Today: struts of all stripes, reviewed.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

My '91 Buick LeSabre Custom needs replacement struts, and I am stumped. I went to the mechanic the other day, and he asked me what type of struts I wanted. I had no idea what he meant. So he asked me if I wanted gas-charged struts, quick struts, or the Monroe Matics or Monroe Sensa-Trac. My question: What is the difference between these, and which are better? -- Gregory

RAY: Good question, Gregory. On a 1991 Buick, you could probably put a jello mold at each corner of the car and not notice any difference in handling. But our liability lawyers won't let us recommend that.

TOM: The terms "strut" and "shock absorber" often are used interchangeably. But technically, a McPherson Strut is a shock absorber that's surrounded by a coil spring.

RAY: And a "quick strut" is the whole package. It includes a shock absorber, a coil spring and the strut mount, which houses the bearing. That's a complete McPherson strut, and it gets bolted right in and replaces everything all at once.

TOM: A quick strut is expensive. You'd pay around $400 each for them on this car, just for the parts. So, you don't want that unless you need it -- if, for example, your springs are also shot, or one of your springs is broken.

RAY: Since your mechanic didn't tell you that you need springs, let's eliminate the quick strut.
TOM: So then it's a question of whether you want gas shocks or not. The Monroe Sensa-Tracs are gas-filled, the Monroe Matics are not.

RAY: All shocks use oil to dampen the bouncing motion of your springs. Gas shocks normally fill the "air space," where the oil expands into, with nitrogen. Why? Manufacturers claim that nitrogen reduces foaming and bubbling of the oil during harder driving, and therefore leads to better overall damping and handling.

TOM: Is it true? We don't know. But it sounds good!

RAY: And since the difference between the gas shocks and the non-gas shocks is about 10 bucks in your case ($120 versus $130), we'd suggest that you opt for the gas shocks. The nitrogen industry will thank you. Good luck, Gregory.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter