A vehicle’s suspension system does just that: it suspends the car or truck’s body over the wheels. The arrangement provides ride comfort and also allows the vehicle to handle more accurately and, as a result, more safely.
Accelerating, braking and turning are all affected by a vehicle’s suspension. Shocks and struts are critical components of the system because poorly performing ones can result not only in compromised handling but also in excessive wear on other suspension parts.
To find out more about shocks and struts, we called expert Joe Fenski. He’s the owner at Fenski Automotive Center in Sugar Hill, Georgia, a NAPA AutoCare Center. Fenski started by explaining the differences between shocks and struts.
“A strut is really several parts in one,” Fenski said. “The shock, spring, mounting and suspension bushings are all part of it. Some vehicles may have two shocks and two struts. Some may have four shocks, and others have four struts.”
When to Replace Shocks and Struts
Although there’s no disputing the importance of a properly functioning suspension system, knowing when to replace shocks and struts can be challenging. The old shortcut, pushing down on a corner of the vehicle and watching for bouncing, won’t tell the whole story. Plus, slow and gradual wear on suspension components makes it hard for drivers to detect changes in ride and handling. But worn shocks or struts can prematurely wear brakes, suspension bushings, ball joints, tie-rod ends and even parts like CV joints that deliver power to drive wheels.
“Even front brake pads will wear exponentially quicker [on a vehicle with worn shocks or struts] because, as you stop, more of the weight is being transferred to the front wheels,” Fenski explained. “So instead of the front brakes handling 60-70% of the stopping power, they’re handling 80-90%.
“A lot of research has been done on shocks and struts. For a 50,000-mile lifespan, it’s estimated that they’ve worked 80 million times. At that point, they’re worn out and not working like they should.”
New shocks or struts can keep other parts working properly while also contributing to better ride and handling. That floating ride characteristic of extremely worn shocks not only induces nausea in passengers. It’s also a safety concern because the vehicle’s body will pitch and roll more when cornering and braking. The firmer ride that results from replacing worn shocks or struts restores that precise, new-car handling feel.
Upgrading Shocks and Struts
Drivers looking for sportier performance can upgrade shocks or struts, too. According to Fenski, it’s not just sports car drivers that want better handling.
“NAPA has shocks and struts for many applications, including performance, different handling, or changing to a firmer style,” Fenski said. “These are available for many vehicles, not just sports cars.
“One thing that’s great about the NAPA shocks and struts is that they come with a lifetime warranty. That means you can get them replaced at 50,000 miles and you’ll pay only for labor but not for new shocks or struts.”
And those with heavy duty needs may want to upgrade, too.
“The right shocks and struts are even more critical in heavy duty applications,” Fenski said. “Original equipment parts often just aren’t made to handle heavier duty use. NAPA has a plethora of options available to improve both capacity and handling. There are all sorts of ways to improve on what came stock on your vehicle.”
Or, for more moderate users, adjustable shocks provide an option that delivers the best of both worlds: heavy duty when you need it and a more comfortable ride when you don’t.
DIY Shock and Strut Replacement
Can you replace shocks or struts yourself? Fenski said most drivers—even many do-it-yourself mechanics—rely on professionals to replace struts.
“Replacing just a shock is not that difficult, and some do-it-yourselfers can handle it,” Fenski said. “However, replacing a strut assembly is another story. Because it’s an integral part, you want to make sure that’s done properly. Otherwise, you could have a catastrophic event. That’s why I say strut replacement should be handled by a professional. Also, some special tools and equipment are necessary to safely unload the spring. Trying to do it without those can be very unsafe.”
Choosing a professional has another advantage: expert advice. Fenski recommends discussing with your mechanic how you plan to use your vehicle. This will help him or her find the best part for your needs.
NAPA AUTO PARTS sells a wide array of shocks and struts for every application, from everyday use to performance driving, off-road to heavy duty. Find the best one for your vehicle or contact your local NAPA AutoCare Center for a professional opinion on how to ensure your vehicle is safely performing at its best.
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Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.