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"Frozen" Struts

In very cold weather, the rear springs/struts become so solid that the slightest bump in the road causes a noise and sensation like “Bottoming Out”.

As the weather warms a bit, the rear-end again works normally.

Are we dealing with a D9 catapillar or a 747? Would you like a diagnosis or just wanting someone to talk to?

I filled in the “make and model” areas… apparently, they didn’t “take”…
Anyway, It’s a 1991 Toyota Camry

There are bushings in the rear suspension that, when worn, can be noisy when cold (happened to me). Have your mechanic check them out, shouldn’t be lots of $$ to replace. Might not be struts at all!

I hope you’re right and you may well be… Tell you what it FEELS like__ Imagine filling your shocks with water instead of oil, then hard-freezing them.
No ‘give’ at all (until the thaw…)

How old are these struts? They might be totally worn out.

define “cold”. When I lived in North Dakota I learned that at temperatures well below zero ahocks get like rocks and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. The foam in the seats gets the same way.

Can’t say. The car is old but beautifully maintained and cherry. I inherited it… No one left to ask about past maintenance schedules. I have to go on symptoms only… The real mystery here is why the rear suspension seems fine until zero weather hits… ???

Well, here in the Pacific Northwest we can’t rival the Dakotas for Winter chills. But this ONLY happens when we have (what is for us) a ‘Cold Snap’ into the 'teens… The seats are fine, and so are the FRONT shocks. But the rear ones seem to lose all ability tho cushion the ride.
When the temp goes back up to the usual wintertime 40’s, the old familiar Camry Ride returns.
This car has 220,000 miles on it… I EXPECT some WEAR for Godsakes !
I just have never experienced THIS situation… Two winters in a row now for this oddity, with trouble-free summers in between.

When the cold weather hits, can you bounce the rear suspension up and down, or is it truly ‘locked’ tight?

Here’s a wild question:

How many times in the past 220k miles have the struts been changed on your car?

I can guarantee that if you changed those rear struts, the behavior in the cold will disappear. Struts wear out. Your symptoms are one of the clues.


Tried that… Feels SOLID.
But then, the rear end is not particularly ‘bouncy’ even in Summer.
We used to jump up and down on our bumpers years ago and observe the results (testing the shocks) and I’ve tried it with the Camry.
By my ancient standards, it doesn’t ACT like a car that needs shocks in warm weather, seems VERY STIFF in the cold.

The car needs new rear struts. What’s happening is the valving inside the struts is sticking from the cold and not allowing the fluid to move past the pistons inside the struts. Then as the vehicle is driven the fluid inside the struts tries to compress creating heat. This heat then unsticks the valving inside the struts and the struts work normally.


No way to know. I’ve only had the car for the last 20,000 miles.
If it wasn’t for the Godawful co$t of strut replacement these days, I’d change them out just for LUCK.
But all-around strut replacement on this car rivals or exceeds it’s BB Value.
And that STILL wouldn’t solve the mystery of just how all of this can be explained. I’ve driven cars with soggy, worn-out shocks before… and they DID NOT act like this…

Now we’re getting into the mechanix of the thing…SOMETHING in there is “Freezing Up”. Nothing else answers the question… Shot, worn-out auto parts don’t usually wait for the thermometer to drop to begin mis-behaving…
Of course, it all comes down to NEW STRUTS.
Thanks, everybody, for your input.

The seals on your rear struts have failed or rust has causer a hole in one of them and water has gotten inside. When it feels like one or both of them has frozen, it has. Happens to old cars around hear all the time if the struts have never been changed.

I didn’t know it was possible, but that is certainly how it behaves.

If you are really interested in doing some diagnostic work just remove the rear shocks Not the front struts) and see if suspension travel returns

EDIT: I guess we can scratch that idea as I went and looked. I had no idea a Camry had a coil over strut on the rears.

lots of cars have rear struts instead of shocks. The late unlamented Ford Tempo was the first American car so equipped that I came across.

If one were feeling brave, they could simply remove the center nut from the strut.
The weight of the car will then keep the spring compressed, which would prevent the nut from being shot across the room, possibly causing injury.

Then you could slide the shaft of the strut up and down to see if the strut is dead, or still functional.

I can 100% guarantee that the OP’s struts are long dead, and as soon as the nut is removed, the strut shaft will collapse into the strut body. A vehicle that is bought with 200k miles on it should have suspension looked at immediately after purchase, if there isn’t any proof of the replacement of parts in the last 50k miles.

Directly to the OP:

You bought a car with 200k miles on it.
Just because you have never experienced this behavior from a rear strut before, doesn’t mean that its not a sign of being bad. It just means that you have never experienced it before. Now you have.

There are quite a few different ways shocks and struts can fail over time.
Each one produces different reactions.
Each different suspension system can then alter the way those reactions are transmitted to the chassis of the vehicle, which are then interpreted differently by different drivers.

I see plenty of cars driving down the highway with a wheel oscillating the whole time, and I just have to wonder to myself how they can’t feel that at all.

Also, you don’t have to replace all 4 struts. You can just replace the rear pair now.
Money obviously is an issue, otherwise you might not have bought a car with 200k miles on it. Not a '91 Camry, anyway.