Bilstein vs Monroe Shocks: My Opinion On What Works Best
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Honestly, I’m a bit tired. People really oversimplify Bilstein vs Monroe way too often.
Yeah, Bilsteins are premium territory. And sure, Monroe’s focus is on a tad more budget-friendly shocks/struts.
But that’s far from everything you can say about these two. In fact, there are situations where one of them offers something the other lacks.
Two great examples:
- Only Monroe extensively focuses on sedans with the OESpectrum shocks or the QuickStrut assemblies (check the most popular) for an OE ride feel.
- Only Bilstein serves lifted trucks/SUVs with the timeless classic, Bilstein 5100 shocks.
The actual overlap between Monroe vs Bilstein shocks is mostly found in trucks/large SUV applications.
I’ll be digging a lot deeper in today’s post. However, let’s start with a quick overview first:
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I’ll be completely honest: Bilstein 4600s are the best choice you can make for the majority of applications.
They’re durable, versatile, and ride smoothly even on lighter loads, unlike comparable options. They also look great.
Here’s one of rear-side 4600 (see all options) before putting its blue shock boot on:
Monroe vs Bilstein OE feel:
Reflex/OESpectrum vs 4600
Let me get something clear right off the bat: I won’t be discussing much of the Monroe Reflex shocks here. There’s a simple reason for that:
Monroe’s OESpectrum is the successor of Reflex, and the brand is slowly phasing out the Reflex product line.
OESpectrums are a step up in several crucial ways:
- The oil seal has been redesigned and distributes friction better/is harder to wear out.
- The shocks are more durable due to PTFE band improvements.
- The rebound valving has been buffed up, delivering better control and smoother ride feel.
This shock is the best Bilstein vs Monroe option for passenger cars. OESpectrums are budget-friendly, perform well, and fill in the gap of Bilstein having limited sedan applications.
A significantly improved successor to the Reflex shocks. Great replacement option for OE-feel vehicles and when you want a bang for your buck option.
If you’re looking for an OE ride feel for stock-height SUVs or trucks, however…
That’s a perfect case to get a pair of Bilstein 4600s, really.
4600s tower over OESpectrum with a more durable shock body and tighter ride feel and control over larger vehicles. The Bilsteins also deal better with potholes and unexpected changes to the road/terrain you’re driving on.
Their valving will also support slightly heavier loads with balanced, yet gentle suspension distribution over the vehicle.
The drawback is the price, of course. Bilstein 4600 can run some 30-40% more expensive than its Monroe OE competitor.
Pretty much the best option for stock-height trucks or SUVs. More durable, better damping, smoother ride feel over uneven terrain. A classic.
Here’s a quick video that illustrates how new 4600s ride on a Chevy Silverado:
Monroe vs Bilstein shocks:
Heavier hauls & towing
Without a doubt, this is the most heated part. This is where the two brands come head-to-head for some tougher decisions for you to make.
You have three possible options here:
- On stock-height trucks for semi-heavy hauling, the Bilstein 4600s.
- On towing trucks/trailers, Monroe’s Load Adjusting shocks.
- The budget option for heavier loads and very light towing, Monroe Gas Magnum.
Let’s start with the Gas Magnums which are, frankly, the most inferior options out of the three.
As I’ve written in my Reflex vs Gas Magnum review, the latter outpaces Monroe’s standard shock options with double the reservoir. This means 2x the oil capacity, thus allowing the Magnums to deal with rougher terrain and support heavy-loaded vehicles.
These aren’t too bad, but they’re not spectacular either. For the cheap price, this is a great suspension option. They ride rather stiff on emptier loads, however. Additionally, on more demanding applications, you’re better off with the other two.
The cheapest way to take care of your truck's suspension. Bigger oil capacity than regular Monroe options, and decent shock body & piston for durability. Good for casual applications, but not more.
Monroe’s Load Adjusting shocks and the Bilstein 4600 is where these two brands are the closest as competitors. Both of these shocks are great options in their own way.
Each comes with its own perks/disadvantages compared to the other:
- Monroe’s Load Adjusters are better if you want to focus on towing. These reduce sagging (up to 1200 lbs of added weight).
- The Load Adjusters, unlike the 4600s, provide a very slight lift to your truck due to their design.
- Bilstein 4600 rides way better on unloaded/light-loaded trucks or SUVs.
Either one is fair game, as I said. However, if you don’t plan on hauling/towing a lot, skip the Load Adjusters. They ride awfully on empty vehicles – stiff, uncomfortable, rattling.
That’s not a bad design, however. Their valving and performance were tailored to heavy-duty vehicles that get work done. On proper loads, they’ll ride smoothly and provide much-needed support – check some reviews to see what people say.
As long as you know your specific application, both are great choices. Load Adjusters are the top of Monroe’s ‘Carry the Load’ line-up; 4600s are pretty much Bilstein’s poster child for stock-height heavy-duty vehicles.
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Monroe Load Adjusting
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Lifted trucks & Strut assemblies
The previous section was where the two brands were the closest to each other.
Well, here I’ll discuss the vehicle applications where Monroe and Bilstein are the furthest away. Mainly because in these cases, each of them offers something the other doesn’t really have.
Let’s start with the options for lifted trucks. The king here is Bilstein 5100 shocks (check top-rated examples).
Monroe doesn’t really have an equivalent to the 5100s. Sure, the Load Adjusters provide a slight lift, but the 5100s were designed to provide an up to 3-inch lift by default.
These are tough, way tougher than any other Bilstein or Monroe shock. The zinc plating helps with sturdiness and heat dissipation, and the valving is merciless on rougher terrain. There’s a reason why I’ve recommended them on Chevy trucks, as well as some classic heavy-duty Ford vehicles.
Remember that Bilstein 5100 isn’t a shock compatible with stock-height trucks/SUVs. Get a pair of these only if you run a modified/lifted vehicle.
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From lifted trucks, we get to more casual and more widespread applications:
Now, it’s not like Bilstein doesn’t make struts. The brand does – but they’re limited in terms of vehicle support and…they’re not quick strut assemblies.
At least when it comes to these two brands, Monroe is the only one offering ready-to-install, easy, and as-close-to-OEM-as-possible strut assemblies. This is, of course, their QuickStrut line-up.
These aren’t exclusively targeted at passenger cars or SUVs, but I do see sedan drivers liking them a lot. Of course, Monroe also covers quite a few truck applications too.
The QuickStrut is a decent suspension option for its price. These provide a softer alternative to KYB struts, with a focus on accessibility, ease of DIY installation, and comfort while driving on the highway.
The price tag isn’t something too shocking, either. All in all, a worthy consideration for those into a simple way to replace worn-out suspension.
You know, I hope I was able to dispel some of the misconceptions or oversimplifications when comparing Monroe vs Bilstein. There’s way too much of this out there already.
The truth is, sometimes you don’t need the more expensive option (which would be Bilstein). Sometimes you just need an economy class suspension that just does the job right. Monroe’s Gas Magnums or the OESpectrum shocks fit the bill then.
Sometimes, you want a cushier, more sophisticated option. The Bilstein 4600s are the sound choice in such a situation.
And as I said, in some cases, Bilstein offers something Monroe doesn’t, and vice versa. You don’t have much of a choice anyways, as long as you’re benchmarking these two companies.
In any case, both of these are well-established, reputable brands with decades of history. They’re a definite step ahead of newcomers such as TRQ, for example. And they sure as heck tower above cheap Chinese knock-offs like Sensen which I’ve also reviewed.
Monroe can be linked closer to KYB in terms of pricing/product options, which is why I’ve discussed them in some other posts.
Whatever you decide to pick, I’d be interested in the outcome. Drop me (and the readers, of course) a comment below to illustrate your experience with either brand. Of course, clarifying your specific application will help out too.
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