by Joshua Thomas
Shock absorbers are fundamental in ensuring you get a smooth, comfortable ride as they dampen all the shaking from typical vehicle movement in different terrains.
However, like any other vehicle component, there are different shock options out there, and you need to know how to choose the best shock absorbers to ensure you get the smoothest rides.
Overall, there are two main types of shock absorbers: the monotube and twin-tube shocks. Here we look at what sets the two shock types apart and provide some top-rated shocks absorbers series recommendations to make it easier for motorists to find the right ones.
Vehicle shock absorbers come in two main types, which are the monotube and twin-tube. Each type has its pros and cons and is ideal for different driving conditions.
The monotube shock absorbers will have the piston valve, gas, oil, and other components that make up a shock in one tube. While the hydraulic fluid and gas are in one chamber, they never mix thanks to the free-floating valve, ensuring minimal risk of foaming.
Monotube shocks like KYB MonoMaxwill use single valve assemblies to ensure even distribution of pressure across the entire shock. Since monotube shock absorbers will also have a larger oil capacity, they provide a more stable damping force and improved heat dissipation. What's more, the single shell design of these shocks makes installation more straightforward.
Despite all these advantages of the monotube shock, it still has a few shortcomings. One of the main ones is that the serial positioning of the fluid and gas chambers can make it hard to maintain a sufficient stroke. Also, monotube shock absorbers provide stiffer rides.
The twin-tube shocks will have two separate chambers, the inner and outer chambers. One of the chambers holds the hydraulic fluid while the other houses the gas. Additionally, they use a base valve to ensure the gas pressure remains low, making rides significantly more comfortable and minimizing stress on the seals.
As the two chambers are separate from the external shell, any slight damage to it often does not affect the functioning of the shock absorber. This design significantly increases service life, particularly if you have high-quality ones like what you get on the KYB Excel-G series.
Both monotube and twin-tube shock absorbers have their fair share of advantages and shortcomings. But, the monotube shock has a clear edge over the twin-tube in everything from responsiveness to ease of installation. Therefore, they are the best when you want to improve your overall ride quality.
However, twin-tube shocks are a more affordable option and what many vehicles will have as the stock shock. Hence, they can be a good option if you want something inexpensive or prefer to use just what came with the vehicle.
1. KYB Excel-G Series Shock Absorbers
2. KYB MonoMax Series Shock Absorbers
3. Blistein 5100 Series Shock Absorbers
4. KYB Gas-a-Just Series Shock Absorbers
5. Monroe Reflex Mono Shock Absorber
The Excel-G series offers some of the best twin-tube shock absorbers out there. The shocks in this series are designed to restore your vehicle's original handling capabilities, so if you are looking for an OE replacement part, these shock absorbers are perfect.
They use some special in-house designed damping valves that will bring back the stability and handling the manufacturer intended for the vehicle. Also, the twin-tube shock absorbers have an advanced 3-stage compression valve and rebound valving for better control and faster recovery.
Additionally, these shocks use pressurized nitrogen gas to minimize foaming and aeration, which are common issues with twin-tube shocks. Also, the hydraulic fluid is all-weather to ensure consistency regardless of the season.
Another thing motorists will love is that these shocks are highly durable. They include Teflon coated bushing to reduce wear, sintered iron piston for added strength, and the piston ring is wear-resistant to minimize friction and leakage. All this ensures a longer service life.
Recommend: There is something for every passenger and light commercial vehicle out there on the KYB Excel-G series. However, some specific shock absorber models seem to stand out given their popularity.
For those that drive full-size GM trucks, the KYB 344381 is a fantastic choice, while KYB 349075 is ideal for Asian Cars like Nissans, and KYB 349105 is what you need to restore OE handling capability for your Asian minivan.
Truck and SUV owners need shocks that can handle harsh conditions, and the KYB MonoMax is just the perfect line for this.
These large-bore shocks provide the extra stability that heavier vehicles with a higher center of gravity require. In doing so, they improve control by up to 40% compared to stock twin-tube shocks.
Besides extra control capabilities, these shocks also provide additional damping that makes them perfect for hauling and towing heavy loads. Better still, they will work well with the heavier and larger truck and SUV tires.
Going off-road should not come with shock issues when using the KYB MonoMax shocks, as they come ready for such highly demanding conditions. They have a zinc-coated steel piston ring that provides a positive seal in these extreme driving conditions and a rubber dust boot to keep dirt and debris out.
Additionally, you never have to worry about seal wear as the piston rod is triple chrome plated, and there is a multi-lip seal that keeps the fluid inside with zero leakage. Many motorists also love that these shock absorbers will help a vehicle's ESC and ABS.
Recommend: The KYB MonoMax has some of the best shock absorbers for SUVs and trucks out there. However, if you drive a GM truck, their KYB 565104, KYB 565067, or KYB 565102 are perfect for you as they will help give your suspension performance a much-needed upgrade.
Blistein has been making shock absorbers longer than most other brands in the market, and they are among the pioneers of gas-pressure technology. This technology is still one of the highlights of their Blistein 5100 series of shock absorbers, and it ensures you never have to worry about damping power reduction due to oil foaming.
With the velocity-sensitive and digressive piston design, these shocks will adjust to your performance needs instantly and automatically. Therefore, they allow you to maintain smooth rides throughout regardless of changes in terrain.
These monotube shock absorbers feature Blistein's unique upside-down technology. The technology makes it possible to have the piston rod at the bottom of the tube body for improved damping capability and more installation flexibility. Additionally, the shocks in this series use wear-resistant chromium tubes that can withstand more abuse.
The adjustable damper system is another element that makes the Blistein 5100 shocks some of the best monotube shock absorbers out there. With this damper system, you can fine-tune the shocks by choosing between 1, 2, and 4-way for customized compression and rebound characteristics.Blistein also uses their high-performance triple-c-technology on these shocks. Triple-c-technology entails having a 3-layer coating for maximum corrosion protection. The coats include a bottom zinc alloy layer, a middle coat for ensuring the bottom layer creates a completely sealed surface, and the outer layer protecting the shock against mechanical wear.
Recommend: For those that drive the GM full-size SUV or Dodge full-size trucks, the Blistein 24-185783 shocks are perfect if you want a reliable damper for on and off-road trips. Another fantastic shock option in the series is the Bilstein 24-186643, which is ideal for the 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche 1500, while the Bilstein 24-186728 is unbeatable for Toyota Tacomas.
The KYB Gas-a-Just shocks absorber series is designed to improve both the vehicle's stability and overall performance. These shocks will provide up to 25% more damping than the factory twin-tube shocks, ensuring you get better handling and control.
KYB makes these shocks using their high pressures monotube design that guarantees you always get an instant response when driving and that the performance of your shocks never fades regardless of where you are driving. The extra damping and super-fast response make these shocks great for vehicles with a higher center of gravity like SUVs and trucks.
With the hydraulic piston and air valve areas being air-free, you always get more comfortable rides for your regular drives. What's more, the piston rod features KYB's triple chrome-plated design for minimal seal wear, and there is also a multi-lip seal that ensures zero leakages.
Other things making these shock absorbers fantastic include that they can accommodate larger tires and wheels without affecting performance and they provide improved stopping distances for safer driving.
Recommend: The shock absorbers in this series are vehicle-specific, and one of the outstanding models is the KYB 554384 that will be very effective at restoring original handling in Hyundai vehicles. Another great option is the KYB KG54342 that is excellent if you drive Chevrolet pickups.
The Monroe Reflex Monotube shocks are for vehicles with a higher center of gravity and come with monotube shocks as stock. These shocks will improve handling, provide better control and enhance overall vehicle performance.
The elements that make these some of the best OE shock absorbers include the acceleration sensitive (ACS) valving. This valving allows for adjustment to the impacts for reduced roll and drive on high COG vehicles. Also, the shock absorbers use OE all-weather fluid that includes some special additives to ensure minimal oil breakdown and consistent performance in extreme weather.
Monroe uses full displaced valving tuned to meet the specific needs of a particular vehicle and a larger bore to ensure even smoother rides. The shocks also have a fluon-banded piston for consistent sealing between the pistons and pressure tube for improved control and durability.
You can be confident these car shocks will last as they also include a fluid seal that self lubricates to ensure it retains the gas while also minimizing friction on the piston rod.
Recommend: If you drive a Silverado, Chevrolet Avalanche, or Sierra and want to enjoy Monroe's comfort, smoothness, and durability, their Monroe Reflex 911181 is a good choice. For those that drive the Ford F-150 trucks, the load-adjusting Monroe 58643 should be perfect, especially if you tow or haul heavy luggage a lot.
What you want to achieve with the shock absorbers should be one of the first factors to consider when deciding which ones to buy. Ask yourself if you wish to restore the vehicle's original handling and control or want to give both a significant improvement.
Top brands like KYB will have shock absorbers for both restoration and upgrade. For example, their KYB Excel-G series helps restore the vehicle's original handling and control. Shocks in this series are OE quality replacement parts designed to help with performance restoration.
For those that want to give their shocks an upgrade, the KYB Gas-a-Just series is a perfect product line. These shocks will provide a firmer ride, better weight control, and a faster steering response. They will be perfect for light trucks, SUVs, muscles cars, and other vehicles that handle heavier work a lot.
As you shop for the best shock absorbers for smooth rides, it is also vital to remember that shocks for the front and rear of the vehicle are different. Hence to avoid disappointments and ensure you get the smooth rides you desire, you have to make the right pick.
The good news is that shock absorber manufacturers and retailers indicate whether the shocks are for the rear or front of the vehicle. Therefore, you should not have difficulties picking the right ones.
Another essential point to note is that it is always better to change both the left and right shocks for the front or rear of the vehicle simultaneously, even if one still looks okay. Changing both at the same time ensures consistency and even smoother rides. But, you do not have to change all 4 shocks at the same time.
Your budget also matters when choosing replacement shocks. But, there is always something for almost every budget, and overall shocks are also not very expensive
Actual prices can vary a lot from one retailer to the other and depends on whether you are buying front or rear shocks.
Cars are designed with rigid metal frames and suspensions to travel at high speeds on roads or highways without allowing much vibration or shaking of their components. Vibrations transmitted by the road make it difficult for drivers to maintain control while operating the vehicle. Shock absorbers are designed to do exactly what our bones and joints do naturally: they provide a cushion for impact between moving objects by absorbing their kinetic energy instead of transferring that energy into other elements of the system.
A shock absorber is composed of several different components which must be engineered accurately in order to work properly. It consists of a piston, cylinder housing, oil-filled bladder or "reservoir", and valves. The first step in understanding how a shock absorber works is to understand how the different components function together.
The piston is attached to the vehicle's frame or chassis on one end and firmly attached to the component it will be suspending (such as the wheel or axle) on the other end. The piston is usually hollow and cylindrical in shape, and there is a spring inside of it to provide resistance. When the suspension system encounters an obstacle (such as hitting a bump or pothole), the piston moves backwards quickly and compresses the oil-filled bladder within it.
The bladder provides the majority of the shock-dissipation power in a shock absorber. It is wrapped in a relatively thick rubber membrane, which is usually divided into multiple cells or chambers. Each of these chambers are filled with pressurized oil. When the piston compresses this chamber it forces the oil outwards through some small valves built into its edges to fill any cavities that form between objects within the suspension system.
The more shocks that are compressed, the more resistance there will be against forward movement by your vehicle. This means that if you hit many bumps in succession while driving, you may feel as though your car's suspension has locked up somewhere along its length because each bump comp two cylinders at once instead of just one. If you push down on your vehicle's hood while it is parked, the upper shock absorbers should compress slightly if they are in good condition.
The suspension systems used on many modern vehicles use a combination of hydraulic fluid and a piston system, both powered by an electrical pump. The main difference in suspension designs lies in the number of shocks used. Car suspensions can be either rigid type with only one shock per wheel, or be fully independent systems that have two or more shocks for each individual tire.
In general, the fully independent system is considered better for performance, while the rigid suspension is better suited for economy cars due to lower component prices. This does not take into account custom-made suspensions from aftermarket companies, which are usually more pricey, yet provide better handling and comfort.
There are also certain disadvantages to both systems that must be considered for drivers who spend long periods of time in their vehicle. Namely, the extra weight causes greater wear on the rear axle, as well as increased road noise due to the movement of each shock's piston across the hydraulic fluid.
The following formula to determine shock absorber quality:
shock absorption = weight/pressure * rate limit
For further information on this equation, please refer to an earlier entry in this blog.
Rigid suspension systems are more common on economy cars and compact models, though they can be found on luxury models as well. The main advantage of this system is a weight savings of around 2 pounds per shock. This allows the car to use a lighter rear axle, which results in less wear and tear on the rear tires. As with the independent suspension system, the rigid type does not cause any load on the rear tires. This means that there is also no wear and tear on the rear shocks themselves.
There are a couple of disadvantages to this system, however. In comparison to other designs, it offers very limited suspension travel, due to its lack of individual shocks for each wheel. This leads to several problems, including a harsher ride, poorer handling characteristics during quick maneuvers, and a lack of stability during high speed braking. In fact, the rigid suspension type can actually be more unstable under hard braking because it puts more stress on the front shocks than other types.
Fully independent suspension systems are considered better for performance vehicles due to their longer range of travel allowed by each shock. This allows the car to handle well at high speeds, as well as during quick maneuvers such as lane changes and turns. In fact, these types often have a greater turning radius than other designs, which gives them a bit of an edge when it comes to cornering.
The main disadvantage of this system is its high degree of complexity. The suspension contains more individual parts, which means that there are more things that can go wrong and require repairs. This also leads to a higher initial cost than other designs, as well as increased labor costs for any repairs. There are also additional bushings to replace due to the system's higher levels of vibration and noise.
A: Yes, they are some of the best in the market, and the company is known for making shocks that help to stiffen the ride in a good way.
A: Yes, with good shock absorbers, your ride quality will improve significantly. Shocks helps to smoothen rides, improve handling and optimize the vehicle's overall performance which translates to improved overall ride quality.
A: They make use of a special gas pressurized design that will improve both on and off road handling. And they are also application-specific tuned to ensure they suit every vehicle and application perfectly.
A: Yes, they make a huge difference. Besides smoothing and making your rides more comfortable, they ensure that your vehicle can take anything the road throws its way.
A: It depends on how often you drive the vehicle and the driving conditions. But, you typically need to inspect and change them regularly. However, most good types should give you a service life of at least 50,000 miles or 4 to 5 years.
A: Yes, if possible because combining new shocks with worn ones leads to undesirable effects. But, if you cannot replace all 4 shocks, you should always replace them in pairs, that is, the front shocks or rear shocks at the same time.
A: The overall ride comfort and smoothness will reduce significantly with bad shocks. Also, unusual noises when going over bumps, excessive body sway and rocking when cornering and uneven tire wear are all signs of bad shocks.
A: Life expectancy of most shocks is between 4 and 5 years, but it can be shorter than this in bad road conditions. Also, in some good road conditions, it can extend even up to 10 years.
Monroe 58620 Monroe Load Adjust Shock Absorber - Walmart, Etsy, Ebay
KYB 554384 Gas-a-Just Gas Shock, Silver - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
Bilstein (24-186643) 5100 Series Shock Absorber,Silver - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
Fox Racing 98524029 Shock Absorber - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
Gabriel 43167 Rear Load Carrier - Walmart, Etsy, Ebay
Koni 8741-1494SPORT Front Shock for Ford Mustang - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
Rancho RS5000X Gas Shocks set compatible with 97-06 Jeep Wrangler TJ with 2-3" lift kits - Walmart, Etsy, Ebay
Skyjacker B8527 Black MAX Shock Absorber with Black Boot - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
DTA 70090X Full Set 2 Front Complete Strut Assemblies With Springs and Mounts + 2 Rear - Walmart, Etsy, Ebay
Belltech 8000 Nitro Drop 2 Shock Absorber - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
KYB Monomax Gas Shock - Walmart, Etsy, eBay
With our top 10 heavy duty shock absorbers review above, you should now have an idea of some of the best brands and models to buy.
But, from our list, the Bilstein 5100 Series is our top overall recommendation. And this is because the series has some top-quality and high-performing shocks that are also consistent and easy to install.
However, for those that drive trucks and SUVs, the KYB Monomax Gas Shock is an unbeatable option.
About Joshua Thomas
Joshua Thomas just simply loves cars and willing to work on them whenever there's chance... sometimes for free.
He started CarCareTotal back in 2017 from the advices of total strangers who witnessed his amazing skills in car repairs here and there.
His goal with this creation is to help car owners better learn how to maintain and repair their cars; as such, the site would cover alot of areas: troubleshooting, product recommendations, tips & tricks.
Joshua received Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University.