The springs that support the weight of your vehicle allow your suspension to adjust as you drive over bumps, potholes, and other uneven surfaces. However, without a dampening device, the springs would continue to resonate long after hitting an obstacle, leading to uncomfortable and dangerous ride quality. Shock absorbers and struts function as dampening devices that convert the kinetic energy of spring movement into heat energy which is then dissipated, resulting in a dramatically improved ride quality. In this guide, we’ll discuss the history of these vital suspension components, how they differ from each other, and the role they play in aftermarket vehicle modifications.
A pair of Fox shock absorbers
History of Shock Absorbers
The first shock absorber saw action in 1898 on a racing bicycle built by J.M.M Truffault. When this bicycle handily outperformed others at a marathon in Versailles, an American automobile enthusiast named Edward V Hartford was inspired to add a similar device to one of his cars. Two years later, the Truffault-Hartford unit, a simple lever arm style dampener, was developed and installed on Hartford’s Oldsmobile. While this represents the first use of a shock absorber on a motorized vehicle, it bears no resemblance to the shocks of the modern era.
Maxtrac Lowering Shocks
With the exception of some specialized units, modern shock absorbers consist of an oil or gas filled chamber and a piston that moves in and out of this chamber. The shock absorber is mounted between the frame of the car and its wheels, dampening the vibrations of your coil or leaf springs when you go over uneven terrain. As automotive technology has progressed and consumer demands for specific ride characteristics have gotten more diverse, several variants of this design have been developed. To learn more about these different shock absorber designs, check out our article on how to choose shock absorbers
History of Struts
A pair of struts. Note the mounting plate for a coil spring in the middle.
The first struts used on a motor vehicle were developed by Earl. S. MacPherson. He originally worked for Chevrolet in 1945 where his strut design was used on prototypes of the Chevy Cadet. However, before the Cadet could be put into production, it was scrapped by Chevrolet in 1947. Frustrated, MacPherson took his strut design to Ford, where the blue oval made the new suspension component part of their 1950 Ford Consul, the first production car to feature strut suspension.
Fox Performance Series Coil-Over Shocks
The typical MacPherson strut consists of a coil spring mounted on a tubular housing which contains a shock absorber or dampener, combining the two previously separate items into one unit. Usually only found on the front of a vehicle, struts became a popular suspension option on smaller vehicles as their compact design freed up room in the engine bay. Over time, struts found their way onto larger vehicles as an integral part of independent suspension systems, providing increased ride comfort over previous suspension configurations. The one piece design of a strut system makes it relatively simple to lift the front end of a vehicle: simply remove the strut, bolt a spacer to the top, and reinstall. To learn more about lifting and leveling, check out our guide to lifting trucks