Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Strut Question, Guidance Needed

I have a 1997 Nissan Sentra GXE and have been told it needs new struts. But the mechanic who told me this (who is a good guy listed on your site) gave me a price of almost $1,000. I am very poor and can’t afford that. So I’ve been avoiding driving the car, getting rides to places as much as possible, but I really need my car fixed.

I am told the thing to do is to buy after market struts and have a mechanic install them, but I’m terrified I will buy the wrong thing or won’t be able to find a mechanic who will install them. I don’t know what to do. I really need someone to guide me through this. Or, if anyone can recommend a mechanic in southern Westchester County NY who would install the struts, I would appreciate it.

First question is how worn out are the struts? Does the car handle badly? Why have you stopped driving it? Does it feel unsafe?

It handles all right, but what bothers me is if I have to step on the brakes it feels mushy and I can hear a scraping sound, and sometimes for a few seconds I hear a knocking noise.

1- ask the same mechanic if they’ll install struts you buy elsewhere.
2- call around for prices, yellow pages - auto parts, new - places like Auto Zone, Car Quest, O’Reilly’s, Parts Plus , whatever’s in your town.
3- Don’t worry about "buying the wrong thing ". The parts people will ask a series of questions and sell you the right ones. Year, vehicle, engine size, etc. Write down or take the VIN number to the parts place too in case they have the software to decode.

Maha, you’re describing brake problems, not strut problems. What do you mean, ‘it feels mushy’? The brake pedal?

texases – no, I don’t think there’s a problem with the brake pedal. I mean that when I have to stop quickly, the car feels mushy. If I can ease into a stop it’s not so bad. It feels fairly normal on a highway, but stop-and-go driving seems to bring out whatever is wrong with it.

Do you have trouble controlling it when you drive over a bridge at highway speeds? Bridges have a wavy surface that can make a car with bad struts start to bounce up and down so violently that it is hard to control. That would be my definition of “mushy”.

I too think you have a brake problem and it should be looked at. I am a little concerned about the knocking sound though, that could be caused by a broken upper strut mount. Did your mechanic say anything about this and is that included in the price tag? Also, was that quote for all four struts or just the front struts?

So you are saying the car moves around a lot under braking - that certainly could be struts, but the noises could be brake-related. Like keith said, that $1,000 estimate might include some much-needed repairs.

I will take it back to the mechanic for another look to be sure the brakes don’t need work too, but all he said was “struts” and “$999.99,” or something.

On a vehicle that age I would not doubt the strut diagnosis at all. And when you apply the brakes it iwll cause the car to pitch forward, creating what some call a “mushy” feel rather than a good brake response. It feels like the car wants to roll over forward rather than stop.

Before buying anything, be sure the mechanic you select is willing to install them. Honestly, I think it’s a better idea to simply ask the mechanic if he/she can save you some money by ordering the aftermarket shocks that you’re considering selecting. Do a Google, print the page, and bring it to him. You may have to sacrifice the parts warranty that’s normally included in the shop’s overall workmanship warranty, but if it makes it affordable it might be worth it for you.

Points is, work with the mechanic and ask him if he can help you save money. Don’t make the decisiions on your own.

I’m not sure about the work involved in replacing the struts on your Sentra, but aftermarket struts usually run $50-$100 each. My suggestion would be talk to some independent garages or even friends that work on cars and see if any of them are willing to do the work if you supply the parts. You can buy struts at Auto Zone that come with a lifetime warranty so if they ever go bad again all you have to do is return them for new ones.

Since you are short on money, the next step you should take is to get a second opinion, but you need to go about it in a specific way. Take the car to another shop and tell them the symptoms you are having, regarding things that make you uneasy about the car. You described a scraping sound and “squishy” feeling. Tell the next shop you are having these problems, but do not say a word about being quoted for struts by the first shop. Don’t even say anything about struts if they ask you anything about them. If the next shop tells you the cause of the noises and squishy feeling is the struts, that is very likely the problem. The first shop may have quoted you new struts due to age and mileage and nothing more. Some places do that because struts are an excellent money maker; good profit margin and typically command quite a bit of labor to replace them.

I do not recommend trying to commission a friend or family member to replace the struts for you. Unless you spend extra to get fully assembled units (which typically run $150-400 per corner), servicing struts is a dangerous job which requires specialized equipment and skill. You have to be able to compress the coil springs in order to remove the strut, and if it gets out of the spring compressor, it can go flying and do significant damage to whatever it hits, be it a concrete wall or the installer’s head or body. I have been hit by a flying coil spring before, and it is no fun. In fact, I have permanent nerve damage to my left leg from the incident. If I stand still for too long, it hurts, and sometimes my knee will buckle for no apparent reason.

mark9207 is correct, changing struts can be very dangerous if the person performing the work doesn’t know what they are doing.