Facts About Coilovers, Struts, and Shocks

If you don’t know too much about cars, you might not be familiar with what coilovers, struts, and shocks do. You should know about each of them, though, particularly if you’re going to modify your vehicle at all.

In this article, we’re going to run down what each of these vehicle components does. You’ll also learn whether you need all or only some of them.

Coilovers

Coilovers are similar to struts in some ways, but they’re not the same thing. A true gearhead thinking of modifying their vehicle might think about coilovers vs. struts before getting to just about anything else.     

Coilovers:

  • Are part of your vehicle’s suspension
  • Come in various styles and cost different amounts

A coilover is a kind of shock absorber that also houses coil springs. You’ll likely see a coilover when you have a modified or performance-level vehicle.

If you own a car that has dampening requirements or sits higher off the road than average, that’s when you will likely install a coilover. A coilover has a strut’s abilities, which we’ll talk about in a moment, but it also damps, like a shock.

A coilover is like a streamlined version of a strut, coil springs, and mount all in one. That is why they’re often so expensive: they’re multipurpose.

Struts

Struts are shock absorbers. They:

  • Dampen road forces
  • Hold the coil springs, which support your vehicle’s weight
  • Disperse and absorb road impacts, like when you go over a bump

Road feedback hits your tires. This creates energy, which impacts your coil springs. The strut is there to dampen those forces.

This helps control the vehicle’s movement when that shock wave runs through it. Without struts, it would be challenging to keep your car going straight every time you hit a pothole.

You need struts as part of your vehicle’s suspension. Without them and the coil springs, the car wouldn’t get very far. There would be nothing to hold the vehicle’s weight. The springs would have no place to go in the suspension without struts.

Shocks

You can use the term shocks interchangeably with shock absorbers. A shock is an energy-dampening device.

Road energy hits your vehicle through your tires. The shocks keep the car firmly planted on the ground when that happens. It also controls body roll.

You need shocks on your vehicle. Without them, you would quickly be in a world of trouble. They’re an integral suspension part, but it is technically possible to remove them and still drive the car.

You should only do it in an emergency, though. A shockless vehicle is much more volatile and difficult to steer and control.

Do You Need All Three of These?

The short answer to whether you need shocks, struts, and coilovers is no. Most cars don’t come with coilovers standard. They do come with shocks and struts standard.

Every time you get your vehicle inspected, the shocks and struts are two areas where they’ll look. Auto experts seldom agree on how long your struts can go before you need to replace them. Some say 50,000 miles, while some say you can go as long as 100,000 miles before you need new ones.

As for shocks, you can usually get four or five years out of them, depending on how much you drive. You can tell when you need new ones according to how unstable the vehicle feels when you’re driving it fast on the highway.

If your car has shocks and struts, there is no need for coilovers unless you plan to modify it. When you do, you should take care, since there are some things you can do to it that will make it no longer street-legal.

With coilovers vs. shocks and struts, it’s an either-or situation. If you want to race the car or trick it out, you can exchange the traditional shocks and struts for high-performance coilovers. If you do, get ready to pay multiple thousand dollars if you want truly high-end ones.

Most people consider coilovers to be “performance suspension” pieces, meaning that they’re seldom strictly necessary unless you have ambitious vehicle plans. If you have a light-duty truck, that might be the time to look into them seriously. You’ll also want them if you have an off-road race vehicle that’s going to need larger tires.

You should consider whether to get coilovers if you have particular vehicle height requirements or you want superior high-speed performance. If neither interest you, then you’re probably fine without them. 

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