If there are two terms that are usually interchanged, and often wrongly, when it comes to cars, it’s the words struts and shocks. Are these two words really different? Or are these two words that basically mean the same thing. Let’s take a look at car struts and solve this mystery once and for all.
Understanding Car Struts
So, what is a car strut? Struts are part of your car’s overall suspension system. They hold the body of the car up and off the ground. Struts are not a single unit as is often wrongly assumed but they incorporate many suspension assembly parts, such as the coil spring and shock absorber. Because of their design and positioning, they directly affect your car’s steering and alignment.
So what purpose do car struts serve? They provide support to the suspension springs and act as shock absorbers, that is, they support the weight of the car and provide a smooth ride by damping when the car hits bumps. In essence, struts serve the purpose of keeping your car level when you are driving on bumpy terrain.
Do All Cars Have Struts?
Another question that is frequently asked is whether all cars have struts. No, not all cars have struts. Some car designs feature a suspension that features separate springs and shock absorbers, with the car’s weight being supported by the shocks. In other designs, the manufacturers opt to place struts only on the front wheels.
The reason for this is a bit complex but it all boils down to a trade-off between cost and simplicity (struts are the winner here) and performance and handling (some types of suspension systems without struts).
So do all cars have struts? No. But how do you tell if your car has struts or shocks? Now that’s a great question, and the answer is simple.
The major difference between struts and shock absorbers is their design and appearance. Shock absorbers often have the appearance of an upright spring or/and pneumatic pump while struts are usually installed horizontally, and actually look like they are an extension of the wheel itself. So go out and look at what your car has been fitted with.
Signs Your Struts are Wearing Out (Or Damaged)
It is very easy to tell if your struts are wearing down or are worn out, there are many signs that will help you determine that. Here are a few:
The Hood Test
Pushing the hood of your car down by hand is the first and easiest test you can use to determine if your struts are worn out or not. If they are okay, your car will come up and settle. If they are worn out it will bounce up and down a couple of times.
Even when driving, observe the hood when you hit a bump. If it bounces, you need new struts, your current ones are worn out. Besides the bouncing, check if your car is “bottoming out”, or becoming lower at the front (that’s where struts are usually placed), sometimes even scraping the ground. If your car is bottoming out, you need to replace your struts.
The Hydraulic Fluid Test
Struts have hydraulic oil in them that helps with the damping effect. A worn out strut will sometimes start leaking out this oil, resulting in the strut becoming less effective in serving its purpose. You can notice this oil on the ground when you move your car from where it had been standing. A quick look at the struts will help you determine if that’s where the oil is really coming from.
The Tire Test
When struts get worn out, they cause your tires to become unevenly aligned, leading to them wearing out unevenly. As this uneven wear continues, the wheels will start having a wobbly sensation as you drive. This is one of the reasons why it is important for you to regularly check your tires, they tell you more about your car than you may think.
So Your Struts Are Worn Out, Here’s What You Should Do
So you’ve had your struts inspected and the unfortunate verdict is that they are worn out or damaged. Take heart, that’s not the end of your car, it’s actually a simple fix. And yes the rumors are true, replacing struts is more expensive than replacing shocks as struts can cost on average $700 a set while shocks can set you back an average of $125 a set. And whatever anyone says, even your mechanic, never replace one strut at a time. Always replace them in pairs, otherwise, they will both wear out faster.
Enjoy your ride.