Your vehicle may have shocks, struts, or a combination of the two! The overall function of shock absorbers and struts is the same; to keep the tire firmly planted while driving over varying conditions. A suspension system that is designed with shock absorbers can move and hold weight without the shock in place. On the other hand, a Strut Suspension system relies on the strut assembly to support the upper portion of the suspension. A key visual difference is that a strut will have a coil spring at the upper end to support the weight of the vehicle. Shock suspension systems also use springs to support weight although they are serviced separately from the shock.
Speaking of springs, another suspension style more common in older vehicles and trucks is a leaf spring. A leaf spring is a long flat to a slightly curved section of spring steel. If you see leaf springs on your car the attached dampener is a shock absorber.
Struts are very common on the front suspension of late model vehicles. Mounted in the front suspension, the strut will support the vehicle weight, facilitate turning and dampen the tire to the road. The strut that you see under your car is an assembly. The assembly is made up of a strut, coil spring, strut mount, and insulators. When it comes time for replacing the parts can be replaced individually or as a complete assembly.
Shock absorbers on the other hand are one piece. As in the picture they are commonly mounted with a single bolt through an eyelet at the bottom and a stud or single eyelet at the top.
The primary function of a shock absorber is to keep the tire in contact with the road at all times. The shock absorber will dampen the movement of the suspension while firmly planting the tire to the pavement. Keeping the tire firmly planted allows the vehicle to have a proper road grip. This road grip is responsible for steering, traction and proper braking. additionally, a failed or malfunctioning shock absorber will cause the tires to wear poorly.
Some signs of a failed shock absorber are fluid leakage, harsh ride, excess body roll, increased stopping distance, cupped tires, and worn tires. Under normal operating conditions a quality shock absorber can last over 50,000 miles before replacement. Depending on the suspension of your vehicle you may have struts rather than shocks.
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