Bilstein vs Rancho: What you need to know
Any serious offroad addict is no stranger to the good ol’ Bilstein vs Rancho comparison. Even if you’re not into dirt adventures, these brands offer reliable performance and firm control over your ride.
That said, let’s be precise and not compare apples to oranges:
- Pure offroad shocks: Bilstein 5100 series faces Rancho’s RS9000XL or the RS7000MT series.
- Offroad/onroad balance: Bilstein 4600 is a direct competitor to the classic Rancho RS5000X with stock height trucks.
I’ll do an in-depth review, but first I’d like to summarize a few important points.
First, offroad shocks: Bilstein’s 5100 series heavily leans on performance with its valving. This means you’re getting a firmer shock that can even turn stiff and uncomfortable on lower loads.
Rancho’s RS9000XL shocks are insanely versatile with their 9 adjustable settings. You can go from a soft, OEM-style ride to balanced to Bilstein-like firm performance.
No other shock allows such flexibility, and that’s why people love them.
The RS7000MT absorber is not as flexible, but it fixes a common Rancho pain – rust and a corrosion of the tube itself.
In a way, it’s an emulation of Bilstein’s 5100 series with its reinforced zinc plating.
With offroad/onroad balanced shocks: Bilstein 4600 is a more sensible choice than RS5000X for stock height trucks/SUVs. A tad better dampening and really smooth ride for cheaper.
With lifted vehicles, go for the RS5000X as 4600 series don’t support lifts.
Now, let’s dive deeper.
Bilstein 5100 vs Rancho RS9000XL vs Rancho RS7000MT
As I mentioned before, the keyword for the 5100 series is ‘performance’. Rancho 9000 relies on ‘adjustability’, giving you freedom in how you want your ride to feel on different terrain.
That’s one of the reasons you see a lot of lighter model Jeep owners rooting for Rancho shocks. Take the TJ or even older-gen Wranglers – potholes or washboard roads will hit hard with a pair of 5100. With 9000XL for your JKU, you just dial down and get a comfortable, cushy ride.
For heavier vehicles like a Ford F250 or a Silverado 2500HD (read some reviews) this won’t be a problem. They were born for the firmer nature of Bilsteins.
There are structural differences too. Bilstein 5100 is a monotube shock – the rod goes into the tube powered by high-pressure gas coming from a separate sealed chamber. No oil gets displaced, and you get improved damping.
Rancho’s RS9000XL is a tri-tube shock. A controlled valve regulates the flow of oil from an inner tube to a second one, until it reaches the outer reservoir in the end. To Bilsteins high pressure gas, Ranchos offers low pressure gas for smoother operation.
Generally, Bilstein 5100 are sturdier due to the monotube construction. The zinc plating also helps – while both shocks are made of steel, 9000XL are only painted.
They rust quite easily because of that, something a lot of offroaders are reporting.
There’s a fix – you can just paint/extra coat them with the fantastic FluidFilm to protect them from dirt/debris. Here’s a good video on that:
Rust and overall durability is what the Rancho RS7000MT tackles. It sticks to a monotube construction, has zinc plating and emulates almost everything from how Bilstein 5100 performs.
You lose in terms of the tri-tube adjustability of 9000XL, but you gain in terms of outer body sturdiness and long-lasting performance. Seriously, it’s like a 5100 series twin.
Towards a balance:
Bilstein 4600 vs Rancho RS5000X
As I mentioned before, things are pretty much comparable here. You don’t have the disparity in design and function like the brand’s dedicated offroad shocks.
An important note to remember as I mentioned – the 4600 series doesn’t support lifted/modded vehicles. No, it won’t work whatever you do, so keep that in mind.
Aside from this little hiccup, I think the 4600 simply rides better on stock vehicles. The yellow/blue design is also an eye-catcher, looks pretty great on most models.
Similar to RS9000XL, Rancho’s 5000X is painted, not zinc-plated. The same applies to the Bilstein 4600. However, once again I’ve seen a lot more Rancho users complain about their tubes getting hit by corrosion.
If towing, an alternative could be KYB’s MonoMax as I wrote in another post. They’ll feel stiffer on lighter to medium loads, however.
Where are they produced?
Here’s a fun fact, if you didn’t know. Rancho shocks are a part of the Tenneco empire. If the name doesn’t ring a bell – that’s the manufacturer of Monroe aftermarket parts.
Which maybe makes it logical that they spread their supply chain across the world. As far as I’ve read, Ranchos are made in high quality facilities from Mexico to Asian countries.
Bilstein, however, makes zero compromise in terms of location too. Their shocks are produced either in Germany or locally in the US. 5100 series specifically are split between German and American soil.
The brand’s higher grade shocks – namely, the 5160 and 6112 series I’ve written about, are manufactured in the US only.
Generally, both brands’ shock are durable and long-lasting on the inside. As I mentioned, your only issues might be if you’re riding Ranchos on harsher terrain – salted roads, extreme dirt etc. And even then you can fix their rust issues with a quick paint job.