Trucks are designed to get used. Whether you haul a trailer or two tons of bricks, how the truck handles its payload depends in large part by the shocks. How the factory outfitted your truck varies greatly, some trucks are sold as work trucks with heavy-duty shocks and springs, but most trucks on the road today have light-duty shocks, enough to keep the ride smooth with a modest load in the bed. Drop in a near-capacity weight, and then things are not so smooth on the way home or to the worksite. As your trucks ages, the shocks will also wear out, leading to a bouncy ride that seems more like a bucking bronco.
You are not limited to whatever your truck came with from the factory. However, there are several ways to upgrade your shock absorbers to give you better load handling and unloaded ride comfort. On most trucks you can do it all yourself in your driveway in less than a couple of hours, or let your local NAPA AutoCare knock it out even faster.
When it comes to picking out your shocks, there are a lot of options. The factory shocks are capable of handling most applications, but there are always better options. A few minutes at your local NAPA store will have you wondering what you need. Here is a quick guide to choosing a shock.
Most factory shocks are of the twin tube variety. This design uses a large inner tube for the fluid and second thinner tube (outer tube) that holds fluid and a gas charge. This provides the best ride and comfort for street use.
These shocks use one tube and two pistons, where the fluid and gas are separated by the pistons, not the tube. Off-roaders prefer mono-tube shocks, as they can be mounted upside down and run cooler than a twin-tube design.
If you are going to be doing some serious off-roading, reservoir shocks may be the best option. These units have a separate reservoir for the damping gasses and yield extreme shock absorption capabilities.
Adjustable vs. Non-Adjustable
Most shocks that you will find in the parts store are not adjustable, but there are a few that are. An adjustable shock gives you the ability alter the valving of the shock itself, controlling compression and rebound. Compression is the shock’s ability to control how fast the shock collapses; rebound is how the shock controls expansion.
- Adjustable shocks come in two flavors – single or double. A single adjustable shock uses one knob to adjust compression and rebound in the same adjustment. These are pre-determined settings, as much 12 settings for rebound and 12 for compression.
- Double adjustable shocks are for the more adventurous tuner, with separate controls for both rebound and compression. Some shocks have 24 settings for each knob, with a total of 576 total individual combinations, allowing you to tune the shock to match the vehicle and the driving conditions. These shocks are typically used for off-road trucks and vehicles that are used in competitive racing.
For the average street truck, a single-adjustable shock is more than enough to handle the job.
We recently had a 2003 Chevy Silverado 4×4 in the shop and while the truck has a decent ride, cornering gets a bit sketchy with the stock shocks that have 170,000 miles on them. We ordered a set of Rancho RS9000XL series shocks from our local NAPA store and installed them on the truck. These shocks feature nine settings at the twist of a knob to tune the shock from stock ride, all the way up to a firm ride, for performance and towing. Rancho says that this provides a 400% change variable in ride from softest to hardest. That is a significant difference that you can feel in the truck.
The RS9000XL series is a large-bodied shock that uses a unique triple-tube design with a mono-flow piston for top-end performance; it even comes with a boot for the exposed end to protect the seal for longer life. The bushings are polyurethane that will last longer than the rest of the shock. When it comes to street and off-road performance, Rancho shocks have the reputation for being the best.
The process for swapping shocks is simple for most trucks. In fact, they can usually be swapped without even taking the wheels off. If the truck is older or has a lot of miles on it, taking it to a car wash and blowing out the dirt and grime from underneath is a good idea, also spray the nuts and bolts on the shocks with some penetrating oil a couple of hours before you do the actual swap, that can make everything come apart faster. Your local NAPA Auto Care Center can handle this task quickly and easily.
You don’t have to replace all four shocks at the same time, but that is generally yields best results. The rear shocks are the easiest to remove and install. We used an impact gun from Ingersoll Rand, but you can get the job done with hand tools. Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dirt.
Moving on to the front, there are several ways that the factories mount the shocks. The shocks are generally mounted to the lower A-arm or control arm and to the frame at the top. Some trucks run the shocks through the center of the coil spring. The upper mount on most front shocks is typically a threaded shaft that mount through a hole in the frame. Sometimes there is an eyelet for the upper mount.
On this Chevy truck, there is no coil spring, so the shock is easy to see. The lower mount on non HD 1500 trucks uses a U-style lower mount.
You can set your adjustment knob to wherever you want. We started in the middle at 5, and the handling and ride of the truck was greatly improved. Settings 7-9 are good for performance driving and tower, while 1-3 are super soft for cruising. This means the truck is now ready for any type of driving and we can change it when we need to in just a couple of minutes. Make sure that you set both sides to match left and right, but you can the front and rears differently as needed. After the new shocks were installed, we towed a 24-foot enclosed trailer. The ride was better and the rear suspension controlled the “porpoise” effect (where the truck and trailer flex in the middle at the hitch) much better than before.
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A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.