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Strut replacement

My wife has a 2002 Toyota RAV4 with almost 100,000 miles on the odometer. How difficult is strut replacement for me to do? I have a decent amount of tools and a fairly high mechanical aptitude…however, I have never replaced struts. Is there some diagram on the internet where I could get a look at what’s involved before I start wrenching?

You’re probably going to want to have a spring compressor for that job. They can be obtained from a parts supply store for rental. I’ve seen ones that work with power-drills or ratchets depending on how much torque you need.

As for how hard the job is, I don’t know, because I let the professionals do the job on my car. Imagine a 350lb/in spring breaking free and hitting you right in the teeth. That and you might need an alignment in the end. My mechanic charged me $100 a wheel to do all four struts, springs etc etc and alignment.

It’s doable, but I’m with Caveman, I let others do it now. I have done it, but not worth the trouble/risk to me now. If you want to do it, get a manual, make sure you have a good spring compressor. Tirerack’s good source for struts.

The guys who changed my struts made it sound pretty easy. I think you should be able to handle it if you buy a good repair manual for your vehicle. The part you probably can’t do yourself is the alignment that must be done afterward.

Here’s the procedure http://www.autozone.com/shopping/repairGuide.htm?pageId=0900c1528019c5ba

As others have stated and cautions in the intructions advise. you must compress and secure the coil spring of the strut prior to removing the center nut. If the spring comes loose and hits any part of your body, it usually means a trip to the hospital.

Tester

If you absolutely must do it yourself, get a Haynes AND a Chilton’s manual, and possibly the shop manual for the Rav4. Again, in the un-skilled hands, this is one of those jobs where you CAN do a LOT of damage to your car, and yourself. Again, I reference the 350lb/in spring shooting across the garage, or worse yet, rocketing the strut like a javelin.

I wanted to do this job myself when I replaced the struts and springs on my car, but my dad talked me out of it. I’m glad he did too.

A springs force is measured in PSI, not inch/pounds.

Tester

Think caveman’s right, a spring can be specified in pounds of force required to compress it one inch: http://www.efunda.com/designstandards/springs/calc_comp_k.cfm

It’s not that difficult but you must use extreme care when handling the springs. In the right situation a spring can be fatal to the person doing the job if it comes loose.

There are also different types of spring compressors and the absolute worst ones are those 2 piece jobs. Due to the winding of the spring one side always manages to creep around to the other after canting sideways. Try to find a one piece compressor; they’re much easier to use and far safer. I refer to them as lobster claws but others may call them something different.

(For what it’s worth, a guy in our shop let a spring get away from him once. It shot out of the compressor while narrowly missing his head, ricocheted off the ceiling (20 feet up) and flew clean across the shop. It was strictly a miracle that this guy was not injured or killed and to a much less degree, no cars were damaged.
And this guy was a real pro. He knew what he was doing; just had one of those mental lapses I guess.)

Thanks for telling us your experience. That’s why I leave struts to others. It’s actually a pretty easy job with the right tools, as long as everything goes OK.

For all of those reasons mentioned, if you can find a deal like CavemanDan’s ($100 per) then take it - but I really doubt that you will.

If you want to do it yourself - as others have noted - shop manuals are a must along with not skimping at all on a spring compressor. I would also have an impact gun as the lower shoulder bolts can be a bit of a bear.

I did a set of rear struts on an Escort once - mostly for $$ reasons but also b/c I really just like doing things myself. I bought “quickstruts” from Monroe because they are preassembled & ready to install - no mucking about with the spring compressors. Some people don’t like those (mine have been fine for a good 40K or so now), but there are other companies that sell preassembled units. They are obviously more expensive than just replacing struts in your old springs, but now you’re down to just popping the old ones out & sticking the new ones in. The difficulty level plummets. My problem was actually a broken spring, but I figured why put new springs on old struts & just did the whole round.

The alignment must be done, so that you will need to leave to those who own the gadgets.

We’re both right.

I’m used to referring to them in inch pounds, with the work I’ve done with them.

Sorry I should have specified $100 per wheel was installation only. I provided the parts. Which ran me close to $800. Custom shocks/struts and springs.

How about the quick struts where they sell you the whole assembly and you just have to put it in? They are more expensive but might still be cheaper than the labor when the shop does it.

Strut replacement isn’t all that hard. But it is a bit dangerous and you need some tools.

  1. Unless you use Quick Struts, be very careful with that spring. If you remove the bolt on top of the strut while the spring is still tensioned or if the spring compressor breaks or slips, pieces are going to fly off at great velocity. I generally use three compressors just in case one breaks.

  2. Use jack stands. You can get away with changing tires with just a jack, but when replacing a strut you will have parts of your anatomy under the vehicle much of the time. If the vehicle decides to fall off the jack, you quite likely will not have time to get clear.

  3. Slightly Loosen – but do not remove!!! – the large bolt on top of the strut while the strut is still in the car. If you don’t do that, you will get the strut out of the car, get the spring compressed, then find that when you try to remove that nut that the nut and the strut shaft turn together. It is possible to get a pipe wrench, channel locks, etc onto the mirror smooth shaft to hold it at that point. But it isn’t easy.

  4. You will find the job far easier if you rent, buy or borrow an impact wrench. You will need to remove large bolts and nuts that are probably rusted in place. If you insist on using brute force, you will need a breaker bar and probably a three foot length of pipe to extend it – and that’s after soaking the hardware in penetrating oil. You may break the breaker bar instead of breaking the nut loose. I’ve done that.

I have a Branick 7200 strut spring compressor that I mount to my garage wall when I need it: http://www.uniquetruck.com/images/product_images/p27-2.jpg It weighs about 100 lbs but it really gets the job done. It’s a little overkill for a home mechanic but I’ve done many struts over the years.

The biggest problem is the springs. I worked with a guy who did his own struts ONCE. When he came to work on Monday it looked like he was in a fight and LOST. The cheap spring compressor he bought let go and spent the spring flying…first off the wall then right in his face. Broke his nose and knocked out a couple teeth. He’d probably be dead if it hit him directly.

I’ve used the two piece set and other than the sheer inconvenience and enormous amount of time they take, they worked OK. If I were doing another, I’d get this

http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=43753

If the VT means Vermont, you possibly spend a lot of time driving too fast on unpaved roads just like most rural Vermonters. If so, learning to do your own struts may make sense. You’ll likely be doing a number of them over the years. But if you decide to do that, invest in some decent tools – A good spring compressor, jack stands, and an impact wrench.

  1. You may be able to safely change tires with just a jack, but with struts you will be spending a number of hours with portions of your anatomy under your vehicle. If the miserable thing falls off the jack, it is likely to be a life altering experience. Use jack stands.

  2. As others have told you, those springs need to be taken seriously. They are designed to control the bouncing of a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds. They can kill or maim you if you take them out of the vehicle then suddenly release the tension on them through stupidity or misfortune. I’d consider using Quick-Struts which do not require spring compression instead.

  3. Struts are held on by big bolts and nuts that will probably be rusted in place. It is (usually) possible to get them off with a socket, breaker bar, and three foot pipe extension. You will bust fewer breaker bars and shear fewer bolts if you use an impact wrench. Professionals use air driven impact wrenches, but if you don’t have a decent air set up, you may prefer an electric unit.

  4. If you do go ahead with this and don’t/can’t use Quick Struts, it is a good idea to break the center bolt on the strut loose before you even raise the wheels off the ground. Do NOT remove it. Just loosen it then turn it back to mildly firm. If you wait until the strut is out of the car and the spring is compressed to try to break the bolt loose, you may find that it is extremely difficult to get it to start moving because turning it just spins the strut shaft. That shaft is mirror smooth and very difficult to grip on.