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When people speak casually about vehicle suspension, they often throw around the terms “shocks” and “struts” as if they are the same thing, or interchangeable. They’re not.

Every wheel on your vehicle has either a shock or a strut – never both, never neither.

However, you may have struts on your front wheels and shocks on your rear wheels. To determine what combination of shocks and struts you have on your vehicle, first we need to learn a bit more about what they are.

What do shocks and struts do?

The reason these components are sometimes thought to be the same thing is because they perform essentially the same task. Both shocks and struts work to dampen the movement of your wheels to inhibit any swinging or bouncing. Although these components perform the same task, you can never replace one for the other. Whether it’s suspension for a Toyota Camry or for a Chevy Silverado, each of your vehicle’s wheels are designed to work with a shock or a strut, and it will have to stay that way.


As for the differences, a strut is a key structural element of your steering system while a shock is not. Your camber and caster angles are typically adjusted on the strut itself, and your strut and its characteristics will greatly affect your alignment. A strut acts as a pivot point for the steering system and includes integrated coil springs.

Because a strut is such an integral part of your suspension system, without it your vehicle would fall straight down to the ground. This is not necessarily the case with shocks.


While a shock is also designed to absorb and recover from bumps on the road, this component does not shoulder the weight of the vehicle. A shock houses a piston within a sealed tube and is usually filled with gas or liquid which works as a buffer against bumps.

In principle, a shock absorber works the same as an oil pump. As pressure is applied, hydraulic fluid or gas is forced through a series of small holes. By only allowing a tiny amount of material to come through these holes, the force of a bump is greatly weakened, providing the driver with a smoother ride.

How to tell if your vehicle has shocks or struts?

While it can vary from model to model, the best way to determine what your vehicle has is by general appearance. Shocks are more likely to look like a spring or a pumping mechanism and are almost always installed standing upright.

Struts on the underhand tend to be installed horizontally and can be more difficult to see. Once you locate them you’ll know, because struts appear to be extensions of the wheels themselves and are clearly essential components for keeping your axles off the ground.

As always, it’s best to consult your owner’s manual for the most accurate information about your particular make and model of car, truck, or SUV. As a general rule, it’s recommended you replace your shocks every 12,000 miles, and replace your struts every 50,000 miles.

Some signs of failing shocks or struts include taking potholes and speed bumps especially hard, a front-end nose-dive when braking, and any signs of leaking hydraulic shock fluid.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information answering the question “does my vehicle have shocks or struts?”, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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