Bilstein 4600 vs 5100: In-depth comparison
From time to time, I get asked about Bilstein’s most popular shocks – the 4600 series and its shiny successor, the 5100.
Usually, people want to know what’s the actual difference between them. Of course, which one would be a better choice too.
Contrary to popular belief, the 5100s being more expensive doesn’t mean they’re better. In fact, for general purposes I’d recommend you go with Bilstein 4600 HD shocks.
These two shocks differ in three fundamental ways:
Ride height: 4600s fit only stock-height vehicles. Bilstein 5100 shocks support lifted vehicles, usually up to 3” or so.
Durability: 5100s come with an additional zinc plating. This helps protect the tube from debris as you’ll usually see these shocks in off-road trucks.
Ride feel: Bilstein 4600 will ride way smoother, 5100 shocks go for a noticeably firmer feel with their valving.
As I said, this means that for general purposes and stock height trucks you’d go for the Bilstein 4600.
I’ve got a set of these installed:
For lifted, heavier trucks you want to take on dirt adventures – 5100s are the way to go. The firmer, stiffer control you’d have even on gravel roads will make you fall in love with their performance.
I want to expand on each point a little bit more, so do continue reading. Use the table of contents to jump to whichever section interests you the most.
Bilstein 4600 vs 5100 shocks:
On ride height & truck specifics
As I said, this isn’t a matter of more expensive shocks being better just for the sake of price.
Say, you have a stock height Silverado. Even if you want to slap a pair of 5100s on it, this isn’t even a possibility. They won’t fit – unlike a good set of 4600 shocks like these.
Likewise, if you try to install 4600s on a lifted F-250 they simply won’t fit. This is a task for the 5100 with their adjustable height options.
Note that in general, a set of 5100 shocks will lift your vehicle by ~1.5” to 3” depending on your vehicle. This lift comes mainly from the rear pair of 5100s, which features a slightly elongated body to allow height increase.
Here’s a good video that explains a bit more:
Shock body differences
The two shock series are mostly the same in terms of internal components. Even their nitrogen psi is the same, clocking at 360. One exception would be their valving, but I’ll get to that later.
Rod size, piston size etc. are also the same.
So what’s the difference, then?
The biggest difference that makes Bilstein 5100 a sturdier shock is the zinc plating it comes with.
You can easily notice it as this is why 5100s feature a sleek chrome appearance:
Compared to this enhanced shock protection, Bilstein 4600 stick to a simple painted coating. Like other manufacturers’ painted shocks, the yellow paint will eventually start chipping away.
I’ve seen a lot of people who like their shocks staying fresh and good-looking. With the 5100 monotubes, the zinc finish will achieve that. After all, it protects the monotube from gravel roads or just general debris.
Bilstein 5100 vs 4600 series:
Opposites in terms of ride feel
To most, this would probably the biggest difference between the two shocks from our favorite German manufacturer.
The 5100 series hits way firmer in terms of ride feel.
Why? Because of the different valving.
For example, here are their valve ratings (rebound/compression points on front shocks):
Bilstein 5100 – 986.9/287.7
Bilstein 4600 – 843.0/85.4
What the higher numbers translate to is more firmness when your vehicle goes through any damping on the road.
Additionally, the valving you’ll see with 5100s is stiffer to accommodate bigger tires or wheels. With more mods, the amount of control you need over your vehicle also increases.
Not only this, but driving through the gravel and endless off-road obstacles would go wrong if you had too soft handling. Hence, the firmer and tighter-controlled ride you get with the 5100 series.
Here’s a review of them on a strictly off-road Dodge Ram (check the exact fit shocks) after 100k miles:
On the other hand, Bilstein 4600 HD doesn’t need this extra stiffness. These shocks were made for street/highway use or some light off-roading.
Dampening is easier on flatter surfaces with occasional potholes, and the stock height application doesn’t deal with heavy mods requiring more control.
Load capacity also plays a role here. On empty or lower loads, 5100s would ride even stiffer – for some they might be even uncomfortable.
This would be the forte of 4600 shocks, as they would deliver a way smoother ride experience. For stock height vehicles with heavier loads, you can also consider KYB Monomax as I’ve mentioned in my KYB vs Bilstein review.
Where are Bilstein’s 5100 and 4600 shocks made?
This is a common question with many suspension brands.
Rest easy. Bilstein don’t outsource to subpar facilities.
Both shock series are manufactured in Germany or the US. I think for the 5100s, the brand splits the production 50/50 between these two locations. Maybe it’s the same for the 4600?
Tough, long-lasting, well-performing German quality, what can I say.
With their more extreme absorbers like the 5160, Bilstein sticks to US-only production as I’ve noted in my review.
Well, there it is. Hopefully, that was a comprehensive take on how the brand’s most popular shock absorbers differ from each other.
In my opinion, there’s zero doubt why Bilstein continues to be the top brand for most people riding light or heavy trucks alike.
They might seem a bit more expensive if you’re used to, say, Monroe shocks. Yet the difference in performance and longevity is tangible and you won’t regret spending a few bucks more on proper suspension.
That said, for extreme off-road – like, really extreme dirt rides, you might want to look into my Bilstein vs Fox shocks comparison.
But for casual, stock height trucks or moderate off-road adventures…Bilstein was, is, and will continue to be king. Awesome all-around.