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Strut Bar vs. Sway Bar: Which Should You Choose?

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Close up of a Ford Mustang 5.0L engine with a sway bar installed

Inertia moves the weight in your car when cornering and making turns. The strut bar and sway bar are additives to the suspension and wheels of the vehicle. They enable the car to keep its weight distributed and prevent rolling. Which should you choose, the sway bar or the strut bar?

Working with your car can be difficult, especially when the parts are similarly named and have a similar function. Don’t fret over it! Read on and learn everything you need to know about the sway and strut bar and which one you should choose.

Strut Bar vs. Sway Bar: How to Choose

Most people who don’t know much about cars balk regarding terms like these. There’s always some intimidation and anxiety when working on things you don’t know much about. The way to get past this is to study like you are taking the Bar Exam tomorrow and haven’t been to a day of law school.

The Strut Bar and What it Does

The strut bar is one of those car parts that most people would overlook when they see it. It has a place under the hood and could require a lot more work to remove it. Its function is to help with cornering and is a part that can last for several years before needing replacement.

A few things about the strut bar that make it different are:

  • Suspension Connection – The Strut bar is connected to the struts of your suspension. The shocks and struts of your car provide the base for a smooth ride that takes the edge off the road. Strut bars help support the struts and keep the vehicle from swaying when the weight inside shifts.
  • Reduced Rolling – When it comes to rolling, the strut bar takes a secondary role. It keeps the strut towers upright and works with the rest of the suspension to regulate weight. In addition, strut bars help to keep the car rigid, and when something is rigid, there is less chance it could roll over and harm someone.
  • Steering Control – Strut bars only commit a little support when steering. One of the reasons that people use sway and strut bars is to help the car stay online when it turns and keep the wheels facing the direction needed. Strut bars don’t help much with steering; they help to maintain the tension on the struts and keep them in place.
  • Replacements – Strut bars are much harder to install than sway bars. They sometimes go under the hood, but there are other times when there isn’t enough room for them. If that is the case, it will take fabrication to make it work. You will need to hire someone if you aren’t good with a welder.
  • Wear and Tear – Strut bars are harder to wear out than sway bars. They can last almost ten years without needing to be replaced. This is because they are simply rods made from steel with few parts that could fail.
  • Hitting Corners – Strut bars help the car stay balanced when it hits corners. The rod provides a counterbalance to shifting inertia and forces the tension onto the shocks and, eventually, the wheels and sway bars.
  • Pricing – The price of strut bars can be much higher than sway bars. They are much larger and cover more area. Often they are made from carbon fiber and materials that could have a shocking price tag.

Strut bars keep the shocks and struts balanced and keep the car from rolling during fast turns. They also allow the sway bars to transfer weight to the wheels, keeping the car on the road and further preventing rollovers.

Honda Integra Type R with a strut bar installed on the B18 engine
Honda Integra Type R with a strut bar installed on the B18 engine

The Sway Bar and How it Works

A large bar underneath your car’s suspension helps the car fight off rolling while improving steering. This is the sway bar. It works beneath the suspension and acts to keep the wheels from coming off the ground.

This means when you hit a pothole on the interstate, you don’t get to play Dukes of Hazzard and jump to your next destination.

Some things about the sway bar and how it works are:

  • Connection – A Sway bar connects inside the wheels of the vehicle. They are attached at a pivot point that allows the bar to help the car move at high speeds and still keep functioning in the steering wheel. In addition, it makes the car less susceptible to flipping when cornering quickly.
  • Reduced Rolling – The Sway bar will be one of the main things that keep your car from flipping over when you hit a corner too fast or have to make a hard turn on an overpass. Sway bars are often hollow tubes, and by adding one made from high-quality materials, you ensure it will not roll.
  • Steering Control – One of the biggest things the Sway bar does is protect the car from oversteering or losing control. The bar acts as a way to keep the front wheels connected so that when one turns, the other follows suit. If not, you will have a car that turns slowly and could drag one of the wheels when turning.
  • Replacements – A Sway bar is much easier to replace than a strut bar. They have a forward space on the underbelly of the suspension that allows you to get to them quickly. Replacement parts for a Sway are easy to find, and if you are a racer, it could be a good idea to invest in one geared towards your type of racing.
  • Wear and Tear – A good thing about Sway bars is that they don’t come into contact with any other parts of the suspension. They stand alone on the outskirts to act as a unifier of the wheels and act as a ‘balance foil.’ Sway bars should be checked for wear every few years if you are just an everyday commuter and more if you are a racer.
  • Cornering – A Sway bar dramatically impacts how a car corners. They connect the front wheels and create a relationship by attaching the two halves of the car. The Sway works to move the wheels at the correct time so that your vehicle stays in turn and doesn’t move straight.
  • Pricing – You can pay lots of money for a high-quality Sway bar. There are some out there for older model trucks that can be expensive. It depends on the materials and the car when buying one. So do your homework to make the best choice for you and your wallet.

Sway bars are an integral part of the suspension. They combine the steering of the front wheels and act as a balance point that helps keep the wheels on the road. A Sway bar also helps to give the car a rigid shape, making it harder to roll over and protecting the driver during a collision.

Close up of the aluminum stabilizer sway bar on the underside underbody of the car
Aluminum sway bar

How to Choose Between the Sway and Strut Bars

First, both of these parts are integral to the performance and safety of the vehicle. Remember that you are not the only car on the road; safety is your primary tenant when driving on interstates and highways. Choosing between the parts is impossible because you need them both. However, if you are in an upgrade situation and not replacing, there’s a clear winner.

A few reasons for choosing to upgrade the Sway bar before the Strut bar are:

  • Effectiveness – The Sway bar is more effective in handling the vehicle than a Strut bar. The Sway bar will significantly impact the car’s driving if replaced with a high-quality after-market upgrade. Strut bars can also be effective for handling but not as impactful as the Sway, which has several jobs in addition to handling.
  • Money – There’s an adage that says you should eat the largest frog first when you have to eat a ton of frogs. The Sway bar is the bigger price, and outside of racing models, these bars are often cheap and easy to get. On the other hand, money for shipping a Sway bar could add tons to the purchase, so shop smart.
  • Installation – A Sway bar is easier to install than a Strut bar. Sway bars are easy to spot and have an open area in the suspension area, allowing you to remove the parts easily. Strut bars could need the room created for them to work correctly, which means more money is added to the budget.

It is best to install both parts if you are working on performance and not repair. The Sway bar has a much higher impact on the car than the Strut. Also, if you install a Strut bar, tons of fabrications need to be done before. Going with the Sway is a fantastic way to begin the rejuvenation of your ride.

Close up of a drift car engine with a strut bar installed in Singapore Formula show

How do I Choose a Sway Bar?

Choosing a sway bar depends on the transmission of your car. Front-wheel drive cars will need a stiffer bar as they have steering issues. Rear-wheel drivers need to have a rigid bar, as they are known to understeer. The location of your Sway will impact how stiff or smooth it needs to be, and knowing which works best can help win the race.

A few things to remember when shopping for a Sway bar are:

  • Front-Wheel – If you have a front-wheel drive car, it will tend to understeer. This means that when you turn the wheel, it doesn’t turn to the degree needed. By getting a stiffer rear Sway bar, you can solve the problem.
  • Rear-Wheel – Rear-wheel drive cars can also understeer, and replacing the Sway bar is an excellent way to fix the problem. A rear-wheel car needs a rigid Sway that is in the rear of the vehicle to counteract the understeer.
  • All-Wheel – The simplest of cars to remedy is the All-wheel driver. If you have understeering issues, they can be solved by adding stiffer sway bars in the front and rear of the vehicle.

Knowing what kind of Sway bar will fix your problems makes them a much more versatile tool. However, once the issue is diagnosed, it takes some research and elbow grease to get your car back on the road safely.

Metal anti-roll sway bar that reduces lateral rolling in corners isolated against a white background
Sway bar

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Is a Strut Bar and a Sway Bar the Same?

A: No, they work in the same places but are different parts. You will recognize the Sway bar as a sizeable tubular bar that stretches from the right to the left side of the vehicle. Strut bars are often added to help maintain balance in the strut stacks, but it also helps the car turn and stays in control when riding.

Q: Do Strut Bars Make a Difference?

A: Strut bars do not have much of an impact on your car. They can make your car corner much better and provide more safety, but they are not miracle parts that make your car faster. Instead, they make your car consistent when turning at high speed and allow the car’s wheels to stay in tune with the rest of the suspension.

Q: Are Sway Bars Connected to Struts?

A: Sway bars are connected to the control arms or struts of a vehicle. They act to attach the wheels on the front of the car and improve the steering and handling. Sway bars connected to control arms give an instant feel when turning and make the car do the same thing every time it turns.

Conclusion

Choosing between a Sway and a Strut bar can be confusing if you don’t even know the difference. Sway bars help to connect the front wheels of the car and are often attached underneath the suspension in the front or rear of the vehicle. They are easy to install and could be pricey if you want high performance.

Strut bars are a way to help the shocks stay balanced and provide rigidity to the frame. They could be a pill to install but provide extra weight and stability when cornering that could save the day late in the race or when you are late to a meeting.

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References:

Engine Diary

Grease and Gears

Sway Bar vs Strut Bar: Which One Should You Choose?

Amazon

Hotchkis 22108 Sport Sway Bar Set for Chevy C-10 63-72

Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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