What Are Shocks On a Car—and When Do You Replace Them?

Ever wondered the difference between shocks and struts? Jerry breaks down these essential features here.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Dec 19, 2022
Shocks and struts are both important components in your car’s suspension system, but they’re not interchangeable. Rather, they work together to help you maintain a smooth and comfortable ride on whatever road you drive. 
Whether you’re a car enthusiast or layperson, a mechanic or business owner, you’ve probably fallen victim to the common conflation of “shocks” and “struts.” For so many people inside and outside the professional car world, shocks and struts have become synonymous terms. But, technically speaking, they’re not—and it’s important to know the difference. 
If you’ve ever wondered what that difference is, exactly, you’re not alone—which is why
, the
car insurance
super app
, is here with the official breakdown. In this article, we’ll be covering the basics of shocks vs. struts, including what they do, where they’re located, and how to tell when yours are wearing out. 

Shocks vs. struts 

Shocks and struts are both important components in your vehicle’s suspension system, and they both function with the same intent: to keep your vehicle rolling smoothly and comfortably on the road
Shocks and struts work together to:
  • Make sure your wheels respond to steering 
  • Maintain traction between your tires and the road
  • Keep your car balanced around turns and over bumps
  • Reduce swaying, bouncing, and jerky movement
When you hit a pothole or drive on rocky roads, your shocks and struts do the work of mitigating the impact—both for your car and for your comfort. 
But despite their similarities, shocks and struts are not the same, and they’re not interchangeable to your vehicle. 

What do shocks and struts do? 

Your shocks and struts help keep you safe and comfortable when you drive, especially on rough roads. But how exactly do these parts of your vehicle actually function? Let’s take a closer look.


Shocks keep your tires in contact with the road surface and help your coil springs absorb any harsh impacts. 
By absorbing impact, shocks also help you maintain control and safe handling of your vehicle.


Struts, on the other hand,are a combination of two components—the shock absorbers and coil springs—merged into a solitary unit. 
Like shocks, your struts are partially responsible for absorbing rough impacts. But they’re also responsible for providing structural support to your vehicle by replacing the upper control arm and ball joint of traditional suspensions. 
Struts also aid in maintaining steering and wheel alignment. 

Where are shocks and struts located?

Shocks and struts typically come in pairs, with the front wheels and rear wheels of your vehicle having either a shock or strut attached. 
The exact configuration of your vehicle’s shocks and struts can vary, but in most modern cars, you’ll find struts along the front axle and shocks along the rear
If your shocks or struts are starting to fade, you’ll notice changes in your ride comfort and possibly ride quality. 
But bad shocks and struts can make for more than just a bumpy ride—they can also hurt your steering and traction, resulting in unsafe driving conditions. 

How do I know when I need new shocks and struts? 

In general, shocks and strutswear out between 50,000 and 100,000 miles, but if you frequently find yourself driving on rough roads or towing heavy loads, they can wear out more quickly.
Aggressive driving
can also lead to early failure of your shocks and struts. 
But spotting the symptoms of bad shocks and struts can be difficult. The resulting changes in your vehicle’s performance can occur gradually over time, making them harder to notice. 
These symptoms also tend to overlap with signs of other problems, making them harder to diagnose.

Signs that your shocks and struts are wearing out

If you’re looking for ways to tell when your shocks and/or struts are wearing out, watch out for these common signs: 
  • Excessive vehicle bounce. If your rides are growing increasingly bumpier, or if you momentarily lose control of your steering when hitting a rough patch in the road, you may need to have your shocks and/or struts replaced. 
  • Fluid leak. If you notice hydraulic fluid coating the exterior of your shocks and/or struts, this could be a sign of these parts failing. Without enough fluid, your shocks and struts can’t absorb impacts effectively. You may also notice your steering wheel makes noise when turning. 
  • Treadwear.
    Uneven tire wear
    can be a tell-tale sign of bad struts or shocks, since both play a role in maintaining adequate traction between your tires and the road. 
  • Vehicle imbalance. When your shocks and struts wear out, it will throw your entire vehicle out of balance. You may notice your car sways when you try to brake or turn, or that the front end seems to nosedive when you slam the brakes. This can be a dangerous symptom, since it also impacts your stopping distance when braking.
  • Lack of control at high speeds. If you’re experiencing uneven weight distribution or imbalance when driving, you may notice it most at high speeds. Bad struts and shocks can make your vehicle sway when you change lanes and even impact your steering. 

How to buy replacement shocks and struts

If left alone, worn shocks and struts can start to damage other components in your suspension system, along with your wheels and tires. 
Worn shocks and struts can decrease the effectiveness and response times of other major vehicle systems including your anti-lock braking system, steering system, traction control, and more.  
As a part of
basic car maintenance
, you should have your shocks and struts looked at once a year or so. You’ll likely need to go to a mechanic for assistance. This is also a good time to check on the condition of any parts connected to your shocks and struts, like the bearing mounts, shock boots, and rubber bump stops. 
When it comes to shock and strut replacement, you’ll need to tackle them in pairs. Replacing the shocks and/or struts on both axles is an even better idea if consistent and reliable handling is your top priority. 

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