Shocks vs. Struts: A Guide for Students in Auto Technician Courses

car repair course
When you begin working in a garage or auto repair shop, one question you might get from customers is: what is the difference between shocks and struts? Even you may wonder about the difference, since the terms struts and shocks are often used interchangeably. Shocks and struts do the same thing: they dampen the shock and help minimize the bounce of the vehicle, so the confusion is understandable.

But, while they have the same job, shocks and struts are not the same things. Knowing the differences between the two will help you a lot during your automotive technician career.

Shocks Have Just One Job: Prevent the Vehicle from Bouncing

Let’s start by looking at shocks, since these are quite a bit simpler than struts. A vehicle’s shocks do one thing and one thing only: they keep the vehicle from bouncing wildly. When a vehicle’s shocks are completely worn out, then going over a speed bump or a pothole can feel like riding a bucking bronco! Technically you can still drive a car with completely worn out shocks, but doing so is dangerous and uncomfortable.

Shocks may use a number of different methods, such as a coil, hydraulics, or leaf spring to help dampen the bounce that can result from driving over rough terrain. Many shocks in today’s vehicles use a combination of these methods. The good news if you’re considering an auto repair career is that shocks are pretty easy to replace. Finding replacement parts is also usually simple since shocks can be mass produced cheaply.

Why Should You Learn About Struts in Your Auto Technician Courses?

Struts, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. While struts, like shocks, dampen some of the shock that a vehicle experiences going over rough terrain, they also help maintain the vehicle’s height. Struts include a place where a coil spring can be mounted and it is this spring that maintains the height of the vehicle. While vehicles with shocks also have springs to maintain height, the shocks and springs are separate parts.

Because struts are a structural part of the entire suspension system, replacing them is costly and difficult. You will need to remove and disassemble the entire coil and strut apparatus and reassemble it afterwards. Given that struts are far more complicated to replace than shocks, you may be wondering what their advantage is. The answer is simple: struts can be installed on the production line at the same time as the spring, hub, and brakes, which helps keep the cost of the vehicle down for buyers.

While difficult to replace in a car repair shop, struts are easier to install during vehicle assembly

While difficult to replace in a car repair shop, struts are easier to install during vehicle assembly

Auto Technicians Should Focus on Safety When Replacing Shocks and Struts

Safety is a big issue when replacing shocks and struts after your car repair courses. For one, struts and shocks should always be replaced in pairs: one pair for the front wheels and one for the rear wheels. Not replacing them in pairs could compromise the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. When replacing the strut, be extremely careful with the spring. Since that spring is helping hold up the weight of the entire vehicle, it is storing a lot of energy. You will need to use a spring compressor when taking it off the car—otherwise it may shoot off and cause serious injury.

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Categories: ATC News, Cambridge
Tags: auto repair career, Auto technician courses, car repair course

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