5 Best Shock Absorbers of 2021

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.

Editor's Recommendation: Top Shock Absorbers of 2021

Editor's Recommendation: Top Shock Absorbers of 2021
Editor's Recommendation: Top Shock Absorbers of 2021

Monotube vs. Twin Tube

Monotube Vs. Twin Tube
Monotube Vs. Twin Tube

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.

Monotube Shock Absorbers

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.

Monotub (Source: tein.co.jp)
Monotub (Source: tein.co.jp)

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.

Pros:

  • Reduced risk of fluid foaming
  • Even distribution of pressure across the entire shock
  • Offers better responsiveness
  • Simpler and quicker to install
  • Dissipates heat faster and lessens fading

Cons:

  • Rides can be a little stiffer
  • Hard to maintain a sufficient stroke

Twin-Tube Shock Absorbers

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.

Twin-tube (source: tein.co.jp)
Twin-tube (source: tein.co.jp)

One of the main shortcomings of the twin-tube shocks is that they tend to be more prone to foaming since the fluid and gas mix. Aeration of the fluid leads to fading and causes poor damping. Also, these shocks have a smaller oil capacity which affects heat dissipation, and they typically take more effort to install.

Pros:

  • Easy and sufficient stroke
  • Low gas pressure ensures increased ride comfort
  • Reduced stress on seals
  • Functioning is not affected by external shell damages
  • Often more affordable

Cons:

  • Prone to foaming
  • Takes more effort and precision to install
  • Small oil capacity

Which One Is For You?

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.

Summary of Best Shock Absorbers

IMAGE PRODUCT FEATURES
KYB Excel-G Gas Shock Absorber

1. KYB Excel-G Series Shock Absorbers

  • Type: Twin-Tube
  • Vehicle: SUVs, Minivans, Crossovers, Light Trucks
KYB MonoMax Gas Shock Absorber

2. KYB MonoMax Series Shock Absorbers

  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: Trucks and SUVs
Bilstein 5100 Series Rear Shock Absorber

3. Blistein 5100 Series Shock Absorbers

  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: SUVs and Light Trucks
KYB Gas-a-Just Gas Shock

4. KYB Gas-a-Just Series Shock Absorbers

  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: Cars, Trucks, SUVs, and Vans
Monroe 911262 Reflex Truck Shock Absorber

5. Monroe Reflex Mono Shock Absorber

  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: SUVs, Light Trucks, and any other vehicle with high COG

1. KYB Excel-G Series Shock Absorbers

KYB Excel-G Gas Shock Absorber
KYB Excel-G Gas Shock Absorber
  • Type: Twin-Tube
  • Vehicle: SUVs, Minivans, Crossovers, Light Trucks

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.

Special Features:

  • Advanced 3-stage compression valve
  • Rebound valving
  • Pressurized nitrogen gas
  • All-weather fluid
  • Innovative damping design
  • Teflon coated bushing

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.


2. KYB MonoMax Series Shock Absorbers

KYB MonoMax Gas Shock Absorber
KYB MonoMax Gas Shock Absorber
  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: Trucks and SUVs

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.

Special Features:

  • Zinc-coated steel piston ring
  • Off-road rubber dust boot
  • Triple chrome plated chrome piston rod
  • Multi-lip oil seal
  • Engineered to help vehicle 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.


3. Blistein 5100 Series Shock Absorbers

Bilstein 5100 Series Rear Shock Absorber
Bilstein 5100 Series Rear Shock Absorber
  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: Suvs and Light Trucks

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.

Special Features:

  • Upside-down monotube technology
  • Velocity-sensitive and digressive piston
  • Wear-resistant chromium tube
  • Adjustable damper system
  • High-performance triple-c-technology

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.


4. KYB Gas-a-Just Series Shock Absorbers

KYB Gas-a-Just Gas Shock
KYB Gas-a-Just Gas Shock
  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: Cars, Trucks, SUVs, and Vans

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.

Special Features:

  • Up to 25% more damping than factory twin tube shocks
  • High-pressure monotube design
  • Air-free hydraulic piston
  • Triple chrome-plated piston rod
  • Designed to accommodate large wheels/tires
  • Improved stopping distance

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.


5. Monroe Reflex Mono Shock Absorber

Monroe 911262 Reflex Truck Shock Absorber
Monroe 911262 Reflex Truck Shock Absorber
  • Type: Monotube
  • Vehicle: SUVs, Light Trucks, and any other vehicle with high COG

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.

Special Features:

  • Acceleration sensitive damping valves
  • Vehicle-specific tuning
  • Original equipment all-weather fluid
  • Fluon-banded piston
  • Self-lubricating fluid seal

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.

How to Choose the Best Shock Absorbers

How To Buy The Best Shock Absorbers
How To Buy The Best Shock Absorbers

1. Want to Restore or Upgrade

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.

2. Front or Rear

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.

3. Budget

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.

From our product reviews, shock absorbers in the Bilstein 5100 Series typically retail for $80-90, KYB Excel-G $35-$45, KYB Gas-a-Just $35-$40, KYB MonoMax $50-$60, and the Monroe Reflex $35-$40.

FAQs

Q: Are KYB Shock Absorbers any Good?

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.

Q: Will Better Shocks Improve Ride Quality?

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.

Q: Why are Bilstein Shocks Better?

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.

Q: Do Shocks Really make a Difference?

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.

Q: How often Should I Replace my Shock Absorber?

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.

Q: Should I Replace 4 Shocks at the Same Time?

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.

Q: How do I Know When My Shocks are Bad?

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.

Q: How Long do Shock Absorbers Last?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sources

  1. How to Buy a Good Quality Shock Absorber - Your Mechanic
  2. Monotube vs. Twin-tube - tein.co.jp
  3. The Difference Between Twin-Tube and Monotube Shocks - strutmasters

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.

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