot point for the steering system

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While a shock and strut both work as shock absorbers and are a crucial part of a vehicle’s suspension system, a strut is more complex and has additional functions, like assisting with steering and supporting vehicle weight.
Yes—depending on the vehicle, a suspension system could have only shocks, only struts, or a combination of the two. 
If you’re not sure what your vehicle uses, you can always check your owner’s manual for details on the suspension system.
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