CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Sneaky Rattle or What does an unhealthy Strut,top and sway bar look like?look like

There has been a persistent rattle coming from the right back area of my 2005 Forester Subaru. Didn’t ever hear it on smooth pavements. For about a month I bought into my Dad’s(genius mechanic and engineer, now deceased) teachings:there are serious noises in a car and there are ones that you live with. I took this rattle as a non-serious one but decided to have it checked anyway. I was told the ‘sad news’ that I needed new struts,tops and swaybars to the tune of $987.00. I have a smattering acquaintance with cars. An expert that was my Dad and a ripe old age of 67 that experienced a few cars led me to consider the possibility of ‘shocks’. But I dismissed those because 67 thousand of my own gentle miles and a nearly paid off car isn’t a recipe for shocks in my experience! I had also inspected the rear of the car to look for loose objects that might have been the cause. As I approached my car on the lot, I noticed that the back right seat was down. I was had not put it down. I decided to put it up when I got home! Driving down the street…the rattle was gone! I drove a little more, listening intently as I deliberately went over some bumps amd cracks. Nothing! I stopped and returned the seat to its upright position and there was the rattle! Took the car to another independent ‘car care’ place! Short story: one mechanic puts some grease on the catch where the back seat locks into place, while the owner tries to tell me for a time that I do need struts! But when I come to pay for that diagnosis he says ‘there will be no charge’!



I really would like to be assured that the struts are alright. That I do not need new ones. But how do I trust anyone when I cannot prove to them I know the difference between a bad strut and an OK strut. Please understand that I have had a lifetime of being a female in a very male mechanical world of cars.



So that is my question, what does a bad strut look like and feel like when driven. Just had an idea. I will google ‘struts’.

Struts are essentially shock absorbers that incorporate the spring into the unit. They are more compact than shocks and since they double as a suspension component they need to be stronger and are bit more complicated than an old fashioned shock. However the overall function is the same. They stabilize the car’s wheels to keep them from bouncing, springs bounce and struts control the bounce. A good strut keeps the wheels in contact with the road. A bad one can have you hopping around corners and dancing over potholes as the springs rebound makes the car bounce.

So the traditional test for a shock is to bounce the car at all four corner’s one corner at a time. After the last downward press release you hands and watch the car. If the corner stops bouncing after the 1st rebound that strut is doing its job. Another way to see bad struts is when the leak around the seals in the hydralic piston part of the unit. Yet sleazy mechanics had been known to squirt a little oil on the strut and bring you over for a look.

While struts can fail in less than 50K miles, many last for 100K miles and more. Since they degrade gradually sometimes you can’t tell that your car is not riding as well as it did when new. If you’ve ever seen a car on the road hit a bump and keep on bouncing down the road for a few hundred feet, that is a case of a totally shot strut.

If you don’t trust one shop that says your struts are bad, you can drive to another mechanic for a second opinion.

Thank you so much for the information. So I am guessing that ‘rattling’ is not what shot struts do. I did go to a second mechanic who called me over to ‘see’ some wet stuff on his finger but then didn’t want to talk to me about the need to replace them and just didn’t charge me the $40.00 he said was the charge for the diagnosis! Too bad! I really liked that shop.

I am getting the tires rotated tomorrow at Discount Tire where I bought them and will take that opportunity to get someone to do the ‘bounce’ test and I am thinking that I will be able to take a closer look at those seals with all the tires off the car. Thanks again

Based on my experience with Subarus, I highly doubt that you have bad struts on a 4 year old vehicle with only 67k on the odometer. My first Subaru went at least 12 years/160k on the original struts, and my present Subaru’s struts are still good at 7 years/94k.

The only way that your struts could have worn out in that period of time is if you consistently drive on very bad roads. What type of roads do you usually drive on?

Where the struts are bolted to the car can sometimes get loose and rattle. There are lots of sway bars and suspension items that have bushings (rubber thingies) that can break up, fall out and then you get a rattle. Often these noises are tough to figure out.

I’m not sure how competent “Discount Tire” is but have a good mechanic just check over the suspension to be sure nothing important is loose, broken, or is falling off.

Michigan Roads! Actually, in Lansing and I try to avoid potholes in Spring. Thanks for sharing your Subaru experience.

I was only thinking Discount Tire because I will be there looking with the ‘mechanic’ and I don’t think they fix struts, so they will have nothing to gain. See, finding a good and honest mechanic has been a lifetime quest for me! But I am sure glad that I found this site!

And I think I figured out the noise, as did the first mechanic, who inadvertently left the back seat down! Thank you for your help.