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How long can I sit on repairing the front suspension?

I inherited a 2003 Saturn Ion with about 128,000 miles on it. I took it into a shop to get a sense of what kind of maintenance it needs, and I was told that the struts on the front suspension need replacing (the right one is leaking a bit and the left one is just super worn down). The front kind of rattles/knocks if I’m moving slowly or going over bumps, so that makes sense, but I drove it through the mountains for 300mi this past weekend and it felt totally fine. The shop said I should just replace the whole suspension rather than just the struts as it’ll be cheaper (includes the struts and spring).

I’m wondering how long I can drive the car safely before repairing the suspension? It’s an expensive fix; if it’s mission critical I can always hold my nose and put the repairs on a credit card, but I’d rather save up for it if I can.

I don’t intend on selling it any time soon and will probably just drive it into the ground, but I want to take good care of it so it lasts. I tend to drive around 15-30mi on normal days and upwards of 100-300mi on weekends when I go on trips. If I save up for 2-3 months before repairing the suspension, will I be doing irreparable damage or driving unsafely?

Thanks for any help!

If you compare the cost (interest) using your credit card to the cost of a wreck that might injure you or someone else and also destroy the vehicle fixing it as soon as possible seems like an easy decision.


Obviously getting any repair done sooner rather than later is preferable. My question was if this is a repair that absolutely needs to be done ASAP, or if it can be driven on for a bit.

For reference, the shop I talked to didn’t make it sound like it was a life-or-death fix that needed to be taken care of immediately; they OK’d my 300mi drive and said I could wait “a bit,” but were hazy on the details or the repurcussions of waiting.

Struts affect ride and handling but if there are not handling issues that you notice and the ride doesn’t bother you, there should be no problem delaying putting on new struts. If you are getting noises though you might want to investigate further what exactly that is. Struts are not the whole suspension. There are tie rods for the steering, ball joints, etc. that could be worn and making noise. You can buy struts now with the spring and upper mount included which makes changing them easier but its still just the strut, not the whole front suspension. I’d want the rest of the front end looked at to see if other work should be done at the same time which would be cheaper than doing it piecemeal.

We can’t look at your struts and can’t really tell you if it can wait. On that basis, I’d say get it done ASAP.

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Convenience issues, like a nonfunctioning AC system or a failing radio, can be postponed forever, but safety systems like the front suspension should be kept in good repair.

This is a business transaction. You have done one thing right and that is to seek advice. But have you done the other thing? Get a second opinion. Sometimes things are not as bad as some mechanics would have you believe. BTW, did this come from a real mechanic or a dealer’s service advisor? A service advisor works on commission so they tend to put on the hard sell.

As posted above, no way to tell about safety issues via the internet. That requires an experience mechanic having a look-see. If you hear some clunking, knocking noises going over bumps, you probably have some play in the suspension bushings going on. Replacing the bushings is inexpensive enough as part of the whole job. The problem with deferring the repair is that the play may allow enough movement to later cause damage to something that isn’t so inexpensively replaced. It’s cheap to replace the bushings, not so cheap to replace the space enclosed where the bushings go. So you may not be accomplishing much in the way of saving money by deferring. Shoever told you the struts need replacing maybe ask them about the safety issues. If they aren’t pro mechanics, $50 or so should get you a pro assessment on the front suspension. That would be a good investment, and if you play your cards right, the shop may agree to apply that $50 to the repair when you decide to do it.

Ah, thank you for clarifying! I believe the mechanic meant that the struts are worn, not the entire suspension—I could get the parts cheaper if I buy struts with the spring and upper mount included.

Thanks! This was from a real mechanic. Are there even Saturn dealers anymore…? :stuck_out_tongue:

Thank you! I really appreciate your response, I was looking to get some info on the possible repercussions of waiting.

I initially took the car to a mechanic and paid for a general assessment, and the front suspension was the only thing he said that was in need of repair. I had asked him about the safety of driving on the worn parts, and he sort of waffled a bit and didn’t give me much of an answer—more of a, “well it’s not a great idea but people also do it all the time.” When I asked him about whether or not I could make the repairs later after I saved, he didn’t seem too concerned about it. Not sure if he genuinely felt like I could wait, or if he just didn’t care either way!

The way he talked about it, it sounds like the whole strut on both sides needs to be replaced, including the bushings. He quoted me at $190ea for the parts, so it sounds like it’s going to be pricey either way.

Thanks again!

Nope, no Saturn dealers anymore, sadly.

Saturn was part of GM though, so service is still available from GM dealers as are many parts.

When you ask someone to find problems, they usually will.

Safety-wise, just make sure the ball joints are good.

The experts here pretty much universally recommend that when a suspension or brake part on one side of an axle (front or back) is replaced, the same part on the other side should also. So that’s good advice from your mechanic to replace the struts on both sides. I expect you’ll think your car rides much better once the job is done.

I absolutely agree, especially when it comes to struts. Maintaining balance between the right and left sides is important to the car’s stability and handling, and generally when one side is shot the other is too even if it isn’t showing the symptoms to the same degree.

A regular here posted a really great link to a video showing a wheel bouncing spasmodically down the highway. I wish I’d kept it. It was a real eye-opener. If you’re the good person who posted that link, and you still have it, it’d be a great illustration of how a shot strut can manifest itself. I’d happily buy lunch to see it here.

Is this the clip you are looking for?

Yup! That’s the one!
Kolby, you’ve made my day!
Sincere thanks.

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:scream::scream::scream: Dear lord!!

Well, I won’t let it come to that! Thanks to everyone for all the great responses, I’ll get the damn thing done. :wink:

Clunking sound going over bumps are caused by worned stabilizer links.Very cheap fix…$30 per side.

As most of the folks have mentioned, nobody can tell about the safety piece, but all of my struts have been leaking for 5 years now. Every time the car goes to the mechanic, I am told to replace the struts. I didn’t replace because I was planning to trade in the car quickly. But again, the car has rarely been on the highways. It is exclusively used for local driving, speeds less than 40mph in stop and go traffic.

But this year the things changed and I will have to keep the car as long as I can. Thanks to the medical bills. So now I am replacing the struts. I got Gabriel ReadyMount, $300 all out the door (they were on sale at autoanything). I will be installing them myself.

If I would have seen the above video earlier, I would have replaced them sooner. Take home message, if you plan to keep it, replace them.