Choosing Shocks for your Toyota Tacoma
With over 200,000 miles on our Tacoma, we've had the chance to experiment with a few different sets of shocks, struts, and high performance coilovers. The journey with the Tacoma follows the journey of Shock Surplus itself. Here we will explore different options for your own Tacoma, from budget friendly options, to high performance dampers.
How to check for worn or failing shocks and struts
- Oil leaking from the shock shaft / rod, onto the body of the shock or strut. If it’s too dirty to tell, grab a rag and wipe off the shocks in question, and check again in 50-100 miles to see if there's liquid or noticeable moisture around the shaft / body area.
- Bouncing up and down on the front or rear bumper, if the truck continues to bounce (after you stop of course), then the truck is riding solely on the leaf springs or front coil springs with no dampening provided by the shock.
- When braking harder than usual in order to have nose dive, does the vehicle rock back and forth too long?
- Bushings / mounts cracked or broken, sometimes the top stem pack on the rear shocks can erode quickly in bad conditions.
The Bilstein 4600 shocks that are on the truck from the factory will usually last a pretty long time. If you dont ask much of your truck, stay on the pavement, and dont haul around much equipment, the shocks can last you anywhere from 50-100k miles.
If on the other hand, you offroad a lot, haul heavy equipment, or want to level your vehicle and/or put bigger wheels and tires on it, it's recommended to upgrade your shocks.
Questions to ask yourself
What is your primary and secondary use of your Tacoma?
- Commuting, or normal highway and street driving
- Offroad / Trail / Sand Dune riding?
- Carrying heavy loads for work, camping, dirt bikes, sport equipment?
- Rooftop Tents, heavier bumpers, winches, rear tire carriers, overlanding equipment, all of these will make a difference to what an optimized suspension setup should be on your Tacoma
Commuting / Highway / Street
For the daily driver and general commute, a high quality monotube shock or strut can last a very long time, people regularly get 100k miles out of Bilstein shocks for instance. Potholes and speed bumps may compromise a factory shock, and especially a budget shock, but a quality monotube shock or strut will eat them up day after day, mile after mile. A thicker shock body will be better for longevity as well, providing better cooling capacity and lower internal shock pressures, leading to longer component life.
Toyota did their homework when equipping most of these trucks with Bilstein shocks and struts straight from the factory, they ride excellent in most conditions.
- Best option to restore factory-like ride.
- Best bang for your buck
- Long lasting, excellent warranty
- Our Tacoma only had these equipped for around 25k miles, and were still like new, the other truck probably still has them on!
Bilstein’s 5100 line of shocks are a good replacement for factory shocks as well, they provide additional support offroad for the weekend warrior.
- Adjustable height, so you can achieve 2.5" of lift in the front while using your factory springs, on the adjustable coil spring collar.
- Ride similar to the 4600, but slightly firmer in our opinion
- Great option for mostly highway and some offroad.
- Our Tacoma used these for around 50k miles, through lots of road trips, Eastern Sierras adventures, and the Las Vegas desert. They did really well, and at the time we couldn't expect anything else, the Tacoma was mostly stock with slightly oversized tires, carrying sport equipment. We donated these to a Tacoma down in Baja who installed them that night after tacos.
KYB or Monroe
For normal driving behavior, either of these shock brands ride well and are inexpensive. Both brands have twin tube shocks, which ride slightly less consistent compared to monotube shocks, but entirely fine if you're driving around the city and roads in good condition.
- Factory like ride
- Budget friendly
- Medium life span
Lots of options exist, depending on the extent of your offroad driving nature. Ours has been described as 'Overly aggressive' - "there's no guard rails!" - Adam.
When people talk about ICON setups on the Tacoma, this usually involves front coilovers with or without reservoirs, and a rear shock with reservoir option.
- Front coilovers can get 2-3" of lift height, in an aluminum bodied shock with brand new vehicle rated coil springs, rated at 600lb springs.
- Front coilovers really perform well during medium to high force speed/action, softening up as force increases.
- Rear 2.5" shocks with reservoirs will make sure the rear end is planted extremely well during slow trail crawling and higher speed wide open desert.
The Shock Surplus Tacoma is currently running the 2.5" Coilovers with CDCV adjustment option and RXT rear suspension system. The amount of obstacles these shocks eat up is incredible, we're continuously impressed by the performance of these parts.
Developed by Bilstein specifically for applications that do more than commuting, these shocks provide incredible ride characteristics for both the highway and light offroading situations (don’t jump 'em!).
- The 5100s are some of our best sellers, lowest disatisfaction.
- 5100 Adjustable height struts serve as a leveling kit for the Tacoma, meaning that by using the factory coil springs you're able to lift and level the front of your Tacoma to 2.5".
- Provides increased performance compared to the travel loss by using strut spacers. Read more about adjustable height struts.
- 5160 Reservoir shocks are a more capable version of the 5100, providing more damping ability through aggressive terrain, suited well for offroad, overlanding, and the trails.
The Shock Surplus Tacoma rode on these for a while, using the max 2.5" of lift in the front to fit in some 285 BFG TA/KO2 tires. The only issues we ever noticed with them would be to maxing out the travel pretty easily when driving aggressive through desert terrain, these are more meant for the casual trail.
Bilstein's newest addition to their Tacoma shock arsenal, these are a large step forward in Bilstein's offering, and industry wide. This new 6112 shock has 5 height settings, and a 2.3" (60mm) shock body, almost equivalent to Fox's 2.5" Factory Series size (minus the aluminum construction). These new shocks come with new coil springs, and if you choose, fully assembled out of the box. Bilstein has been known for a great highway ride, with left-over thoughts of offroad performance, this new 6112 shock is about equalizing that ratio. The 6112's significantly increased shock fluid allows for much more aggressive driving and a consistent feedback curve over varied terrain.
Old Man Emu
Tried and true offroad shocks straight from the outback of Australia. Old Man Emu tests all of their shocks in the rugged terrains of Australia, making numerous adjustments during the vehicle application testing. If your vehicle is a true work horse, #Overlanding, or just want a super solid all around shock, Old Man Emu shocks are a fantastic choice. Old Man Emu covers only a handful of U.S Domestic applications, so consider yourself lucky to have them as a choice, they’re tough as nails. The shock is a twin tube gas charged shock, and OME specifically sticks to a twin tube design to protect against heavy debris while offroad (rocks, sand, animals).
Fox Racing Shocks are made from aircraft quality 6061 aluminum, providing exceptional heat dissipation, and heavily resistant to the elements. All aluminum bodied Fox shocks are rebuildable, and nitrogen gas rechargeable, extending the life of the shocks dramatically (next vehicle owner will love you). Fox has a huge range of shocks, coilovers, and reservoir options, all with optional compression / rebound adjustability.
Our Tacoma had these on for close to 100k miles, the toughest the truck has seen. We put these through a lot of hard miles in the desert and mountains of California, Utah, and Colorado, probably lasting longer than our transmission did! The Fox 2.0 IFP performed excellent, we often wonder how it would have felt without using 2" of preload on the coilovers, and if that would have smoothened out the ride a bit. These rode noticeably firmer than the Bilstein 5100s.
King Offroad Shocks
King Offroad Shocks are like the Air-Jordans of Baja Trophy Trucks. Proven offroad technology success outfits these shocks with some of the best materials available. King shocks are rebuildable, nitrogen gas rechargeable, and will handle anything you throw at them. King carries full coilovers and shocks for OEM replacement applications, but their bread and butter is outfitting some of the most badass offroad rigs out there.
Tow / Haul
Before doing anything else, research Weight Distribution Systems that better allow your vehicle to tow the maximum allowable weight. When towing long or heavy trailers, it’s imperative to keep the ride steady and stable, shocks cannot always accomplish this alone.
Most higher end gas pressurized shocks will handle trailer loads and the increased oscillation that is present, without much issue. When towing heavier trailers or loads, tongue weight and trailer balance should be your highest priority, not the settings on your shocks.
Any firmer-than-factory shock is going to be able to handle most loads you'll ever see with the Tacoma, without issue. We would go so far as to say that a towing or hauling specific shock isn't that necessary, most medium to higher performance shock can do the job easily.
Bilstein 5100s or 5160s can handle any increased damage from towing with ease. Most monotube shock absorbers will have little issue with large tow loads.
Old Man Emu Nitrocharger Sport
Old Man Emu's nitrocharger sport shock is known to be a firmer and more controlled ride with lots of road feedback. These shocks are well known for their longevity and durability, one of the few benefits that a twin tube can have over a monotube shock on the Tacoma application. The Old Man Emu nitrocharger sport shocks are super popular in the outback of Australia, for good reason.
The adjustable nature of these shocks allows for a wide range of use. The RS9000XL shock is compression adjustable while the shocks are on the vehicle, by turning the red knob at the bottom of the shock. This allows for a very soft response, or a very firm response (best for offroad or heavy duty use).
Any monotube shock absorber will do fine here, their firm response and long life enables the Tacoma to handle most loads with confidence.